January 26, 2016
Fantasy Tiered Rankings
To read the previous editions in this series, follow the links below:
Today, our positional tiered rankings series continues with a look at second base.
Players at each position are divided into five tiers, represented by a numerical star rating. Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players who will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch mixed league auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and they are projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of last year’s values but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen in 2016.
We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from last year’s PFM using a 15-team, standard 5x5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and, as we did last year, we allocate $180 of a $260 budget to hitters. Players needed to play in 20 games at a position to qualify there. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format, you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players’ dollar values.
Players with multi-position eligibility are listed at the position where it is most likely they would start in a standard fantasy league. Although a case could be made for including Addison Russell at second base, we decided to stick him at shortstop. It was a close call between second base and third base for players like Anthony Rendon, but in the end we decided that second base is historically a little bit thinner in fantasy and Rendon “belongs” here.
Last year, there was some staff discussion about putting Altuve in the five-star tier but ultimately we decided to not rank any second basemen as elite. In retrospect, this was a mistake, as not only was Altuve elite at his position, he was also elite in fantasy, period. Only five position players earned $30 or more in 15-team mixed formats in both 2014 and 2015, and Altuve and Gordon were two of the five. There is always resistance to paying top dollar or using a top draft pick on a player whose primary source of value is speed, but the dwindling amount of top-tier burners in the majors makes dropping $30-plus or a high draft pick on either Altuve or Gordon a justifiable proposition.
Five-Star Value Pick: Dee Gordon
Where 2015 saw some healthy internal staff debates about whether any of the four-star second sackers belonged in the five-star tier, this year there were no disagreements about the players in the top two tiers, perhaps indicating a clear line of demarcation. Brian Dozier is the guy who could get to the five-star tier if he saw a sudden spike in batting average, but this is a lot of ask of a lifetime .240 hitter. A more realistic proposition would be an increase in stolen bases, and something closer to the 21 steals that Dozier posted in 2014. 20/20 players are a rarity in fantasy these days. Even with the subpar batting average, Dozier would be extremely appealing if he accomplished this. Besides Altuve, DJ LeMahieu and Brandon Phillips were the only other second basemen to steal more than 20 last year.
If you are looking for a second baseman who has earned $25 or more prior to 2015 as a quasi-sleeper candidate, you have the option of taking a chance on either Rendon (2014) or Kipnis (2013). With Rendon, much of his future prospects depend upon whether you believe 2015’s injury-marred campaign is behind him or if the subpar season he posted is a sign that he won’t be able to sustain his health going forward. Kipnis did bounce back after a crummy 2014, but wasn’t nearly the fantasy force he was in 2013 when he hit 17 home runs and stole 30 bases. Kipnis’ on-the-field value exceeded his fantasy value considerably, and while this makes him an awesome centerpiece for Cleveland, he won’t be a centerpiece for your fantasy squad unless he starts running again.
Ian Kinsler is arguably the most stable, predictable pick in this group, which is quite a contrast from earlier in his career when the power, speed, and batting average all fluctuated wildly. Kinsler isn’t extremely unlikely to steal 20 or more bases ever again, but he is a near lock to play in 150 or more games, get to double digits in both home runs and steals, and put up a solid .275 batting average. That doesn’t sound like much, but his money-in-the-bank consistency lands Kinsler in the four-star tier, if only barely.
Four-Star Value Pick: Robinson Cano
If this tier seems crowded, it is because there are a lot of decent options at second base this year. None of these guys is likely to jump into the four or five-star tier, but all of them are capable of producing something in the neighborhood of $15-20 of value in only formats or $8-15 in mixed. Schoop and Pedroia may seem like reaches in the three-star tier based on this logic, but both players can get there based on potential upside.
The three-star tier is a good place to lock in 10-15 home run power from nearly every player in the tier, with the exception of LeMahieu. If you are looking for upside, Odor’s overall numbers include a poor six weeks at the start of 2015 prior to a demotion to the minors while Lawrie moves from pitcher-friendly Oakland to hitter-friendly Chicago. Both have a shot at 20 or more home runs.
There isn’t as much upside in this tier as there was last year, but there are a few players who could surpass their 2015 earnings. Wong could get there with a 15 home run, 20 steal season, but with the Cardinals planning to platoon him with Jedd Gyorko, it will make it harder for Wong to amass a full season’s worth of at bats. Hamstring and quad injuries limited Murphy on the bases last year, but if he is 100 percent in 2016 a return to double-digit steals could potentially boost his fantasy value. LeMahieu and Phillips both seem likely to slip, but while ranking them it was impossible to ignore what they actually earned last year.
Three-Star Value Pick: Brett Lawrie
The two-star tier is very light, which is representative of the steep drop from the solid options in the three-star tier to the shaky plays that reside in the one-star tier. These five players are all somewhat limited compared to the three-star players, and it would take a lot for them to move up a tier. Harrison did put up numbers in 2014 that were commensurate to four-star value, but given that he had never done it before, 2015’s line is a more likely baseline going forward. The steals are the only thing keeping him out of the one-star tier.
Travis and Panik put up nearly identical lines in 2015, but Travis did so in just over half of the plate appearances that Panik logged. Travis could be a three-star player if healthy, but this was a significant issue last year and he could start 2016 on the DL. I am wary of being too aggressive on players like Travis, as injury timetables have a way of changing for the worse. Panik is a more stable option than Travis, but a healthy amount of skepticism is warranted after Panik put up his best offensive numbers at any level since he played in Low-A ball way back in 2011. Players with significant value wrapped up in batting average are dangerous fantasy propositions.
Two-Star Value Pick: Cory Spangenberg
Including all of the players who are eligible at both second base and shortstop at short makes second base appear to be a little bit weaker than it actually is but even if players with dual eligibility up the middle were all listed here the position would still be very thin at the bottom. After much discussion and repeated retching noises, it was decided that Omar Infante and Johnny Giavotella couldn’t even make the cut in the one-star tier, despite the fact that both players are projected to start at the moment. If you are going to play in the one-star end of the pool in shallower leagues, you’re better off rolling the dice on Baez or Profar (the position is so thin that we listed Profar here even though he is DH-only).
Baez currently doesn’t have a job in Chicago, but he is projected to make the Cubs Opening Day roster and manager Joe Maddon seems committed to using Baez frequently. It’s possible that Baez is used as a super sub, but another possibility is that Zobrist moves around the diamond frequently as Baez gets a crack at second base. Either way, Baez isn’t as overpriced as he was in 2014 and could provide sneaky value.
Cesar Hernandez doesn’t look like much, but he should be guaranteed a job while the Phillies continue to retool and he did come close to stealing 20 bases last year. You really want to get more out of your third middle infielder in a mixed league besides empty steals, but in an NL-only or as an injury replacement in deep mixed, you could do far worse.
One-Star Value Pick: Alen Hanson