Fantasy Baseball: Second Base Primer
With fantasy baseball draft season beginning to pick up, this is a great time to survey the landscape at each position and figure out how we want to attack them this season. With the exception of the notoriously weak catcher group (yuck), position scarcity isn't something to be concerned with at other positions, but that doesn't mean there isn't value to be found by dissecting each one individually.
Earlier this week we started our journey with first base, so be sure to check that out.
Our next stop is second base. All ADP numbers are from National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) drafts since February 1.
Last year's consensus number two overall pick, Jose Altuve (ADP 14) failed to fulfill those high expectations but can now be had as a late first-rounder or early second-rounder. A July knee injury may have been partially to blame for the down year, and Altuve still hit .316 and maintained his fantastic plate skills with a 13.2% strikeout rate and 9.2% walk rate. There's little reason to doubt he still isn't one of the few truly elite batting average bats in fantasy and is the perfect pairing with a player like Joey Gallo.
But what about last year's 13 home runs and 17 stolen bases? Altuve's peripherals have never really backed up 20-plus homers, so a decline in that department wasn't necessarily surprising.
However, the knee issue gives us a valid explanation for the lack of swiped bags, and the good news is he still recorded a 78th percentile sprint speed in 2018. As a guy who tallied at least 30 stolen bases in each of the six prior seasons, there's definitely room for optimism. Still, Altuve had offseason surgery to fix the ailment, and while he's expected to be fine by Opening Day, there's no way to know if it will curb his stealing upside.
Ultimately, a healthy Altuve should bounce back and is still a great all-around foundational piece for your squad, but temper your expectations to home runs in the teens and stolen bases in the low 20s, rather than his 2016-17 output.
Javier Baez (15) is another borderline first round pick but one who comes with red flags. We've always known Baez is talented, and the stars aligned in 2018 for him to rack up career-highs across the board with 101 runs, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 21 stolen bases, and a .290 average.
The power and speed check out -- just look at his Statcast page -- but that .290 average looks awfully suspect for a notorious hacker at the plate. Even with a slight improvement in strikeout rate, a 25.9% mark with a 4.5% walk rate remained less than ideal and owning the second-highest chase rate in the league is risky business.
And yet, let's remember that Baez is a career .267 hitter with a .337 BABIP. Sure, he shouldn't hit .290 again, but his aggressive approach shouldn't be a detriment to your batting average, either.
More often than not we see a player regress after a massive career year like this -- it's only natural -- but that doesn't mean Baez will fall off a cliff. Expecting somewhere between his 2018 and 2017 campaigns shouldn't leave you disappointed.
Fantasy analysts in The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI) drafts this week have collectively shown caution around drafting Baez with an ADP of just 21. Regression is coming, but you could still find a nice buying opportunity if he drops lower than you expect in your draft. As an added bonus, he's eligible at third base and shortstop as well.
The last of the upper echelon second basemen, Whit Merrifield (29), is often compared to Trea Turner, who is going in the first round and sometimes as high as third overall. And really, you can argue there isn't much difference between the two -- Merrifield is a career .293 hitter with double-digit home run power and has stolen 34 and 45 bases in the past two seasons. The Royals may not be a star-studded lineup for accumulating counting stats, but you know they aren't afraid to run, run, run. You'll happily take Turner-lite -- if not identical -- production at this draft cost.
The Best of the Rest
Second base isn't as bountiful as third base or shortstop, but there's still plenty to like after the top three are gone. The rest of the crew that follows comes in all shapes and sizes, and determining your specific category targets during your draft will guide you towards who you prefer, whether it's balance, a high batting average, speed, or power.
Ozzie Albies (58) and Gleyber Torres (64) are a pair of up-and-comers who can provide solid contributions across all five roto categories, with Albies leaning towards speed and Torres towards power. While neither one is likely to bat higher than the .270 range, that's still helpful these days, and it's always exciting to draft 22-year-old former top prospects oozing with potential. But it's worth remembering that growth isn't always linear, and both players faded down the stretch last year. The upside is apparent, but you're also more or less banking on it at their draft prices.
If you have the need for speed -- and you certainly will at some point -- Jonathan Villar (81) and Dee Gordon (109) are capable of practically single-handedly vaulting you up the stolen base leaderboards.
Villar gets higher ADP billing for his double-digit home run power, but he isn't likely help in batting average, and we've seen the highs and lows of trusting him before. Still, although playing for a terrible Orioles team won't help his counting stats, it should ensure he stays in the lineup everyday, and he is expected to bat high in the order.
As for Gordon, you pretty much know what you're getting at this point -- elite wheels, a solid batting average, and nonexistent power. Despite hitting just .268 in 2018, his .304 BABIP was his lowest in years -- he has a career .338 mark -- and he's capable of flirting with .300 when the balls bounce his way. He dealt with injuries last year and turns 31 in April, but his sprint speed remained elite (91st percentile), and the risk is baked into his draft price outside the top 100. Just be sure to compensate for his lack of pop.
Mining for batting average is never as exciting as drafting the guy who can slug 35 homers, but it's as important as any other category. On that front, Daniel Murphy (68), Scooter Gennett (88), and Robinson Cano (123) are all capable of give you a boost while still shelling out 20-plus dingers.
Murphy has quickly risen up draft boards this offseason since joining the Rockies, and it's with good reason -- Steamer projects him for the highest batting average in the league. With the help of Coors Field, Murphy has a great chance of batting over .300 and returning to the counting stats he put up from 2016-17, making him well worth grabbing despite the rising cost.
Gennett probably can't match Murphy's batting average upside but could very well put up similar overall numbers. In fact, we should probably be a little skeptical of Gennett's .303 batting average over the past couple being fueled by a .350 BABIP, but most projections still see him hanging around .280, and he should continue to put up solid counting stats in the heart of the Reds' lineup (Roster Resource has him batting cleanup) coupled with a hitter-friendly home ballpark.
At age 36, Cano is that boring veteran no one wants to draft, but he he hit .303 last year and has dipped below .280 only once in 14 major league seasons (.271 in 2008). He's a solid consolation prize at the position.
If you dig the long ball, Travis Shaw (94), aka the Mayor of Ding Dong City, is eligible at second base and is one of the better power bats in the middle infield ranks, mashing 30 dingers two years in a row. His modest numbers against southpaws could hurt his bottom line if it leads to more days off, and he's only a career .255 hitter, but he should remain a capable three-category contributor.
Last but certainly not least, Rougned Odor (128), and Brian Dozier (134) won't help you a lick in batting average, either, but they're nice power/speed combos capable of double-digit homers and stolen bases.
Odor had an up-and-down 2018 campaign but put up a solid walk rate for the first time in his career (8.0%), and it's easy to forget he's still just 25 years old. If he can combine the best aspects of his last two seasons, we could see something like his 2016 again -- a fantastic potential value.
Dozier may also prove to be a draft day bargain as a bounceback candidate after playing hurt in 2018.
Don't Forget About...
Those hoping for a breakout campaign from Yoan Moncada (158) last season didn't quite get one, as Moncada batted just .235/.315/.400 with 73 runs, 17 home runs, 61 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases over 650 plate appearances. The lack of stolen bases were particularly disappointing, as Moncada converted only 12-of-18 attempts (67%), a conversion rate that has to improve for him to get the green light moving forward.
Oh, but he did lead the league in one category: strikeouts (217). Welp.
No, it wasn't complete disaster, but the hoopla has decidedly cooled around the former top prospect, which presents us with a post-hype buying opportunity.
Despite the underwhelming results, the raw tools were all on display in 2018, with Moncada excelling in average exit velocity (82nd percentile), Statcast's hard-hit rate (85th percentile), and sprint speed (89th percentile).
Last year was just his first full season in the big leagues and he only turns 24 in May. He already knows how to draw walks (10.3% rate) and has the pop, so even modest improvements in his strikeout rate and stealing efficiency could unlock that fantasy upside. While it may have been in the minors, it's worth remembering he stole over 40 bases in both 2015 and 2016, so he's shown the potential to be a prolific base stealer before.
Moncada isn't a guy you want to reach for -- those whiffs could deep-six his season in a hurry -- but if he takes a step forward, that 20-20 season people have been clamoring for could finally materialize.
Five More to Remember
Some quick thoughts on other notable names...
Cesar Hernandez (171): A speedy .276 career hitter who played through a broken foot last year and still managed to put up double-digit bombs and swiped bags, Hernandez was looking like a nice value pick as the Phillies' expected leadoff hitter. But between a hip injury this week and Bryce Harper finally signing a blockbuster deal with Philadelphia, his outlook is suddenly a bit more cloudy. He luckily still has plenty of time to recover in time for Opening Day, but with Harper's bat entering the lineup, Hernandez could be dropped to the bottom of the order when he's ready. But there's some hope -- manager Gabe Kapler regularly juggled his lineup last year, so perhaps Hernandez will still get his chances atop the order.
Nick Senzel (216): An infielder by trade but with nowhere to play, the Reds are experimenting with Senzel in the outfield to get his bat the lineup this season. It remains to be seen if he'll crack the Opening Day roster, but manager David Bell has said Senzel is the favorite to win the center field job, and the hyped prospect's bat is well worth your attention. He's hit for average at every step of the minors and has shown enough power and speed to become an immediate fantasy asset.
Asdrubal Cabrera (218): The quintessential unexciting veteran, Cabrera finally found a home with the Rangers and is a good bet to hit 20 or so homers again with an average that won't hurt you. His eligibility at shortstop and third base adds some roster flexibility as well.
Ketel Marte (220): Another infielder taking his wares to center field, Marte is slated to lead off for the Diamondbacks, giving him a great opportunity to rack up the counting stats. He's yet to wow us at the major league level, but he's still just 25 years old and showed incremental improvements in 2018. Expect double-digit home runs and stolen bases with a reasonable average.
DJ LeMahieu (251): A quick look at LeMahieu's road numbers away from Coors Field, and it's easy to write him off as a member of the Yankees, but it's not quite that simple, as hitters tend to improve their road numbers after leaving the Rockies. His overall numbers may not dip as much as most people think, and even without a defined position for the Bronx Bombers, LeMahieu is expected to play nearly everyday in a super-utility role. He's never been the most exciting fantasy player, but he's joining a stacked lineup and has typically hit for a solid average. He also has better Statcast marks than you might think. If you need some late batting average help, there could be sneaky value here, and his role should open up more positions for him later in the season.