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Bret Sayre kicks off a week of coverage on second basemen here at Fake Teams by taking a step back and analyzing the position as a whole.
You're going to see a lot of information this week on individual second basemen, whether it's player profiles, rankings or prospect information. But before we get into those specifics, it can be very helpful to take a step back. The idea behind this State of the Position series, which will run at the beginning of each week of coverage, is to give you a sense of what to expect from the position as a whole in various types of leagues.
We enter 2013 in the same spot we entered 2012 -- three top guys followed by a whole lot of players with flaws or inconsistent track records. However, in 2013, there's one clear cut #1 in Robinson Cano. In fact, of all six offensive positions, Cano was one of the two players to be a unanimous top pick at a position (Miguel Cabrera at 3B is the other). The remaining two guys who made up the "big three" last year are still part of the same trifecta, but the glue is starting to wear a little bit. Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler both had down years by their standards, but finished as the #5 and #6 second basemen in 2012 according to the ESPN Player Rater, respectively. So while the grip they collectively have on everyone 4th and below is slipping (as should their ADPs from last season), they still join Cano as the class of the position.
Beyond Cano, Pedroia and Kinsler, the landscape of 2B looks better on paper than in reality. There are big names in the next few tiers at the position, and with big names come slightly inflated values. If you want Chase Utley, you're going to have to pay for his health, which is a scary proposition -- although he has incredibly produced 7.2 WAR in 186 games in the last two years. If you want Brandon Phillips, you'll be paying for his prime and hopefully not getting his decline (he turns 32 in June). Same goes for Ben Zobrist, who turns 32 in May -- but his value gets buoyed by his SS eligibility. Dustin Ackley, Howie Kendrick and Marco Scutaro can all be added to the list of players whose name value exceeds their actual value for various reasons.
The League Breakout
In the official Fake Teams consensus ranks (which will be coming out in subsequent posts), the American League leads the National League in our top-25 by a score of 14 to 11. But the difference is stark at the top, where the AL accounts for 5 of the first 6 guys on our rankings -- with Aaron Hill being the lone exception. Of course, then the NL accounts for 5 of the next 6 players.
So how should this affect your strategy in single-league formats? If you're in an NL-only, you can sit back and see where the value in that first tier is, since there's no clear cut stud in the group. Sure I have Brandon Phillips ranked higher than Neil Walker, but is the difference so great that it's worth reaching for Phillips over a SP or an OF? The answer is going to be no. In an AL-only format, I'm either grabbing one of the high-level guys or waiting until a bunch of names come off the board. The mid-level 2B like Altuve, Ackley and Kendrick are likely to be more expensive than they're worth, so I'd rather wait until the Infante, Beckham, Lil' Weeks group starts going off the board. They may not be great options, but at least you know they'll come cheaply.
The Land Where Upside Goes To Die
Second base has recently been known as not the worst position as far as offensive acumen and depth (ringing endorsement, I know). However, without much fresh blood coming into the position, the current crop of players are starting to become a little stale. In fact, of our top 15 second basemen, only one will be under 25 on Opening Day 2013. So what it's becoming is a position of meh (that's a technical term). In 2012, among all 2B with 400 PA, there were only 12 individual category performances that I would consider strong -- for the purposes of this exercise, I'm talking about anything above a .300 avg, 20 HR, 25 SB, 90 R or 90 RBI. Here's that whole list:
That's it for the entire position. Right now you're probably wondering how that compares to previous seasons. Well, in 2011, the position combined for 20 strong category finishes. In 2010, it was 18. That new blood which hasn't been coming, isn't looking good for 2013 either -- as the only rookie who even got a vote in the top-25 consensus ranks was Jurickson Profar (and he's unlikely to stay at the position long-term due to his ability to play SS).
The Strategy in Mixed Leagues
That leaves us with an interesting decision as far as what to do for the position in mixed leagues. The easy answer is to say that if you have a reasonable chance to grab Robinson Cano, you should do so. The difference between Cano and the next best 2B option is likely greater than it is at any other position on the diamond. If that's not in the cards for you, I'd still try to grab one of the other two members of the big three, especially in shallower leagues (12 teams or fewer). I like both Pedroia and Kinsler to bounce back a little this year, and the crop behind them either presents too much risk or gives you no more upside than the 2012 level of performance of Pedroia/Kinsler.
Continuing on in shallower leagues, the difference between grabbing one of the top three here and one of the top three at the first base position is that the range of players after all starters are filled do not carry enough upside to warrant grabbing in the draft. For instance, if you grab Kinsler in the 3rd round of a 12-team draft, why bother grabbing Omar Infante in the 20th round? Same with Marco Scutaro or Gordon Beckham. They just don't carry enough value as a bench player to be worthy of a roster spot (unless they carry multiple position eligibility) when you may be able to get similar performance off the waiver wire if you end up needing it.
In a deeper league, if you miss out on one of the big three, I'll personally be looking to go safe with my second baseman. That means not paying the price of entry for guys like Aaron Hill and Jason Kipnis. In all likelihood, it means someone like Brandon Phillips, Neil Walker or Danny Espinosa -- someone who you are pretty confident you know what you'll get from them. That way, you'll be able to build around them properly (in the case of Espinosa, to grab a batting average buoy to even him out).
The Rest of the Week
Now that we've covered the position from a macro perspective, it's time to dig into the players. Ray will be bringing you the first part of our 2013 consensus positional rankings next (in just a few short hours), so stay tuned for that - along with our second base prospect coverage which starts tomorrow morning with Jason and Craig. The rest of the writing staff here will be working on bringing you in-depth profiles and sleeper picks. We've got a lot of information coming your way for both the rest of this week and the rest of the off-season, so empty some space in your brain and be prepared for an informational avalanche. Remember, if you haven't started your 2013 draft prep yet, you're already behind someone in your league (especially if you play in a league with me).