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February 23, 2010

Fantasy Focus

Second Base Rankings

by Marc Normandin

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Yesterday we introduced the first of our fantasy rankings for 2010, using the new tiered system built from reader feedback from the past few months. Given it is still early, there are some additions we could implement-I'll do my best to retroactively adjust the older rankings via Unfiltered to compensate for those changes. For now, continue to give me feedback and we'll work in what we can.

If you missed the first base rankings, you can find them here. Now, here are the changes to this year's ranking system:

  • Players are no longer ranked by number (the 1-20 system). Instead, I am implementing a tiered system using stars (five stars is the best, one is the lesser of your options). These stars are equal across positions to make comparisons between them easier-for example, there are three five-star first basemen, but there may be more or fewer than that at other positions-if it comes to it, the first player at a position may be a four-star option. You can derive positional scarcity from the number of four- and five-star players available and make decisions from there.
  • I am no longer just covering 20 players per position-each list may be a bit different in length, but this list of second basemen is 41 players long. This should let players in AL- or NL-only league be as prepared as those in mixed leagues. There are two things I did to make this happen. First, I used the depth charts as my guide (this is also where the projections listed come from) and picked the starting player for every team at the position, giving me a minimum of 30 guaranteed choices. Second, for players with multiple position eligibility, I included them in the list for each position. It is possible they will have different star ratings at different positions, though, so make sure you reference the correct set of rankings. Victor Martinez is a three-star first baseman-it's a very crowded position, and his numbers are very average for it-but at catcher, where the talent pool is shallower, Martinez is worth more. This allows me to show you which position a player is most valuable.
  • If a player is ahead of another player within the same tier, it does not necessarily mean I like him more. It means his last name came up in the alphabet first. The point of the tiers is that the players within each one should are all expected to have similar production-if one of them performs significantly better or worse than expected, then we can re-evaluate at midseason or during the year, but think of the star rating as their true or expected talent level.

Using tiers and significantly increasing the number of players covered were the two requests I saw the most when I opened the floor to you. Though I didn't see it mentioned nearly as often, including players at each available position seemed worthwhile. I will try to release a top-250 list eventually, but I hope these star ratings help you to construct your own, in the meantime, given I'm producing them in a way that makes position-to-position comparisons easy. I think the rankings-and therefore our fantasy teams-will be that much better for these changes, so thank you for your input. We're still early enough that comments and suggestions regarding the format are appreciated, so don't be shy.

Five Stars
Player            PA   AVG/OBP/SLG    R HR RBI SB
Ian Kinsler      640 .289/.378/.515 108 27  78 33
Chase Utley      648 .301/.405/.535 100 27  90 15

More often than not, a five-star player is going to be a five-category player. It makes sense that way, and also makes understanding these tiers a bit easier. Second base has two of those players in Kinsler and Utley. Kinsler's batting average was poor in 2009, but his BABIP was also .241, giving him loads of room for improvement, which is where PECOTA is pulling that .289 mark. He's got plenty of homer potential, will drive in plenty of runs (especially for a second baseman) and is going to be among the leaders at the position in steals. He's a double-threat kind of guy, in that he can hit and get you steals. Utley isn't going to get you as many thefts, but 15 would be more than enough given his dominance of the other four categories. Utley is the best second baseman in the game, and one of its best players.

Four Stars
Player            PA   AVG/OBP/SLG     R HR RBI SB
Gordon Beckham   625  .278/.351/.469  78 21  75  9
Robinson Cano    652  .297/.338/.493  80 25  87  2
Aaron Hill       572  .279/.340/.495  78 26  71  6
Brandon Phillips 664  .281/.338/.486  86 27  92 23
Dustin Pedroia   703  .310/.378/.480 104 18  68 19
Brian Roberts    720  .296/.380/.454  98 15  61 45
Dan Uggla        669  .261/.366/.489  89 30  85  3
Rickie Weeks     560  .256/.383/.462  87 18  47 18
Ben Zobrist      625  .270/.378/.483  82 25  71 15

What second base lacks in five-star players it more than makes up for in four-star ones. Beckham may not shine in any one category (excepting maybe homers) but he's so solid in all five that he's worth your consideration. Cano won't steal any bases for you, but chances are good he will hit at least that well, and sitting near the top of the powerful Yankees lineup is reason enough to consider him a lock for, at minimum, the runs and RBI listed here.

Hill has just the one excellent offensive season of 2009 under his belt, but there isn't much to dislike. His BABIP wasn't out of control, and though his ISO more than doubled from one season to the next-partially due to his home run output more than doubling from his career high-even scaling him back some gives him an impressive line, as seen above. Phillips is very close to being a five-star player, but like Beckham, he may not shine bright enough to outdistance the other four-star second basemen by much. Having someone capable of 25-25 on your team who will also pick up runs and RBI for you is huge, though. I'm not entirely sure where PECOTA is pulling this weighted-mean slugging from-seems a bit high to me, and I'm a big Phillips fan.

Pedroia is another one who is almost a fiver, but the fact that he won't drive in a ton of runs at the top of the Red Sox lineup-especially with their new emphasis on defense-sticks him comfortably among your stronger options within this tier. If he can avoid the slow start that bogged his early-season numbers down a bit in 2009, he'll match this forecast easily. If you could guarantee that Roberts would have the season forecasted above, I would probably want him as a five-star player, but I don't buy the stolen base total. He hasn't stolen 45 or more since 2007, and last season saw him down to 30. He's having back spasms as well in the early days of spring training, which, while not confirmed as anything serious, is the kind of thing we may see start to creep into his production. Uggla is not a friend of your batting average, but he makes up for it with plenty of love in the power categories. Think of him as the Ryan Howard of second basemen.

I like Weeks more than his forecast, but you should also remember that he's being credited with just 560 plate appearances here. Those run, home run, RBI and stolen base totals will be loftier were he to make it through the full season, and the line he put up before injuring himself in 2009 is a reminder of his potential. Zobrist is pretty awesome and I'm pleased PECOTA feels the same way. If he has another year like 2009, I could see making him a five-star player, but I need to see it happen first.

Three Stars
Player            PA   AVG/OBP/SLG     R HR RBI SB
Luis Castillo    515  .288/.373/.373  64  3  38 12
Orlando Hudson   547  .287/.362/.432  61 11  49  8
Kelly Johnson    560  .283/.373/.469  79 14  65  9
Howie Kendrick   454  .299/.335/.454  56 10  46 11
Jose Lopez       616  .283/.322/.457  64 22  82  4
Martin Prado     564  .311/.369/.452  72 11  55  4
Skip Schumacher  640  .294/.355/.407  80  8  48  5

You start to see the problem with second base here-while there are a few elite options, and lots of four-star players to choose from, the depth drops off quickly to the long and shallow portion of the pool. Castillo's forecast looks iffy from a counting stat angle until you realize this is just for 515 plate appearances-if he plays the full season, you can expect run and stolen base totals that make him look worthy of this tier. Hudson is kind of in the same boat, but he has a bit more power than Castillo, so expect to see more homers as well.

I don't buy Johnson's forecast completely. He was struggling for extended periods of time even prior to his injury issues in 2009-I think he's still a very good option, but if I was in love with this projection I would have him with the four-star players. Kendrick is another player who is off due to plate appearances. It's tough to argue with him over 600 plate appearances (74 R, 13 HR, 61 RBI, 15 SB to go along with a .299 average) and if he plays a full season you'll see even more. Lopez has more power than most of these three-star options, but doesn't steal bases, and while he won't hurt you with his batting average, he probably won't blow you away with it. The low OBP hurts his opportunities to score runs as well. Prado took over for Johnson last year with the Braves, and played a lot like the player he replaced. This weighted-mean forecast seems right, and he's in the upper crust of the tier. Schumacher is a good pick mostly for his batting average and his runs scored. He's a little on the weaker side as far as three-star players go, but once you see what comes after this tier then his standing makes more sense.

Two Stars
Player            PA   AVG/OBP/SLG     R HR RBI SB
Clint Barmes     467  .268/.317/.435  60 15  53  9
David Eckstein   547  .273/.342/.368  53  6  45  6
Mark Ellis       534  .265/.330/.415  57 14  58  9
Mike Fontenot    400  .273/.346/.435  56 12  50  4
Chris Getz       586  .286/.351/.407  69  9  50 21
Jerry Hairston   498  .259/.329/.386  62 11  48 11
Akinori Iwamura  549  .273/.351/.392  63  8  34  9
Kazuo Matsui     508  .280/.339/.415  67  9  40 20  
Casey McGehee    587  .269/.331/.425  71 19  90  1 
Freddy Sanchez   625  .287/.325/.416  72 11  59  2
Scott Sizemore   564  .264/.345/.410  67 12  43 11
Luis Valbuena    501  .259/.332/.400  65 13  50 10

Most of these players have one glaring issue that keeps them from being considered more productive options, while others just don't do enough things well to merit more consideration. One thing you can see is that there are a whole bunch of players on the low end of the tiers at second base, which means you don't have to worry too much about wasting a late pick on picking up backups and filling out your roster, as there is to end to the options.

Barmes has power and some speed, but doesn't get on base often due to both his average and OBP. David Eckstein plays in Petco Park and doesn't have much in the way of hitting production, though there are far worse options. Ellis plays in a pitcher's park in a weak offense, and his most significant contribution is solo homers. Fontenot may actually be a three-star caliber player, but it's tough to tell what his true talent level is after a BABIP-fueled 2008 and a much more worrisome follow-up campaign in 2009.

Getz's projection seems optimistic to me. As a 75th percentile, I think I would be fine with it, but given his performance in the major leagues thus far, it seems like too much. Otherwise, he's a potential three-star guy. Jerry Hairston may not play a lot of second base, but he could very well play four or five times a week while spelling various Padres starters, and he's second base eligible. He has some power and some speed for the position, and isn't a bad option for a middle infield or backup spot in deep leagues. Iwamura won't hurt you if you pick him up late or cheap, but he's just not that special. Little bit of pop, little bit of speed, and should get on base often enough to score some runs.

McGehee would be ranked higher if I believed his forecast, but 90 RBI with a .425 slugging percentage seems unlikely, especially when Matt Gamel is nipping at his heels at third base with the Brewers. Sanchez isn't particularly interesting unless he's hitting .320, and I don't like to bank on that sort of thing when he doesn't bring much else to the table. While I'm a little worried the playing time might not be there, Sizemore's projection seems reasonable enough-he could be worth a look late, as the power and speed he does have could be helpful. Valbuena wasn't that impressive in 2009, though a .166 ISO from a middle infielder in his age-24 season isn''t too shabby. PECOTA thinks he'll be able to keep it up, but with the benefit of his stolen base rate from the minor leagues.

One Star
Player            PA   AVG/OBP/SLG     R HR RBI SB
Jeff Baker       338  .254/.327/.407  42  9  32  3
Ronnie Belliard  334  .276/.333/.432  34  9  37  2
Emilio Bonifacio 431  .267/.326/.353  62  3   3 18
Alberto Callaspo 259  .296/.358/.423  28  4  24  1
Blake DeWitt     375  .263/.324/.412  40  8  37  2
Willie Harris    368  .260/.358/.404  46  7  31 10
Omar Infante     377  .294/.352/.406  44  5  42  3
Maicer Izturis   314  .286/.355/.427  49  8  45 10
Adam Kennedy     469  .264/.328/.372  46  7  42  8
Jeff Keppinger   339  .301/.364/.430  59  9  51  2

Most of these players lack playing time or a set position, but some are just plain boring picks. Keppinger, Izturis, Infante and DeWitt would all be more interesting with starting roles, at least for fantasy purposes, and Harris may be in the same boat. Callaspo has a better projection than Getz, the player expected to take the second base job with the Royals. However, if Callapso ends up with the job or winds up playing regularly at another position then he's a much better pick than a one-star guy. Bonifacio's one use is stolen bases. Belliard is more intriguing if he has most of the playing time at second-bump him up to two stars if you're more optimistic than the depth charts. Baker's power is intriguing if he was playing daily, but that's no guarantee. Finally, Kennedy is here solely because he has a starting job and should rack up plate appearances. Whether or not anything good will come from that is something I would rather let another owner find out.

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Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: Third B... (02/25)
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