Crush or Flush: Finding Value Among Second Basemen
Crush or Flush: Which Second Basemen Provide Continued Value?
In our shortstop column, we noted a drop in the 20-plus HR output at both middle infield positions (total 21 in 2017; 28 in 2016). That means two things: 1. Middle infielders who hit for power have more value than last season; 2. We should know the depth of both positions. In other words, what is the profile of the top shortstops compared to top second basemen. But, perhaps more importantly, which “second team” middle infielders provide you with a deeper talent pool and, thus, a better chance to win.
What makes the MI power question even more interesting is this fact: Only six players in MLB stole 30 or more bases, and four of them are middle infielders: Dee Gordon, Whit Merrifield, and Jose Altuve at second base and Trea Turner at SS. If you draft those players early, you’ll be in good SB position, but you may need to find at least a couple of potential power sources later in your draft to make up for the long balls you’ll be waiving by picking a speedster. That’s where our research will come in handy.
First let’s look at the average output of the top 12 shortstops and the top 12 second basemen last year:
Second basemen were a bit better, but it’s comparable output. Now let’s look at the average output of the next 16 names at each position. I expanded the selection because a few names appear at both positions, so I chose to include other contributors as well:
We see a sharper divide in batting average and a similar advantage in runs scored among the second basemen. I’d give a slight edge to the second base group, but by and large both middle infield positions provide similar talent. Besides, the point is you should be drafting skills, not last year’s stats, anyway. Educated guesses as to whose production will decline and whose will rise in 2018 are more important than ever. Here are some of our guesses:
Crush or Flush: Second Basemen
Jose Ramirez: Ramirez is the player I’m targeting in the 2nd round and he played exactly 20 games at 2B in 2017. 29 HRs, 83 RBIs, 107 runs, 17 steals and a .318 average last season – a year marked by solid skills growth. I think (if healthy) he is an easy first-round talent this year, just an eyelash behind Altuve. I’ll break down his skills growth in the 3B column, but we should all be reminded he enjoys positional flexibility in many leagues. CRUSH
Whit Merrifield: Merrifield stole 34 bases. At age 28. That’s a good thing, but is it repeatable? I’d be more enthused about Merrifield’s prospect for improvement if he were 23 or 24. He showed a nice improvement in skills (21.7 percent strikeout percentage fell to 14 percent) and his flyball rate skyrocketed from 29 percent to 40 percent, which helped him launch 19 HRs and collect 78 RBIs. I would treat his season as a ceiling and not assume statistical growth. In early ADPs, Merrifield is being selected around #80, about where Robinson Cano’s name will be called. I like Merrifield more, and I like 35 steals and 20 HRs from a second baseman who is likely to hit .280. So, it’s a crush, but don’t reach for him because you won’t see explosive growth. Minor CRUSH
Robinson Cano: Cano’s power decline was predictable (in fact, we predicted it last spring). After a drop in exit velocity and fly ball distance in 2016, he was about the same in 2017, with fewer (normalized amount) HRs. 23 HRs/98 RBIs/79 runs/.280 average is about who Cano is now at age 35. I only like him after #100 in a draft because I assume the numbers will fall, at least a little. If I need a second baseman, I’d rather have Merrifield in the same draft neighborhood or Odor a round or two later. FLUSH
Ian Happ: Happ has talents for sure (mostly power) but his other skills give me major pause when considering him this season. Consider: a 31.2 K%, a 16.1 percent Swinging strike rate (league average is around 10 percent), a lofty 25 percent HR/FB rate, and a 66.9 percent contact rate – all those numbers are within the lower 20th percentile at second base (HR/FB is in the top 20 percent, due to crash down this season). (Happ is also OF eligible, of course, playing twice as often there, but most will slot him here most days). On the plus side, 24 HRs in 413 plate appearances is nothing to sneeze at, and he walked at a 9.4 percent rate, so his on base average was a plus. His .253 average, though, should be considered a ceiling until he starts to make better contact. Keeper and dynasty owners may have a different opinion, but for me, it’s a FLUSH.
— Matt Bretz (@MattB_WOF) January 16, 2018
Chris Taylor: Taylor logged 22 games at 2B, and we will break him down in the OF column, but he’s about what you saw last year. He’s a potential 20/20 guy if he can get a full season of at-bats. Basically, he’s a crush at number 100 or later, but before 90 he’s a FLUSH
Yoan Moncada: He gets an incomplete grade for his 231 plate appearances after a July call-up. Pros: 12.6 percent walk rate, speed, and a very good September finish. Cons: 32 percent strikeout percentage, only three steals, average contact. I choose to assume he learned from his early struggles and got in the groove in September. I think he can be 20/20 this year, particularly if they let him run more in Chicago. I worry about his .250-ish average but I’m encouraged by his walk rate and knowledge of the strike zone. Now he’s got to work on pitch recognition and better contact rates. But I do like him in the post-number-100 range with Odor and Baez types. CRUSH
Jonathan Schoop: I was wrong on Schoop last spring – I didn’t think he’d even manage 20 HRs, but he launched 32 and collected 105 RBIs, and he will be in demand at the draft table this year. At age 25, he slightly improved some skills (took more walks, slightly increased his fly ball output, and registered a 36 percent hard hit rate, up from 27 percent in 2016.) He is a below average contact hitter and he consistently pops up (16, 14, and 14 percent infield fly ball rate over the last three seasons, respectively). I’ll grant him 20 HRs, maybe even 25, and his .293 average is suspect. I admit he’s (a bit) better than I thought, but he’s not as good as last year’s numbers. So, again, he’s a FLUSH
Jason Kipnis: Last year was a lost season for Kipnis, who suffered hamstring injuries and never got it cranked up. His 2016 season (23 HR, 82 RBI, 91 runs, 15 steals and .275 average) should be considered his ceiling. A good, not great, contact hitter who until last year always made hard contact, Kipnis has dramatically increased his fly ball percentage (44.1 percent last season, up from 28.1 percent in 2015), so if he returns to health, 20 HRs and 80 RBIs is possible. Early drafts have him the 21st second baseman off the board, around 250. That is a flat bargain. CRUSH
Ozzie Albies: The greatest Ozhaino in the history of the game contributed 6 HRs, 28 RBIs, eight steals and a .283 batting average in 244 plate appearances. The Fantasy community took note, as Albies is the 14th second baseman off the board in early drafting, in the 130s. (It should be noted that no other second baseman, on average, is selected for another 50 picks, so Albies represents the end of the upper tier in drafts.) His eight steals came in nine attempts, so playing time and getting the green light is key to his speed production. His power numbers and skills were all fine – he was an equal ground ball/fly ball producer, an average contact hitter. But he’s only 21 this season, and so few blossom at his age. He’s intriguing but I like him after 150. FLUSH
Jed Lowrie: Lowrie seems older than his age (34 this season) for a couple of reasons: 1. We’ve been analyzing him for years and 2. His name is Jed, so we assume he’s like 65. Lowrie had a nice bounce back season after injuries sidetracked him for portions of 2016. His growth was inevitable given the upward trends that follow: (11.3 percent walk rate (7.0 in 2016), 15.5 percent strikeout rate (17.6), a 27.1 line drive rate (25.5) and a 43.5 percent fly ball rate (32)). An average contact hitter who (like most others) is focused on increasing his launch angle, he won’t become spectacular but more of the same for a player who can get on base is in order. CRUSH
Jedd Gyorko: I needed to pick on our other Jed(d), but also point out that the second D is unnecessary and a bit pretentious. Obviously, his 30 HRs in 438 plate appearances is the headline here (16 in 458 in 2016). He’s taking a few more walks and striking out a little less, which always pleases me. His .243 average was puzzling because his BABIP fell 46 points to a paltry .244. He’ll never be a batting champ, but I can see him growing into a .265-.275 hitter. He hits the ball hard which should help his average. Even with a higher FB tendency (40.3 compared to 36.7), I like his average to increase and approach or pass his 30 HRs again. CRUSH
With the exception of my Jose Altuve team, Ian Kinsler is my starting second basemen in every other league, time to diversify.
— Matt Modica (@ctmbaseball) January 25, 2018
Ian Kinsler: At age 35, Kinsler saw his numbers drop (22 HRs/52 RBIs/90 Runs/.236 average), so he will represent a buying opportunity at the draft table. I say “buy” – I think he’ll add reliable depth in the middle infield. Suppose he repeats the counting stats; consider this: despite a top percentage in hard hit balls (37 percent) his BABIP dropped from .314 in 2016 to just .244 in 2017. I expect his average to return to at least the .275 area and let’s not forget – he stole 14 bases in each of the last two seasons. I’d like to add a few more RBIs and if that average improves, he will. So, I say if you have a SS and 2B on your roster already, you should develop a CRUSH.
Roughned Odor: He saw a slight drop (30 HRs from 33, 75 RBIs from 88, 79 runs from 89) in non-SB counting stats and a huge plunge in batting average (.204 from .271). An amazing .224 BABIP was at play here despite maintaining his exit velocities and fly ball distances. He’s obviously a top second baseman and he hits the ball harder than most at the position, so if that .204 average depresses his draft value, I say he returns to a .260-plus number. With that, his counting stats will exceed is 2015 totals. CRUSH
Scooter Gennett: “Where did that come from?” was the most common sentence associated with Gennett last year. It applied not only to his four HR game but a huge boost across the board (27 HRs, 97 RBIs, and 80 runs, all up at least 35 percent). Only his steals fell (to three from eight). He’s steadily increased his fly ball tendencies (37.6 last year from 29.8 two seasons before that). Gennett’s .295 was also exaggerated. His exit velocity increased but his fly ball distance (179) was only marginally higher. He was tied for 178th in that category, with names such as Freddy Galvis, Sandy Leon, and Robbie Grossman. Expect every statistic to fall. Even if they don’t tumble, someone will love Gennett more than you should at the draft table, so prepare for a roster that doesn’t include him. It’s just not going to happen again, even in Cincy and even with juiced baseballs. FLUSH
DJ LeMahieu: I flushed LeMahieu last year, noting his extreme groundball tendencies in Colorado wouldn’t even provide 10 HRs. But his speed also slowed (11 HRs and 11 SBs in 2016 became 8 HR and 6 steals). Yes, he’ll hit about .310 and score 90-plus runs, but he brings little else to the table. Don’t bite, you’ll still be hungry. FLUSH
Jose Peraza: He’s clearly a speed play only and his value is directly attached to the amount of playing time he is given. He could steal 35 bases or 15 bases. I’m gonna flush him based on uncertainty, but I will also note that his batting average should land in the middle of the last two years (.292 in 2016, .259 in 2017). If he can bring that average up with his groundballs and steals, he can earn more playing time, but he’s gotta be full-time to be worth it. FLUSH
Yangervis Solarte: A move out of San Diego is exciting for Solarte, who is an excellent contact hitter, striking out just 11 percent of the time. A .258 BABIP provided a ho-hum .255 average to accompany 18 HRs and 64 RBIs. Solarte is a player I just can’t give up, particularly as a late-draft selection. But the ceiling is getting lower every season. But I do think 20-25 HRs are possible in Toronto and if he can manage just .270, he’s a nice get in the late rounds. CRUSH
We will continue our 6-4-3 play with the First Base Crush or Flush next. If you missed the SS column, find it here.
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