Second Base Depth and MI Draft Strategy

Gather around, children. I remember back in my day, when we had the solid, amazing offensive shortstops to fill a fantasy roster. At the top you always had the 4 R’s — Alex Rodriguez, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, and Jimmy Rollins — plus Tulowitzki and some guy named Jeter. Second base had Cano, and there were other good names, but none as seemingly consistent as the top of the SS ranks. Chase Utley, Brian Roberts, and Rickie Weeks were constant injury risks. Uggla became a BA black hole. Kinsler had two 30/30 years, but the home run and and stolen base totals dropped significantly after that. Yessiree, shortstop was the MI position where you wanted to lock up a franchise guy, because the value on the other side was too risky.

My, how times have changed. Reyes and Tulo became huge injury risks. Rollins is very near the end of his career. Hanley isn’t playing SS anymore. Jeter retired. There are certainly bright spots for the future (see: Correa, Bogaerts, Lindor). But when you’re looking at position depth and short-term reliability, second base is the place to be.

Let’s take a look at 2015 production. In terms of players hitting 15+ home runs, there were 19 who qualified at second base (10 game eligibility) . For shortstops, 13 players reached 15+ home runs. There’s some overlap there (Drew, Flores), but if you go further and look at the 10-14 home run range, second base has 17 more names, whereas shortstop has 11 more. In terms of speed, both positions are pretty close. But when you look at RBIs, 12 second base qualifiers had 65+ RBI, compared to only 6 at shortstop. Regarding CBS rankings for 5×5, there were 12 second basemen in the top-100 players, but only 3 shortstops in the top-100 (with Brandon Crawford at exactly #100).

When looking at ESPN’s Player Rater, there are 6 qualified at 2B in the top-50 (with Dee Gordon taking the #1 slot due to his domination of SB). There’s only one shortstop in the top-50, Bogaerts. ESPN also recently released a top-250 keepers list, and on that list, 24 2B qualifiers make the list, compared to just 19 SS.

The Pros of Second Base

I won’t deny that there’s a lot of high-quality, high-ceiling talent at shortstop. Again, there’s a nice core of youngsters in Correa, Bogaerts, Lindor, Seager, and Russell. But when looking at the entire field, I feel second base is a safer bet to find value the deeper you go. The year 2015 saw a lot of the very young shortstop talent break out, but the depth at second is undeniable, even if some of the players are “old” in comparison.

The thing is, all those young guys at SS could hit development bumps along the way. They are likely to be good in 2016, and they have high ceilings, but we should all remember that nothing’s guaranteed when it comes to young players and prospect value. In terms of years, you may get fewer keeper seasons out of an older second baseman like Dee Gordon (who’s already in his late 20s), but he’s a known commodity and is far more likely to repeat past performance than the young shortstop names.

Even when it comes to keeper leagues, I’m personally a fan of veterans, as opposed to taking a big risk and gambling on rookies or sophomores to man my starting roster spots. Case in point: Bogaerts was my starting (and only) shortstop in 2014 for a keeper league. That was a rough year for my middle infield, and he was the primary reason. Yes, he’s done great in 2015, but what about 2016? Will the batting average drop due to his very high BABIP from this last season? The average drove his value, because 7 homers and 10 steals are not all that impressive by fantasy standards. His HR/FB ratio was down from 2014, and he hit a lot more grounders in 2015. I’m not as optimistic as some about his projections, both in terms of what his future ceiling will be and what specifically he’ll do in 2016.

In that league, before and during 2014, I had at least some level of discussion about trading Bogaerts for Dozier, Kinsler, or Wong. Kinsler is old, so that ruled him out considering I had a minimum of 5 years of control for Bogaerts. Dozier was someone I liked, and Wong was another young guy with a decent ceiling. I didn’t trade because I already had a solid second baseman for my team. But even now, I’m more confident in Dozier’s and Kinsler’s value for the next 2-3 season than I am in Bogaerts. Reliability has value to me.

When looking at my second base rankings, there are a lot of veterans who may lack higher ceilings than what they’ve already done. That’s okay to me. Taking risks in the earlier rounds of a draft is not a great strategy, but the later you get, the more risk you can accept. The majority of the touted shortstops — and even some of the veterans, due to health concerns — are risky picks based on where they’ll go in the draft. I will take a batter with a higher floor but a lower ceiling to man the MI slot, which I seem to have trouble with in any year I gamble.

One odd, roundabout way second base is deeper is simply because players get moved off of shortstop, and they can often end up at second. Starlin Castro did it this season (though he was not worth rostering for most of the year). Dee Gordon was moved in 2014. Zobrist was primarily a shortstop early in his MLB career, and though he still bounces around to this day, he has played more at 2B than anywhere, and he didn’t play SS at all in 2015. If a team has a talented shortstop already, but has a young SS waiting in the wings, that prospect often moves over to 2B. Older guys who lose range will move to second or the outfield. Second base’s depth is partially fueled by shortstops changing positions.

The Con of Second Base

I’ve said it numerous times in this article already, so it should be no surprise. The downside to 2B right now is that there are fewer potential superstars in the making. Altuve and Dee Gordon are great and definitely elite right now. But Cano is unreliable, Dozier’s batting average is a risk, and Kinsler’s average and steals may not hold. Those young rookies and sophomores at shortstop certainly have a huge ceiling, and they could end up being perennial top-25 bats. It’s not a sure thing, but that upside is extremely appealing to many fantasy managers. If you want high reward (along with high risk), then there’s less at second base to keep you happy.

Drafting for MI

In the past, I often ended up with weak or risky middle infield players. Then even when I started prioritizing MI guys, I ran into bad luck with players getting hurt or not living up to my expectations. That may be why I now prefer solid and reliable middle infielders — because I know what I’m getting (hopefully) and can then adjust the rest of my roster accordingly. It’s easier to take risks in later outfield or starting pitcher picks.

For this reason, I am okay with picking a top shortstop early, if you’re determined to get a young, high-ceiling guy. However, I suggest you double down on second base because of it. Taking someone like Altuve, Gordon, or even Dozier in the first few rounds is important because it lets you lock up a top second baseman so that you can then target a mid-tier second baseman for your middle infield slot. Even if you pick Correa in the first round and then get a second baseman soon afterward, I’d still prefer to pick someone at second to fill the middle infield slot. Especially when you take a young player who may or may not perform well for the full year, having a reliable 2B plus another reliable 2B for MI will mitigate the risk. As I’ve pointed out, there’s more depth at second in terms of safe mid-tier talent. The mid-round second base options aren’t sexy, but they get the job done and provide proven numbers at the end of a season. Utilize that depth and reliability in your drafts and trades next year.

 

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Kevin Jebens
Fantasy baseball player since 2000; winning leagues ranging from 12-team H2H to 18-team experts 5x5. Has written for various baseball blogs, including the 2013 Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual.
Kevin Jebens

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