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Second Base and Changes in Landscape

You all have probably heard by now, but the second base position was incredibly productive last year in fantasy baseball and thus looks to be very deep this year. Like, really deep. How deep? Let’s take a look at that table from catchers week to point us in the right direction:

2016 Mixed League Value

C

1B

3B

2B

SS

OF

$20+

0

8

5

11

7

13

$10-$19

6

9

13

13

11

37

Second base had two fewer $20+ players last season than did outfield. Three people start in the outfield in each game for each team, while only one person starts at second base every game for each team, which makes the fact that second basemen produced that many $20+ hitters pretty incredible. Meanwhile, the $10-$19 row shows that 2016, Year-of-the-Fantasy-Baseball-Second-Basemen, was not just the result of a few second basemen having career years; rather, it seems that at this time in baseball’s history, the keystone is more stocked with impact fantasy players than maybe ever before.

We ain’t here, though, for the historical perspective. We are here, instead, to hopefully get a little bit better at fantasy baseball through strategy and decision-making. In order to achieve that goal via today’s article, we are going to take a look at how this change in the second base landscape (and, consequently, the entire landscape for hitters) will likely influence how we and our competitors make decisions on draft and auction day. We will then take a look at how we can take advantage of our competitors’ mistakes, while avoiding those same mistakes ourselves.

Shifts in options and shifts in expectations

Second base used to be one of the lesser offensive positions in fantasy baseball, usually coming in ahead of catchers and just ahead of shortstops. Now, second base can make the case for being the most productive offensive position outside of outfield heading into 2017. We’ve mentioned that this changes things, but the more important topic is how this changes things.

For starters, the deeper a position gets the more options we tend to have. As prospect theory explains, when we have options that involve risk or uncertainty, our expectations effect how we make decisions. How so? When we have multiple players that beat our expectations, we tend to take the safest player that meets those expectations as opposed to the best player (that being the player with the highest expected value); conversely, when we have multiple players that fall beneath our expectations, we tend to take the player with the best chance of beating that expectation as opposed to, again, the player with the highest expected value. With there being more legitimately good fantasy baseball second basemen now than at any time in recent history, we are now more likely to be in a situation where we have multiple options that best or meet our expectation than we were before (where we were far more likely to be in a situation where no options met or exceeded our expectations).

If our expectations do not shift, this shift in options makes us more likely to select second basemen we perceive to be safe over second basemen we perceive to carry more risk (such as Robinson Cano over Dee Gordon or Ian Kinsler over D.J. LeMahieu). Alternatively, if our expectations shift to the point where we think we need a second baseman that, for example, provides top-50 value, we might start to reach for players with higher ceilings if we miss out on one of the top second baseman (Jose Peraza’s average NFBC ADP of 139.82, for example, is less than two picks below Dustin Pedroia’s 138.41).

We can look at ADP to find other examples to see if these observations are being supported, but given the contextually specific nature of these decisions (each of our expectations for a particular pick and valuation of particular players will vary), it is unlikely that aggregated data is going to help us with our individual decisions. Instead, knowing the potential effects of prospect theory, we should attempt to avoid letting expectation creep into our decisions when drafting or bidding, and instead focus on picking the best player or getting players at or below value.

Focusing Effect

With more productive options at second base and with those options all producing value in their own, somewhat unique way, we will likely begin to see us overrate and underrate certain means of production. Likely, as we have often seen with outfielders, we will see second basemen with high proficiency in a particular area (particularly steals or home runs or both) be preferred over more balanced players. It is a guess, but this guess is informed by the focusing effect, which, per Wikipedia,

“is a cognitive bias that occurs when people place too much importance on one aspect of an event, causing an error in accurately predicting the utility of a future outcome…People focus on notable differences, excluding those that are less conspicuous.”

This guess is also informed by what we are seeing in ADP where we are seeing gains in home run totals (and HR/FB) being highly coveted (such as Brian Dozier, Cano, Odor, Ian, Jonathan Schoop, and even Jedd Gyorko among others) as well as first time rookie prowess in stolen bases (Trea Turner and Peraza) while less conspicuous AVG and overall production (as seen in Daniel Murphy, LeMahieu, Pedroia, Brandon Phillips, and others) are getting less of a bump in ADP. Looking at Mike Gianella’s retrospective values is helpful in being able to keep means of production in perspective, especially for a position like second base where we have witnessed a lot of change in the ways players produce fantasy baseball values. In looking at the retrospective values and ADP, it appears we are currently focusing too much on home run totals. For example, Schoop’s 25 home runs were less valuable than Josh Harrion’s 19 stolen bases, which were less valuable than Dustin Pedroia’s .318 AVG over 633 at-bats.

Losing Options

Lastly (at least what we will cover last in this article), the increase in the number of very good, good, and average second basemen (when compared to hitters at other positions) means that we should be more likely than ever to fill our middle infield spot and even our utility spot with second basemen. As we have discussed previously, we (people) hate closing off options when making decisions. In fantasy baseball, this often means that we will choose a lesser player when better players are available if the better player closes off options, such as filling our corner infield slot or utility slot in the early rounds or early in an auction.

Because teams might be hesitant to fill their middle infield, DH, or utility slot or slots too early, we might see good values on the second round of second basemen, those being the second basemen available after most teams have filled their second-base slot. We might even see teams try to be cute by waiting until the end of drafts and auctions to take a second baseman because of the improved depth at the position. If this is the case, we want to be the teams scooping up these discounted players; so let us make sure we’re on the look out.

There are almost certainly more ways that the change in second base landscape will impact our strategies and decisions this year, but these were the most impactful ones that came to mind for me. By getting to this second level or different area of analysis, which our competition might not get to, we better our chances at making decisions on draft and/or auction day that will better our chances of winning this season, which is, as always, our goal here.