Concerns From the Keystone

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. It wasn’t too long ago that draft day selections at second base were accompanied by nausea and lightheadedness. Robinson Cano was the gold standard, but he was often over-drafted by many who felt the need to “fill the position”. Dozier, Altuve, Kinsler, and Kipnis were the 2nd tier of 2B talent. Altuve has certainly produced value over that span, but the rest have more or less fallen into the same “fill the position” mentality, failing to return much draft day value.

Over the years there has been values to be had when second base slumming, though more often than not your hope was to simply draft someone who could either give you plus production in a particular stat or provide minimal production across the board.

The keystone’s climate has changed here in 2016. Positional changes, young talent, and improved skill sets of past players have made this position among the deepest in the game. That’s not to say, however, that the position has no potential trouble areas. That statement especially rings true for you dynasty league players. With a large group of 30-somethings, an endless fountain of youth, superstars hoping to rebound from disappointment, and those hoping to build on last year’s promise, what lies ahead is truly anyone’s guess.

In redraft leagues, player values are based largely on player’s most recent results. In dynasty formats one would surmise that player values would be based on a larger picture of production. For example, when we submit our player rankings for each position we are to value players based on a 5-year window. Although dynasty rankings may have a longer life span, the volatility from year to year is proof that recent bias plays a large part in not only redraft leagues, but dynasty formats as well. So despite different parameters, the overall rankings of both formats tend to mirror each other, with slight variances along the way that tends to favor youth over experience.

As a public service to you, I wanted to focus my attention this week on players whom I view as potential disappointments. These are not players who will be targeted as cheap second base options. These are the types of players owners draft with the comfort of having a position that is considered team strength. It is underperformances from players like this are the very ones that could potentially derail a season. You’ll either want to avoid these players altogether in startup drafts, or capitalize on the player’s current value before 2017 begins and trade them.




Daniel Murphy – After a postseason for the ages in 2015, Murphy brought that momentum into 2016 and ended up producing a top-25 season using Yahoo standard scoring, finishing 4th among second basemen. Statistics would support the claim in which Murphy has changed his batted ball approach. Over his career the ground ball hitting Murphy has posted a 1.26 GB/FB rate, but last season that mark was 0.87. In addition, Murphy has clearly focused on driving the ball as his pull rate of 41.3% marks the third consecutive year that number has increased.

The increased fly ball and pull tendencies resulted in a career high 38.2% hard-hit rate, nearly 9% more than his 29.5% career mark.  The improved hard-hit rate feeds into his career high AVG of .347, and the hard-hit rate combined with his new-found fly ball tendencies resulted into a career high 25 home runs. The batting average combined with the home runs feed into the superb counting stats, and in the end a fantasy superstar was born.

So what’s with the skepticism you may ask? Let’s start with the numbers themselves. A common theme in projecting players for 2017 for me will be HR legitimacy. I wholeheartedly feel as though MLB wanted more offense in the game. Now as a league you can either allow for a return of the steroid era, which would be a PR nightmare, or you could simply make minor adjustments to say…….. a baseball. Continuing with the hypothetical; MLB reviews the outburst in HR from 2016, they review and determine that perhaps too much could lead to whispers of steroids once again running rampant in the game. Once again fearing the PR backlash, MLB makes adjustments to scale the offense back in 2017.

So now take Daniel Murphy and those 25 home runs. Despite the obvious changes in his approach, would one confidently project him for a repeat? I certainly won’t be inclined to do so. In addition to the equipment concerns, his HR/FB rate of 12.4% was a 5% improvement on his career mark of 7.4%. Take my perceived decrease in home runs league wide and factor in the high HR/FB, and to me Murphy feels more like a 15-20 HR threat. Should Murphy’s batted ball profile remain unchanged, then the .348 BABIP would certainly have to be questioned. His track record suggests those BABIP rates aren’t uncharacteristic, but there is a big difference between hitting .315 and .347.

Overall I like Murphy the player; he’s a safe player who certainly won’t hurt you, but I personally don’t see the repeat. To me his value will never be higher than it is right now. In redrafts you’d be paying a 3rd-5th round price on a player who will produce as a back-end top-10 second baseman. If you’re a current Murphy owner, thre is no better to move him. If you’re in rebuild mode Murphy could likely net you two future pieces, and if you’re in contention then swapping Murphy for a position of need will never be easier.

Jean Segura – Over the last two years drafting Jean Segura was accompanied by the aforementioned symptoms of nausea. Prior to last season, Segura had been nothing more than SB filler. Last year Segura finally managed to put two halves together, and as a result he end the season as the 6th best second baseman and 27th overall player using Yahoo standard scoring.

When any player improves from year to year I always look for underlying skill set improvements. While Segura did manage to improve his walk rate from 2015, his 5.6 mark this season was only 1% better than his career mark of 4.6%. Improvement yes, but clearly he didn’t reinvent himself. His K% of 14.6 was in line his career mark of 14.4%. Segura’s biggest gains were in ISO (.181 in 2016, .117 Career) and Hard Hit% (29.7% in 2016, 24.6% Career).  As one could surmise, Segura’s BABIP of .353 generated a career high .319 AVG and all those hard hit balls netted him a career high HR/FB of 13.5% resulting in 20 home runs.

So why the hate?  Well, hate may be a strong word, but the concern for return on value is certainly there. The AVG will take a hit once the .353 BABIP stabilizes – to what level remains a mystery. His decrease in ground balls help generate the power, but what if the batted ball approach remains but the hard hit rate declines? That would likely bring the BABIP closer to .300, a number that likely produces a sub .270 AVG. I expressed my concerns for all home runs in 2016. Segura’s 20 will certainly be highlighted as unlikely to repeat; 13-15 feels right. The 33 steals from 2016 will play; a decrease in OBP could affect that total, but obviously the skill set is present.

Much like with Murphy, Segura does enough across the board that the proverbial floor is tolerable. Even while trying to tear him down I projected a 14/30/.270 season as obtainable, but I still can’t help but look at his career numbers.While the statistics have given me reason for hope, many of the underlying skill sets that I value give me nothing to suggest that Segura will sustain his 2016 numbers moving forward. His draft day price leaves me no room for value in a startup draft. Just like with Murphy, if I’m a Segura owner I am looking to capitalize on what could be his career year.




DJ LeMahieu – One personal weakness I have in roster construction is batting average. It seems like years since I constructed a team that competed in AVG – willing to take on as many Chris Carter types as possible could be the problem. My issue with batting average has always been the lack of predictability that comes with it. Without a doubt AVG is the most volatile statistic in standard scoring formats. LeMahieu’s .348 mark last season was the best in baseball and marked the second consecutive year of a mark north of .300.

From an underlying skill set standpoint LeMahieu made strides last season. His 10.4% walk rate was 3% better than his 7.2 career mark. His 12.6% strike rate was a career low and nearly 4% lower than his career mark of 16%. Coors Field + more balls in play = .388 BABIP. For me LeMahieu is one of the safest batting average options out there. However, prior to this past season he ha had little to go with it. In 2016 LeMahieu kept hitting which led to a prime spot in the lineup, and in turn 100 runs scored.

Moving forward will it continue? In 2015 LeMahieu managed a .301 AVG (with much the same lineup) and he appeared in 69 games hitting 1st or 2nd. Last year when LeMahieu led the league in AVG he had 113 such opportunities. Does a struggle out of the box move him down the lineup? Does the return of Story or off-season moves alter that perceived lineup spot?  So many questions for a player whose biggest value is surely to face regression.

Javier Baez – First and foremost I love Javier Baez. His skill set to me is that of a .270 hitter with true 30/20 potential. If Baez wore the uniform of any other team in baseball he’d be among the top-five players second base has to offer in a Dynasty format. While his career to this point has been that of a reserve player, this playoff run has showcased just how talented this guy is.

This showcase will be the disconnect between where I value Baez and where he will be selected. The major league playoffs have a tendency to affect the draft day market prices. While I don’t have any data that supports such a claim, it sure seems to me that Pablo Sandoval made a living off of it. With this postseason Baez’s draft day stock will be that of his potential, and if he isn’t among the top 5-6 second basemen off the board I will be shocked.

I may be in the minority, but I look at the 2017 Cubs and see much of the same lineup. Fowler returns to man CF and Schwarber is the primary man in LF. That leaves Baez and Zobrist shuffling between the 2B and Super Utility role. At 35 I see Zobrist earning more of the everyday role before handing that over to Baez sometime in 2018. Baez will play, he will seem as though he’s a regular, but when it comes to counting stats over the course of a season there is a big difference between four and six starts a week. If I’m an owner of Baez then I’m holding tight, certainly more than willing to wait a little longer before that potential is really tapped into. I caution those in startup formats, however, as paying a premium price for future production is always a risky proposition.

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.