Lessons Learned: Second Base

Fantasy baseball players have their minds on the future. We pore over projection systems. We want the stud prospect. We read all year-long about next week’s two start pitchers. There are never any articles about last week’s two-start pitchers.

When it comes to player performance our focus on the future should be commended. After all, we don’t win this year’s league with last year’s stats and we know that just because Jose Altuve hit .341 last year doesn’t mean he’ll do it again this year. (We do know that, right? Maybe not…) But, are we fantasy baseball players too much focused on the future? Do we stop and think about our own mistakes in the past so we don’t make the same mistakes this year?

See, we know not to draft Jason Kipnis in the second round this year (based on the content on the site this week, do we ever), but why were so many of us wrong about him as a second round pick in 2014? I’m looking at the way we drafted last year to see if we can uncover some wisdom to carry over into our preparation and performance for this year. Then we’ll see if we can come up with an approach to drafting second basemen in 2015.

Second Base: A Look Back

Unfortunately, those of us who spent a high pick on a second baseman were disappointed in 2014. Robinson Cano underwhelmed, Jason Kipnis and Matt Carpenter were outright busts and Dustin Pedroia dealt with injuries. Jose Altuve emerged from the mid-pack to become one of the top players in fantasy. Not bad for a guy who was being taken around the same time as Aaron Hill and Brandon Phillips. Other strong options were found deep in the draft and were probably taken for your MI spot in mixed leagues if they were taken at all: Brian Dozier, Dee Gordon, Neil Walker, Kolten Wong, and (of course) Anthony Rendon. Of this group, Dozier was taken the highest on average at 19th at the position in 2014. They will all be top 12 options in the coming year, with Rendon a contender for the top spot.

So what can we learn here?

Be aware of risk with your early picks.

When I look at how this position played out in 2014, I want to take a hard look at guys without a long track record who jump up the board to see if they are legit. Kipnis had that coveted power-speed combination and many were pushing for him to be ranked at number one at the position going into 2014. However, he proved to be a pretty significant batting average risk and his upside was not as great as people believed.

While no one is pushing for Brian Dozier as the top second baseman for 2015, he is going in the top 6 or so. And while we love the power and speed, Dozier is an out-and-out batting average liability, which limits his ability to justify his price. With a significant slowdown in the second half (much like Kipnis in 2013), I’m wary of spending a high pick on Dozier.

Don’t let unsustainable numbers pull you in.

Another high pick in 2014, Matt Carpenter, is third base’s problem now. His value was driven in large by his 126 runs scored, a number propped up by an out-of-their-minds Cardinals offense. That number was not repeatable and with limited power and speed, Carpenter seemed unlikely to turn a profit as a top 4 or 5 round guy.

Altuve, currently being drafted first at the position and tenth overall according to NFBC, does have speed. But he is being drafted on last year’s numbers, numbers he is unlikely to repeat. His value last year was driven in large part by his 225 hits (a career best by 48 hits), which gave him a .341 average (a career best by 51 points). If he falls back to a rough midpoint between last year and his career norms and gives you 200 hits and a .315 average (which would be a pretty generous projection) he will not justify this ranking. Even with all those hits, his 85 runs were not a very high number for a top of the lineup guy, and taking on 7 home runs and 59 RBIs in the first round means you have a lot of catching up to do later on. In today’s game grabbing speed late may be easier to do than power. Maybe we have a Venezuelan Ichiro manning the position, but I am skeptical, and Venezuelan Ichiro is what Altuve will have to be for a high pick to be worthwhile.

Don’t play it safe in the mid-rounds

As the very good options are being drafted, we might get nervous and hear a voice that says “draft a second baseman! Do it!” When you hear this voice, you are probably filling the position earlier than you should. This version of Chase Utley and Brandon Phillips and recent graduate into this tier Daniel Murphy are not interesting to me as mid-round picks. Is Pedroia falling into this pack? I think he might be. Guys like Ben Zobrist and Martin Prado even allow us to play scared at multiple positions.

If a reliable veteran really slips and you want to grab him, fine, but don’t reach for any of them for God’s sake. And consider letting them all pass and going for someone with greater upside who you can find later in the draft. A bonus: If you pick a guy really late and he sucks, you won’t feel bad about dropping him in a week or two for someone who hits out of the gate and might be legit, whereas Martin Prado will kind of suck and be on your team all year long.

Second Basemen in 2015

I’m going to have to use a high pick on Rendon and I’m willing to do it. Unlike Altuve, I don’t see glaring flaws and his all-around skills make him safer. I sense I’m going to have Cano on my teams this year. I don’t think he will be a sexy pick because of last year’s numbers, but remember, you still got a .300 average, plus decent power (still top 5 in home runs at second base) and very good production, just not what we were accustomed to over the past several years. I’ll take the high floor and upside of the best at the position. If I can get him as the third second baseman off the board and pair him with a guy like Goldschmidt or McCutchen I’d be thrilled.

After that I can’t find much enthusiasm for the next 5 or so second basemen. If they slip a round or two I could take one, but they will go too high in most drafts because of the scarce position. I will usually find someone being taken around that time with more appeal. For instance, right now in NFBC, Adrian Gonzalez is going after Kinsler, but Gonzalez seems the much safer bet. David Ortiz, Kole Calhoun, and Jay Bruce are the three guys going immediately after Pedroia and all three are much more appealing to me. I can’t think of Pedroia’s upside as the 20/20 .300 laser show of the past, not with the injury and the steady decline over the last 4 years. (His batting average has been up and down in that time, but that’s batting average.)

I could see myself drafting Wong after those guys in a kind of sweet spot in the draft where you don’t have to pay as much as you would for Dozier, Kipnis, and the like but you are likely to get very similar numbers. After Wong, I think we will see the parade of reliable veterans who I am avoiding. I have no concerns letting Zobrist and the rest pass while trying to find value at second base very late in the draft. I’m taking a look at guys who are in their 20s and have a clear shot at playing time. A few of them are likely to surpass aging players at the position, just like Rendon, Gordon, et al. did in 2014. In particular, I’m thinking of Brett Lawrie, Arismendy Alcantara, and Scooter Gennett. Lawrie is worth speculating on as a low risk/high reward guy, Alcantara could put up a nice power/speed combo (though the recent Dexter Fowler acquisition undercuts my playing time idea; keep an eye on things in spring training), and Gennett strikes me as a Daniel Murphy type who can quietly contribute some good numbers for your team at a low price.

So that’s a look back and a look ahead at second base. Please send me your tweets, comments, and feedback. Let me know if you agree or disagree on the points, or are wondering why the hell Fantasy Assembly just let someone write about why you should draft Scooter Gennett. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.