2B Keeper Stock Watch: Cano, Wong, Kipnis, Murphy

With the regular season over, it’s time to look at 2017 and beyond. For keeper formats, I’m looking at risers and fallers in our 2017 rankings, as well as highlighting where I differ from the rest of the Assembly team. I’m going to say this here, instead of in every player’s analysis, because it’s true for most of the cases. For leagues with just 10 games eligibility, there were a lot of 2B options in 2016. There were also a lot of new names to produce in the top-20. That said, most sites’ generic 5×5 ranking system isn’t always the best measure, and many players didn’t play full-time at second.

Stock Up logoDaniel Murphy Everyone missed on Murphy, even after his 2015 postseason heroics. He has always been good for batting average, but his stolen bases had fluctuated (between 4 to 23), and he’d only hit double-digit homers in half of his seasons. Prior to 2016 we ranked him #12 moving forward, and I ranked him highest at just #11. For 2016 he was #6 at second, and it was primarily due to a power surge at the age of 31. Sure, he hit .347 as well, but we’d come to expect at least .280 from him, so the homers were the biggest bonus for those who drafted him in the middle rounds. Is this a new level and approach for Murphy moving forward?

First, the cautionary signs. He put up a career best BABIP in a full season, and he set a career high in FB% and HR/FB. That’s not to say that a new approach and a new home park can’t result in new power, but given that his 12% HR/FB was nearly double his career line (7%), I can’t pencil him in for 20 homers every year moving forward. And though he’s hit over .300 before, it’s been just two times, and those were his two best BABIP years as well.

However, I still have high expectations for Murphy in the next three-plus years. He’s pulling the ball more the last two seasons, and he’s simply raking with the new approach, with a career best hard hit rate in 2016 and his third best mark in 2015. He’s being more selective at the plate (lower swing rate, O-Swing% according to PITCHf/x). And despite Washington’s home field rating poorly for lefty HR, he hit 10 at home compared to 15 on the road, and only 5 or his homers were classified as “just enough” by ESPN’s Home Run Tracker. Because his metrics were steady all year, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and say his new approach will keep him in the top-5 for the next several years.

Jonathan Schoop Schoop made a blip on the radar in 2015 when he hit 15 home runs in 305 at bats, and he added 70 points to his average from 2014. His first half of 2016 looked a lot like his second half of 2015, but he stumbled a bit in the second half of this season. Still, he ended up with 25 HR for the year, and we were pretty close to our ranking (18th entering 2016, he was 16th). So is he worth investing in moving forward?

It’s a bit of a mixed bag for Schoop. He should continue hitting homers with a solid HR/FB (14-15% for three straight half-seasons), but in the second half, his FB% dropped and his hard hit rate was below average. Given he had nearly 200 more AB in 2016 than any other year, perhaps the full schedule wore him down a bit, because he was particularly awful in September (.181 BA, 53% GB). He doesn’t walk at all, but his approach is solid enough. He’s also quite young, so there’s time for improvement. I think over the long-term he’s still going to be underrated, especially if his poor end of season was primarily a stamina issue.

Jedd Gyorko No one saw him coming at this point. Gyorko displayed power while playing for San Diego, when he hit 23 HR in his rookie year. Then his sophomore season saw bad trends in HR/FB, GB%, and BABIP, and he wasn’t guaranteed a full-time role. In 2016 when injuries opened up playing time in St. Louis, Gyorko proved he’ll always be a source of home runs, even if the rest of his game isn’t great.

His second half HR/FB rate may not be sustainable at 28%, but in the first half he was still at 18%, or nearly double the MLB average. He’s elevating the ball more than ever, his contact and walk rates aren’t awful, and he managed to play 10+ games at every infield position in order to stay in the lineup. Technically he was 27th of all 2B options, and his average will stay risky, but 30 HR isn’t anything to sneeze at in the middle infield, and especially in just 400 AB. He’s gone from barely endgame material last year to a top-20 ranking at any position he qualifies for. If you need power and can afford the lack of BA, then Gyorko’s a great pick.

Robinson Cano He’s been a consistent top-5 option in the rankings, even with his recent hiccup years. But if anything was going to put him back into the top-3 (at least for 2017), it was a huge power year to prove he could still rack up homers, especially at home. That’s exactly what he did, and he hit more home runs at home in 2016 (17) than he did in all of 2014 (14). He had a total of 39 on the season, and that went along with raising his average from 2015 as well. If not for the complete lack of stolen bases, 2016 was arguably his best fantasy season — and even without the SB, he set career bests in two 5×5 categories (R, HR).

Is this sustainable? Well, he was consistent all year in home runs hit and HR/FB. He finally raised his FB% from 25% the last two seasons to a career best 36%. That fact alone is crazy, because he’s been such a good power hitter for a MI despite a career 30% fly ball rate. His hard hit rate is up despite a drop in LD% and BABIP, so there’s a chance he’s retooled to swing for the fences, as opposed to being line drive focused. If he can keep elevating his hits, then 30 HR could be the norm for this aging slugger, and he’ll continue to give you a solid average and run production. He’ll be a four-category threat for at least a few more years, so invest with confidence.

Stock Down LogoKolten Wong He was a promising youngster whom we ranked #8 after 2015, and two guys had him at #5. He’d had a great first half in 2015, and many thought his struggles in the second half could be attributed to concussion issues. Then 2016 happened, and he exploded. He spent a bit of time in the minors, and he was moved off of second to make room for Gyorko, playing outfield. Can he get back to his promising ways, or do we have to worry?

To be fair, his batted ball profile is nearly identical to last year, but he had a low BABIP, so there could have been some bad luck to 2016. In fact, his first half batted ball was pretty awful (52% GB), but he corrected it in the second half. His contact rate was the same, and he actually improved his walk rate by a large percentage. These are signs that he could be far better in 2017 and beyond, so I can’t fault managers for ranking him in the top-15 or top-20 moving forward.

However, I’m not buying on him. Before 2016, some pundits had dreams of a 20 HR ceiling for him. For the last two years, nearly all of his power has come in rather short burst of two straight months, and I like more consistent options if I’m seeking home run potential. Also, his hard hit rate was down for the year, and even though most of that was due to an awful first half, if you look at 2015, they’re eerily similar. Maybe it truly was a matter of getting over concussion issues, but the similarities are too high for my liking.

Finally, though he ranks well in speed scores, he’s been running less and less for his three seasons (SBO% of 26%, 27%, 8%). He’s never profiled as a high average guy, 10+ HR power is no sure thing moving forward, and his best skill isn’t being utilized. He’s young enough to take a flier on, I guess, but with so many possibilities in 2017, I’m going with new blood first before I settle on Wong.

Neil Walker I really want to like Walker. Honest. In fact before 2016 we ranked him 16th for dynasty, but I ranked him highest at #10. For the start of the year, it looked like he was going to prove me right by being a top-10 guy. Then he struggled in May and June, and we learned it was his back, and he missed time, and he ended up having surgery. He even managed a great August before going under the knife in September. Dang, so close. On pace for a career year, but injuries have to factor into his future value.

What does that do for his dynasty ranking in 2017? For our list, it knocked him completely out of the top-20, though I did rank him right at #20. The fact is that even if his gains in fly balls and HR/FB were legit (and I think they were), he’ll be 31 in 2017, and back surgery is a pretty big deal. If you’re looking for the next 5 years, it’s not at all the type of risk you want to take. He’s a free agent, so we don’t know what kind of deal he’ll get (probably short) or where he’ll end up and in what kind of role. If you’re drafting now for the future, you can’t afford to essentially write off 2017, and that’s what taking Walker would mean. Monitor his health, but until he signs and until I see him on the field, I won’t commit.

Jason Kipnis Last year for dynasty rankings, I was lowest on Kipnis, though I still had him ranked 7th. In 2016 he was the 11th best option at second. Some of those ahead of him aren’t full-time second basemen, but even if you slot him 8th, it’s still lower than where we had him (#5). Of course, this is just one season, and dynasty is looking at 5 years of production, so what about 2017 and beyond?

This is a case of a player performing rather consistently well, but the outliers of any given season pushed him down in the ranks. He set career highs in AB, R, and HR. His RBI total was his second best. His average won’t hurt you, and though he runs less, he can still notch 15 SB. He’s elevating the ball more and has a good hard hit rate, perhaps at the expense of some contact. At 29, he’s a veteran with five seasons under his belt, and the Indians are a good team now. His HR/FB was steady all year, except in September, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see a 25/15 season from him soon. Maybe you can remove any dreams of Kipnis as a top-5 guy, but he’ll continue to produce as a top-10 option.

Starlin Castro Even though he did a bit better than I thought, at least in HR, his .270, 21 HR campaign ranked only 23rd among those with 10+ games at the position. With lots of new options, I’m assuming many rankings are dropping Castro down a bit. In our rankings, those who were around last year have dropped him quite a bit for 2017, but I held pretty close to where I had him last year. Am I the crazy one for holding out hope?

Maybe the seasons of .290+ are gone, but he was just 26 this year, and he’s found his power stroke, which was consistent from the first half to the second half at 15% HR/FB. That consistency gives me optimism he can come near repeating the home runs in 2017. He recovered from his career-worst GB% and hard hit rate in 2015 — though his first half was similar to 2015; his second half showed metrics and results far closer to his successful 2014. He still has speed, but he doesn’t run in New York, so although I think he could net 10+ SB if given the chance, it’s not likely.

Overall, you’re looking at a solid MI option who could still develop as a hitter entering his age 27 season. I’m not saying it’s a sure thing, but it wouldn’t shock me if he ended up with a .280, 25 HR campaign in the near future. If fantasy managers keep pushing him down in the ranks, he’s worth the investment.


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Kevin Jebens

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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.