Monday, February 4, 2008

Draft Guide: Second Base

Second base, long considered one of the two most shallow fantasy positions (along with catcher), will be the subject of the third of our baseball draft guides.

The first issue to keep in mind with second baseman is that you're probably only going to be carrying one of them on your roster, except in the most esoteric formats. There may be a useful multi-positional player who you keep around to eat up spare days, but for most leagues, this isn't going to be a position you stock up on. Even in set-ups that call for a middle infielder, due to the overall depth at SS this year, it's unlikely you're going to want to have on your roster multiple 2Bs. There's also approximately zero chance that you will want to play a second baseman in your UTIL spot. Finally, except for the top five or six selections, there isn't much deviation from the mean amongst second baseman. With a limited number of enticing mid- or late-round talents who might realistically hit 20+ home runs or steal 25+ bases, you're basically combing through chaff and trying to find a hint of wheat.

This creates a plethora of draft-day issues. Number one: the top-tier second basemen are now more valuable, because you can't group three or more of them together (as is the case with OFs or pitchers of all stripes) and overcome the effects of missing out on a premium selection. However, because folks aren't likely to be carrying multiple second baseman, your inclination may be to "dump" the position and see who has the promising spring training or early April. Number two: you're unlikely to see sustained "runs" on second baseman. In the first five or six rounds, your league is likely to draft one-third to one-half of all the second baseman selected. This creates a disincentive to spend a mid-round pick on a 2B, since you know that half the teams aren't going to spend another premium pick on the position (an assumption you absolutely cannot make with almost every other position besides catcher).

What's the upside to all of this? It's worth paying a premium for an elite second baseman, but don't let the position scarcity mirage lead you into a rash selection, particularly when the player you're targeting is only a marginal improvement over someone who will likely be drafted 5+ rounds later.

Tier One (Rounds 1-4)

The cream of this position is clearly Chase Utley (no, that wasn't a bad Balco pun). While you may glance at his 530 ABs and assume he played a full year, he actually missed about a month of time. Assuming a duplication of the 658 ABs he had the year before last, we would have almost certainly have seen 25-30 HRs and 10-15 SBs. Guess how many other second baseman hit 22 or more home runs? I can only find three, two of whom immediately follow Chase Utley on our draft board. The third member of this exclusive club is Ty Wigginton, who is the sneakiest of sneaky draft selections this year (to be discussed, below). I don't see too many selections who are likely to hit 22+ this year either. Clearly if you want home-run production above the norm at this position, you are probably going to have to pay a premium. But Utley's not just about power; he stole 15 bases last year, he's only 29, he plays for a stacked Phillies lineup, and he batted .309 and .332 the last two years. With that kind of category production from a position that basically has no other dependable 5x5 players, he won't make it past the end of the first round in 12 team mixed league formats.

Along with Carlos Guillen, B.J. Upton is the player whose position eligibility shenanigans is most likely to piss off somebody. He's listed as an OF almost everywhere, and someone is going to forget that he's eligible elsewhere -- most importantly, second base. Which is where you will play him if you draft him, right? He actually offers a more enticing mix of power and speed than Utley, with 24 home runs and 22 stolen bases in a shockingly low number of at bats -- 474. Now that he's playing the outfield (probably), he's unlikely to accidentally hit himself in the head with the ball while trying to turn a double play. By all accounts, he was a Alfonso Soriano-esque disaster in the field. With a .300-ish batting average last year, he clearly is making contact despite his reputation as a bit of a free swinger. His RBI and run production were affected due to his limited ABs, but they were both 80+. I don't see Upton lasting past the third round in leagues in which he's eligible at 2B, and he should probably be gone by the late second. If he makes it to the fourth round, you have to grab him unless you already have a second baseman (who better be Utley, or you ignored our advice). He's been all over the place in mock drafts, and I don't understand why.

Brandon Phillips scares me a bit. I was high on him coming into last year, and I drafted him in every league. Normally that doesn't work out very well, because it means you were overvaluing the player. Not this time, as Phillips delivered with only the second 30/30 season ever by a second baseman (IIRC). Will he do it again? Absolutely on the stolen bases; perhaps not on the HRs. I'd be happy with 20/35. Stolen bases aren't as plentiful amongst 2Bers as compared to SSs. Only three guys on our board stole more than 25 bags last year, and I don't think more than three or four guys are going to do it this year. Phillips is only 27, the Reds lineup is decent, and I think you can safely count on a .275+, 90+, 20, 80+, 30+ season. If last year was a sign of things to come, watch out. He will almost certainly be drafted in rounds 3 or 4.

Tier Two (Rounds 5-8)

By the fifth round, Brian Roberts will almost certainly be gone. That's what happens when you steal 50 goddamn bases, a total far surpassing Matsui and Phillips (the only other players on our board with more than 25 stolen bases). He had 36 the year before, which is also superlative. Plus, he chipped in 10 home runs. While 30/30 is nice, 10/50 can actually be more valuable, as you can load up on power in other positions. Being able to get 50 SBs from a second baseman is a much better solution than relying on Juan Pierre. Roberts has been hovering around .285-.290 in terms of batting average, with 85-100 runs, over the last two seasons; we're looking at solid production in four categories. Caveats: you'll be lucky to see sixty RBI, and the lingering Mitchell Report issue is something to worry about, but if he was going to be suspended we probably would have heard something about it by now.

Robinson Cano is, to me, an inexplicably high pick around the fantasy world. I've seen him listed as the second overall 2B'er. (Lindy's, what are you thinking?) Huh? He's only 25, and he plays for TEH LEETEST, GR8TST TEAM EVAH!, but the man has 10 stolen bases over three 480+ AB seasons. He's never hit more than 20 home runs, either. Or broken 100 runs. Or 100 RBI. His batting average (lifetime .314) is sterling, but for a guy projected to go by the third round all over the place, I don't get it. What are you hoping for here? .320/95/20/95/5? That, to me, is the best case scenario. It is unacceptable to use a top four selection on a player who is going to give you, at most, a 20/5 season when those at his position are giving you far more home runs and more stolen bases in the same rounds ... or even later. His batting average is fantastic for the position, but if you're relying on your second baseman as a source of average, I have to question your overall draft strategy. He's a solid pick (meaning rounds 6 or 7), but by no means an elite selection.

I've seen Ian Kinsler as low as the seventh round in draft guides, and while that's not unfair, I look at a 20/23 season in only 483 at bats and I become very excited. His myriad of injuries are the only concern here (below 500 ABs the last two years), but second base is not a position where you're going to find many guys with more upside. Kinsler will probably be gone by the eighth round, but I think he should be off the board by the middle of the seventh.

Poor Dan Uggla. I'm pretty sure his moniker is the reason for his draft projection woes in fantasy baseball land. Uggla should also be gone no later than the eighth round, and here's why: 58 home runs over two years. He's 28, he's just as likely to steal five bases as Robinson Cano, and while his batting average (.282/.245 the last two years) keeps him from being a top six selection at his position, he may be the only non-Utley, non-Upton 2B eligible player who's more likely than not to go 100/25+/100. I see him as the last second baseman I'd pay a draft premium for.

Tier Three (Rounds 9-12)

Basically, every second baseman from here on out has serious question marks and deficiencies.

Rickie Weeks has pissed off a lot of owners. People have been waiting for a breakout forever. Well, he delivered a 16/25 season with a putrid 36 RBI and a dreadful .235 batting average last year. Sure, that was in only 409 at bats, but look what Upton did with only 80[ish] more? If he's healthy, he could be a monster (second half OPS: .900+). But he's seldom fucking healthy. Someone will take him in these rounds. I suggest you don't let it be you. If you want to speculate, better bargains can be had later.

Here's another frustrating player -- Howie Kendrick. Basically, everything I said about Weeks applies to Kendrick. Except more so. 267 and 338 at bats over the last two years. Great batting average, hovering around five home runs and five stolen bases. He'll go in these rounds, but I suggest you AVOID!

Kelly Johnson, on the other hand, is a true value pick in these rounds. He's a converted OF, which makes me hope he can bench press at least one and a half David Ecksteins. With a full season, you're looking conservatively at .275/95/20/70/12. Not too shabby, and he may be capable of much more. Great value in rounds rounds 11 and 12.

Placido Polanco is a very, very tough player to judge. He batted .341 last year. Can he do it again? He's topped 10 home runs twice. Ten stolen bases twice (and hasn't done it for a while). He basically is a three category player: Batting Average, Runs, and plays in that Tigers lineup. Let someone else take him in round 12 ... this guy may slip for a while.

Tier Four (Rounds 13-16)

Dustin Pedroia should be avoided like the plague. He'll be drafted here, but since pluckiness and gumption aren't fantasy categories, I'm not impressed by an 8/7 season with only 86 runs in that Boston lineup.

This is the last year Jeff Kent's ass will taste somewhat like a fine wine, rather than vinegar. He may actually be a bit of a sleeper coming into this year, just because he might bat .290+ with 20+ home runs and decent run and RBI totals. He also could show his age, get hurt motorcycling, or fall off a cliff. Worth a look.

Others of Note

Felipe Lopez is moving into a new park, one which might allow Washington Nationals to hit home runs every once in a while. His god awful 2007 campaign (.245 BA, 24 SB -- dropping off from 44) has scared people, and he is listed in the loaded SS position rather than at 2B in most fantasy baseball mags and websites. This is a super value pick. He's only 27, and three years removed from a 23 HR campaign (the year before he was traded to Washington). Even if he moderately rebounds, you're looking at a possible steal. He is my sleeper at this position coming into this year, and he's eligible at both MI positions. I look at the players supposedly ahead of him on the Nationals depth chart (they basically suck), look at his track record, and have to figure he's going to beat out someone for a starting position.

Ty Wigginton has gone 24/22 in HRs over the last two years. He'll be eliglible at three positions (1B, 2B, 3B) in most leagues, and in AL-only leagues that require an actual DH to play the DH position, he's eligible there, too. Of course, you'll want him at 2B, but he offers tremendous value. He's thirty, been above .275 in BA the last two years, and while his run/RBI totals aren't impressive he's one of only three second baseman to hit 22 or more home runs last year. Good value in late rounds.

Aaron Hill had a .291 batting average and hit 17 home runs last year with 87 runs and 78 RBI. For some reason, he's projected to go super late in most drafts (probably because of the 2B draft curve discussed above). I'd rather have him in the last few rounds than Jeff Kent in the 12th.

If you're going to take a flier on a late round prospect, avoid 31 year olds like Mark Ellis. He's the guy you pick up when someone gets hurt.

Freddy Sanchez is another overrated player I don't want. Sure, great batting average, run, and RBI totals, but an 11/0!!! split of home runs and stolen bases is a killer. Plus, he's 30, and his career years may already behind him ... such as they are. I can't believe he's viewed as a premium 2B selection.

Orlando Hudson went 10/10, which, believe it or not, isn't something too many 2B'ers accomplished. Late round filler.

Kaz Matsui recovered from a putrid 2006 to swipe 32 bags last year. He has value for that alone, though he'll chip in production in runs and maybe batting average as well. Home runs and RBI are ugly, so he's clearly a "need" selection for those who missed out on stolen bases early in the draft. Expect him to be gone by round 15.

Asdrubal Cabrera may be in a position battle in spring training. For early drafters, second base is a position you can ill afford to waste a speculative pick on. Wait and see.

Initially intriguing is Akinori Iwamura, if for no other reason the chance he might steal twenty bases (he had twelve in 491 ABs in his first season in the U.S). In most leagues, though, he's not second base eligible yet -- and he's completely worthless at third base. With such a shallow position, you really can't be dicking around for two weeks wasting a roster spot while he gains eligibility. Keep an eye on him for later.

PREVIOUS '08 DRAFT GUIDES:

No comments: