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Underrated Second Baseman: Kipnis and Hernandez

Second base has gone from a position with few elite players to one overflowing with talent. Jose Altuve and Trea Turner could both end up being first-round picks, with the likes of Robinson Cano, Brian Dozier and Daniel Murphy going shortly after. If you miss out on them during your draft, here are two players to consider who will be available much later.

Cesar Hernandez

Cesar Hernandez didn’t wow anybody with his numbers in 2016, and he finished as the 19th rated second baseman according to the ESPN Player Rater. Thus, it isn’t much of a surprise that he is the 23rd second baseman and 292nd overall pick in NFBC drafts as of January 19th. Hernandez likely won’t become a top-10 second baseman due to his limited power, but with some optimism and continued improvement in both his skill and the Phillies’ lineup, he has plenty of potential to become relevant in nearly all league formats.

That relevance begins with his batting average and ability to get on base. Before getting to the usual discussion of BABIP, it is important to note that Hernandez exhibited improved patience at the plate last season. More important than swinging less in general, he remained nearly as aggressive at swinging at pitches in the zone while cutting almost three percent off his swing rate at pitches outside the zone. It’s no surprise then that he posted a career-best 26% hard contact rate and a career low 18.9% soft contact rate. Assuming he maintains the plate discipline he displayed last year combined with his speed, a BABIP well above .300 doesn’t seem unreasonable. While his BABIP may not be .363 as it was in 2016, given his speed and groundball rate, it isn’t unreasonable to expect him to maintain a BABIP well above .300 and keep his average at a floor of a respectable .270.

There is plenty of time for things to change, but as of now, Hernandez remains the most natural leadoff hitter for the Phillies heading into the 2017 season.  He has the individual skill and a sneaky good lineup behind him to make that count. Hernandez scored 67 runs last season and only saw about half of his at bats come from the leadoff spot. With the offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders, the Phillies’ lineup is suddenly viable, and Hernandez should become a beneficiary of that.

Finally, Hernandez has enough speed to be a big contributor in the stolen base category. Efficiency is standing in his way, as he was successful stealing just 17 times last year in 30 attempts. That will have to improve in 2017 for him to continue to have the green light enough to have a fantasy impact, but there is also data suggesting that Hernandez is capable of being efficient on the basepaths as he was 19 of 24 in stolen base attempts in 2015. Improved efficiency would most directly improve his stolen base numbers, and would also improve his run scoring potential, as he would remain on base more frequently.

There is little doubt that Hernandez enters the 2017 season as a lottery ticket. The second baseman taken immediately ahead of him, the likes of Neil Walker, Josh Harrison, Brandon Phillips, Starlin Castro, Logan Forsythe, and Jedd Gyorko, are all known commodities with little upside. Given that, it isn’t so hard to dream a bit on Hernandez and hope a for a .280 batting average, 25 steal, and 80 run season.




Jason Kipnis

Jason Kipnis is a divisive player. Some people swear by him and insist he is underrated and among the elite fantasy second baseman, while others would be happier to have him on the waiver wire than on their team. Admittedly, considering him underrated is more about context than any advanced metric or outstanding skill improvement Kipnis exhibited last year. In fact, his peripherals have bounced all around throughout his career.

The one constant is that when he makes contact, it is good contact. In  2016, Kipnis ranked 16th among all qualifying hitters for lowest soft contact rate and 5th among second baseman. Though that was his best mark in the past three seasons, he ranked 49th and 51st among all qualified hitters in the 2015 and 2014 seasons respectively and fourth and seventh at the position. This gives him a nice floor in his ability to get on base that will maintain his value in nearly any league format.

When comparing Kipnis’ production to the elite second baseman with a long track record, Jose Altuve, Brian Dozier, Robinson Cano, and Ian Kinsler, he is a clear-cut below. However, last year he showed that he still has the upside to produce among the elite in all five traditional categories.While regression in the power department is likely coming in 2017, there is an equally strong case to be made for regression with nearly all the players taken ahead of him.

Prior to last season, Kipnis produced equal to or better than Daniel Murphy, yet Murphy is currently being selected a whopping 60 picks ahead of Kipnis. Ian Kinsler brings plenty of risk as well, as he looked to be on the downturn of his career before blasting 28 home runs last year. Jose Altuve and Brian Dozier both rode unsustainable hot streaks (.372 BA/RISP for Altuve and 28 second half home runs for Dozier) in the second half of last season that have vaulted their draft day price.

This isn’t to say that Kipnis should be drafted ahead of all or any of these players, but more to illustrate the risk that is involved with most of the top second baseman. Kipnis has shown the ability to provide both a safe floor combined with upside, and he is still in his prime. He should be considered a top-eight second baseman confidently heading into the 2017 season, but has not been valued that way to this point.  

 

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Dan Marcus
Dan recently moved to Columbus, Ohio but is a lifelong Pittsburgh sports fan. Fantasy baseball was and always will be his favorite fantasy sport, but he also enjoys football and basketball as well.

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