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January 29, 2016

The -Only League Landscape

American League Second Basemen

by Mike Gianella

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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.

While Altuve slipped somewhat last year, he is still the only second baseman who can be considered elite. Not only was Altuve the best player at second base, he was the best player in AL-only for the second year in a row. While he didn’t match his gaudy 56 stolen bases from 2014, he gained some of that value back by more than doubling his home run total (from seven to 15). Steals tend to be undervalued, even in only-league formats, and Altuve in 2015 was no exception, costing only $32 in expert-league auctions.

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

Rank

2015

$

2014

$

2013

$

1

Jose Altuve

$39

Jose Altuve

$45

Robinson Cano

$31

2

Ian Kinsler

$25

Robinson Cano

$28

Jason Kipnis

$29

3

Jason Kipnis

$24

Ian Kinsler

$28

Dustin Pedroia

$27

4

Robinson Cano

$23

Brian Dozier

$26

Jose Altuve

$24

5

Brian Dozier

$22

Howie Kendrick

$25

Ian Kinsler

$22

6

Logan Forsythe

$21

Ben Zobrist

$19

Ben Zobrist

$20

7

Ben Zobrist

$17

Dustin Pedroia

$17

Howie Kendrick

$18

8

Asdrubal Cabrera

$17

Jason Kipnis

$15

Omar Infante

$18

9

Marcus Semien

$16

Dustin Ackley

$15

Brian Dozier

$17

10

Brett Lawrie

$16

Omar Infante

$13

Emilio Bonifacio

$14

Average

$22

$23

$22

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)
While Holt was a terrific find for his fantasy owners in 2015 and pushed a significant number of AL-only fantasy teams toward a title, there is no way you can pay him anything close to what he earned in 2015. Eight of the $14 Holt earned in 2015 came from his runs and RBI, and it is extremely difficult to envision Holt getting another 454 at bats in Boston again this year, unless Dustin Pedroia, Pablo Sandoval, and Hanley Ramirez all miss significant chunks of time. A $3-4 bid is as high as you should go for Holt.

Ryan Goins – Blue Jays ($9)
Goins’ value this year is likely to be predicated almost entirely on Travis’ health and how long it takes for Travis to complete his rehab assignment. While Travis should win the job back outright when he returns, his sustained health isn’t a certainly, and Troy Tulowitski isn’t a poster child for playing 162 games in a season either. Goins’ value in AL-only comes in the form of his defensive utility, the fact that he plays behind two players who aren’t likely to put up 550 plate appearances or more, and the benefit of getting to play in a hitters’ park in Toronto in a lineup that will generate a healthy amount of run and RBI opportunities for Goins regardless of where he hits. Plunk down a dollar or two and hope for at least a $7-8 return.

Rob Refsnyder – Yankees ($2)
Even in AL-only, Refsnyder is a reserve only or farm system play: a flier in the hopes that there is an injury to a player ahead of him on the depth chart. The only problem with this strategy is while the Yankees do have a very old lineup, the one place where they do have players under 30 is up the middle, with Starlin Castro (26) and Didi Gregorius (26) projected to start. Another option for Refsnyder is a trade, but he still has options and the Yankees don’t have an incentive to move the 25-year-old infielder. Despite his relatively high ranking in ADP, I’d avoid Refsnyder entirely in non-keeper formats.

Tim Beckham – Rays ($6)
Remember when Beckham was heralded prospect? The former number one overall pick in 2008 seems like a bust, but he only turns 26 years old this month, and has a chance of being in a platoon at shortstop with Brad Miller (Beckham is both shortstop and second base eligible). Beckham didn’t light the world on fire last year, but he did manage to pop nine home runs in 203 at bats. He will have to cut down considerably on the strikeouts to be more than a bench option, but even with 300-350 at-bats Beckham has the potential to be a double-digit earner. Logan Forsythe isn’t the greatest of obstacles at second base, either.

Yoan Moncada – Red Sox
No, I don’t think Moncada will be in the majors in 2016. But after seeing the way other top-tier prospects have torn through their teams’ minor league systems it wouldn’t be a complete shock if Moncada found his way to the major league level at some point in the second half of 2016. In keeper AL-only leagues Moncada is a no-brainer number one pick and not the focal point of much discussion. It is in redraft leagues where some may sleep on him, but the upside is worth tossing down $1 at the end of the auction or using a reserve pick and hoping to catch fire in a bottle.

Carlos Sanchez – White Sox ($4)
Pressed into starting action for the White Sox in 2015, Sanchez didn’t do much with his opportunity and is slated to start 2016 as a middle infield backup with the Sox acquisition of Brett Lawrie. But Tyler Saladino is hardly an ironclad obstacle at shortstop, so Sanchez could find his way into a decent chunk of at bats if Chicago doesn’t bring in a free agent like Ian Desmond. If you buy Sanchez for a buck, the hope is that he steals 10-15 bases because there isn’t much else he is likely to do for your fantasy squad on offense. Even at a dollar in an AL-only, you are better off looking elsewhere for upside.

Ryan Flaherty – Orioles ($3)
Like Beckham, Flaherty represents another low-end power option who is strictly an AL-only play. Flaherty is the kind of name who generates a reaction of “who?” from the mixed league crowd, but nine home runs in 267 at-bats is definitely worth noticing in mono formats, particularly if you can stomach the bad batting average. There is little if any upside to Flaherty barring an injury to either Schoop or Manny Machado, but in AL-only Flaherty is one of your better one-dollar endgame middle-infield options.

Eric Sogard – Athletics ($8)
Sogard isn’t a sleeper in the sense that he is going to surprise you with a sudden uptick in stats, but in terms of performance time he is the kind of player who could put up nearly a starter’s work of at bats if things broke right. He is a backup infielder on a team running the oft-injured Jed Lowrie and Danny Valencia’s questionable record against right-handed pitching out there at second and third base, respectively. Sogard churned out eight dollars of AL-only value across 372 at-bats last year. For a player the AL experts passed on entirely in their auctions last year, that’s highway robbery.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Second Base,  AL-Only

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2016 Prospects: St. Lo... (01/28)
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