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Buster Olney's top 10 second basemen: LeMahieu, Altuve vie for No. 1

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Published in Baseball
Friday, 27 December 2019 19:00

If you'd like a peek into the future of catching once the electronic strike zone is implemented, just consider how quickly second base has changed since the rules against aggressive slides was adopted in 2016.

Back then, one skill separated good second basemen from the bad ones -- the ability to take a throw with a runner bearing down, quickly transferring the ball from glove to hand and then firing an accurate throw to first to perhaps complete a double play. When fielders moved from other positions to second base, this was what almost all of them found to be the greatest challenge -- learning how to do this adeptly.

But because of what is known as the Chase Utley rule, there is little value attached to this practiced flurry of hands and feet, because the middle infielders almost never get dumped anymore.

Increasingly, teams treat second base much the way they do first base -- as a spot to mine offensive potential through matchups. In yesterday's series piece, it was mentioned that the Dodgers deployed 10 different players at first. The volume was almost as high for L.A. at second: Enrique Hernandez, Max Muncy, Gavin Lux and Chris Taylor were among the eight second basemen deployed by Dave Roberts, at the helm of one of baseball's best and most progressive teams.

The Brewers provided a classic example of where the position stands with their handling of second base in 2018. After acquiring Mike Moustakas, they shifted Travis Shaw to second base, a position at which Shaw had played exactly zero innings professionally. But Milwaukee wanted a way to shoehorn Moustakas and Shaw into the lineup, rather than choose between the two, so Shaw learned how to play big league second base ... in the big leagues.

He started 36 games in that spot as the Brewers surged to win the NL Central, and in 2019, it was Moustakas who made the move to second, for 359⅔ innings. Milwaukee reached the playoffs again with some new middle infielders getting significant time at a spot where, generally, high-caliber defense was once a priority.

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