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MLB Baseball Column: Closer By Committee

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February 12, 2013
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What's on Second?

Chris Mosch
Writer, Fantrax

Heading into Fantasy drafts during 2009-2011, there was always debate as to whether Albert Pujols or Hanley Ramirez should be taken first overall in standard rotisserie drafts. Let’s take a look at their average seasons between 2008-2010. 

 

AVG

R

HR

RBI

SB

Pujols

.331

113

42

123

4

Ramirez

.314

106

26

83

31


Ramirez had the obvious edge in stolen bases and was close in runs scored, but Pujols dominated him in the other three categories, which should have more than made up for his inferior stolen base total. As most veteran fantasy owners know, the reason why the choice between Pujols and Ramirez was even a discussion was the positions they played. 

Pujols sat atop the realm of Fantasy first basemen, a relatively deep position where you could get a quality first sacker in the later rounds of your draft. On the other hand, Ramirez was head and shoulders above the other fantasy shortstops, especially once you started getting down into Clint Barmes and Cliff Pennington territory.

The concept of paying top dollar for position scarcity holds true in Fantrax’s points challenges as well. Fantasy owners have become accustomed to spending some extra cash on top-notch middle infielders who may barely crack the top ten among all hitters, but distance themselves from middling options and provide owners a sense of security at positions that is often riddled with light-hitting defensive wizards. Today we’ll look at the top second base options for this year’s points contest, while next week, Walter will analyze the best options at shortstop.

 

Robinson Cano 3050

The Yankees second sacker has put up nearly identical Fantasy seasons the past three seasons, scoring 609 points over 160 games in 2010, 608 points over 159 games in 2011, and 611 points over 161 games last season. There’s a good chance that Cano could have scored even more points in 2012 if Curtis Granderson and hispitiful .319 OBP hadn’t been hitting in New York’s two-hole for nearly 70 percent of the season. As a result, Cano’s 94 RBIs was a significantly lower total than the 109 and 118 RBIs that he produced in 2010 and 2011, respectively. If you’re looking for consistency, Cano is as steady as they come and is as good a bet to score 600 points as anyone in the game.

 

Ian Kinsler 2730

After being labeled as “injury prone” during the early stages of his career, Kinsler has managed to stay healthy for two consecutive seasons. Despite playing in a career-high 157 games last season, Kinsler wasn’t quite as effective on a per-game basis, especially compared to his career-best 643 point performance in 2011. Kinsler’s plate discipline and power both trended in the wrong direction last season, resulting in a .326 OBP and .166 ISO, the lowest and second-lowest single-season marks of his career, respectively. As always, if fantasy owners are going to roster Kinsler, they must be prepared to deal with his extreme career home/road splits.

 

Split

AVG

OBP

SLG

ISO

Home

.306

.389

.526

.220

Road

.238

.311

.396

.158

 

Kinsler is a totally different hitter away from Arlington, which in his defense is partially due to the plethora of pitcher-friendly parks that have made up the AL West. On the other hand, with the hapless Houston Astros moving into the AL West this season, his road numbers can only get better.

Season

Home PPG

Road PPG

2012

4.26

2.54

2011

4.62

4.11

2010

3.88

3.20

2009

4.60

3.51

2008

4.17

4.65

2007

4.23

3.29

2006

3.57

2.71

Career

4.24

3.38

 

The stark differences in Kinsler’s Fantasy production are alarming, but also document his elite fantasy production at home. Since his rookie season, he hasn’t had a season where he’s averaged less than 3.88 PPG, and he managed to produce 4.26 PPG at Texas last year despite it being a “below average” season. At home, Kinsler becomes the best fantasy second baseman, by a lot. If you’re able to take advantage of those precious all-Texas weeks, you will have found yourself a cost-effective fantasy stud.

 

Ben Zobrist 2600

Zobrist remains one of the more underrated Fantasy performers at the position, as his ability to hit for power, draw a walk, and swipe a bag has made him a top-six scorer at second base in each of the last four seasons. One of the more versatile players in the game, Zobrist has boasted solid fantasy performances in three of the last four seasons, scoring 581 points in 2009, 579 in 2011, and 551 last season. Zobrist leads all fantasy second basemen with a 13.8% walk rate since 2009 and actually improved his plate discipline in 2012, posting the best EYE (walks/strikeouts) of his career. Any concern about how the Rays losing B.J. Upton will impact Zobrist’s value is easily offset by the prospect ofhaving Evan Longoria in the lineup for more than 74 games and the possibility of a Will Myers breakout at some point in 2013. At 2600, Zobrist isn’t the easiest to fit into your lineup, but he’s played at least 150 games in each of the past four seasons, and he’s a good bet to end up with at least 550 fantasy points.

 

Aaron Hill 2560

Very quietly, Hill was the second-highest Fantasy scorer at second base last season, trailing only Cano in both total points and PPG. The last four years have now consisted of two very good seasons for Hill (he smashed 36 home runs to go along with 605 fantasy points and a .286 batting average back in 2009) and two atrociously bad seasons (he averaged 2.8 PPG in both 2010 and 2011). The change of scenery from Toronto to Arizona may have been a contributing factor to his success last season, and there’s a definite possibility that Hill thrives again at Chase Field in 2013. However for practically the same salary, Hill has shown that he has a very similar fantasy ceiling to the aforementioned Zobrist, but with a much lower floor and considerably greater risk.

 

Dustin Pedroia 2450

Simply put, Pedroia was a Fantasy disappointment in 2012. Since his breakout 2008 season in which he was the AL MVP, Pedroia had been incredibly consistent while on the field. The only season in which he had scored less than 580 fantasy points was 2010, when he missed over half of the season due to a broken foot. Even in that 2010 season, he still managed to average 3.97 PPG in 75 games for Boston. This familiar consistency is why fantasy owners were disillusioned last season when Pedroia only managed to amass 487 points in 141 games.

Let’s cut Boston’s second sacker a bit of slack here, as he dealt with multiple injuries to his right thumb early in the season and actually played a lot like the Pedroia of old after taking time off to recover.

Prior to landing on the disabled list on July 3rd with a hyperextended right thumb, Pedroia hit .266 with a 26:40 BB:K ratio, six home runs and 3.2 PPG in 338 plate appearances. After returning on July 19th, Pedroia sported a .318 batting average, a 22:20 BB:K ratio, 3.8 PPG, and hit nine home runs in just 258 plate appearances.

The other knock against Pedroia last season was his 7.7% walk rate, which was nearly 3% lower than it has been in any single season since 2009. However, if you compare Pedroia’s plate discipline peripherals in 2011 and 2012, there’s nothing that stands out to justify whyhis walk rate should have dropped from a career best 11.8% to last season’s 7.7%.

Season

O-Swing%

Swing%

Contact%

Zone%

F-Strike%

SwStr%

2011

28.3%

43.6%

87.4%

46.9%

58.1%

5.2%

2012

25.3%

42.7%

88.8%

47.7%

54.6%

4.7%

 

In fact, comparing Pedroia’s plate discipline peripherals would leave you to believe that he would have actually improved his walk rate. Pedroia swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone and cut down on both his first-pitch strike percentage and his swinging strike percentage. Between his second-half resurgence, a walk rate that is bound for positive regression, and a Boston lineup that can only improve from its horrendous 2012 performance, Pedroia is a prime bounce-back candidate for the upcoming season.

 

Jason Kipnis 2270

Kipnis rode into the all-star break as one of the more notable surprises of the first half. During the first part of 2012, the Cleveland second baseman boasted a .277/.345/.419 slash line, 11 home runs, and 20 stolen bases, propelling him to a 3.8 PPG average at what is a traditionally weak fantasy position. He proceeded to have an epic collapse during the second half and finished with a .257 batting average, 14 home runs, 31 steals, and 3.39 PPG for the season. Those numbers are solid for a first-year second baseman, but far from an elite player. While his late-season collapse is concerning, Kipnis did deal with a neck injury down the stretch and may have experienced some late-season fatigue during his first full season in the big leagues. Kipnis will turn 26 year old in early April and has shown that he has the skills to excel at the major league level. There’s definite upside here, but Kipnis is also not drastically cheaper than some of the aforementioned options that boast longer track records.

 

Marco Scutaro 1890

Scutaro played remarkably well for the Giants in September and was a key contributor during the playoffs en route to San Francisco’s second World Series title in three seasons. That in itself is impressive and commendable, but it does not make him a strong fantasy option. Much of Scutaro’s September success (when he averaged 4.07 PPG) was fueled by an unsustainable .400 BABIP.  He averaged a measly 2.8 PPG mark over the previous five months of the season. The only season in which the 36-year-old middle infielder has cracked 500 points was in 2009, when he managed 513 points due in large part to his outstanding 13.2% walk rate -- a far cry from the 5.9% rate that he posted last season. Don’t be fooled by the playoff heroics.

 

Jose Altuve 1790 

Standing at just 5’5”, Altuve managed to steal 33 bases and hit .290 in his first full season for Houston. This translated into a solid, but not outstanding 3.08 PPG over 147 games for fantasy owners. It’s hard to image Altuve is going to suddenly develop pop overnight and he actually had a poor success rate on the base paths last year (33-for-44). Houston is poised to have a historically bad team and an offense that is projected to dwell at the bottom of the league. Add in that Houston is moving from one of the weakest divisions in baseball to one of the toughest, and it’s hard to imagine Altuve having a very high fantasy ceiling this year.

 

Emilio Bonifacio 1550

Bonifacio is an interesting cheap option, as he has managed to average a little above 3.1 PPG over the last two seasons in Miami. Injuries limited him to just 274 plate appearances last season, but he tore up the base paths while on the field, swiping 30 bags in just 64 games. His .296 batting average in 2011 was likely a mirage, as his .372 BABIP from that season dropped closer to his career level last season. Bonifacio’s upside would be a lot higher in Toronto if he wasn’t hitting 9th in their lineup, but you could make the case that he’ll get as many at bats hitting at the back end of Toronto’s batting order as he would have hitting at the top of Miami’s.

 

Josh Rutledge 1480

Rutledge got off to a scintillating start last season when he got called up to play shortstop after Troy Tulowitzki was injured and the previously-mentioned Marco Scutaro had been traded to the Giants. Through 41 games, Rutledge was hitting at a ridiculous .344 clip with seven homers and a 3.8 PPG. Being the underwhelming prospect that he was, the ever-common “small-sample size” tag was quickly placed on Rutledge. He subsequently went on to hit .197 with just one longball in September. Rutledge does have some upside, but the 3.1% walk rate is alarming and shows that there is some maturity that needs to occur before the Colorado middle-infielder becomes a reliable fantasy option.

Stay Away From

Chase Utley 2200

The only thing that would make you even consider Utley is the memories of a star who averaged nearly 30 jacks a season from 2005-2009. The reality is that the 34-year-old Utley hasn’t played 120 games in a season since 2009 and has already had treatment for what is considered a chronic knee injury. If there is any optimism surrounding Utley, it is that he should be ready to start spring training for the first time since 2010. While on the field, Utley has been decent, averaging 3.45 and 3.24 over the last two seasons, but that type of production is the bare minimum of what you would expect over the course of a full season from a second baseman priced at 2200. Even if the stars miraculously aligned so that Utley manages to stay healthy for a full season, he would barely be worth his salary. There’s no upside here.

 

Extra Innings

As you might have realized, there simply are not a lot of reliable cheap fantasy options at second base this season. The four second sackers priced below 2000 that I covered consistof two guys with very limited fantasy potential, one who missed over half of last season due to injuries, and another for whom there is understandable skepticism about him being nothing more than a flash in the pan. When you compare some of the pricier second basemen to similarly priced players at other positions, you might ask the following questions --


“Why am I paying 2600 for Ben Zobrist? Jason Heyward and Justin Upton put up similar numbers for less and they have more upside.”

“Jason Kipnis? He faded towards the end of last year. I don’t feel that comfortable rostering him when I can have a proven veteran like Hunter Pence or a blue chipper with more pedigree like Paul Goldschmidt.”


The answer is quite simple. You have to go cheap somewhere and the bargain basement is a wasteland at second base. Go cheap here and you end up with Jose Altuve, Emilo Bonifacio, or Josh Rutledge. Dumpster dive in the outfield or at first base and you can still come out with Anthony Rizzo, Desmond Jennings, Josh Reddick, or Jayson Werth. Take your pick.


Chris has won numerous Salary Cap league titles over the past 10 years and is a freelance writer attending the University of Oregon. Check out his blog at ESPN 101.7 The Team.

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Chris Mosch Feb 14, 2013 2:45:59 AM EST
Thanks guys! I appreciate the feedback. NC: I'm strongly considering him for my own teams. Definitely one of those guys you can just plug into your lineup and not have to worry about the whole year.
RTLONG Feb 13, 2013 11:57:32 PM EST
Well said.
The Goh Network Feb 13, 2013 9:24:21 PM EST
Northcoast, I'm actually on the fence about Cano. Not sure I can afford his salary because of big boppers that I have at other positions. There are just so many ways to assemble a roster.
Sunday Feb 13, 2013 9:08:48 PM EST
Terrific article, Chris. It's making me think long and hard about some of the choices I was considering. Well done.
Northcoast Feb 13, 2013 11:44:57 AM EST
Good stuff Chris, I'd almost classify Cano as a must have.
SIXPACK Feb 13, 2013 10:42:11 AM EST
Yet another fine job Chris. This article gives us a lot to think about when it comes to 2B. I think I will gamble, but you warned me !
Gary's Dreamers Feb 13, 2013 10:09:33 AM EST
Very insightful with plenty of facts to back up the analysis. The summation has caused me to re-think my original roster due to the scarcity at this position. Well done Chris.
Star City Storm Feb 13, 2013 7:59:27 AM EST
Great article on 2nd base and clearly gives you facts for all players to consider when putting together teams. Love the stats man!!!!!!! Jimmy
noddy Feb 12, 2013 9:56:02 PM EST
Great stuff Chris!

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