May 12, 2010

Position scarcity is a hot-button issue in fantasy baseball circles. In evaluating the statistical contribution of players, does position actually matter? Based on the average draft position numbers from year to year, it seems that the consensus opinion is a resounding ... yes.

Known historically as a glove-first position, second base was never known for its collective offensive prowess. The position has blossomed in recent decades, producing some of the finest fantasy talents the game has known. However, with few "elite" fantasy contributors at the position, it's important for fantasy owners to act like meteorologists -- paying ever closer attention to the changes in the weather, the patterns of production that come to define the peaks and valleys of the fantasy baseball season.

League titles aren't going to be won by the owners who tout the likes of Chase Utley, although he'd certainly help the cause. Rather, a great number of top teams will ascend to the top by finding value in the underappreciated or otherwise disregarded players, particularly at a premium position like second base. Over a month into the 2010 season there are already second base-eligible players that are providing value (better), while others are beginning to disappoint (worse).

Kelly Johnson, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks. After posting back-to-back seasons of 50-plus extra base hits in '07-08, Johnson slumped his way right out of a job in '09. It's already clear a change of scenery was all Johnson needed for a proverbial shot in the arm. His 10 home runs are already more than he hit during his entire, woeful '09, and while many expect that power production to correct itself, be mindful that most predicted a similar outcome for Aaron Hill just last year. Yes, his current .614 SLG is .172 over his career average, but by season's end it would be a surprise if Johnson didn't have 20 or more home runs, and 2B-eligible players with that amount of power are not ordinary fantasy players.

Orlando Hudson, 2B, Minnesota Twins. Hudson hasn't reached double-digit home runs since '07 and has reached double-digit steals only once in his previous eight years in the big leagues. One other thing Hudson's never accomplished is a 100-run season, coming closest in '06 with the moderate total of 87. That last stat has a reasonable chance of changing in '10. Thus far, the Minnesota Twins are 8th in total runs scored (164) and boast a lineup consisting of two former American League MVPs in Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Considering that Hudson is currently getting on base at a .380 clip and hasn't had an OBP lower than .354 since '05, it seems safe to assume that the runs will be plentiful as long as he can stay on the field.

Rickie Weeks, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers. Like Hudson, Weeks gets on base at a good clip, carrying a .353 career OBP and .380 mark on the year. Run scoring opportunities should be bountiful, even if his batting average isn't. Weeks is just a .249 career hitter, but has always possessed the skill set to be of the better power/speed combination players in the game. Sadly, injuries have prevented Weeks from showing the fantasy world what he's truly capable of. He hinted at it in '09, but his season ended after just 37 games. Having already played 32 games in '10, he seems to be carrying over last season's production to this year. Already with 5 HR and 3 SB to go with a .824 OPS, Weeks looks to be headed toward finally delivering on his promise in 2010.

Jose Lopez, 2B/3B, Seattle Mariners. After posting back-to-back stellar (though underrated) fantasy seasons, Lopez seemed ready to enjoy further success in '10. That has yet to happen. Last season saw Lopez finish with 25 HR and 96 RBIs, both near the top of the charts for 2B-eligible players. He exhibited enough batting prowess in '09 that the Mariners felt Lopez could adequately assume 3B duties following the departure of Adrian Beltre. Perhaps not; he's begun the '10 season in a prolonged slump, hitting just .222 with one HR in what was supposed to be a revamped lineup. The Mariners are next to last in MLB in total runs scored and register dead last in total HR with 12. For both Lopez and the rest of the Mariners team, things aren't looking up. Until they begin to show some signs of life, fantasy owners should look to other options.

Clint Barmes, 2B, Colorado Rockies. With 23 home runs and 12 stolen bases, it was relatively easy for fantasy owners to overlook Barmes' .245 batting average in '09. While Barmes has appeared in 26 of 32 Rockies games this year, there is reason to believe that playing time may become an issue, if it hasn't already. That reason's name is Eric Young Jr. Young's minor league stolen base totals the last four seasons are nothing short of staggering: 87, 73, 46, and 58. Coupled with a batting average that never fell below .290 in any season, Young seems poised to assume the 2B mantle in Colorado in the very near future. Barmes will need to improve on '10's production (.293 OBP, .354 SLG) to prevent Young form usurping more playing time going forward.

Brian Roberts, 2B, Baltimore Orioles. Despite indications of eroding skills and declining stolen base totals, Roberts was still a coveted second baseman entering the season. Although Roberts had played in at least 155 games for three consecutive seasons entering the season, lingering concerns over his back made some wonder if this might not be the year Roberts started to decline. The back has been an issue, as has a pulled abdominal muscle -- a combination which has limited Roberts to just four games played this year. The team has yet to set a timetable for his return, and with back-up Ty Wiggington playing well in his stead, there's little reason to rush him back. That also means there's little reason to be optimistic for the remainder of Roberts' season ... if there is one.

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