Monday, March 23, 2009

Through the Wardrobe—A Fantasty Look at the Second Basemen

The general consensus around fantasy circles is that second base is a deep position. To a degree, I understand the sentiment—the top tiers of players is crowded with guys who stuff the stat sheet to the gills. However, when you look at the overall draftable players, the position is almost as thin as the catchers...


For me, this position is a probably the second most important behind third base. I say that because, while there are a lot of names in those top tiers, the drop off afterward is significant. The combination makes the keystone an important place to have elite talent.

If you wait until later rounds to grab a guy who looks nice because he hits .300, you're gonna be running through a cheese grater for a good deal of the season because of that depth of high-end talent. Most of the league will have a guy filling the second base slot capable of that average as well as solid peripherals.

However, it's also a position that offers some flexibility if you take the rotisserie approach. Since a guy like Placido Polanco or Orlando Hudson falls so far, second base is a nice spot to pair with a corner outfielder or first baseman (i.e. a position where you can get power late while sacrificing average).

If you take Polanco and melt his numbers with, say, Adam Dunns, you've got yourself a damn fine composite player. Granted, it took two roster spots to make him.

With that in mind, here are the second basemen:

FIRST TIER 1. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies—113 runs, 33 HRs, 104 RBI, 14 SBs, .292 average

Chase is dropping into the second round of a lot of Yahoo drafts. That's a mistake and a pretty big one.

It's understandable because offseason hip surgery is no laughing matter; in fact, it sounds like something for senior citizens so it should give you reason for pause when a 30-year-old pro athlete goes under the knife for it.

Trust me, Utley's gonna be 100 percent and wheels up on Opening Day.

And there's the flip side to that offseason surgery—it means his 2008 numbers were collected under the duress of injury serious enough to require said knife-undergoing.

If you figure on a healthy season and a modest boost from the improved consistency of Raul Ibanez plus a steadier year from Jimmy Rollins, I'm betting you'll see similar power numbers with some extra points on the average and a nice flurry of additional peripherals.

That would put Utley right back in the top 10 fantasy players where he belongs.

2. Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers—102 runs, 18 HRs, 71 RBI, 26 SBs, .319 average

Kinsler is the guy who's getting the love that's been shed from the Utley bandwagon. He's been the first second baseman off the board in most drafts. And for good reason.

At only 26 (27 in June), he is Utley's heir-apparent in more ways than just age. Although he probably lacks the raw power of Chase, he plays in a livelier home yard (Ballpark at Arlington) and in a more potent lineup. Considering the Phils' lineup is not exactly weak, that's saying something.

But it's true with the likes of Josh Hamilton, Chris Davis, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, possibly Hank Blalock, and the potential at catcher.

Then there's the matter of speed—Kinsler's got it for days and is fond of flashing it. That style of play may be what's kept him from completing a full slate of games so far in his young career or it could just be a freak injury thing.

Either way, this is a talent entering his prime with speed to mitigate any prolonged slump. There's a good chance his power numbers will jump this season as he matures into the window where the supremely gifted make leaps forward in performance.

3. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox—118 runs, 17 HRs, 83 RBI, 20 SBs, .326 average

Pedroia, turning 26 in August, is even younger than Kinsler. Entering his third full season as a Sox' regular, he's coming off a jump in numbers from 2007 to 2008 that netted him the American League MVP.

The only reason he doesn't rate higher is because he's a dwarf.

If he adds any more power numbers to the astounding tallies he put up last year, I'm gonna have to rethink my faith in the principles of physics. That the dude hit 17 homers is incredible considering he's probably barely 5'6" and 170 pounds.

Of course, studs like Pedroia have made a lifetime of proving people wrong so take his apparent physical limitations with a grain of salt.

And also consider that the same laws of experience and maturity apply to Dustin as apply to anyone else. Those promise there's improvement to be had—I just don't see where he adds it other than the power numbers.

Then again, 162 games worth of Jason Bay, a healthier David Ortiz, ditto Mike Lowell, and improvement from Jacoby Ellsbury should get him better pitches, more RBI spots, and push him across the plate more.

It's just tough to believe those totals are going higher.

4. Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds—80 runs, 21 HRs, 78 RBI, 23 SBs, .261 average

Phillips might be a tad high here except he lost about 100 at-bats to injury at the end of the year. Despite the missed time, he still registered another 20/20 season.

Furthermore, Brandon will be 28 in June and that puts him right on the cusp of his prime. Either he is what he's been for the last several years—a guy who's gonna hit around .280 while being a legit 30 homer threat if he can get 600+ ABs and a reliable 20/20 guy when he sees 500+.

Or he squeezes that last bit out of his potential and throws up a 30/30/.300 grand prize.

Considering the developing players around him (Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Edwin Encarnacion) and the intimate confines of his home digs, I say the grand prize is a decent bet for the Reds' excellent middle infielder.

Even if Phillips puts up a 2009 buffet a la last year's, that'll beat most of his counterparts.

5. Brian Roberts, Baltimore Orioles—107 runs, 9 HRs, 57 RBI, 40 SBs, .296 average

Roberts gets knocked down to No. 5 through no fault of his own—it's simply a matter of age (31) and his lineup (the weakest of the bunch).

Put this consummate table-setter in a more productive offense and his value spikes considerably. That's an important thing to keep in mind because Brian is unsigned after 2009 and probably won't re-up with the Os before the trade deadline i.e. he's gonna be popular in the trade winds and possibly moved to a more potent contender.

Even if he sticks in Baltimore all year, his 2008 numbers are almost exactly what you'll get four or five years. The fact he's playing for a contract might spur him on to even greater heights.

Anyone who saw Roberts homer off Daisuke Matsuzaka in the World Baseball Classic can see he's got considerable power and he's on base all the time. There's more than enough power in that bat to double that tater total. And if you can get 40 swipes, you can probably get 60.

It's just a matter of motivation and the open market can be one hell of a motivator.


6. Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins—97 runs, 32 HRs, 92 RBI, 5 SBs, .260 average

Uggla's another guy whose fantasy value greatly outpaces his real-world equivalent. This hombre's not gonna give you much in the speed or average departments, and he whiffs at an incredible pace. At 29, the hopes for an improvement in any area are dwindling since he's right at the peak of his prime and the trends seem to indicate quite the opposite.

But those 32 big flies and related peripherals are so gaudy, they almost break down the door to the first tier. Forget that he plays in a pitchers' park for the moment—those numbers are right up there with the best in the bigs at the position (Utley).

And Dangerous Dan, like Roberts, is a superb candidate to be moved by the trade deadline since the money-starved Fish are always looking to cash in on their high-profile talent.

7. Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox—65 runs, 21 HRs, 77 RBI, 13 SBs, .290 average

The Cuban Missile worries me a bit because everyone's on his jock—five tool production this, 27-year-old developing quickly that, etc. I never like it when the adoring eyes of a the MLB word fixate on one guy, especially if he's young-ish, since the results rarely seem to be favorable.

Of course, it'd would be unwise to ignore such a gifted athlete for such a paranoid reason. Clearly, the rave reviews are justified—in his first year of Major League Baseball, Alexei splashed that line up in only 480 ABs (at least 100 less than most of his competitors). Tack an additional 100 ABs on and the results will really get your pulse up.

If Ramirez can fight back the attention, expectation, and complacency, the comfort and experience that should accompany the resounding vote of confidence should make Alexei a good candidate to join the elite of the elite.

Lastly, he's eligible in the outfield and at shortstop so he gives you some nice middle infield flexibility.

8. Jose Lopez, Seattle Mariners—80 runs, 17 HRs, 89 RBI, 6 SBs, .297 average

It's funny how some guys sink down draft boards, regardless of performance, just because of the uniform they were. Lopez is a perfect example of being totally underrated because he plays in Seattle.

Senor Lopez finished '08 as the 97th rated fantasy player in Yahoo, his '08 season was remarkably similar to his '06 campaign so it didn't come out of the blue, and he's only 25 years old. Not only that, the Ms have some nice young talents that could make their offense surprisingly below-average this year (instead of God-awful).

Yet he's falling to the 172nd pick in the average draft. That makes Jose Lopez a Super-Saver.

9. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees—70 runs, 14 HRs, 72 RBI, 2 SBs, .271 average

Cano, like every Bomber, gets the benefit of the ultimate fantasy net—the Yankee lineup. Even in a hugely disappointing '08, the Dominican dandy named for Jackie Robinson scratched together a pretty decent year. At a tender 26 (we can trust his age, right?), there's absolutely no reason to believe last year was anything more than a bump in the road to stardom.

After all, his fan total actually went down last year and the pinstriped lineup is even more fearsome this year, especially after the return of the starting third baseman (can't remember his name at the moment). And, remember, his 2008 performance is probably as bad as it's gonna get from Cano.

If that's the bottom and considering how high the ceiling is, Cano is looking like a great bargain in the later rounds.

10. Chone Figgins, Anaheim Angels—72 runs, 1 HR, 22 RBI, 34 SBs, .276 average

Figgins slides in ahead of his Angel teammate because of his speed. Just like Kendrick below him, Chone has struggled with injuries the past two years and that's significantly more troubling since he's 31. Not only that, some of the damage has been done to his legs.

Take away Figgins speed and he becomes an average fantasy player, despite the eligibility at third base as well as second. He simply won't hit for power and, although he has a .330 season in the bank, that came in only 115 games and looks more like an anomaly these days.

Yet, a healthy Chone Figgins will hit around .280, score around 100 runs, and steal more than 40 bases—that makes him a player. You could do a lot worse.

11. Howie Kendrick, Anaheim Angels—43 runs, 3 HRs, 37 RBI, 11 SBs, .306 average

Players like Kendrick mentally break some fantasy owners—he put up those infuriatingly tantalizing stats in only 340 ABs, but he logged two stints on the disabled list for the second consecutive year. Personally, I don't like guys with a history of injuries because one of the surest ways to flounder is to waste picks on DL spots.

That said, Howie will be turning 26 in July so there's plenty left in the tank and all the more reason to believe he can get over the injury bug. Furthermore, it's beyond doubt at this point that my man can rake Major League pitching.

He won't give you much power, but Kendrick will contributed with some swipes and production in two of the three major areas keeps you out of the bottom tiers.


11. Mark DeRosa, Cleveland Indians—103 runs, 21 HRs, 87 RBI, 6 SBs, .285 average

DeRosa's eligibility at third and in the OF keeps him above the rest of the third tier despite the expected dip in productivity. Moving from the potent Chicago Cubbies to the less-heralded Tribe is hurting Mark's pre-draft stock as is the extra real estate of Jacobs Field

But I'm already on record as saying I like the Indians and expect big things from the club. Additionally, let's not forget it was a large year in the AL (with Texas) that propelled DeRosa to the fat Chicago contract in the first place.

12. Mike Aviles, Kansas City Royals—68 runs, 10 HRs, 51 RBI, 8 SBs, .325 average

Aviles is a guy to watch because, with a bigger sample size, he would've jumped into the second tier. Those numbers are exceedingly impressive, but he only saw 418 ABs and that's the entirety of his MLB experience.

He's also eligible at SS so he, like Alexei Ramirez, allows for some mixing and matching down the road should the unfortunate happen. If he can maintain those numbers for a full year, this will be his only one spent in the third tier.

13. Kelly Johnson, Atlanta Braves—86 runs, 12 HRs, 69 RBI, 11 SBs, .287 average

Brave fans take their guys seriously so I expect to get some flak for this, but Johnson just doesn't seem to be progressing like a 27-year-old is expected to. Granted, Johnson only has two full years in the Bigs and that's gotten other players slack.

Furthermore, young players can often take on the feel of the team because of their more fragile egos and Johnson's '08 very similarly mimicked Atlanta's overall season. He remains a guy to watch because he still reeks of ability, but with less optimism in my opinion.

To thoroughly cloud the issue, I'd pick Johnson as the guy most likely to break through behind Aviles (who I like very much).

14. Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers—89 runs, 14 HRs, 46 RBI, 19 SBs, .234 average

This could be the dumbest placement by the time '09 is in the books. Weeks has plus ability in all five offensive areas, is only 26, and has spent the better part of four years in the Show. The only problem is a breakout has been expected for the past three years.

None has come yet. But 2009 could very well be the year after a brutal '08 that forced the Brew Crew to grab Ray Durham as insurance. The move seemed to light a spark under Weeks and, if the spark survived until the offseason, Rickie might've finally put in the work necessary to explode.

15. Kazuo Matsui, Houston Astros—58 runs, 6 HRs, 33 RBI, 20 SBs, .293 average

Man, second basemen sure do get nicked up a lot. Matsui saw less than 100 games last year and still managed to post some fine totals, particularly in the thefts and average departments.

But his is a guy who's suffered so many injuries, that missing time in '08 with anal fissures seemed about right for Kaz. And typing the phrase 'anal fissures' is about as close to them as I want to get so I'll pass on the Astros' Matsui.

16. Placido Polanco, Detroit Tigers—90 runs, 8 HRs, 58 RBI, 7 SBs, .307 average

If you plan on using Polanco or a rough equivalent, you better include a guy like Adam Dunn or Mike Jacobs in the works because Placido will give you a .300 average for sure. And, in the Tiger lineup, he's way better than even money to flirt with 100 runs scored.

But that's it. There will be an accidental longball here and there, maybe a swipe when some chucker forgets about him on occasion, and that's it. Draft him for average or not at all.

17. Orlando Hudson, Los Angeles Dodgers—54 runs, 8 HRs, 41 RBI, 4 SBs, .305 average

O-Dog is the poor man's Placido Polanco, which means you should almost never have to draft him as Polanco should be available. Hudson plays in a weaker lineup, a bigger ballpark, and isn't as reliable as the guy above him to hit .300.

Furthermore, he's coming off wrist injury and he doesn't seem interested in running too much anymore. He makes the list by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin. Or one of Manny's dreadlocks.

Fliers—Jerry Hairston Jr. (Reds), Ian Stewart (Colorado Rockies), Aaron Hill (Toronto Blue Jays), Clint Barmes (Rockies), Akinori Iwamura (Tampa Bay Rays), Mark Ellis (Oakland Athletics), Felipe Lopez (Arizona Diamondbacks), Freddie Sanchez (Pittsburgh Pirates)

Again, the fliers are a motley crew of young guys with huge upside and little history or older players who might still be good for one last year of glory.

My favorites on the list are the two Rockies (Steward and Barmes) because they have the obvious advantage of playing in Denver. That mile-high air sure seems to help break a slump.

Aaron Hill and Akinori Iwamura are also intriguing. Hill had one shiny little year in 2007 and spent '08 dinged up so there's a whisper of precedent there. Iwamura just seems like a winner and he's swinging in the middle of a possible juggernaut.

If you're hand is forced outside these fine fellows, you have my condolensces.

Next up...the third basemen.

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