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Second Base Primer: Jose Altuve and a Whole Lot More

Miss out on Jose Altuve, Jose Ramirez or Dee Gordon? Don't worry, there's an answer for every fantasy owner at second base.

Second base is unique in its composition among fantasy baseball positions. It’s surprisingly deep, with at least 11 players I’d be happy to call my starter, and at least three or four more I could talk myself into without much work. At the same time, there isn’t much star power behind defending AL MVP Jose Altuve and third-place finisher Jose Ramirez. Dee Gordon and Brian Dozier are the only other second basemen with top-40 average draft positions, and Jonathan Schoop and Daniel Murphy are the only two beyond those three coming off the board in the first six rounds of a 12-team league.

That means there won’t be a cookie-cutter approach for the second base position. Altuve is one of the best players in the league, Ramirez is coming off a do-it-all campaign, Gordon is a premier base stealer, and Dozier is the best bet to lead the position in home runs. All three are fairly priced and can be at the core of a championship team. Once they’re off the board, though, your preferred targets at the position will likely have a lot to do with your roster composition.

Let’s take the next two second basemen by ADP as an example. Schoop hit 32 homers last season and 25 the year before. He’s 26 years old and took obvious steps forward in 2017. He may be finding another level, but we know for sure that he’s going to hit for power. Murphy, meanwhile, is an offensive jack of all trades. He’ll hit for average (.347 and .322 the last two seasons), get on base (OBPs of .390 and .384), and provide solid power (25 and 23 homers), all while riding Washington's offense to strong run-scoring (88, 94) and RBI (104, 93) potential.

Schoop and Murphy are coming off the board at about the same time in a typical draft, early in the sixth round of a 12-team league. If you need power or someone with the potential to break out after your first five picks, you might prefer Schoop to Murphy. If you’re looking for a steady, rock-solid contributor, or a player who will undoubtedly deliver in the rate categories, Murphy would likely be your guy. The roadmap you followed in the first four or five rounds will strongly influence which turns you take from that point forward.

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That tendency only gets stronger as the draft progresses. There are a lot of specialists at second base who could fit perfectly on some teams but be a total mismatch for others. Rougned Odor will hit for plenty of power but will also likely be a rate sinkhole. Ian Happ could be a less extreme version of that brand of player, hitting for slightly less power with potentially average rates. Robinson Cano, at this stage of his career, is a light version of Murphy. DJ LeMahieu should give his owners a strong batting average and plenty of runs but likely won’t do much else. Ozzie Albies could push up toward 30 steals if everything breaks right for him. Yoan Moncada has a ton of potential, making him the right target for a team that needs to swing for the fences. Chris Taylor can do a little bit of everything—a Murphy- or Cano-type without the track record. If your team can afford a risk, he could provide a significant payoff.

All that covers just the top-14 players at the position by ADP, which says nothing of Ian Kinsler, Scooter Gennett, Cesar Hernandez, Jason Kipnis, Raul Mondesi and Starlin Castro, all of whom have their individual charms that could make them the right player on the right team. It’s an interesting position with surprising depth, and the one where specific fit might matter more than anywhere else.


Five Big Questions

1. Will Rougned Odor ever hit lefties?

Odor seemed to turn a corner in 2016. Sure, he still struck out in more than one-fifth of his plate appearances and barely walked, but he stayed healthy, hit a career high 33 homers, and slugged better than .500 for the first time in his career. Add in the run-scoring and RBI floors that typically accompany reliable power and a reasonable expectation for low-teens steals, and Odor presented more than enough value to offset his rates.

All that took a turn last season. Odor hit 30 homers for the second year in a row, scored 79 runs, drove in 75 more, and swiped 15 bags, but he struck out in nearly one-quarter of his trips to the plate and slashed .204/.252/.397. A record 41 players hit at least 30 homers last year; every single one other than Odor slugged at least .459. Despite hitting 30 bombs, he had a lower slugging percentage than Tucker Barnhart (.403), Jacoby Ellsbury (.402) and Cory Spangenberg (.401), who combined for 27 homers. Odor was the first player in MLB history with a season of 30 homers and a slugging percentage less than .400. It was, without exaggeration, the worst 30-homer season in MLB history.

Odor has many deficiencies, but the one that stands out is his performance against lefties. Last season, Odor slashed .145/.200/.252 with five homers in 170 plate appearances against southpaws, making him all but unplayable with a same-sider on the mound. The story for his career is better, with a .230/.281/.375 slash line against lefties, but that still isn’t exactly anyone’s version of good. What’s more, the fact that he had his worst year against lefties in his fourth full season in the majors is a significant red flag. Odor needed to get better against southpaws to be a complete player. Instead, he got worse—much worse, in fact. That makes him a hard player to trust this season.

As bad as Odor was last year, the counting stats were there. Any second baseman who’s likely to give his owners floors of 28 homers, 75 runs, 75 RBIs and 13 steals is worthy of a job in fantasy leagues. Still, with power easier to find than ever, a 30-homer hitter—even at second base—isn’t what it used to be. I would not want Odor to be my starting second baseman this season.

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2. How good can Ozzie Albies be in year one?

Albies played 57 games and totaled 244 plate appearances last season, so this isn’t technically year one for him. It will be his first full season in the majors, though, and there’s no reason to be pedantic. Albies is about to get his first taste of the MLB from February through September, and that’s something worth anticipating from both real-life and fantasy perspectives.

There may be no player who combines excitement, talent and extreme youth—he’s 21 years old—in the same abundance as Albies. He got his career off to a strong start in his 57-game stint with the Braves last year, hitting .286/.354/.456 with six homers, nine doubles, five triples and eight steals. He was nearly as good at Triple-A Gwinnett before his promotion, slashing .285/.330/.440 with nine homers and 21 steals in 448 plate appearances.

There was unquestionably some small-sample-sized influenced helium in Albies’s numbers with the Braves last season. He’s likely to have a higher strikeout rate than last year’s 14.8% with more exposure to MLB pitching. He has the tools of the sort of player for whom higher-than-average BABIP will be a skill, thanks to his speed and a high ground-ball rate, but we can’t be sure that last year’s .316 mark is sustainable if his hard-hit rate doesn’t increase from 33.2%. Still, there’s plenty of reason to bet on the come here.

The first is his age and pedigree. Again, Albies is 21 years old, and both Baseball America and rated him as the No. 11 prospect before last season. Baseball Prospectus wasn’t quite as high, but there’s nothing wrong with being the No. 35 prospect in your age-20 season. Second, we can be pretty confident that Albies is going to get on base enough to put his speed to work. He had an 8.6% walk rate with the Braves last season and a 9.3% walk rate during his time in the minors. With solid plate discipline and a tendency to hit the ball on the ground, fantasy owners should expect somewhere in the neighborhood of a .330 OBP floor for Albies. From there, he can turn on the jets and be the type of player who makes a fantasy team relevant in steals, a category where it’s harder than ever to find reliable contributors.

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Albies, too, should hit toward the top of an Atlanta order that could be sneaky good this season. Freddie Freeman, one of the best hitters in the league, is the anchor in the middle. Ender Inciarte will, along with Albies, wreak havoc on pitchers once he gets on base. Ronald Acuña is a possible superstar in the making and should hit in the middle of the order along with Freeman and Tyler Flowers, who slashed .281/.378/.445 last season. Albies projects as a plus in steals, runs and rates, and getting a player like that who also happens to have a high ceiling is a win at second base.

3. Can Chris Taylor do it again?

There was no more out-of-nowhere player last season than Taylor. He played portions of three seasons in the majors with the Mariners and Dodgers before last year, slashing .234/.289/.309. He would always fare better when he went back to Triple-A: In 2016, he totaled a .322/.397/.474 line in about half a season’s worth of plate appearances at the highest level of the minors. Still, it was a bit of a surprise when he got the call to the majors about halfway through April last year. Once in Los Angeles, however, he didn’t look back.

Taylor quickly put to rest any questions about his fitness for the majors. Despite not having a dedicated position on the field, he forced Dave Roberts to find a spot for him more often than not. At the end of May, he was a regular, hitting .316/.412/.530 with six homers. He cooled off only a bit the rest of the way, finishing the year with a .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 homers, 34 doubles, 17 steals, 85 runs and 72 RBIs. It always feel a little cheap to pull arbitrary floors, but the only other players with 21 homers, 34 doubles and 17 steals last year were Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Ramirez and Mookie Betts.

Taylor never showed much pop before last season, so the 21 homers were a pure shock. He’s one of the hitters who preaches at the altar of launch angle, and that comes as little surprise after learning that he worked with the same hitting consultants who helped radically transform Justin Turner. In that vein, it’s reasonable to expect Taylor to provide solid pop along with his speed, likely locking in floors of 15 homers and steals.

My issue with Taylor, however, is contact and overall plate discipline. He had a 25% strikeout rate and 8.8% walk rate last season. He hadn’t struck out that often previously in his career, but with the focus on launch angle comes more whiffs. The walk rate isn’t enough to predict another .350 OBP, especially considering Taylor managed a .361 BABIP despite a 32.4% hard-hit rate that ranked 89th in the league.

Taylor is a fine player, and his revamped approach at the plate, coupled with his presence at the top of the Dodgers' order, will do wonders for his counting stats. If his rates take their predictable dip, however, he’ll be more back-end starter than the surprise star he was last season. Plus, you’ll almost certainly have to pay for the high end of his range of outcomes, given his 94.75 ADP.


4. Who’s your favorite non-obvious target at the position?

The Cubs have one of the most flexible rosters in the league, and it’s entirely possible that three different players could log 20-plus starts at second base this season. One of those players, however, jumps out at me as an ideal target as a starting second baseman beyond pick No. 100.

There’s a good chance you think I’m talking about Javier Baez, who will be the team’s primary second baseman this season. He did make strides in the second half, and he is a fantasy player of interest, but he’s more of a target at shortstop, which is shallower, especially in the back end. Instead, let's focus on Ian Happ, who shined for the Cubs in his rookie season. He was a big part of the team’s second straight NL Central championship, hitting .253/.328/.514 with 24 homers and 68 RBIs. For reasons that still haven’t been fully explained, he disappeared from the lineup card in the postseason, but he’s expected to be one of the key second-tier players for the team this season.

Joe Maddon loves Happ’s versatility; between the outfield and second base, Happ should easily get 500-plus plate appearances this season. He’s a natural infielder but played league-average defense in centerfield thanks to his impressive athleticism. A switch-hitter, Happ was better as a righty, slugging .529 and posting an .863 OPS from that side of the plate. Still, there’s nothing wrong with his .476 slugging percentage as a lefty, especially for a rookie in his age-22 season. Happ’s power is at the center of his offensive value.

Happ struck out too often, fanning in more than 30% of his trips to the plate, but he also had a 9.4% walk rate. He earned a free pass in 10.5% of his plate appearances after the All-Star break, showing the sort of plate discipline that is a hallmark of the Cubs' lineup. That should not only keep him in Maddon’s good graces, but also should have him hitting at the top or in the middle of a lineup that is expected to score more than 800 runs this season. Happ’s youth and strikeout rate will likely make him a net negative for your rate stats, but he won’t be nearly as much of a drag on them as the likes of Odor. He also brings to the table attractive counting-stat floors, making him a great target at his 132.71 ADP.

5. Where’s the love for the veterans?

Let’s keep this last one short and sweet. Cano and Kinsler have been in our lives for a long time: The former broke in with the Yankees in 2005, and the latter joined him as one of the league’s best young second basemen the next year. The two have spent more than a decade as two of the best and most reliable fantasy second basemen, and that can make rostering either of them feel boring. But don’t let your familiarity with them blur the fact that both are still winning options at their respective price points.

Both Cano and Kinsler are 35 years old, though the latter will turn 36 in June. Cano’s power fell off a bit last season, but he still belted 23 homers to go along with a .280/.338/.453 slash line. He drove in 97 runs and scored 79, making his seventh All-Star team in eight seasons. He has an ADP of 81.2, which places him at the end of the seventh round of 12-team leagues and start of the sixth in 14-teamers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Cano being the sixth or seventh player on your roster.

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Kinsler, meanwhile, didn’t have a great 2017 season. He did hit 20 homers, marking the first time in his career he had consecutive 20-jack seasons, but he slashed just .236/.313/.412, all of which were career lows. The Tigers traded him to the Angels this offseason, and he’s expected to hit at the top of an order that includes, among others, Mike Trout and Justin Upton. Kinsler’s batting average and OBP fell off sharply in part due to a .244 BABIP that doesn’t quite match up with a 37% hard-hit rate, which is seven full percentage points better than his career mark. He still had a 9% walk rate, his best since 2011. If he merely gets back to his career .286 BABIP this season and maintains even an 8% walk rate, he’s going to be on base a whole lot in front of Trout and Upton. Kinsler is a good bet to push 20 homers, 100 runs and 15 steals, and no one is going to fight you for him this year. He’s one of my favorite endgame targets, regardless of position, with an ADP of 189.6