Fantasy baseball position primer: Second base
Sure, second base isn’t first or third or the outfield, but the expected shallowness of the pool isn’t as bad as you might think. In fact, there’s a lot of value to be found at second, even in the players at the top of the rankings.
Jose Altuve had another great year for the Astros in 2015, hitting .313/.353/.459. He stole 38 bases, scored 86 runs, and grew into more power, belting 15 homers. He’s a worthy selection at the end of the first round of a 12-team league, especially given his presence atop a dangerous, improving lineup. Dee Gordon enjoyed a career year, winning the NL batting title and slashing .333/.359/.418 while swiping 58 bases. He has nearly all the stolen-base upside of Billy Hamilton without the attendant rate sinkhole. In fact, Gordon profiles as the sort of player who can win multiple batting titles.
Robinson Cano isn’t the player he once was, but he remains a mostly do-it-all second baseman, and the draft-day price has fallen to a level that matches his current-day production. Yes, his numbers came down across the board last season, but he still hit .287/.334/.446 with 21 homers, 34 doubles and 79 RBI. He may not be a 30-homer threat any longer, but it would be a disappointment if he fell short of 20 bombs while also providing plus rates.
The next group of players at the position is bunched together, with three of them sharing a division. Brian Dozier has turned into the top power hitter at the position, hitting 69 homers and 105 doubles over the last three seasons. His home run totals have grown from 18 to 23 to 28 in that time, and he was 14th in the majors in extra-base hits last season. Jason Kipnis bounced back last season to hit .303/.372/.451 with nine homers, 43 doubles, seven triples, and 86 runs scored. Even if he doesn’t turn into the regular 20-20 threat he appeared to be a few seasons ago, he’ll make positive contributions, relative to his position in at least four of the five standard categories. Ian Kinsler suffered a bit of a power outage last year, but he also had his best offensive WAR season since 2011, hitting .296/.342/.428 with 11 homers, 35 doubles and 94 runs scored. With Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton behind him in the mighty Detroit lineup, he could very well lead the majors in runs this season.
One year ago at this time, Anthony Rendon looked like the next big thing at second base. A knee injury cost him the first two months of the season, and he really wasn’t right all year. Remember, though, that he’s just one season removed from slashing .287/.351/.473 with 21 homers and 17 steals as a 24-year-old. He doesn’t turn 26 until early June and shares a lineup with Bryce Harper, a one-man positive offensive environment. He has the ceiling to be the top second baseman in fantasy baseball.
We just hit on seven great options at the position, and haven’t even begun to discuss the likes of Rougned Odor (.520 slugging percentage and 12 homers in last year’s second half), Addison Russell (13 homers and elite defense at 21 years old), D.J. LeMahieu (.301 batting average and .358 OBP in a great offensive environment), and a host of other palatable, cheap players at the position. So go ahead and deride the keystone if you must. We’ll continue finding value at fantasy baseball’s most overlooked position.
Russell probably won’t log one-third of an inning at second base this season, but he spent enough of last year there to qualify as a second baseman for fantasy purposes in 2016. Russell struck out a lot while starting nearly every game last season, ultimately hitting .242/.307/.389 with 13 homers and a 28.5% strikeout rate. That’s not a bad season for a 21-year-old rookie, especially when you consider he already has one of the best shortstop gloves in the league.
The pop is legitimate, with Russell projecting to a 15-homer floor over the next few seasons. His pedigree suggests quite strongly that as he logs more time in the majors, he’ll be capable of making the necessary adjustments to cut his strikeout rate, hit in more plus-counts, and make increased solid contact. Remember, some prospect-rating services had him, and not Kris Bryant, as the Cubs’ best prospect entering 2015. Some of that owed to the plus glove at shortstop, of course, but Russell’s bat always played at every level of the minors. Toss in his presence in what could be the best lineup in baseball for good measure, and there’s a lot of hope for his fantasy prospects in 2016.
Let’s play a little game of “Whose 2015 Stat Line is it Anyway?”
-- Second Baseman A: .269/.328/.427, 16 homers, 71 RBI, 69 runs, 108 wRC+
-- Second Baseman B: .281/.322/.449, 14 homers, 73 RBI, 56 runs, 110 wRC+
Second Baseman A is Walker, the Mets new starter. Second Baseman B is their old one, Daniel Murphy. Their career stats are nearly as similar, with Walker actually having the slightly better overall numbers, especially in the power department. So why is Murphy going, on average, 70 slots higher than Walker in a typical draft?
Walker is far from the sexiest name in fantasy baseball, but he’s a safe bet for 16 to 20 homers with production in three of the other four categories that, at the very worst, won’t hurt you. Depending on where he lands in the Mets lineup, and how well players like Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Travis d’Arnaud, Curtis Granderson and David Wright perform, he could be a plus in both runs and RBI. In other words, he’s priced at the back end of the top-20 second basemen, when realistically he should be near the front end of that group, with a ceiling of being inside the top 10.
Deep sleeper: Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
You’re not likely to find Baez in the Cubs’ Opening Day lineup, and when he does get on the field, it could be in the outfield rather than at second base. What we do know is that Joe Maddon is going to use his roster flexibility with alacrity, which is great news for a player with Baez’s versatility. Maddon loved Ben Zobrist during their time together in Tampa Bay so much, that he started Baez down the Zobrist path last season, and then lobbied for the Cubs to bring in the genuine article during the offseason.
We all know the downside associated with Baez (questionable playing time, high strikeout rate), but that’s baked into his draft-day price. He also brings considerable upside, especially in the power department. Baez may have disappointed a bit last year, but he still had an OPS+ of 100, or exactly league average, and is just entering his age-23 season.
It would be silly to expect Dozier to suddenly fall off a production cliff. He’s going to do what he does, and that’s provide significant power (for a second baseman), while scoring a lot of runs and hurting his owners in whatever rate category their leagues use, no matter if it’s batting average or OBP. Dozier may not be a traditional bust, but he will be a value bust. His ADP has him coming off the board near the end of the sixth round of a 12-team league.
A sampling of players in his neighborhood includes Jason Heyward (.293/.359/.439, 23 steals, leadoff man for elite offense), Matt Carpenter (.272/.365/.505, 28 homers) and Cole Hamels (3.65 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 1.19 WHIP, 215 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings). Simply put, Dozier does not measure up to his similarly priced peers at other positions. Even if you don’t have a second baseman at this point, you’re better off going cheaper at the position.
Yoan Moncada of the Red Sox and Ian Happ of the Cubs have higher projected ceilings, but neither has a chance of making an impact in the majors this year. Johnson’s glove may be terrible, but there’s little doubt that he can hit. In 353 plate appearances with Triple-A Charlotte last year, he slashed .315/.375/.466 with eight homers, 17 doubles and 28 steals. He’s blocked for the time being by Howie Kendrick, but the Dodgers may not be able to ignore his obvious on-base and speed tools for long.