MLB Fantasy Preview 2013: Top Ten Second Basemen
Second base is an odd position to plan for in fantasy drafts. Shortstops are usually known as the resident defensive wizards that you shouldn't expect offense from. But other than Robinson Cano, not a single second baseman was found in the top five in either league in *deep breath* batting average, OPS, RBIs, doubles, triples, home runs, stolen bases, and even sacrifice flies. Really, if not for Cano's play, Ben Zobrist sitting third in the AL in walks, and Ian Kinsler being third in the AL in runs, we'd have a clean sweep on our hands.
Does that make second base less valuable? Absolutely not... as long as your get one of the top second basemen. On our rankings, we have four second basemen in the top 37 of our rankings. Past Ben Zobrist, though, you won't see another second baseman from us until the sixth round in a 12-person league. This is one of the more top-heavy positions in fantasy drafts this year, which is why you'll want to plan your approach to get one early.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before we get into the meat of the list, I asked Chief Analyst Keith Goldner to break down the rankings and exactly what you should know about these numbers.
1. What type of scoring is this list based on?
The rankings are based on a category 12-team league. Categories are 5x5: SB, HR, Runs, RBI, Avg and W, K, SV, ERA, WHIP.
2. What exactly does the nF score measure, and how does that help my fantasy team?
The numberFire score takes a player's contributions across all categories versus a replacement level player that you could find on free agents. After summing the total contribution, each player's rating is then adjusted for his position eligibility based on the value of each position throughout the league due to position scarcity. For example, a catcher and outfielder with the same numbers will rank the catcher as the higher player due to the fact that it is a weak position.
3. Position scarcity? But the top catcher is at No. 47 and the top shortstop at No. 35! Should I really wait that long to grab those positions?
Simply put, yes.
4. Where do the projections come from, and why should I trust them more than anyone else?
The projections come from the same place that all our projections come from. First, we evaluate all players and teams using our advanced metrics. Then, we find the most comparable players playing on the most comparable teams historically, weighting each comparison according to that similarity. We then take those comparable players' historical stat lines as the building blocks for the projections.
With that out of the way, let's get to the list.
Top Ten Second Basemen for 2013
1. Robinson Cano - New York Yankees
Stat to Know: Percentage of Fly Balls that go for Home Runs
It's no coincidence that Robinson Cano has 32 projected home runs while every other second baseman on this list is at least five behind. Last season, 13.4 percent of Cano's total fly balls flew all the way out of the ballpark for a home run. That has continued an upward trend for Cano; his rome run percentage from fly balls was 9.1 percent in 2009, 10.6 percent in 2010, and 11.2 percent in 2011.
When to Take Him: End of First Round
It's hard to believe that Cano may actually be better this season, especially considering the upward trend of his statistics. He's not going to get the raw numbers of a Pujols or Fielder or Trout, but considering the scarcity of second basemen (especially this year), he's worth being the centerpiece of a team.
2. Ian Kinsler - Texas Rangers
Stat to Know: Walk Rate
I've ridden the Kinsler bandwagon for years, but I may be starting to look for a solid place to jump off. After two straight seasons of walking on 12.3 percent of his plate appearances, Kinsler took a free pass on only 8.2 percent of his appearances last season. In turn, his on-base percentage fell to .326, the lowest of his career.
When to Take Him: End of Second, Beginning of Third Round
With that said, there's a statistical phrase that I like to use a lot. Say it with me now boys and girls: regression to the mean! Yes, Kinsler may have had a down season last year, especially with his walk percentage and home run percentage (down from 4.4 percent in 2011 to 2.6 percent in 2012). However, his real value is likely somewhere in between his .253 batting average from 2009 and his .319 average from 2008. There is more evidence to the former, but our analysis likes his chances for a bounceback year seeing the ball.
3. Dustin Pedroia - Boston Red Sox
Stat to Know: Strikeout to Walk Ratio
Dustin Pedroia's first six seasons can be broken down into two distinct categories: the "Look at me, swinging at everything is FUN!" era, and the "Oh, maybe watching pitches go by can actually be useful" era. His first three years, Pedroia never walked more than 8.1 percent of his plate appearances in a single season... but that was fine, because he never struck out more than 7.2 percent of appearances in those seasons as well. The next three years, he let more pitches go by and drew a 10.9 percent walk rate, but also drew 9.1 percent strike outs over that same span.
The issue came, though, when he was still trying to take pitches, but people threw him more strikes. That occurred last season: his strikeout rate was at 9.6 percent, but his walk rate couldn't keep up at 7.7 percent. And that resulted in a 1.25 strikeout to walk ratio, the highest amount of relative strikeouts of his career. If you're looking for a reason why his .347 OBP was his worst since his rookie year, there you have it.
When to Take Him: Middle of the Third Round
Not to repeat what I said about Ian Kinsler, but that whole "regression to the mean" thing still stands. Pedroia is much more likely to get back to a 1.0 K:BB ratio than maintain his current 1.25 K:BB rate, and that should help his on-base percentage and batting average rise once again.
4. Ben Zobrist - Tampa Bay Rays
Stat to Know: On-Base Percentage
I'm sorry to be the party pooper, but that's kind of what we stat guys do: chances are, Ben Zobrist isn't going to be that guy who had a .297 batting average while hitting 27 home runs for the Rays in 2009. It's just not that likely; he hasn't gotten close to either number in any other season. But that doesn't mean that his hitting ability isn't steadily improving. While the AL average OBP has dropped from .321 to .314 to .313 over the past three seasons, Zobrist's on-base percentage has gone the other way, from .346 to .353 to .377. Don't be surprised if the stats keep on rising this year.
When to Take Him: Fourth Round
OK, time for my best Harold Camping impersonation: IF YOU DO NOT TAKE BEN ZOBRIST YOU ARE DOOMED FOR ETERNITY. Or something. The fact is, past Zobrist, there are not too many other statistically sound second basemen out there to pick up. He's worth a bit of a reach. Considering his average draft position currently has him around the 66th pick, you should be able to pick fourth round and be fine, maybe even stretch it to the fifth if you're feeling risky. Past that, though, it's a long way down for second basemen, a road that I wouldn't want to travel.
5. Aaron Hill - Arizona Diamondbacks
Stat to Know: Home Run Rate
So, are you feeling lucky, punk? There are two different Aaron Hills that you could get. One hit home runs on 4.5 percent of his at-bats in 2009 and 2010, as well as 3.9 percent of his at-bats in 2012. The other hit home runs in less than 1.5 percent of his at-bats in four of his eight MLB seasons. There are very few other players in this year's draft that have such a distinct upside potential and downside potential. Naturally, that's why our projections go smack in the middle, at 21 home runs.
When to Take Him: Sixth or Seventh Round
You may get antsy when second basemen don't run off the board for a while. That's understandable. And if you want to reach on Aaron Hill, I won't stop you; he's in a tier by himself between the clear top four second basemen and the rest of the class. Once you get past Hill, every other potential starting second baseman is outside of our top 100 selections. So when given the choice between Mat Latos, Paul Goldschmidt, or Yovani Gallardo (the three guys ahead of him in our rankings) or Hill, I'd probably go the position scarcity route.
6. Brandon Phillips - Cincinnati Reds
Stat to Know: Walk Rate
All things considered, Phillips' strikeout rate was as beautiful as Skyline Chili last season: at 12.7 percent, Phillips continued his streak of four straight seasons with a K rate under 13 percent. But when it came to his walks, he didn't have nearly as much success; only 4.5 percent of his plate appearances saw him get a free pass.
Want to know just how free-swinging Phillips was? Assume that you get four plate appearances a game as the starting second baseman for the Reds. Congrats on your contract, by the way. Now, take any random sample of five games. Got it? Well, there is a better-than-normal chance that you didn't walk in any of them; Phillips walked once roughly every 22 plate appearances. Now that's a poor effort on your part.
When to Take Him: Ninth or Tenth Round
This is where things start to truly get ugly. Phillips isn't the centerpiece of a team; he really doesn't even have that much upside potential for exceptional speed like a Jason Kipnis. You know what you're going to get: 15-20 home runs, a batting average somewhere in the .275-.295 range, and a lot of strikeouts. The only question is, how bad does your team really need that potential middling power?
7. Jason Kipnis - Cleveland Indians
Stat to Know: Extra Bases Taken Percentage
It's all about the speed, the stolen bases, and the runs for Kipnis. One of the more interesting stats is how often he takes extra bases; XBT% measures how often a player takes more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double hit while they are on. For Kipnis, that number is an astounding 41 percent; he often is aggressive on the basepaths and sets himself up to score. That is, if he can get on...
When to Take Him: Eleventh to Twelfth Round
... which happens less often that any of his owners would like. With his .335 on-base percentage, Kipnis is still above the .313 AL league average from last season, but not far enough above for it to be considered a strength. He also will grab some steals, but our analytics don't see him grabbing 31 stolen bases again this season. He's fine as an upside play, and I'd even understand grabbing him ahead of Phillips for the stolen bases. Chances are, though, he will go too high in your fantasy draft and leave some poor owner shaken.
8. Danny Espinosa - Washington Nationals
Stat to Know: Strikeout Rate
What is this I don't even. Watch a few Nationals games this year, and you'll notice a similar trend: Espinosa walking back to the dugout with his head slumped and his bat on his shoulder. His 25.2 percent strikeout rate in his first full season with Washington was insane; his following 28.7 percent strikeout rate in year number two was an absolute crime. If he can't make contact, then he's not a solid player; with 17 home runs last season, he didn't even have the requisite power numbers to make up for it.
When to Take Him: Twelfth to Fourteenth Round
If you've waited until this point to get your starting second baseman, then you're picking from scraps as it is anyway. It's worth it to wait for as long as you can and get better value through the rest of your roster first. Danny Espinosa adds very little value past mediocre power and stolen base statistics, and he can be easily dropped for an up-and-coming player or risk that you see fit (see: Utley or Uggla).
9. Omar Infante - Detroit Tigers
Stat to Know: Strikeout Percentage
Infante doesn't have too many strengths: only 1.6 percent of his career at-bats have gone for a home run, and he hasn't walked more than six percent of his plate appearances in three seasons. However, Infante has taken one step to limit one of his weaknesses: strikeouts. Over the past two seasons, Infante has posted a strikeout rate of 10.5 percent of plate appearances in 2011 and 11.1 percent in 2012. That number actually went down even further once he got to Detroit: he struck out only 9.9 percent of plate appearances after being traded from Miami at the deadline last season.
When to Take Him: Twelfth to Fourteenth RoundSee: Espinosa, Danny. I'm so, so sorry it has gotten to this point.
10. Howie Kendrick - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Stat to Know: Home Run Rate
So which will it be, Kendrick: the 3.1 percent home run rate from 2011 or the 1.4 percent home run rate from last season? That's really the only question with Kendrick; his other numbers have been consistently mediocre across the board over his past six seasons in Los Angeles, from his strikeout rate to his walk rate to his on-base percentage and everything in between. In fact, it's that slight hint of 18 home run power than even has us considering him as a fantasy option this season.
When to Take Him: Twelfth to Fourteenth Round
Yeah, same deal here. Good luck with your second basemen!