Second Base - Not As Bad As I Thought

Jim McIsaac

Coming into 2013, I pegged 2B as a wasteland of fantasy talent. A ghost town with more tumbleweeds than serviceable players. But there may be signs of life...

Coming into the season, I felt that the best fantasy advice I could give was that you needed to draft a second baseman early. In 2012, only four second basemen hit twenty or more home runs and only five second basemen swiped at least 20 bases. No second baseman did both. There was definitely some potential with players like Ian Kinsler, Ben Zobrist, Brandon Phillips and Danny Espinosa but, overall, second base looked pretty barren. Six weeks into 2013, it looks like second base may be better than expected. According to the ESPN Player Rater, there are six second basemen in the top fifty overall and four of those are in the top twenty five. When comparing these to the other positions, we see that second base is looking better than catcher and shortstop and comparable to first and third base.

Position

Top 25

Top 50

C

0

3

1B

4

9

2B

4

6

3B

4

6

SS

1

3

OF

12

23

Furthermore, the position doesn't seem to be as top heavy as one might have predicted. The table below shows the top twenty second baseman and the top twenty shortstops along with their average player rater points.

Position

Total

1 - 10

11 - 20

Second Base

4.03

5.93

2.14

Shortstop

3.71

5.27

2.16

We can see here that the top twenty second basemen are performing better than the top twenty shortstops. I was much more comfortable waiting on a shortstop in drafts this year and it seems as though the disparity between the positions is not as large as I thought. This is obviously somewhat primitive analysis but it proves the point that I am trying to make. So who are the second basemen responsible for this unexpected plethora of fantasy baseball value?

Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies

It's no surprise that the top three second basemen are Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia. It seems like it's been that way ever since Chase Utley passed Cano the torch. Well, Utley looks like he is back and finally healthy which is good news for those who took the gamble on draft day. I think we all like to remember Utley as he was from 2005 to 2009 rather than the brittle shell of himself we've seen the last few years. Even if it's short lived (although I believe it lasts all year), Utley is performing as he did back then. His peripherals look almost identical to his career numbers and his "on pace" numbers align with his 162 game averages.

H

2B

3B

HR

R

RBI

SB

CS

On Pace

170

29

8

29

87

99

16

4

162 Gm Avg.

173

37

5

27

105

100

16

2

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

LD%

GB%

FB%

GB/FB

HR/FB

2013

8.3%

13.4%

0.225

0.293

0.289

0.344

0.514

17.40%

36.40%

46.30%

0.79

12.50%

Career

9.8%

14.7%

0.213

0.305

0.288

0.375

0.500

20.20%

37.60%

42.20%

0.89

12.70%

I believe Utley finishes the season as a top five second baseman. For keeper leagues, I still have reservations. His knee issues are chronic and, at 34, I don't know how long he can stay at second base.

Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

Jose Altuve was never a big prospect (see what I did there?), but he could always hit. And he hasn't stopped hitting since getting called up in July of 2011. He showed decent speed in the minors and has shown that he can be a successful base stealer at the major league level as well. He's never going to hit for much power but I think he can reach double digit homers as early as this year. At only 23, Altuve will surely continue to get better and he seems to me like the AL counterpart to Jean Segura. Altuve will score a decent, but obviously not gaudy, amount of runs (he scored 80 last year) and is putting up more RBIs this year batting in the three spot. Altuve is the best player on a really bad team and with only one year under his belt, a middling prospect status and a small stature. All of these components led to Altuve's being underrated coming into the year but he is once again proving doubters wrong.

Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians

Jason Kipnis has had his ups and downs since coming into the league but few second basemen show more potential in terms of a power/speed combo. After posting a .235 isolated power in 150 plate appearances in 2011, Kipnis managed only a .122 ISO last season. He was off to great start, batting .277 with 11 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the first half but suffered a neck injury in early August and wasn't quite the same after. So far this season, Kipnis has five home runs and has stolen six bases but is only hitting .225. Despite a strong LD%, his BABIP is only .265 while his xBABIP is .303 [read more about xBABIP and (un)lucky hitters here]. I expect his batting average to settle in around .260. His batting average may make him a possible buy-low candidate and I think it's definitely an avenue to explore if you are looking for help at the position.

Josh Rutledge, Colorado Rockies

Rutledge didn't start with second base eligibility this season after playing only seven games there in 2012 so you may have had to draft him as a shortstop in some leagues. If you were able to draft him and play him at second or stash him until he gained eligibility, you have been quite happy with the production you're receiving out of the position. Like Kipnis, Rutledge is a dual threat in home run and stolen base categories. Although he has a little less power than Kipnis, his home park is much more favorable. He showed excellent efficiency in stealing bases in the minors and has yet to be caught at the major league level. One of my few gripes about Rutledge coming into the season was his low walk rate but he has more than doubled BB% this year and it currently sits at an above-average 8.7%. He's been swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone and seeing fewer pitches in it so I think the walk rate is sustainable. Rutledge's LD% is very low and his GB% is very high. This does not often bode well for power or average numbers but I think both are due to regress as they are out of whack with his career marks. The power production has been there so far and any turns in these rates should yield a higher average and, hopefully, a few extra home runs.

Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals

Another player who probably didn't start the year second base-eligible in your league, Matt Carpenter has been the catalyst for the Cardinals offense this season. He's batting leadoff for one of the best offenses in the NL and is tied for third in the majors in runs. He walks in over 10% of his plate appearances and sports an OBP of .373. His batted ball data is very strong and he is a disciplined hitter with a good approach for his spot in the lineup. Carpenter won't hit many home runs or steal a ton of bases but he's a safe bet to continue getting on base and to continue scoring runs. He gets a boost in NL Only leagues and leagues that count OBP but he is a good option for Middle Infield in middle-to-deep leagues.

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