Welcome, to Baseball Prospectus’ first (or at least first time in a long time) in-season rankings update to our preseason positional tiers article. As we did during the preseason, players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by a “star” rating. In addition, unlike with the preseason “star” ratings, these lists can also be viewed as a straight ranking.
Five-star players are the studs at their position. In general, they are the players who will provide first or second round draft value and will be worth $30 or more in auction formats. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will earn more than $20 in auction formats. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are the types of players who provide back end roster value. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of what has happened year-to-date but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen the rest of 2016.
If you are wondering why a specific player isn’t listed, please note that in many cases players in the one-star tier and players who are not ranked are interchangeable.
The rankings above assume a 15-team, standard 5×5 Roto scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). Position eligibility is based on either 20 games at the position last year or five games this year.
Today: Catcher, First Base, Second Base
Tuesday: Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield
Wednesday, Starting Pitcher, Relief Pitcher
We ranked Altuve first overall at the keystone based on his speed and batting average without even mentioning his 15 home runs in 2015. The assumption among many was that the power was sustainable and that his 2015 production was a ceiling. It’s extremely likely that the power is legitimate, and a 20-25 home run campaign isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Speaking of power, the second-half home-run spike for Cano wasn’t merely the product of an arbitrary endpoint but rather a sign that his gastrointestinal issues during the first half of the year truly were a factor. The bat is elite, and while Safeco hurts Robbie a little bit, he is back where he belongs in the fantasy universe.
Five-Star Value Pick: None
Both Altuve and Cano are owned in over 99 percent of ESPN leagues, so the opportunity for “value” in this tier is nil.
2016 has seen a revitalization among a significant group of cagey veterans at second base. Kinsler was always one of those players who put up steady but unspectacular numbers, but thus far he has seen a power revitalization, giving him a chance hit 20-plus home runs for the first time since 2011 when he was with the Rangers. The chance of getting 20/20 production is remote, but a strong top-of-the-order gives Kinsler a shot at 100 runs if he can keep his on-base percentage above .340.
Kipnis and Anthony Rendon were both identified as potential bounce-back candidates for 2016. Thus far, Kipnis has delivered while Rendon has not. His TAv is actually down a little bit from last year, but Kipnis’s fantasy value has spiked thanks to a power spike that has him on a 15-20 home run trajectory. This combined with a strong batted-ball profile that should keep his batting average at .280 or so gives Kipnis a strong value foundation even if he doesn’t go back to stealing lots of bases. The knock on Zobrist was always that he was a much better player in real life than in fantasy (in non-OBP leagues) but thus far Zorilla is on pace to have the best fantasy season of his career, thanks to a spike in both home runs and batting average.
Murphy hasn’t missed a beat from his ridiculously great postseason with the Mets. Always a solid hitter but never considered a power bat, Murphy altered his approach late last year, exchanging an all fields approach for a pull-centric swing. Murph is certain to see his batting average slide to more realistic levels, but the power he has shown thus far is anything but a fluke.
Four-Star Value Pick: Dustin Pedroia
Huzzah for good health, which is almost always the engine that drives Pedroia’s fantasy value. Pedroia came into spring training claiming full health for the first time in years, and while that statement from any player in March should come with a binder full of caveats, thus far Pedroia has delivered. Pedroia is on pace to put up his strongest season with the bat since 2011 and while you can no longer count on anything more than a handful of steals from the Boston mainstay, Pedroia’s overall production—with the added benefit of lots of runs and RBI in Boston’s ridiculously good lineup—makes him an underappreciated fantasy play.
The relative thickness of second base thus far makes it impossible not to push Rendon and Dozier down a tier based on their early performances. I so badly want to believe in the inevitable Rendon bounce back based on the talent and ceiling, but we are now looking at some pretty awful numbers going back to 2015. Dozier’s woes go back to the second half of last year, and with a batting average near .200 and an OBP under .300, OBP leagues don’t even make Dozier look good anymore.
Real life value isn’t nearly as important fantasy contributions in this tier. These players are all solid options to have in fantasy, but with the exceptions of Dozier and Rendon, none of them has four-star upside. If Walker can hit 25 home runs with a .260 batting average he is certainly worthy of four-star consideration, but he has already cooled off after a blistering April.
As is the case with many positions on the diamond, there isn’t nearly the rookie or sophomore upside that we saw in 2015. Schoop is the youngest player in this tier, and at the age of 24 there could still be some growth for him across the board. He has maintained both his ISO and batting average from 2015 and if Schoop can play a full season, there is plenty of home run pop in the bat. LeMahieu has played a replacement level second base, but the Coors bump and the steals give D.J. three-star value. Harrison hasn’t done much to improve upon his disappointing 2015 numbers, but he is running much more thus far and as is the case with LeMahieu, the steals give Harrison a boost.
Three-Star Value Pick: Brandon Phillips
Phillips gets absolutely no respect because of his age and perhaps because of the team he plays for, but while Phillips’ poor walk rate may make him a subpar offensive option for the Reds he continues to be viable for fantasy. As long as Phillips stays on the field, plays in that solid hitters’ park, and can steal 10-15 bases, he will remain worth starting in nearly every format.
The final two tiers at second base aren’t quite interchangeable, but there are a lot of questions about every player from Gordon all the way down to the end of the one-star tier. Gordon is a potential five-star contributor from the moment he steps on the field after his suspension, but it is impossible to know what kind of impact the suspension will have on him physically or mentally. His replacement in Miami has not put up the counting numbers yet but his overall numbers have earned Dietrich a place in the Marlins lineup once Gordon returns.
Wong’s production has suffered a great deal this season, and there is a very real risk that Aledmys Diaz will steal at bats from Wong once Jhonny Peralta returns from injury sometime next month. The potential certainly exists for a 10 home run, 20 steal season from Wong if he can rebound. Utley has supplanted Howie Kendrick as the primary second baseman in Los Angeles and while he hasn’t done much in the power or speed department the overall offensive production is as good as it has been since 2013 with the Phillies. Ranking a hitter who might not hit 10 home runs or steal 10 bases in this tier may seem aggressive, but wait until you see the options in the one-star tier.
Two-Star Value Pick: Chris Coghlan
The batting average and the overall numbers are dreadful thus far, but the power plays in fantasy and while I have been told that we are no longer permitted to simply shriek “BABIP! BABIP!” without providing batted ball context, I have to believe that Coghlan’s awful BABIP is extremely unlikely to continue. He might not stick at second base for long because of the defense, but Coghlan’s power should keep him in the lineup, and 20-home-run potential from a second-base-eligible player works in deeper formats.
There are a lot of injured and non-full time players in the one-star tier. If you are asking, “where are Johnny Giavotella and Omar Infante?” the answer is “in the free agent pool, unless you are in my AL-only league.” With the exception of Hill, nearly every player in this tier is listed based on potential as opposed to production thus far in 2016. Travis has a high three-star ceiling if he is healthy, but this has been a wee bit of an issue for the erstwhile Jays second baseman. Kendrick certainly has the potential to do more but he hasn’t produced double digit steals and home runs since 2014 and is getting crowded out this year in Los Angeles.
One Star Value Pick: Scooter Gennett
Gennett’s injury hid a mini power burst, which included better numbers against left-handed pitching thanks to an improved approach. He isn’t suddenly going to become a 20-home -/un hitter, but this is the one-star tier, where incremental improvement and regular at-bats make you a potential steal. 10-15 home runs with a .260 batting average would be an excellent get in deeper mixed if Gennett can maintain.