Rays 2012 Positional Review: Second Base
By David Hill
In 2012, second base for the Rays was primarily held down by Ben Zobrist and, in the second half, Ryan Roberts. Will Rhymes, Sean Rodriguez, and Jeff Keppinger also played more than 10 games each at second. However, following the trade for Roberts, the position solidified, as Roberts and Keppinger received most of the action.
Keppinger had a great 2012, and was easily the best hitting second baseman for the Rays. When at second, he .312/.361/.4468 with three home runs and 11 RBI in 77 at bats. Rhymes also acquitted himself fairly well at second, posting a .250 batting average and slugging his only home run of the year while at the position. Overall, Rays second basemen batted .240, which was exactly the batting average for the team in 2012.
Even though the Rays cycled through nine different players at second base, they still managed to have above average defense at the position. With the sixth most chances at second in the American League with 768, they had only 12 errors. Their .984 fielding percentage was just above average for the year. Roberts dramatically improved the defense once he was acquired, handling 193 chances a second without an error. Keppinger also made it through the season without an error, handling his 84 chances flawlessly.
Overall, Zobrist had a very good season offensively, but he seemed to lose his ability to swing the bat when plugged in at second base. In 163 at bats at second, he only produced a .202/.323/.337 slash line, with four home runs and eleven RBIs. Zobrist also had a rough time in the field, with six errors in 186 chances at second. His range factor of 3.97 was also substandard, falling below the average of 4.63. However, that mostly has to do with the fact that Zobrist was in a major slump to begin the season and he played second base during most of that slump, affecting his offense and defense. Zobrist is known to be a good defensive second baseman and he remains a very good offensive player. If second base is where the Rays decide to put him, he will make the position and position of strength.
Of course, when discussing the bad, one must also include Will Rhymes getting drilled by a pitch in the eighth inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox on May 16th. Rhymes was drilled in the arm, made it to first, then collapsed into first base coach George Hendrick. Fortunately, Rhymes turned out to be ok, and was back in the lineup on May 19th.
Roberts is entering his first year of arbitration, and is under team control through 2015. On a team that values positional flexibility as much as the Rays do, his ability to play both second and third base should help to get Roberts into the lineup. Keppinger is a free agent this offseason, but may be someone the Rays look into retaining. His projected contract of two years in the $3Million to $5Million range is extremely affordable, especially with his own positional flexibility and his impressive hitting this past season.
Another name that may be in the mix is Tim Beckham. Beckham played exclusively at shortstop in the minors prior to this season, but appeared in 25 games at second base in 2012. Perhaps this is due to the performance of Hak-Ju Lee; however, the Rays may be looking for a way to get Beckham to the majors.
Keppinger is probably the most attractive free agent name for the Rays, based on potential salary demands and how he would fit into the lineup. Should they not resign him and decide to look outside the organization, Kelly Johnson may be a target. Johnson has a bit of power, slamming 108 home runs in his seven major league seasons, and has been solid defensively, traditionally ranking amongst the top second basemen.
Should the Rays resign Jeff Keppinger, he and Ryan Roberts will likely be in the lineup at second most often in 2013. Otherwise, second base could become a combination of Roberts and whoever has the hot bat at the time.