One of the reasons I focus on player valuation as much as I do is because it is a good way to separate myths and facts. The mythology in fantasy baseball is that “position scarcity makes it harder to find a good second baseman.” The reality is that in NL-only leagues the top 10 second basemen earned nearly as much ($212) as the top 10 first basemen did ($216) in 2015.
Some of this misperception comes from how misunderstood stolen-base value is, specifically when it comes to the best player at the position. Dee Gordon earned $41 in NL-only 5×5 last year, or two cents fewer than what Paul Goldschmidt did. Gordon could slip somewhat if his batting average drops as expected, but even if he had “only” hit .289 in 2015, he would have earned $34, or good for fifth overall in the National League. In mixed leagues you might be able to discount speed, but in -only leagues you do so at your own peril.
It is a pretty big drop to the next group of players, particularly if you don’t believe that Brandon Phillips and DJ LeMahieu are going to repeat their $26 performances in 2016. Anthony Rendon is the obvious choice for no. 2 at the keystone assuming full health, but after an injury-marred 2015, this is certainly not a given. After Rendon comes a big clump of players who could crack $20 in earnings but would have to put up or duplicate career years to do so. LeMahieu’s 2015 value benefited from the Coors bump but can he sustain the 23 stolen bases he put up in 2015? There aren’t many players who would get a statistical bump moving to Citi Field, but the combination of moving out of PNC Park and moving into the Mets revamped, Yoenis Cespedes-fueled lineup should give Neil Walker a helpful boost to his raw, unadjusted numbers.
If you are looking for ceiling in the $14-18 bid range, Kolten Wong is your guy. Besides Phillips, Wong was the only NL second baseman last year to post double-digit home runs and steals, and at the age of 25 there should be room for additional growth. However, Wong’s ceiling is hampered in the short-term by the addition of former Padre Jedd Gyorko, who is projected to platoon with Wong. That’s good for Wong’s batting average but bad if you were hoping that Wong would join the 20-steal club at second base. Wong’s value proposition is further complicated by the fact that their division rivals in Pittsburgh have a lefty-heavy rotation. Based on their projected schedule, the Cardinals could face over 40 left-handed starting pitchers this year.
People won’t be looking at him as a bounce-back candidate, but issues with Daniel Murphy’s quadriceps and hamstring limited him on the base paths and cut significantly into his fantasy value (sorry, postseason heroics don’t count). It isn’t realistic to assume that the 23 stolen bases he posted in 2013 are coming back any time soon, but the 13 steals he put up in 2014 are a possible ceiling if Murph’s legs are good to go. Add 11 steals to Murphy’s 2015 line and his value jumps from $17 to $20. My advice is to pay for no steals and hope he picks up a few.
Brandon Phillips is the kind of player I loathe attempting to value for fantasy baseball. Going backwards, in the last three years, Phillips has earned $26, $11, and $22. 2014 is the outlier—and suggests that you should pay at least $20 for Phillips, but his age (35) and the Reds decimated lineup suggest otherwise. This is also a case where the noise of standard fantasy baseball categories should probably be ignored in favor of a more metric-driven approach. Phillips’ TAv had dropped every year from 2012-2014, falling from .285 in 2011 all the way down to .253 in 2014. I’m all for paying what a player can earn, but paying a guy in his mid-30s for his legs and an outlier year feels like a mistake.
Ben Zobrist moves from the AL to the NL after joining the Cubs on a four-year, $56 million contract. He derives a great deal of his value from his runs and RBI, as he has averaged a mere 12 home runs and eight stolen bases over the last three seasons. This seems underwhelming, but Zobrist has also averaged $19 in earnings over that span. His age is a bit of a concern. He enters his Age 35 season coming off of a campaign where he stole only three bases and had his lowest amount of plate appearances since 2008. Volume is what drives the earnings bus for Zobrist, and if he doesn’t get to 600 plate appearances, he may have a hard time cracking the top 10 at second.
Below are some options who will only be drafted or purchased in NL-only leagues. Dollar values for 2015 for AL and NL-only mentioned in this article are for standard 5×5 Rotisserie-style leagues and can be found here.
Cory Spangenberg – Padres ($9)
In real life, Spangenberg seems stretched as a starter, even at middle infield. But with the Padres in a quasi-rebuilding mode, there is a good chance that Spangenberg will cobble together a full season of plate appearances and provide double-digit value in NL-only formats. As with a lot of middle infielders with limited power, batting average is what is going to either propel Spangenberg to solid value or sink his boat. His .344 BABIP in 2015 is in line with what he did throughout most of his minor-league career, but this is a difficult level to sustain for any player, let alone one with Spangenberg’s batted-ball profile. There is the outside possibility of 20 steals, but despite the fact that Spangenberg is a starter, be wary of paying beyond the high single digits.
Jace Peterson – Braves ($11)
Peterson is cut from a similar mode of Spangenberg: a speed first player who is probably stretched as a starter but will get an opportunity for a full season of at bats since the Braves are in a full-blown rebuild. In a more perfect world, most of Peterson’s 40-plus steals from his days in the low minors would have carried over to the majors, but in the real world the difference between catchers at the lower levels of professional baseball and the major leagues is significant. Peterson’s 2015 is probably a best case scenario, and he is another player who you should be wary of paying full sticker price given the downside.
Enrique Hernandez – Dodgers ($8)
It’s never a good idea to put too much stock into a sample size of 218 plate appearances, particularly for a player with an underwhelming minor league resume, but Hernandez’s impressive 2015 campaign shouldn’t be ignored entirely. He will either start at second base or play the role of a super-sub if teammate Chase Utley wins the job outright. For a more thorough look at Hernandez’s 2016 outlook, I strongly recommend colleague J.J. Jansons’ write up from October.
Scooter Gennett – Brewers ($8)
Gennett is the opposite of many of the low-end options profiled. He has very limited stolen base potential but a smattering of power. Gennett is likely to start for Milwaukee, but is also likely to be part of a platoon and sit against lefties. Even with the Brewers in rebuilding mode, Gennett needs to bounce back to something closer to his 2014 levels to avoid losing playing time at the position, either to Jonathan Villar or non-roster invitee Hernan Perez.
Danny Espinosa – Nationals ($11)
A fantasy bet on Espinosa is a bet against Nationals shortstop-of-the-future Trea Turner, but the addition of Stephen Drew does make it seem that Washington wants to give Turner at least half a season of reps at Triple-A before bringing him up. Espinosa is profiled with the shortstops because he only has second base eligibility based on last season’s games played. Outside of his batting average, Espinosa was a fairly solid option for his fantasy owners when he did play, hitting 13 home runs and stealing five bases in a mere 412 plate appearances. I like the idea of trying to grab him for $4-5 and hoping for at least half a season of everyday at-bats.
Chase Utley – Dodgers ($5)
Micah Johnson – Dodgers ($2)
As noted above, Hernandez could get most of the playing time at second base for the Dodgers. However, if Utley has anything left in the tank at all it makes more sense to play Utley at second and use Hernandez as a super-sub. Utley played at a replacement level last year, finishing the seasons with a 0.0 WARP, but if you believe that this was due to injuries in the early going, he put up an acceptable 258/328/439 slash line in the second half. Utley’s upside is that of a .260 hitter with 12-15 home run power. Johnson is the long term alternative if the gamble on Utley doesn’t pay off and it turns out the Dodgers are Chasing the past. It is not a good sign that the White Sox abandoned Johnson mid-year last year in favor of the underwhelming Carlos Sanchez, but attention must be paid to Johnson in fantasy because of the 20-30 steal potential.
Aaron Hill – Diamondbacks ($7)
The idea of sleepers is a tired one (ha ha, see what I did there?) but if you are going to look for them, targeting forgotten veterans like Hill is a better play in deep leagues than trying to occupy the same crowded space as everyone else trying to draft the next hot rookie is. Hill has played poorly for two consecutive seasons, but he’s not old and maybe there is one more big year lurking in a bat that put up TAvs of .296 in 2012 and .288 in 2013. He’s backing up two non-established regulars in Chris Owings at second and Jake Lamb at third and could at least see the bad side of a platoon with Owings. Jon Heyman is reporting that the Diamondbacks are investigating a trade so while unlikely a starting job is possible somewhere else. A $1 gamble in NL-only in the hopes of either an injury or a trade is a worthy endgame investment.