Now that the 2021 MLB season has come to an exciting conclusion, it’s time to reflect on the outstanding performances that defined this year in baseball. Having broken down the top-15 hitters at both catcher and first base, it’s time to move on to the third part of this ten-part series in which we break down the top offensive performances at each position from this past season. Traditionally a glove-first position, the second base position has transformed to include more offensive-focused players and now houses some serious threats. The right side of the keystone combo continued to produce some exciting efforts this past season. The floor for being a top offensive contributor at second base is lower than at other positions, but nonetheless, this list includes the best hitters at second base from 2021.
We’ll use a combination of counting stats, rate stats, and advanced stats to break down each player’s case to be included amongst the best hitters at their position. All stats via Fangraphs.
15. Brendan Rodgers – Colorado Rockies
102 G, 415 PA, .284/.328/.470, 49 R, 15 HR, 51 RBI, 4.6%/20.2% BB/K, 100 wRC+
Rodgers kicks off this rookie-studded list because of his impressive first full season performance that wasn’t boosted heavily by Coors Field’s thin air. His perfectly league-average season by wRC+ was supported by solid raw power that mostly manifested away from home. He hit 13 homers on the road, and his 131 wRC+ away from home dwarfed the 68 wRC+ he put up in Coors in an equal number of games.
His overall numbers placed him in good company as well. His .798 OPS was a top-ten mark among primary second basemen with at least 400 plate appearances and is even more impressive considering he was a rookie; it was the third-highest OPS by a rookie with at least 400 plate appearances. His success this year should set him up for an everyday role on the Rockies next season. He may even slide over to shortstop with the departure of Trevor Story.
14. Jazz Chisholm Jr. – Miami Marlins
124 G, 507 PA, .248/.303/.425, 70 R, 18 HR, 53 RBI, 23 SB, 6.7%/28.6% BB/K, 98 wRC+
The Marlins have one of the most exciting up-and-coming players in their power-speed threat second baseman, Jazz Chisholm Jr. In a surprising deadline deal, Chisholm was sent to the Marlins from the Diamondbacks in exchange for pitcher Zac Gallen back in 2019. That trade has paid off for both sides and has given Chisholm the opportunity to show off his loud raw tools at the MLB level. He impressed last season by showing that he can hit the ball a long way while pairing that power with blazing speed (94th percentile sprint speed). His combination of 41 home runs plus steals was a top-ten total among second basemen.
His power manifested most memorably when he took the unhittable, flame-throwing, righty, Jacob deGrom, deep on a 100-mph fastball at his eyes. That feat is amazing by itself, but it is important to note that Chisholm is a rookie and that deGrom gave up just four homers off of his fastball last season. Chisholm could use some improvements to his plate discipline to make him a more complete hitter, but going into just his age 24 season next year, he should have plenty of time to reach the fullest extent of his potential.
13. Kolten Wong – Milwaukee Brewers
116 G, 492 PA, .272/.335/.447, 70 R, 14 HR, 50 RBI, 12 SB, 6.3%/16.9% BB/K, 109 wRC+
In his first season as a Brewer, Wong struggled to stay on the field, resulting in the reduction of his counting stats. Nonetheless, he performed well on a rate basis and ranked among the top-15 offensive second baseman. Wong stepped up his game in 2021 by adding power that helped balance out his abilities at the dish. He has consistently been a high contact hitter, but in 2021 he recorded career-highs with his homer and double totals as well as his SLG%. Additionally, his 109 wRC+ tied his career-high from 2019 and was a top-ten mark among primary second basemen with at least 300 plate appearances.
Wong was one of the best hitters at second base not because he stood out for one of his skills, but because he contributed across the board, excelling in every facet of hitting. His triple-slash line distinctly tells the story of his broad contributions. He and Jose Altuve were the only primary second basemen with at least 300 plate appearances to post a batting average above .270, an on-base percentage of at least .335, and a slugging percentage higher than .445. Wong produced by getting on base regularly and hitting more than a few balls hard for extra bases, and should continue to do so in Milwaukee for at least two more seasons.
12. Tommy Edman – St. Louis Cardinals
159 G, 691 PA, .262/.308/.387, 91 R, 11 HR, 56 RBI, 30 SB, 5.5%/13.7% BB/K, 91 wRC+
After watching Edman perform admirably for two partial seasons, it was fitting to wonder what type of player he would be over a full season. This year he showed that he can play some great defense while putting up decent offensive numbers paired with elite speed (92nd percentile sprint speed). He doesn’t have much power, but makes up for that lack by punching the ball all over the field and stealing extra bases with his wheels. His legs helped him swipe the third-most bases by a second baseman and also helped him leg out the second-most doubles (41) at the position.
One skill that has bolstered his efforts so far in his career has been his ability to avoid the strikeout. With someone as fast as Edman, even just putting the ball in play can be an effective strategy to getting on base. So, avoiding striking out only gave Edman more opportunities to show off his speed. His K rate was fifth-best among second basemen with at least 500 plate appearances (92nd percentile). Edman should remain a fixture atop the Cardinals lineup where he will continue to show off his gap power and selective approach at the plate.
11. Whit Merrifield – Kansas City Royals
162 G, 720 PA, .277/.317/.395, 97 R, 10 HR, 74 RBI, 40 SB, 5.6%/14.3% BB/K, 91 wRC+
In a similar fashion to the previously mentioned Edman, Merrifield makes this list because of his stolen base prowess, doubles power, and evasion of strikeouts (90th percentile K%). Merrifield ranks above Edman because he did everything Edman did, but better, and didn’t miss a single game all season. He led primary second basemen by tallying 184 hits. His 40 stolen bases were the second-most in the MLB this year and the most among second baseman. He also topped second basemen with his 42 doubles; a total that tied for the MLB lead.
Stealing and hitting doubles allowed Merrifield to frequently find himself in scoring position. Those scoring opportunities afforded Merrifield the pleasure of crossing the plate the sixth-most times by a second baseman. He was the only primary second baseman to combine at least 15 steals with a batting average above .265, making him the premier contact/speed threat at the position. Despite his mediocre power, he is still one of the top second basemen in the game. The Royals maintain two more years of control over Merrifield, so expect him to be a contributor in the heart of the Royals lineup during that time. The only possibility of that changing would be if an opposing team proposed a trade that Royals GM Dayton Moore just couldn’t possibly turn down.
10. Tony Kemp – Oakland Athletics
131 G, 397 PA, .279/.382/.418, 54 R, 8 HR, 37 RBI, 8 SB, 13.1%/12.8% BB/K, 127 wRC+
Kemp is easily the most surprising player to land inside the top ten offensive players from 2021. His contributions went almost unnoticed allowing him to quietly put up some remarkable numbers. His plate discipline most prominently propped up his efforts at the dish. He was one of only three players in the MLB with at least 350 plate appearances to record more walks than strikeouts in 2021. His 1.02 BB/K ratio trailed only Yasmani Grandal (1.06) and Juan Soto (1.56) in that category. His walk rate by itself also led all second basemen, resulting in the league’s highest OBP by a second baseman as well.
He was held back from placing higher on this list because he appeared off the bench often (90 games started), limiting his playing time, and ultimately his counting stat ceiling. Availability wasn’t his only setback, as he didn’t do much at the plate when he put the ball in play. Kemp had some of the worst hard-hit and barrel rates in the league, according to Baseball Savant, and did most of his damage by being ultra-selective. Despite his weak quality of contact metrics, Kemp still set career-highs in hits (92), doubles (16), and a host of other counting stats resulting from appearing in the most games he has in a single season. The 29-year old left-handed hitter enters his first year of arbitration in 2022 after coming off a career season, giving the A’s three years of control on a player whose skills are on the upswing.
9. Jean Segura – Philadelphia Phillies
131 G, 567 PA, .290/.348/.436, 76 R, 14 HR, 58 RBI, 9 SB, 6.9%/13.8% BB/K, 109 wRC+
There was a time when Segura was one of the most exciting players in the game because of his power-speed combo and his capacity to knock out base hits consistently. The 2016 season brought his peak — a .319 AVG, 20 HR, 33 SB, and a whopping 203 hits — an effort that placed Segura 13th in NL MVP Award voting. He no longer has 20-homer power and hasn’t batted over .300 since 2018, but Segura has maintained the majority of the skills that earned him a place as one of the premier offensive middle infielders. His contact ability is still alive, as his AVG was the second-highest by a primary second baseman with at least 500 PA and he had the sixth-most singles (105) among that same group. Segura even reached the second-highest home run total of his career.
As he’s reached his 30’s though, his base-swiping ability has dwindled along with his sprint speed. He has stolen just 21 bases across the last three seasons combined after totaling 75 across the three seasons prior to that. Even though he’s gotten slower and his bat isn’t as fearsome as it once was, Segura was still a more than serviceable contact hitter with decent power in 2021. He has one more guaranteed year on the five-year, $70 million contract he originally signed with the Seattle Mariners in June of 2017. He will most likely stay with the Phillies through 2023 as they maintain a club option on a potential sixth year of that original deal, and will most assuredly pick it up with Segura continuing to be one of the top second basemen in the league.
8. Adam Frazier – San Diego Padres
155 G, 639 PA, .305/.368/.411, 83 R, 5 HR, 43 RBI, 10 SB, 7.5%/10.8% BB/K, 114 wRC+
Frazier had some of the most drastic half-season splits in the league last year and they coincided with his trade to the San Diego Padres at the July Trade Deadline. As a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Frazier put up an .836 OPS and a 128 wRC+ in 98 games, buoyed by an outstanding .324 AVG that he bumped up to .330 by the end of the first half. That mark was the third-best batting average in the MLB in the first half, trailing only Nick Castellanos (.331) and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.332). Things went south following his trade across the country. His good batted ball luck quickly subsided and his numbers took a massive tumble. He hit just .267 with a .662 OPS (85 wRC+) in 57 games with San Diego, dragging down his season-long numbers as he struggled to recapture his first-half form.
Despite those second-half shortcomings, Frazier still posted some impressive offensive metrics. Among primary second basemen, he tallied the second-most hits (176), finished third in OBP, and racked up the fifth-most doubles (36). Most notably, he led primary second baseman in batting average and earned it by notching the highest expected batting average (.286, 91st percentile) among primary second basemen with at least 500 plate appearances. Frazier supported his impressive bat-to-ball skills by being one of the hardest players to strikeout. His K rate was the second-lowest among second basemen with at least 500 plate appearances and placed him in the 98th percentile, according to Baseball Savant. His complete lack of power held him back from placing higher on this list, but the Padres should be happy with a top-ten offensive second baseman for one more year.
7. Ozzie Albies – Atlanta Braves
156 G, 686 PA, .259/.310/.488, 103 R, 30 HR, 106 RBI, 20 SB, 6.9%/18.7% BB/K, 107 wRC+
Albies was one of the most difficult players to rank because his collection of counting stats was diminished by a slightly above average wRC+. His counting stats suggest he was a top-five hitter at second base, while his rate stats say he was closer to the 10-15 range. Either way, he put up some remarkable numbers and did it by being one of the most platoon-heavy switch hitters in baseball. He mashed as a right-handed hitter against lefties with a .940 OPS, a 144 wRC+, and a .323 AVG in 175 plate appearances, while he struggled hitting from the left side of the plate, posting a .743 OPS, a 93 wRC+, and a .250 AVG in 506 plate appearances. His success from the right side of the plate boosted his overall line, but he wasn’t a slouch from the left side. Albies recorded two-thirds of his homers from that side of the plate, and his career-high 30 dingers were the fifth-most by a primary second baseman.
In conjunction with his aggressiveness on the bases, Albies tallied the second-most home runs plus stolen bases by a primary second baseman. On top of that, he legged out the third-most doubles (40) by a second baseman, helping him record a top-five SLG mark at the position. Those extra-base hits with runners on-base allowed Albies to lead second basemen in RBI and finish third among primary second basemen in runs. The power-speed combo of Albies as a switch-hitter makes him one of the most unique players in the game, and it’s fair to wonder if he could take another step forward as a hitter if he took the Cedric Mullins approach; ceasing switch-hitting.
6. Jake Cronenworth – San Diego Padres
152 G, 643 PA, .266/.340/.460, 94 R, 21 HR, 71 RBI, 4 SB, 8.6%/14.0% BB/K, 116 wRC+
Cronenworth was traded from Tampa Bay to San Diego prior to the 2020 season and he made the Padres look smart by putting up a solid .831 OPS in his first taste of the majors in the pandemic-shortened season. He came out of nowhere, however, leading analysts to doubt his ability heading into this past season, despite his Statcast metrics supporting his performance. He proved skeptics wrong by nearly replicating his 2020 efforts and narrowly ending the season outside of the top-five offensive second basemen.
While he doesn’t stand out because of one specific skill, Cronenworth posted the sixth-best wRC+ by a primary second baseman with at least 400 plate appearances because of his above-average abilities at every facet of hitting. He was fourth in BB/K ratio (0.61) among second basemen with more than 500 plate appearances, revealing his advanced approach at the dish. He was also top-ten in AVG, OBP, and SLG individually (all among second basemen with at least 500 PA), showing that he could put the ball in play, get on base, and hit for power. That combination of great plate skills with top-ten triple-slash metrics was the main cog that drove his wRC+ so high and placed him sixth on this list. Heading into his age 28 season, Cronenworth will be rightfully regarded as one of the best hitters at his position after he backed up his 2020 debut with an equally impressive sophomore season.
5. Jonathan India – Cincinnati Reds
150 G, 631 PA, .269/.376/.459, 98 R, 21 HR, 69 RBI, 12 SB, 11.3%/22.3% BB/K, 122 wRC+
The Cincinnati Reds second baseman had high expectations after being drafted fifth overall in the 2018 June Amateur Draft out of the University of Florida. India showed an advanced approach as a minor leaguer, but other than that, he didn’t produce much at the plate because he lacked any sort of power. It was difficult to predict what the Reds would get out of India when he won an infield job with the team out of spring training because we hadn’t seen him play since 2019 as a result of the minor league season being canceled in 2020. He parlayed that opportunity into an outstanding Major League debut.
India started off slow, but once he started getting used to major league pitching, he fully broke out. In 316 plate appearances in the first half of 2021, he was patient at the dish, walking 13.0% of the time while maintaining a high OBP because of his ability to put the ball in play when he wasn’t taking the free pass. That approach didn’t allow him to tap into any of his power, continuing to cast doubt on India’s ceiling. The second half saw him become more aggressive, and as a result, he was finally able to start hitting the ball with authority. He reached new heights with a .507 SLG and 18 homers in 315 plate appearances. That second-half run after his above-average first-half performance combined to give India sensational season-long numbers.
From a counting stat perspective among rookies, he tallied the most doubles (34, seventh among 2B), scored the most runs (fourth among 2B), finished with the third-most hits (143), stole the fifth-most bases (top-ten among 2B), and mashed the sixth-most homers (sixth among 2B). India may have been even more notable from a rate stat perspective. He had the highest walk rate among rookies with at least 300 plate appearances (tops among 2B with more than 400 PA), helping him record the highest OBP and third-best BB/K ratio (0.50) in that same group of players (first and seventh respectively among 2B with more than 400 PA). Culminating from the power he added in the second half, India posted the best OPS (.835) and the third-best wRC+ among rookies with more than 300 PA (both fourth among primary 2B with at least 400 PA). He scattered himself across so many leaderboards last season, making it an easy task to place him this high in these rankings. India was named as the National Rookie of the Year Award winner this season as a result of his top-five offensive season at second base.
4. Jorge Polanco – Minnesota Twins
152 G, 644 PA, .269/.323/.503, 97 R, 33 HR, 98 RBI, 11 SB, 7.0%/18.3% BB/K, 122 wRC+
Polanco, busted for PEDs in 2018, had doubts cast upon him about whether or not he was a legit major leaguer or if he was just a product of cheating heading into the 2019 season. He showed power by hitting 22 homers that season and proved he was more than just a contact-first switch hitter. His 2020 efforts once again had many discounting his previous performances, but he showed that season was an outlier by becoming one of the best offensive middle infielders in 2021.
Polanco exchanged average for power and busted out with a career-high in almost every power statistic (HR, ISO, SLG, RBI). That power placed him among the elite at his position as Polanco was at the top of those power metric leaderboards. His homer total was the third-highest among second basemen and his double (35) and RBI totals were both in the top six at the position. Additionally, Polanco recorded the third-best SLG and ISO (.235) among primary second basemen, ultimately helping him to post the fourth-best wRC+ and fifth-best OPS (.826) by a primary second baseman with at least 400 plate appearances. By adding some decent speed to his power mix, he finished with the fifth-most home runs plus stolen bases by a primary second baseman. Most impressively, Polanco racked up all of those chart-topping stats hitting from both sides of the plate. He could be in Minnesota for up to four more years, so he may only get more comfortable hitting in Target Field.
3. Jose Altuve – Houston Astros
146 G, 678 PA, .278/.350/.489, 117 R, 31 HR, 83 RBI, 5 SB, 9.7%/13.4% BB/K, 130 wRC+
The 2017 AL MVP Award winner, Altuve continues to be one of the most consistent elite hitters in all of baseball, despite the distractions of the Astros’ cheating scandal. In 2021, he returned to his elite offensive levels after an uncharacteristically bad season the year before. The seven-time All-Star bounced back by tying his career-high in dingers and setting a career-best in RBI. He recorded his lowest AVG since his 2011 debut season, but nonetheless, had himself one of the best years at the plate at his position.
Having led the league in hits for four straight seasons from 2014-17, Altuve is no stranger to the hits leaderboards. This past season, Altuve not only showed his contact prowess by tallying the fifth-most hits (167) and the fourth-highest AVG by a primary second baseman with at least 500 plate appearances, but his power numbers were also outstanding among his peers. He was the only primary second baseman to pair an AVG above .270 with at least 20 homers. He finished in the top-five among primary second-basemen in home runs, slugging percentage, and isolated power (.211). He no longer steals bases like he once did, but he still crossed the plate more than any other second baseman.
Most impressively, he became one of the league’s most disciplined hitters by recording the second-best BB/K ratio (0.73) of his career thanks to his career-high BB%. That BB/K ratio was the second-best by any second baseman with at least 500 plate appearances and helped him post a top-three OBP in that same group. Ultimately, his combination of power and discipline is not often found at second base, let alone from someone of his stature. That combination resulted in the third-best OPS (.839) and wRC+ by a primary second baseman, making it clear that Altuve deserved a top-three spot among the best offensive second basemen.
2. Brandon Lowe – Tampa Bay Rays
149 G, 615 PA, .247/.340/.523, 97 R, 39 HR, 99 RBI, 7 SB, 11.1%/27.2% BB/K, 137 wRC+
Lowe has done nothing but hit bombs since debuting in 2018. As a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, he gets platooned a lot, but that hasn’t held him back from being one of the premier power threats at his position. By crushing the second-most long balls and driving in the third-most runs by a second baseman, Lowe secured his place as the best left-handed hitting second baseman in baseball in 2021. He produced those sensational power numbers by being an efficient hitter, according to Baseball Savant. That efficiency bore out in Lowe’s second base leading 14.0% barrel rate (88th percentile) and .488 xSLG (82nd percentile).
In conjunction with his power, Lowe was adept at taking the free pass. He worked a walk 68 times (third among second basemen), and on a rate basis, he was walked in the second-highest percentage of his plate appearances among players with at least 500 plate appearances at his position. Lowe was two-dimensional at the plate, but it was the elite level in which he performed in those two categories that placed him as the runner-up on this list. By the end of the season, Lowe sat in the top two in some of the most important leaderboards for batters: SLG, OPS (.863), and wRC+. That standing made it clear that Lowe was the second-best hitter at his position in 2021. Thanks to the six-year, $24 million extension he signed with Tampa Bay prior to 2019, Lowe could be a member of the Rays for up to five more seasons.
1. Marcus Semien – Toronto Blue Jays
162 G, 724 PA, .265/.334/.538, 115 R, 45 HR, 102 RBI, 15 SB, 9.1%/20.2% BB/K, 131 wRC+
After finishing in third place in the AL MVP Award voting in 2019, almost everyone expected that season to be his peak. However, in his first, and possibly only, season as a Toronto Blue Jay, Semien had arguably the best power season ever witnessed from a player at his position. Among primary second basemen, Semien placed in the top three in a number of counting stats (R, RBI, hits , doubles ), but most notably, he set the record for the most home runs in a single season by a second baseman, surpassing Davey Johnson’s previous record of 43 homers set in 1973. Those long balls did the most work in elevating Semien’s SLG and OPS (.873) marks to league-leading status among primary second basemen as well. On top of that, he finished only behind Lowe in essential stats such as ISO (.273) and wRC+.
Semien continued to show off his ability to steal bases when he wasn’t hitting the ball out of the park. He may not have led the league in steals, but in conjunction with his homers, he was the best at his position in the power-speed department. His 60 home runs plus stolen bases were ten more than any other primary second baseman, making it clear he was in his own tier in that category. His new home run record should be enough to qualify him as the best hitter at his position, but the fact that he was scattered across other leaderboards and didn’t miss a game all season secured his place as the best hitter at second base from 2021.