A Closer Look at 2B

We posted our 2B rankings today and I posted my commentary rankings of the position about a month ago. There are some differences between the two and I could’ve probably made even more as I really agonized over some of the slotting. It just speaks to the depth of second base. I can definitely see myself getting my middle infielder from 2B, too. Let’s take a closer look.

The Top

Jose Altuve obviously stands alone as the top dog and there’s no real need to delve too deeply into that. He’s entirely deserving on his slotting and has a very viable case for the top pick ahead of Mike Trout.

The Conundrum

One thing I always struggle with these lists is whether or not to make them a predictive list of how I think they will finish 1 to whatever at season’s end or how I’m drafting them. There is a difference. I think Jonathan Schoop will probably finish as a top-10 2B at season’s end and I ranked him seventh, but he’s nowhere near the 7th-most desirable 2B on my list. I’m completely skipping him at his average draft position (~70) in lieu of several others. I’m not entirely sure I’d take him at his 95 max pick given how much I like so many others.

So I slotted Daniel Murphy, Schoop, and Robinson Cano at 6-7-8, but I greatly prefer my 9-10-11 of Rougned Odor, Ozzie Albies, and Chris Taylor. And it’s not just because they’re cheaper. At equal cost – let’s say around pick 91, which is their six ADPS averaged – I think I still favor the second trio. Am I being intellectually dishonest for not ranking them as such? It seems to me that most people view these kinds of rankings as a draft list.

The Studs

Let’s continue looking at the pool itself. Jose Ramirez is kind of another tier himself after Altuve as he’s usually 10-15 picks earlier than Dee Gordon and about 20 over Brian Dozier. I love Ramirez. I have zero issue with his 20 ADP or taking him anywhere in the second round of 15-teamers. If you listen to the podcast, you know I don’t really mess with rabbits like Gordon. But unlike the Schoop example, there is a situation and price where I take Gordon and I have no issue with his cost so I don’t mind slotting him fourth despite rarely if ever getting him.

Dozier started the offseason as a prime target, but as I further studied the 2B pool, he’s become less and less of a priority. Ramirez’s batting average is enough of a separator for me to take him early and fill 2B while I think I can replicate Dozier’s line later and trade his relative probability of achieving it in the process. Plus, I could feasibly move Ramirez to 3B if several of my 2B targets are made available to me.

The Thick Middle

OK, I’m realizing 2B has a glob, too. You can argue pretty vociferously for just about any order with Murphy, Schoop, Cano, Odor, Albies, Taylor, Whit Merrifield, Eduardo Nunez, Ian Kinsler, DJ LeMahieu, Marwin Gonzalez, Ian Happ, Javier Baez, Yoan Moncada, Jonathan Villar, Cesar Hernandez, and Matt Carpenter and they run 6 through 22 on my list. The difference between 6 and 22 undoubtedly feels substantial when eyeing a list in general, but I don’t think that’s the case with 2B this year. This is a prime example of why tiers are so useful.

The 2017 Sudden Studs

Here are the guys who became fantasy forces pretty much out of nowhere: Merrifield, Taylor, Gonzalez, and Scooter Gennett. Ramirez and Schoop were really solid in 2016 so while they did breakout, it wasn’t nearly as unexpected as this group. Whit Merrifield has been a remarkably tough case for me. An age-28 breakout with no real prospect pedigree up through the minors as a 9th round pick. The speed was there (27 SB per 600 PA), but his 19 HR were truly unexpected.

Yet there was nothing particularly egregious in his batted ball profile to suggest he can’t pop another double-digit total. His 9% HR/FB was well below the 14% league average. He had a flyball lean at 41%, which was 7th at the position, but not really selling out for power. The bouncy ball in the MLB no doubt played a role, so barring a major shift there, he should be good for a teens total. Even if things come close to the negative end and he puts up an A.J. Pollock 2017 year – .266, 14 HR, 20 SB, 73 R, 49 RBI – that’s around a top-90 hitter, which isn’t a bad floor at all for someone being drafted around pick 75. Merrifield could be a bust by dollar loss per Mike Podhorzer’s method from this amazing piece on last year breakouts while still not at all hurting you. Plus, there’s the upside of another great season after a top-15 finish among hitters last year. I’m kinda talking myself into some Two-Hit Whit Sh…tuff.

Taylor had a similar ascent to Merrifield, doing it two years younger with some prospect acclaim (top 10 org. guy a few years back). I’m a big Taylor fan. I already liked him after the big regular season, but that I consistently saw him taking some of the best plate appearances in the playoffs leading to more walks (11) than strikeouts (10) and plenty of production around that (.889 OPS, .254 ISO, 8 of 15 hits for extra bases). His 16% HR/FB rate and .361 BABIP definitely call the 21 HR and .288 AVG into question more than anything Merrifield did, but that’s built into the price as the two are about two rounds apart in 15-teamers.

Taylor didn’t steal as much as Merrifield, but his 81% success rate on 21 attempts has me thinking his 17 SB total could rise and offset regression elsewhere in the profile. A strong approach should keep the OBP stable, too. I don’t think he’ll necessarily have an OBP commensurate with any AVG loss as the 9% BB rate has upside of a 12%+ mark. Part of his walk rate being average vs. the plate skills is that he was raking so much in the summer that he didn’t need to walk. As the league adjusts, I think he’ll keep pace and adjust the walks upward. Despite the general findings of Mike’s piece, I’m in on these two breakouts staying strong in 2018 and being worth the gamble as even their regressed lines have a high floor.

I fully admit that my Gonzalez ranking is driven largely by his positional flexibility. Of course, the flexibility loses value if the player isn’t performing, but the projections drop him down to a Dexter Fowler-type (upper-teens homers, upper-single digit SBs, and .260s AVG) with four positions. In NFBC, you have seven reserves and no DL so having someone you can regularly move around to accommodate just about any free agent is valuable. But does it do enough to close the gap between the Marwin (120) and Fowler (246) ADPs? Probably not. Unless you like Gonzalez to beat the projections on his player page, you shouldn’t take him before about pick-160.

The best tidbit about Gennett is that he hit 20 HR with a .293/.344/.516 line after the 4-HR game. He had a damn fine season even outside of that historical achievement. His 14 HR/8 SB season in 2016 showed some skills, too, and he was a career 97 wRC+ coming into 2017. I’m not targeting Gennett or all that interested in drafting him, but the market isn’t really taxing his breakout season at his current ADP of 211. If you just average out his 2016-17 for a .278 AVG, a nice 69 R, 20 HR, 76 RBI, and 6 SB, that’s worth something after pick-200. He essentially doubled his HR/FB rate to 21%, but also has a park and league environment that suggests it’s not necessarily regressing all the way back to 11%.

The Risers

The biggest case against Merrifield and Taylor specifically is the talent available later that could easily match or out-produce them. One of these guys is going to have a massive season and a few will substantially over-achieve their draft cost. Baez (104), Albies (118), Happ (125), Moncada (131), Villar (171), and Kinsler (183) are my money group of 2B. Kinsler stands out as the elder statesman here, but he’s priced to buy. Nothing under the hood backs his .244 BABIP that tanked his average to .236 while the power, speed, and plate skills held or improved. Now he’s moving to LA to bat atop an Angels lineups with Mike Trout, his former teammate Justin Upton, Albert Pujols, and Kole Calhoun behind him.

I really think Albies cuts a Mookie Betts-like mold as I explained on the podcast so I won’t get into again here and repeat myself. Betts was going at pick 98 on average (with a high of 21) in 2015 after a flashy little debut quite similar to what we just saw from Albies.

  • Betts – (5’9, 180)
    • .316/.408/.472 MiLB slash with 12 HR and 42 SB per 600 PA
    • .291/.368/.444, 5 HR, 7 SB in 213 PA debut
  • Albies – (5’9, 160)
    • .304/.365/.424 MiLB slash with 6 HR and 35 SB per 600 PA
    • .286/.354/.456, 6 HR, 8 SB in 244 PA debut

Betts showed more pop coming up, but the league environment we’re in right now can cover the gap for Albies as he fully develops his pop. Betts also had a sharp BB% rate edge in the minors (8% v. 13%), but Albies isn’t just hacking at the dish, either. I think I said Betts 2.0 on the pod, but the Whatever 2.0 suggests better and I won’t go that far. Probably better to say Betts-lite, but I can also see Albies stealing more than Betts ever has (career-high of 26), mitigating some of the power and OBP discrepancies to deliver a similar dollar value (Betts was ~$25 in ’15). My bottom line is that Albies’ skills set a strong floor and a 15 HR/40 SB upside makes him a worthy pick-75 or later gamble to me.

I like both Cubs, but I’m probably just taking the cheaper of the two given their similarities. Happ is often cheaper, but seems to be a more advanced version of Baez when you consider that Happ essentially matched Baez in his rookie year despite being two years younger. He also has more patience and switch hits, both factors in lengthening his leash during down periods.

The MIs

This is where the depth shines through as I’d take any of these guys as my middle infielder.

  • Cesar Hernandez – Solid speed, AVG, and OBP play. If PHI plays up, he could push 100 runs.
  • Jonathan Villar – A worthy buyback after last year’s flop.
  • Matt Carpenter – He’d be much higher if I had any confidence in the health, but the position is too deep to risk him early on.
  • Josh Harrison – Boringly solid and could add to his 2B/3B flexibility.
  • Tim Beckham – The market isn’t taxing his breakthrough and I see a solid season coming.

The General Plan

Using the NFBC ADP (set to 3/1/18) as a guide, here’s a general idea of how I’ll tackle 2B.

  • Take one of the top two if available.
  • Skip the next six.
  • Attack the 9-20 group, ideally starting in round 7 at the earliest.
  • Leverage flexibility and get more than just a 2B and MI from the pool.
  • Let MI develop a bit as SS also great options.
  • Probably reserving a 2B or two depending on roster size.

I won’t have time for one of these at every position this week with my prior commitments. But I had so many extra thoughts on 2B specifically that I decided to put this together today.

We hoped you liked reading A Closer Look at 2B by Paul Sporer!

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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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This is really useful. Thanks for the deep dive!