January 26, 2016
Well, that was fast. A week after surveying the view from the mountaintop while discussing the wonder and might of the first basemen in your league, we trudge back down into the valley where we started in our look at catchers two weeks ago. Second baseman actually had something of a renaissance last year, running up an extra 27 collective points of slugging relative to 2014, while also getting on base at a marginally better clip and hitting a somewhat staggering 93 more homers. Still, those rates and totals were good for just fourth, fourth, and fifth, respectively, among the six positional groupings. Keystoners were more valuable contributors, in other words, but in most cases they still weren’t going to be mistaken for the straws stirring your lineup’s drink.
As noted, second basemen improved last year compared with their effort in 2014, but OBP continues to be a weakness of the position. Their collective 6.7 percent walk rate barely bested the shortstops to stay out of the positional-group cellar, though their best-in-the-business batting average propped up the overall on-base line. The lack of walks makes for a generally more average-dependent—and therefore less stable—on-base profile for the position, however, making those rare gems who can work their way on via the free pass that much more enticing for your bottom line. How rare were those gems, you ask? Well, while we found nine catchers and a staggering 18 position-qualifying first basemen who posted at least an 80-point spread between their OBP and batting average, there were—drumroll, please—two second basemen who pulled off that feat in at least 250 plate appearances. Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rendon; that’s all you get. Wheeeee...
Ben Zobrist, CHC – There isn’t a ton to say about Zobrist at this point that I haven’t said in this space before, and his 83-point OBP jump over his batting average last year was tops among second-base qualifiers. Eligible just at second and in the outfield now, his relative lack of versatility appears to be strong-arming his better offensive context heading into this season as compared, as he’s currently barely cracking the top 200 in ADP and going off the board about 65 spots later than he did last winter. OBP leaguers obviously shouldn’t be making that mistake, however, and despite his advancing age he should still be knocking on the door of the top 10 on draft day. Standard: Low-Three Stars, OBP: High-Three Stars
Logan Forsythe, TAM – Let me start by saying that I don’t buy much of what Forsythe sold us last year as predictive of future performance. Stranger things have happened than a 28-year-old busting out for a career year in his first taste of everyday play, but it’s unusual to say the least when he posts a career-best walk rate while jumping his year-to-year chase rate by three percentage points. He managed to pull an extra two bucks in value for OBP leaguers, and he should be credited accordingly. But I’d hesitate to knock him up more than a couple of pegs on my draft board. Standard: Low-Two Stars, OBP: Low-Three Stars
Jace Peterson, ATL – Peterson’s rookie campaign in Atlanta didn’t go so hot in real-world terms, but he did return $11 of NL-only standard value, and that bumped up a bit in OBP formats. Despite hitting just .239 with marginal power, he managed to bring a respectable chunk of his 12.5 percent minor-league walk rate with him across almost 600 big-league plate appearances. He was poor defensively last year, and he’s certainly not a lock to log that many trips to the dish again in 2016 if he struggles out of the gate. But the stronger-than-most on-base profile is at least intriguing enough to jump him into the top 25 for the position in OBP formats, and he makes for a decent MI upside play in deeper formats. Standard: One Star, OBP: Low-Two Stars
Others: But not for an obnoxiously thick medical file, Anthony Rendon would probably have threatened Five-Star territory by now, and the upside is significant enough for the 25-year-old that he’s comfortably among the Fours in spite of such heightened risk. In OBP leagues he’s that much more of a worthwhile gamble in that range, as his chase rate cratered last year and he showed glimpses of a well above-average on-base profile heading into his prime… Dustin Pedroia has had his own health issues in recent vintage, and he’s not getting any younger, but his walk rate has held as reasonably above average for the position, which adds some strength and stability to his floor as a high-Three Star option… Way back in the days of yore, when Jurickson Profar played baseball and graced the tops of national prospect lists, he sported an 11.5 percent walk rate in over 1,500 minor-league plate appearances. He’s obviously a wild card in the mix this year, but in deeper OBP leagues he makes for that much more of an interesting One Star flyer.
Brett Lawrie, CHW – Lawrie finally dragged himself across the 600 plate appearance threshold last year, but while that came with decent counting stats over three bucks of his standard value went out the window in OBP leagues thanks to a sub-five percent walk rate. His 37.5 percent chase rate was in the 87th percentile, and while that was an anomalous effort we don’t exactly have the most consistent of long term data sets on Lawrie given his well-chronicled injury issues. The safer play for OBP-league managers is to knock him down a couple of pegs on the draft board despite the more-favorable offensive context, as any batted-ball regression would position him toward the .280 OBP range, and that’s… that’s not good. Standard: High-Three Stars, OBP: Low-Three Stars
Brandon Phillips, CIN – Dat Dude had himself a solid bounce-back campaign last year, but he remained highly allergic to walks – his 34 points of OBP-AVG separation was the seventh-worst at the position. His BABIP bounce was also more or less entirely propped up by a jump in “soft” line drive contact. Line-drive rate is the most volatile of the batted-ball beasts, and while his legs stayed healthy enough for him to produce an infield-hit rate on par with his halcyon 25-steal days of yore, he’s 35 now. It’s an increasingly risky proposition to bet on another 600 plate appearances of the same going forward, and the extreme dependence on batted-ball outcomes drops him a tier in OBP formats. Standard: Three Stars, OBP: High-Two Stars.
Jonathan Schoop, BAL – The power he’s flashed over the past couple of seasons puts him squarely into the mix as a top-20 option in standard formats, but that home-run potential comes at the steepest price imaginable in OBP leagues. His .027 OBP-AVG differential was the third-worst at the position, besting only kingpin Dee Gordon and non-factor Omar Infante, and his 2.8 percent career walk rate in the majors has shown no signs of imminent improvement. He hits the ball pretty hard, but he’s also been an extreme pull hitter with flyball tendencies, so it’s not necessarily a wise bet to bank on him running an above-board BABIP like he did last year. Coupled with his whiff rate, there are the makings of a lower batting-average ceiling here than he showed last year, and that’s terrible news in OBP leagues given the catastrophically poor approach. Standard: Low-Three Stars, OBP: Two Stars
Others: He’s still probably an elite Five Star option given the overall performance of the last two years, but Dee Gordon’s legendary lack of an approach cost him $6 off his $41 standard NL-only performance last year, and while he’s shown he can sustain a strong BABIP, the fact remains that he’s incredibly dependent on it for his on-base value… Howie Kendrick’s model of power and speed consistency finally started to break down a bit last year, and while his typically-strong batting averages are an asset in standard formats he loses some luster in OBP formats. It’s not enough to bump him from the Threes, but banking on a rebound this year is a bit more of a leap of faith thanks to a career walk rate under five percent… Josh Harrison should see every day playing time, and with his versatility and a little bit of pop and speed, he’s a nice player to roster. His poor on-base profile bumps him down on OBP lists, however,
While second basemen are typically net-negatives in OBP formats, the rest of their skills—not striking out much and hitting more doubles than any other position group—actually help them play a bit in points formats. A dozen second basemen posted whiff rates under 15 percent last year, and coupled with the decent uptick in pop and still-solid stolen base totals the position didn’t amount to quite the black hole it had in recent years past. Still, its greatest value remains in serving as a place to gain strikeout flexibility to accommodate your heavier hitters, and even guys with relatively decent total base rates aren’t worth as much in the aggregate if they come attached to outsized whiff rates.
Joe Panik, SFG – Before landing on the shelf with a back injury in September, Panik emerged as something of a points-league darling. He was a doubles machine, cranking them out at the fourth-best rate among second basemen with 400 plate appearances, and he paired that skill with an elite whiff rate and top-12 walk rate. His home park certainly does him no favors, but as a 25-year-old who flashed the holy triumvirate of points-league secondary skills last year, he should make for a popular target on draft day. Standard: Two-Star, Points: High-Three Star
Daniel Murphy, WAS – Murphy had a fascinating season with the stick last year, as he was able to fight off a predicted collapse of his line drive rate (and the BABIP that went with it) by making dramatically more contact and forging the second-lowest strikeout rate in the major leagues. Both his in- and out-of-zone contact rates cracked the top five league-wide, and he paired that elite contact profile with the second-best doubles rate of any second baseman to drive an overall stellar total-base rate. He won’t help at all with free passes, but the value added here is significant if he’s able to hold onto even half of last year’s gains. Standard: Low-Three Stars, Points: High-Three Stars
Ben Zobrist, CHC – Ho hum, just another format in which Ben Zobrist gains value. I talked about him at greater length above, but on top of the position-leading walk rate he also set the pace in total base rate and posted the fourth-best strikeout rate, and none of these performances were peculiar in any way relative to his long track record. Despite his age he makes for a borderline-elite points-league target to man second base for your squad. Standard: Low-Three Stars, Points: Four Stars
Others: Jose Altuve’s positional dominance really comes into play in points formats He trailed only Roughned Odor in total base rate (minimum 400 plate appearances), and his 9.7 percent whiff rate tied for the second-lowest at the position. If you’re going to consider a Six Star category, Altuve’s the reason… Later-in-baseball-life Ian Kinsler has stopped walking at anything close to the prolific rate he once did, but his combination of power and contact strengthens his value in points formats regardless of whether the walks ever come back. If they do he can threaten Five Star earnings figures… I covered his downside risk above, but if and when he’s on the field Dustin Pedroia generates a similarly high floor in points leagues as he does in OBP formats. The extra-base hit potential isn’t quite what it once was, but in his 93 games last year he still cracked the positional top 10 in total base, strikeout, and walk rates.
Brett Lawrie, CHW – Lawrie isn’t quite the anti-Zobrist, but this does mark another format in which Lawrie may lose some utility. After not striking out a ton earlier in his career, he struck out a ton last year; his 23.9 percent rate was the fourth-worst among qualified hitters at the position. The move to U.S. Cellular should help him boost what was barely a top-20 total base rate last year, but if he runs into some cooler BABIP luck his walk rate certainly won’t help him recoup any value. Given where you’d be looking at him he may be worth the power flyer anyway, but the downside risks are magnified in points formats if he doesn’t get to the ceiling. Standard: High-Three Stars, Points: Low-Three Stars
Cory Spangenberg, SDG – Spangenberg has been getting some love as an interesting utility speculation in deeper leagues thus far, cracking the top 400 overall in NFBC drafts with the possibility of bringing double-plus speed to bear on semi-regular playing time all over the field. In points leagues his high strikeout total and relatively limited pop should serve as a check on that enthusiasm. He’s shown a decent on-base profile, and the steals will be decent if he does work into regular playing time. But the lack of point accumulation relative to the net-negative his strikeouts create will make him an unnecessary expenditure on draft day in most medium-depth formats. Standard: Two Stars, Points: One Star
Cesar Hernandez, PHI – Lop a couple of homers and a bunch of doubles off the ledger, then copy and paste everything I just wrote about Spangenberg. Out of the 38 second-base-eligible hitters to log 400 plate appearances last year, Hernandez checked in 32nd in total-base rate, and he did it with a bottom-third whiff rate among that sample to boot. There’s some speed here, and he shows an ability to work the count constructively, but it’s tough to climb out of the counting-stat hole he’ll put you in with his abject lack of pop and poor contact rate. Standard: One Star, Points: Zero Stars
Others: Brian Dozier’s value in points leagues is tied all the more exclusively to his health and his ability to generate an elite volume of plate appearances and subsequent counting stats. His whiff rate was the seventh-highest at the position last year, and if he’s not offsetting that through raw accumulation his value knocks down a couple pegs pretty quickly… Neil Walker has long been a nice safe, boring option in the middle of the standard league pack, but his skillset doesn’t translate quite as well to points formats, where his good-not-great total-base rate, relative propensity for whiffs, and below-average walk rate play down a bit… Brandon Phillips is another guy who probably doesn’t deserve a pile-on, but while his whiff rate is pretty excellent he hasn’t produced a particularly impressive total base rate in recent years, and as discussed above the walk rate is dismal. Without a lot more doubles and triples than he’s shown himself capable of hitting in recent vintage he’s a really borderline top 15 guy at the position… Javier Baez is the ultimate boom-or-bust prospect in general, and specific to points formats the risk is just that much greater. The pop remains drool-worthy to be sure, but the margin for error in creating value over his massive whiff rates really leaves him on the outside looking in as undraftable in most points leagues.