January 29, 2016
The -Only League Landscape
American League Second Basemen
Welcome back to Baseball Prospectus’ position-by-position look at AL-only players. After tackling catchers and first basemen the last two weeks, today we’ll take a look at second basemen.
One of the most significant differences between AL- and NL-only leagues has been at second base, particularly with how power shakes out in each league. In the NL, Neil Walker and Jedd Gyorko were the only second basemen who hit 15 home runs or more in 2015. Contrast this with the AL, where 11 second-base-eligible players hit at least 15. It is odd to think of second base as a power position, but that’s exactly what fantasy managers should be targeting in AL-only, particularly since Jose Altuve is the only player at the position who runs. Altuve had 38 steals in 2015; Brian Dozier and Jason Kipnis were next with 12 apiece. This lack of all-around production at second means that while there are several good players at the position, the only superstar is Altuve, who earned $39 in 2015 and has now put up a whopping $84 in earnings since 2014.
If spending over $30 for a speed-heavy option isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry. Second base in the American League contains more than a few options in the next tier who earned $20 or more in 2015 and can also fill your stat sheet with plenty of fantasy baseball goodness. What is even better for fantasy managers is that most of these names are established but not ancient. There is a good chance that most of these players at least maintain, and if they do fall off of the cliff it won’t be because of age-related reasons. (All of the salaries in this article come from the average salary in the CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars expert AL-only auctions from 2015.)
Table 1: Top 10 AL Second Basemen by Season, 2013-2015
Kinsler, Kipnis, Cano, and Dozier have displayed varying degrees of consistency since 2013, and all four have earned $20 or more in at least two of the last three seasons. Each player has a different statistical profile, and thus takes a different path to his $20-plus earnings. Kinsler’s 30/30 campaigns are in the rearview mirror, but he has managed to hold most of his value by providing consistent double digit home runs and steals with strong batting averages. Cano hasn’t nearly been the elite force he was for the Yankees, but after struggling in the first half last year, his bat came to life post-All-Star break, with 15 home runs in 305 plate appearances. Cano attributed his early struggles to a gastrointestinal issue that wasn’t properly treated, along with coping with the recent death of a close grandparent. In this case, second-half stats could be the sign of better things to come.
Because of this consistency, these five second basemen and Pedroia all cost $20 or more on average in AL-only expert auctions. Second base was a relatively safe place to spend your auction dollars in 2015. No second baseman lost more than eight dollars on his initial auction investment (Bonifacio). Fantasy managers aren’t paying for scarcity, but judging by the results it seems like they do not have to do so. While the temptation is to always be looking for bargains (or A.B.L.F.B., as Alec Baldwin’s Blake might have said in Glengary Glen Ross a short 24 years ago), the lack of downside at the top of the pool combined with the lack of upside at the bottom suggests that it is key to get a solid starter rather than pay $10 or below and hope for profit. Altuve will cost over $30 this year and there is a good chance that Cano costs at least $25, but if you miss out on these guys the next four or five names are all fairly reliable as well.
If you are looking for young, emerging players at the position, your choices are limited. Rougned Odor is far and away the best bet among players 25 and under not only to maintain his 2015 value but possibly build upon it as well. Odor stumbled out of the gate last year, putting up a miserable .144/.252/.233 slash line over 103 plate appearances before the Rangers pulled the plug and demoted him to Triple-A. After making some adjustments, Odor returned with a vengeance, closing out with a .292/.334/.527 line from June 15th until the end of the season, with 15 home runs and five steals in 367 plate appearances. Odor put up a $15 season in 2015, but it is not difficult to envision closer to $20 in earnings for the 21-year-old even if he merely maintains his level of production post-promotion. Jonathan Schoop doesn’t nearly have the offensive ceiling in fantasy that Odor does, but the 24-year-old broke out last year after a subpar 2014, smacking 15 home runs in a mere 321 plate appearances. Schoop’s poor BB:K ratio and swing profile makes his .279 batting average unlikely to be repeated, but he could build on the power this year, and 20-25 home runs is a plausible ceiling. After this pair, there is a bit of a drop. Devon Travis would be more highly regarded given health, but he probably won’t be ready for Opening Day after undergoing surgery to stabilize a bone in his shoulder this past November. Travis’ numbers were very strong when he did play, but his limited number of plate appearances make his 8/35/38/3/.304 line look modest compared to many of his peers at the keystone.
Based strictly on earnings, second base in the AL has been fairly stable the last three years and holds up surprisingly well compared to first base, a position that is often perceived to be much stronger. While the counting stats in home runs and RBI aren’t nearly as impressive, remember that runs, RBI, and batting average all count as well, and this is where many of the players at the keystone derive a healthy portion of their fantasy value. As mentioned above, the age profile of the players at the top of the pool doesn’t speak to a precipitous decline; there isn’t a Brandon Phillips or Chase Utley type in the AL who is at an age where a steep fall is probable. The position does drop off quite a bit after the first nine to 10 players, and the young talent seems to be mostly be in the Senior Circuit.
In addition to the players above, below are some second basemen who are likely to be owned primarily in AL-only leagues. Dollar values in this article—both in the tables above and in the player profiles below—were part of my retrospective valuation pieces this winter and can be found here.
Brock Holt – Red Sox ($14)
Ryan Goins – Blue Jays ($9)
Rob Refsnyder – Yankees ($2)
Tim Beckham – Rays ($6)
Yoan Moncada – Red Sox
Carlos Sanchez – White Sox ($4)
Ryan Flaherty – Orioles ($3)
Eric Sogard – Athletics ($8)