Welcome to this third installment of Deep League Draft Targets, an exploration of each position’s middle and late tier players. Where mediocrity abounds, value is found. Where one man’s trash is another man’s backup left-handed platoon option.
In previous editions, we covered first base, touching on Fangraphs-favorites, Tommy Joseph and Justin Bour. The week before, Tyler Flowers, Mike Zunino, and Andrew Susac, called for our attention behind the dish. Today, we move onto second base, a position that in past seasons drew the ire of many a fantasy owner but that the roto community has lately characterized as “groin-grabbingly deep.” But is it really?
At first glance, second base appears loaded with players whom just last year I’d have been happy to roll with. Ian Kinsler, a true five-category contributer in 2016, going 9th at the position? Ben Zobrist and his 124 wRC+ 15th? Sign me up! Even Devon Travis and Logan Forsythe present a combination of high floors and tangible upside available outside the Fab Fifteen. If you’re in a league with 17 or fewer teams, you can wait all day on second base and still come away with a potential All-Star.
But for those who know the pain of plumbing the depths in 18-team leagues or deeper, don’t sleep because it gets ugly fast. If you miss out on Travis or Forsythe, you’re looking at a veritable pile of keystone sludge rife with injury risk, playing time concerns, and limited upside lacking the security of stable flooring. Or as it’s known in concert, Brett Lawrie.
So, my suggestion for deep league managers unwilling to pay the price for Jose Altuve, Trea Turner, Robinson Cano, or others occupying the top tier is to wait for that 10-17 range. Specifically, DJ LeMahieu, Zobrist, and Forsythe. But while those names might make sense for managers playing in 15 or 17-team leagues, it makes for a pretty boring Deep League article. So, with that in mind, let’s go plumbing.
It’s hard to believe but Joe Panik and Ryan Schimpf are the 24th and 27th second basemen of the board in NFBC drafts, respectively. Well, maybe it’s not that hard to believe. But I do believe they’re undervalued. In light of our upcoming Bold Prediction series, would it be bold enough to predict they each finish inside the top 20 at their position? It feels light but I went too bold last year plus now I’m shooting for a personal record, two.
Having mashed 20 taters in fewer than 350 plate appearances, Schimpf appears locked in battle with the heralded Cory Spangenberg for the rightful claim to the throne of second base. The knock on Schimpf is that he was old for a rookie. He also strikes out a lot, having taken the humble promenade back to the dugout 105 times in 330 plate appearances last year.
So maybe he doesn’t have the same upside as someone two years his junior. But don’t let that sour you on him. Here’s a tantalizing yet slightly misleading list of seasonal comps dating back 15 years that includes players who, like Schimpf, managed at least a 50% fly ball rate while walking in over 12% of their plate appearances.
|2010||Jose Bautista||Blue Jays||683||54||54.50%||14.60%||165|
|2004||Frank Thomas||White Sox||311||18||52.20%||20.60%||157|
|2003||Frank Thomas||White Sox||662||42||54.90%||15.10%||147|
|2007||Frank Thomas||Blue Jays||624||26||53.20%||13.00%||127|
|2002||Frank Thomas||White Sox||628||28||56.70%||14.00%||119|
|2009||Jason Giambi||– – –||359||13||51.20%||15.90%||98|
|2006||Jonny Gomes||Devil Rays||461||20||54.00%||13.20%||95|
I say misleading because I set the qualifying threshold at 300 plate appearances. Hello, Jason Lane! And also because Schimpf posted the third highest strikeout rate of the group behind 2010’s Mark Reynolds and 2015’s Chris Carter. But you should also notice that Shimpf’s fly ball rate was far and away the highest of the group, meaning that even if he regresses as we should expect him to, he’ll still elevate enough balls so that a good number of them to end up in the seats.
But what about the quality of his contact? Well, Statcast loves him. Schimpf ranked in the upper echelons of most leaderboard categories.
|Avg EV||Avg FB/LD EV||Avg DST||Avg HR-DST||Brls/BBE||Brls/OPA|
|Average||88.71 mph||91.75 mph||214.50 ft||395.01 ft||6.02%||3.50%|
|Schimpf||91.5 mph||95.2 mph||266 ft||397 ft||16.30%||7.30%|
Both Schimpf and Spangenberg are lefties so a clear platoon is unlikely. And because they’re two diametrically opposed players – one a power and plate discipline type with fielding and contact issues and the other a light hitting speedster with an above average glove – whom the Padres ultimately decide to roll with will say a lot about them as an organization. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. After all, we’re talking about Cory Spangenberg and Ryan Schimpf here. Keep an eye on how the competition plays out in Peoria; if Schimpf wins out he won’t be available in many deep leagues for long.
Panik is just one season removed from slashing .312/.378/.455. Yes, 2016 was a down year by batting average standards but he managed to improve both his walk and strikeout rates to the point where he was just one of a couple players to walk more than he struck out. Literally. It was just him and Zobrist (again, don’t sleep on Zobrist). And while Panik’s slugging dropped 86 points, it was all BABIP-related. His .140 isolated slugging in 2016 was nearly identical to 2015’s .144.
Yes, Panik is boring as so many Posey Clones are. And yes, he traded in some line drives for fly balls but not to the point where we should expect him to hang another .245 BABIP on us. This is a .300 hitter who’s improved his walk and strikeout rates for three consecutive years now and who strikes out so rarely, his value increases in points leagues.
He’s currently going 320th in NFBC drafts. But Yahoo players are higher on Panik taking him 19th at the position and 232nd overall. I don’t expect much beyond a serviceable R+RBI total and a .300/.360/.400 line but he makes for a nice deep league keystoner or middle infielder.
Now, I know it’s ridiculous to promote a guy going within the top 12 as part of a Deep League piece but in this humble writer’s opinion, DJ LeMahieu is not getting the love he deserves. At least not in Yahoo formats, where he’s going 11th at the position and 107th overall. Isolating players favored by NFBC drafters, the 20-pick differential between his NFBC and Yahoo ADP is the third widest at second base, behind Jose Peraza and (68.81!!) and Jean Segura (24.86). Given my bias against one category contributors, I doubt I’ll own any shares of Peraza, and while I like Segura, I understand drafters’ trepidation given the move from Chase Field to Safeco.
But DJL? What’d he ever do to you?
Last season, LeMahieu only hit the ball harder and made more contact while improving his selectivity. It’s all in Jeff Sullivan’s excellent piece on how opposing pitchers have turned LeMahieu into Rodney Dangerfield, pitching him far more aggressively than his stark and tangible improvements suggest he should be. The thing is, despite being the recipient of the second highest zone% in the league, LeMahieu still managed to set a career high walk rate of 10.4% That’s because he chased just 23.9% of the time, ranking in the 88th percentile in O-Swing%.
LeMahieu won’t do much for your power numbers, even playing in Coors. But don’t be scared off by last season’s .388 BABIP either. He’s consistently posted elevated BABIPs both at home and on the road throughout his career. And the aforementioned improvements in contact quality and approach suggest there’s little reason to think that’ll change now. Go ahead and give LeMahieu the respect he deserves. Plus, it’s fun to say his name with a Clouseau-esque patois. Try it. Come on. Try it.
Rylan writes for Fangraphs and The Hardball Times. Look for his weekly Deep League Waiver Wire and The Chacon Zone columns this season.