January 19, 2015
State of the Position
Although the league-average second baseman only hit .250/.307/.364 in 2014, the position was rather deep. Seven second basemen finished the season as top-50 fantasy players in ESPN leagues, including a few breakout stars such as Josh Harrison, Dee Gordon, and Brian Dozier. Ultimately, it proved to be a crazy season in which cheap options on draft day provided some of the best value—as five of the top-10 second baseman were, on average, drafted outside the top 15.
Perhaps it’s a changing of the guard. Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips, and Chase Utley continue to age and are no longer elite options. Guys like Anthony Rendon and Jose Altuve now lead the charge. That doesn’t even include the massive number of second-base prospects who are poised to jump into the mix in 2015—such as Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Kolten Wong, and the forgotten Jurickson Profar, among others. The position has the potential to be crazy deep.
While shortstop has traditionally been regarded as a speed position, second basemen actually stole more bases (473) in 2015 than shortstops (433). It’s rather top-heavy with Dee Gordon and Jose Altuve, but 16 second-base-eligible players stole double-digit bags last year, compared to 17 for shortstops. Fantasy owners should be aware that the league is moving away from guys like Dan Uggla and Rickie Weeks at second base and turning to speedier guys who could arguably handle shortstop in a pinch. To prove this point, consider this: More second basemen stole double-digit bases than hit double-digit homers.
The landscape of the position is subtly changing; however, it’s also getting crazy deep. This could mean that many fantasy owners will look to wait on draft day, allowing competing owners to spend money on higher-priced assets while waiting for a mid-round or middle-tier option. It’s something we’ll explore as we outline the state of the position.
As with the past couple weeks, check back with Baseball Prospectus every day. The Fantasy Team will be bringing the best position-by-position coverage on the interwebs—and if you remember to check out the Fantasy Resource page under the Fantasy dropdown menu, you’ll have a borderline unfair advantage in your various leagues.
THE LEAGUE BREAKOUT
With the position being so deep—guys like Howie Kendrick and Neil Walker are being ranked around 15th by some people—plenty of opportunities will be available for breakout performers. Much of the hype surrounds guys who will be embarking on their first full season, like Jurickson Profar and Javier Baez, but there are some breakout candidates who are not rookies.
In the National League, Jedd Gyorko has fallen off the collective radar due to injuries and poor performance. However, it’s easy to forget that he’s just 26 years old and hit .328/.380/.588 with 24 homers in Double-A just two seasons ago. In fact, it seems to have slipped many people’s minds that he launched 23 homers in 2013 as a rookie. Plantar fasciitis stained his 2014 campaign, but it should be noted that he hit .267/.365/.378 in September—just his second month back from a painful injury. People expected big things from Gyorko last year. Don’t write him off because he suffered an injury and took a while to adjust to the league’s adjustment to him. He could be back in line for a top-10 performance, driven by power and a rejuvenated Padres’ lineup.
In the American League, many owners will be looking to capitalize on the likely return to form from Jason Kipnis. If I’m looking for a breakout candidate that’s not a young’un this year, though, I’m probably targeting post-hype sleeper Brett Lawrie. He started 26 games at second base and regained his eligibility. When things go right for the Canada native, he’s a dynamic power/speed threat who can hit for high average. The 25-year-old hit 18 homers and stole 13 bases in only 329 Triple-A plate appearances in 2011, while hitting .353.
Things gradually fell apart in Toronto, due to injury, mechanical changes, and perhaps some makeup issues. A fresh start in Oakland, however, could be exactly what he needs to jumpstart his career once more. He’ll move to a more difficult ballpark, but the young man could threaten 20 homers with double-digit stolen bases. Young players don’t always adjust immediately to the major leagues with aplomb; and even if they do, they can fall into bad habits or fail to make adjustments. It’s dangerous to label someone like Lawrie a “bust” just because he hasn’t been a stud through his age-24 season. He could be a surprise breakout star at the second base position in 2015. Fantasy owners have seen that all too often the past few years.
THE STRATEGY IN MIXED LEAGUES
Robinson Cano, Jose Altuve, and Anthony Rendon seem to comfortably be the top-three players at the position; however, I don’t see any truly elite players. Altuve accrued massive value last year due to steals. If he drops off in any meaningful way, which seems likely due to the batting average and stolen bases being far outside their career norms, fantasy owners may be looking at their top second baseman being a fringe top-20 overall player.
In that respect, I don’t think it makes sense to pay elite money for a top-tier second baseman. One should definitely not be taken in the first round of standard snake drafts. My personal strategy is a bit complicated. I see a lot of value in grabbing a bounce-back candidate such as Jason Kipnis and handcuffing that pick with a few multi-position young players latter in the draft—such as Arismendy Alcantara, Mookie Betts, Brett Lawrie, Chris Owings, etc. All of those players saw at least 10 games at second base last season—which is good enough for Yahoo! leagues—and players in leagues that require 20 games could still target Alcantara and Lawrie outside the top-15 second basemen.
I’m not a fan of Dustin Pedroia as a top-10 fantasy second baseman this year, and he’s continually being ranked in the top 10. I’m staying away. His power has dissipated. The former elite player is now 31 years old, and his fly-ball rate has dropped to career lows the past two years. It’s difficult to accumulate homers without getting the baseball into the air. He’ll still score runs and hit for average, but that’s not overly valuable in fantasy when he’s not stealing 20-plus bases. That is run-of-the-mill, and I don’t want to pay for that.
Overall, the temptation is to wait and grab one of the exciting young options at second base and avoid spending any chunk of money on the position. However, I think the more interesting plan is to take a solid, second-tier second baseman and back it up with an exciting young player in the later rounds. I mean, Jurickson Profar isn’t ranked in the top-250 by ESPN—which covers roughly 22 second basemen—and he could easily be a top-10 player by the end of the season. Relying on someone like Profar as the only second baseman on your squad seems like a leap of faith. As a late-round grab with a mid-tier handcuff like Daniel Murphy? That’s money.
THE LONG-TERM OUTLOOK
The future of the position remains bright with Robinson Cano, Jason Kipnis, and Jose Altuve atop the heap—and perhaps Anthony Rendon if he ever moves back to second base. However, dynasty league owners have been salivating over the upcoming crop of second basemen. They include: Jurickson Profar, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Kolten Wong, Rougned Odor, Nick Franklin, Jonathan Schoop
Mookie Betts would be among the elite on this list, if Dustin Pedroia weren’t blocking his path at second base and forcing him to the outfield. One could say the same about Alcantara, but the Cubs could easily trade Castro, move Baez to short, and place Alcantara back at second base. There’s too much uncertainty in Chicago to place long-term position labels on these guys.
As mentioned in the breakout section, Jedd Gyorko may also return to the party if he can bounce back as one of the purest power threats of the bunch. Dee Gordon should remain one of the top stolen-base threats, and fantasy owners should be thankful for his move to the Sunshine State, as he no longer has to look over his shoulder and wonder if he’ll soon be out of a job. He projects to be the everyday second baseman for the Marlins for the foreseeable future. If you’re a Gordon believer, he’s a long-term top-10 option for the gaudy stolen bases alone.
The danger at second base is to get too enamored with the young studs and forget about players such as Ian Kinsler and Daniel Murphy and even Ben Zobrist. I’ve been seeing their value plummet as dynasty leaguers clamor over the shiny new toys, while Kinsler and Murphy were top-10 second basemen in 2014. For me, they’re not at risk of becoming nobodies within the next three years, and dynasty owners shouldn’t be eschewing top-10 options because they’re worried about what they’re going to do four or five years down the road.
In short, the long-term outlook is bright. Just don’t overlook who’s already there because you’re so worked up about who’s coming along.
A CLOSING HAIKU
Young kids are coming.