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State of the Position: Second Base

A survey of MLB second basemen with a fantasy baseball slant.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Second Base Week, for better or for worse. Better than catchers, at least. Earlier today we unveiled our consensus Top 30 second basemen, and there were a few surprises. Namely, Mark being really bearish on Javier Baez and Whit Merrifield. Also, Joe drawing a hard line against second half hero Jonathan Villar. Seems like we all like Robinson Cano to bounce-back except for Punk, which is great because this position will need some veteran help to be worthwhile in 2019.

BASIC STATS

.254/.317/.395 triple slash

7.7% walk rate, 20.0% strikeout rate, .141 ISO

.309 wOBA, 93 wRC+

What an anemic hitting line. For reference, that .141 ISO is identical to the “power” output that Willson Contreras offered us in 2018. Strangely enough, second basemen walk a little less than catchers (8.0%), but they strike out far less (23.5% for backstops). Second basemen barely bested catchers in ISO a year ago, as catchers averaged a .140 ISO in 2018. It should go without saying, but if you’re on par with catchers in any statistic related to offense, that’s atrocious.

Speed is the saving grace for the keystone, though. While catchers league-wide swiped a total of 75 bags in 2018, second basemen stole 432, which blows nearly every other position out of the proverbial water (first basemen had 156, third basemen 245). Shortstops stole 491 bags...so these two spots definitely have the monopoly on speed. This macro-level approach suggests that we should expect to find speed at this light-hitting position, with any power output as an added bonus.

THE ELITE: Jose Altuve

If you think Altuve will improve on his .135 ISO from 2018, then you think you’ll have a contributor in all five categories. Last year’s ISO was the lowest power output Altuve has shown in five years, after being at a robust .202 and .194 in the two years prior. His 9.6% HR/FB rate was his lowest mark in three years, despite making more hard contact and less soft contact than he did the year prior. There were no major changes in his his batted balls, and things even looked slightly more favorable with a 4% boost in line drive rate and one percent less on ground balls. Altuve’s launch angle rose a tick and his average exit velocity went up a tick. His walk rate went up...I’m not really seeing much wrong with this picture. Altuve did drop from an average 6.7% barrel rate to a below average 5.9% mark, but that was still better than his career mark of 5.6%. I am firmly on the bounce-back train with Altuve in 2019.

THE SLEEPER: Ketel Marte

Marte will be 2B/SS/OF eligible this year, as the Diamondbacks plan to let him prowl around center field, with recent signee Wilmer Flores slated to man the keystone. Marte finished better than average compared to his peers in walk rate (9.3%), strikeout rate (13.6%), and ISO (.177) in 2018. Marte made way more hard contact last year, bumping up to 36.0% after a 28.2% mark in 2017. His chase rate improved to better than league average at 28.1%, and his Z-Swing% of 68.4% was the best of his career (and better than average). His contact rates are well above average, as last year’s career-best 6.4% swinging strike rate shows.

Statcast numbers are encouraging too—Marte bumped his barrel rate up to 5.0% last year. That’s not superb, but it was a big jump up from his anemic 2.7% the year before. Marte isn’t going to hit 30 bombs with a 5.7 degree launch angle, but he is hitting the ball hard and he does have plenty of speed. His 28.7 ft/sec sprint speed is very good, tied with guys like Christian Yelich and Ozzie Albies. Marte has been successful on nearly 72% of steals attempts so far in his MLB career, so perhaps he’ll set a new career mark as Arizona’s leadoff man this year. With an ADP some 40 or so picks after Cesar Hernandez, he is a heck of a middle infield play—with upside for more.

THE GUY TO AVOID: Javier Baez

This feels risky, but there are a lot of reasons to get away from Baez at his ADP. He’s sitting at 13.86 according to recent NFBC data. His chase rate is a whopping 45.5%, which is nearly 15% more than last year’s average rate of 30.9%. “Free swinger” is a bit of an understatement. Among qualified hitters, only Salvador Perez had a higher chase rate. Yes, higher than Adam Jones and Tim Anderson, to name a pair of noted free-swingers.

Among qualified hitters, only Joey Gallo, Teoscar Hernandez, and Giancarlo Stanton had a worse contact rate than Baez’s 68.5% rate in 2018. And sure, that’s a powerful-sounding list. But those guys are also more selective than Baez. Baez had a higher swinging strike rate than all of them except for Gallo, where those two marks were really similar (18.5% for Gallo and 18.2% for Baez). And yes, those were the two highest swinging strike rates of all qualified hitters from a year ago. One poor stretch of luck on batted balls, and Baez’s average is going to crater. It’s a lot of risk for a Top 15 pick. Count me out this year.

THE PROSPECT: Luis Urias

The presence of Ian Kinsler is not a death knell, as Kinsler can man the keystone while Urias covers shorstop. If Fernando Tatis Jr. does arrive in 2019, Kinsler can shift to third base and Urias can move back to his natural second base position. Point is, Urias isn’t blocked.

Urias boasts a career .306/.397/.405 slash in the minors, and he’s known as a patient hitter with a compact swing. He and Ian Kinsler are the best in-house candidates to hit atop the Padres lineup in 2019. Urias should walk plenty and have modest power. Urias is expected to be fully recovered from last year’s hamstring injury by the time Spring Training rolls around.

In summation, if I’m paying up I prefer Jose Altuve or Whit Merrifield. I’m passing over Baez, for better or for worse. Travis Shaw is a sneaky second base option with top five upside, and I dig Scooter Gennett (though he does come with the risk of being traded into a park downgrade). Ketel Marte, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Niko Goodrum are a few other guys I like as middle infield options at their respective ADPs.

Circle back around tomorrow morning for Joe’s sleepers, but until then you can catch up on Second Base Week!