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December 4, 2009

Fantasy Focus

Second Base Rankings Review

by Marc Normandin

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Continuing from where we left off last time, this week we will take a look at the fantasy rankings for second base that I made prior to the start of the regular season. Remember, the plan is to see what went right and what went wrong, both in terms of things that cannot be controlled (such as injuries, demotions, etc.) as well as problems with the process (over- or underrating a particular player or skill). First base went well, with just one major mistake, but second base saw a lot of new blood injected into it in 2009, as well as loads of rebounds and surprise seasons. Let's take a look and see how much of that is something we need to pay attention to going forward.

In addition, I also want to start some discussion about what it is we should do about the lists themselves: Should the format change? Should it stay the same? Would you prefer something like star ratings and tiers, like those that Kevin Goldstein uses in his Top 11 Prospects list, or do you want to retain the basic 1-20 ranking system? For that matter, are 20 players at each position enough? Let's get all of these ideas out in the open now so that there's plenty of time to accommodate requests by the time ranking season rolls around. That way, I provide you with the service you ask for and still have time to do the things I plan on doing for you outside of that. Reply in the comments, ask me in chats, e-mail me, or talk to me via Twitter (@Marc_Normandin) over the next few months with your thoughts; I may not respond to all of you, but I will keep track of your replies for the purposes of 2010's rankings.

1. Chase Utley (.295/.377/.522 PECOTA) .282/.397/.508: Utley led the position in VORP, and though it doesn't matter for fantasy purposes, he was also one of the best defensive players at the position (again) despite his hip surgery. It was a campaign that should have had him in the MVP discussion more than it did. He almost wasn't the best player at the position though-only one other player was close, but we'll get to the 800-pound Zorilla in the room later.

2. Ian Kinsler (.284/.355/.472 PECOTA) .253/.327/.488: Kinsler lost a ton of OBP and had his batting average drop significantly, but he also went from 18 homers to 31 and crossed the 30-steal threshold as well. His ranking on the VORP list for second basemen (eighth) belies his fantasy status, assuming you play in a traditional league where OBP does not matter. A 30/30 second basemen is huge, even if he hits .255 doing it. The 101 runs and 86 RBI didn't hurt things either.

3. Dustin Pedroia (.303/.364/.447 PECOTA) .296/.371/.447: Pedroia retained much of the power he showed in 2008, but lost a few points of batting average along the way, which isn't surprising given he hit .326 the year prior. The year started slow, as pitchers adjusted to Pedroia and cut into his power (Note: never admit your actual weakness on national television, Dustin) but he adjusted right back and picked up the slack soon enough, turning all of those singles right back into extra-base hits. I'm comfortable with the ranking in the sense that he was still one of the best second basemen, but there were others who outperformed him for various reasons.

4. Dan Uggla (.262/.345/.485 PECOTA) .243/.354/.459: Things could have been much worse, as Uggla began the year hitting around .200 for two months, barely keeping his OBP above .300, but by June he had turned things around and ended up hitting .262/.371/.496 in the second half. You'll get more power from Uggla than most second sackers, but he won't add anything in terms of steals-I think I'm okay with his ranking for the most part though, as he did what PECOTA and I expected him to do in the second half, despite his lousy start.

5. Brian Roberts (.274/.355/.428 PECOTA) .283/.356/.451: He had his lowest stolen-base total since 2006, but he posted his best power numbers since 2005-of course, you probably drafted him for steals, so that may not be the best consolation. Even so, he was top five in VORP at second, and he managed to pick up 110 runs and drive in 79 despite the Orioles' failings.

6. Brandon Phillips (.282/.337/.458 PECOTA) .276/.329/.447: Another year with 20+ homers and 20+ steals, but his performance seemed less impressive relative to his peers than it normally does, maybe because second base turned into a deep position this year. It's an odd feeling to have someone do what you expect in a positive way and have it seem disappointing at the same time, but that's how Phillips' season went. Despite hitting expectations, he was not the sixth-best second baseman by a long shot.

7. Kelly Johnson (.287/.370/.467 PECOTA) .224/.303/.389: I swung right through this one-the question is whether or not I should have seen it coming. Johnson hit an uninspiring .263/.332/.403 from April through August of 2008, but turned things on in time in September to bring his line all the way up to .287/.349/.446 (hitting .398/.429/.643 for a month will do that for you). Should I have paid more attention to his numbers before the explosion, and based his 2009 off of that? I'm not so sure-Johnson kept up his power this year with an ISO of .165 (which is exactly what he did not do prior to Sep. of '08) but failed to keep his BABIP or batting average up along the way. The rise of Martin Prado put Johnson on the bench for much of the year following his struggles, so it's tough to say what his value will be going forward. Chances are this is too high for 2010, even if it made sense for 2009.

8. Rickie Weeks (.269/.373/.442 PECOTA) .272/.340/.517: Weeks produced like we always wanted him to, but for just 172 plate appearances before his season ended thanks to a torn tendon sheath in his wrist. Something to note for 2010 though: he took a more aggressive approach at the plate, cutting into his walks (down to 7.5 percent from 12.2) and pitches per plate appearance (3.8, down from 4.1) significantly. It's to be seen if this change in approach hurts him in the long-term.

9. Alexei Ramirez (.289/.320/.456 PECOTA) .277/.333/.389: As far as second basemen go, Ramirez was a disappointment. As a 2009 shortstop though, he wasn't that bad. He was ranked as high as he was for his power ceiling and his dual positions, though his second half-performance leaves me worried about 2010. It wasn't his patience that killed his season, for what it's worth-he went up to 3.6 pitches per plate appearances from 3.3 and put 56 points between his average and on-base rather than 2008's 27 points.

10. Felipe Lopez (.276/.349/.384 PECOTA) .310/.383/.427: Lopez hit better than his forecast for the Diamondbacks, as was mentioned that he would, but then turned it on even further for the Brewers after being dealt there. It may have seemed odd to rank him here at the outset of 2009, but he's one of the guys who beat out his projection that I managed to get right.

11. Howie Kendrick (.280/.312/.402 PECOTA) .291/.334/.444: Finally, signs of life from Kendrick's bat. His .152 ISO is (somewhat sadly) the highest of his career, and he also bumped his walk rate to a career-high 5.2 percent. He was miserable before the All-Star break, but hit .358/.391/.558 after-don't expect him to keep that up, but it's a good sign to see him hitting for a high average and combining it with some pop.

12. Placido Polanco (.291/.333/.382 PECOTA) .285/.331/.396: Kudos to PECOTA for this one. Moving to the Phillies will hurt his fantasy value (he's not about to move Utley off of second) but as far as 2009 is concerned, Polanco was as expected.

13. Jose Lopez (.276/.312/.408 PECOTA) .272/.303/.463: Did your league use OBP? Then Lopez probably wasn't a good idea. Otherwise, he was a solid pick at second, though losing the high batting average from 2008 dents his value. He'll have a shorter rope for fantasy owners in 2010, thanks to a deeper field of candidates. Sure, he hits for power, but he doesn't do anything else well, making him a somewhat limited selection.

14. Robinson Cano (.284/.323/.419 PECOTA) .320/.352/.520: From the rankings:

Robinson Cano has been terrible during the first half of each of the past few seasons, which is a serious headache for fantasy fans who play in head-to-head leagues. It's great when he picks things up and tears through the league for eight weeks, because that's eight matchups you're that much closer to winning, but you probably had more help losing than you cared for in the 12 weeks before that. I'm more inclined to draft him in roto leagues, where his full-season numbers matter more than they would on a week-to-week basis.

Guess who didn't fall apart in the first half for the first time? I swear, that was done just to spite me personally. Ridiculous accusations about vindictive performances aside, Cano ranked third in VORP among second basemen, and if 2009 is any indication, we may have finally adjusted for the things that caused his first-half woes most years.

15. Kazuo Matsui (.272/.336/.390 PECOTA) .250/.302/.357: I felt dirty ranking Matsui to begin with, but I put him there because he was one of the last guys on the list capable of giving you some steals. They weren't worth it with the line he ended up producing though, so this one's bad on me.

16. Freddy Sanchez (.286/.324/.399 PECOTA) .293/.326/.416: Sanchez was better than in 2008, but still not better than PECOTA or I thought he would be. I made a note in the 2009 rankings to say that everything got pretty ugly after Kaz Matsui-I was off by one rank, but Sanchez' season held to that standard.

17. Akinori Iwamura (.259/.336/.381 PECOTA) .290/.355/.390: Iwamura hit a little better than expected, but it was in a partial season, as he went down with an injury and was replaced by Ben Zobrist. If you were depending on Iwamura, you had bigger problems than his injury, though if you were lucky enough to pick up Zobrist, then some of those issues may have been solved for you.

18. Mark Ellis (.248/.321/.394 PECOTA) .263/.305/.403: Ellis was what he was expected to be: a sad option at the position even in deep AL-only leagues.

19. Ronnie Belliard (.267/.337/.410 PECOTA) .277/.325/.451: Belliard was useful when he played, but he didn't play often enough to be of much service, which is why he was ranked 19th to begin with. If he can hit for that kind of power again, he'll be useful in 2010 assuming he gets to start somewhere.

20. Orlando Hudson (.291/.360/.420) .283/.357/.417: Sans context, it's kind to say that this ranking is questionable. At the time the rankings were made though, Hudson was unemployed, and we weren't sure where he was going to end up, so he was put at 20th just so he was on the list with his own comment, not because he was the 20th second basemen. I said he was 15th in a neutral park, and he matched his forecast in the mostly neutral Los Angeles-that may be a spot or two low, but it's ballpark.

I missed some players on my "Just Missed" list, and there were a few backs-upturned-starters that I'm upset about not having some kind of Nostradamusesque premonition about, but otherwise can't beat myself up for not including too much. The biggest omission from the "Just Missed" category was Aaron Hill, who had struggled and been injured, and was the owner of an uninspiring PECOTA forecast. A few users pointed this omission out even back in February in the comments, so I just wanted to admit that I missed on him. Granted, even if I had included him, he wasn't going to be a top five second basemen like his performance this year put him at. He's a player whose forecast I am very interested in seeing though, as whether or not he is "real" is something to figure out before draft day.

Martin Prado and Ben Zobrist saved a few fantasy seasons this year. Kelly Johnson was disappointing and injured, as previously mentioned, and Prado came in to perform a very good KeJo impersonation. There's no reason to think his performance wasn't realistic either, so look for his first appearance in my rankings for 2010 assuming he keeps the gig.

Ben Zobrist was one of the best players in all of baseball this year. He was 0.7 behind Chase Utley in VORP despite nearly 100 fewer plate appearances, which would mean something if Utley himself wasn't so criminally underrated. Should we expect Zo to be this good all of the time? He hit .297 after never coming close to it, but his BABIP was also where it should be relative to his batted ball data. His ISO was .246, but it was .253 in limited duty in 2008. He was one of the best defensive players in all of baseball in addition to hitting like this, so he's going to get a chance to play somewhere every day in Tampa Bay-it's to be seen if it's second base, but if that's the case, you can expect to see him on the 2010 rankings as well.

I don't think second base went as well as first base for a few reasons, as a lot of starters got hurt and lost their jobs, and I missed a few rebound signs for players that I should have picked up on prior to the rankings. Overall it's not bad though, especially since injuries are out of my control. The one good thing that will come out of these injuries is that the talent pool at second base is deepening, meaning the very meh players at the back end of the 2009 list will be gone from the 2010 edition.

23 comments have been left for this article.

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Premium Article Transaction Action: Wa... (12/03)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: First B... (11/20)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: Third B... (12/11)
Next Article >>
Arbitration Theory (12/04)

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