Reviewing 2016 Pod’s Picks & Pans: Second Base

Yesterday, we published the final 2016 second base rankings and dollar values. So let’s review my preseason Pod’s Picks and Pans at the position, where I identified those second base qualified hitters I was most bullish and bearish on compared to the rest of my fellow RotoGraphs rankers.

Pod’s Picks: Second Base
PLAYER Mike Preseason Rank Consensus Preseason Rank Actual Rank
Brandon Phillips 10 22 14
Matt Carpenter 4 7 15
Brett Lawrie 14 23 32

I got lots of heat for my Brandon Phillips ranking, as he was turning 35 over the summer and coming off a surprise rebound in fantasy earnings in 2015, driven largely by his 23 steals. Sure enough, he delivered pretty much what I expected, albeit with even more steals than I projected. Now it looks clear that the disappearance of his speed in 2013 and 2014 was the fluke. However, he’s still in his mid-30s, an age where speed is supposed to dry up. So I still wouldn’t be comfortable projecting another double digit steal season. I think double digit homers is safe though, as long as he remains healthy. As usual, he’ll probably be undervalued again as the boring all-around contributor that doesn’t stand out in any particular category.

Matt Carpenter missed a month with an oblique injury, which cut into his counting stats and reduced his season fantasy earnings. Extrapolating his numbers to make up for the time missed, he would have come close to last year’s home run, RBI, and runs scored totals, with some minor regression. In 2015, Carpenter’s HR/FB rate more than tripled. Obviously, the question was how much of that spike was sustainable. We all figured he’d experience some regression, but how much? All his underlying metrics screamed a conscious change of approach. That didn’t necessarily mean that his approach would carry over to 2016, but it did provide a strong explanation that his performance wasn’t a fluke. Sure enough, his approach did indeed carry over and he proved his 2015 power surge was no fluke. Matt Carpenter 2.0 appears to be the new and current version and I think we need to expect this one moving forward. He’s now officially a 20-homer guy.

Oh, Brett Lawrie, how many fantasy owners have you disappointed over the years? Once again, Lawrie failed to stay healthy, as his season ended in late July with a hamstring injury that he never returned from. My bullishness stemmed from his move to Chicago where he once again would call a hitter’s park home after taking a brief detour from such hitter’s havens in Oakland in 2015. While his fly ball rate spiked to its highest mark since his 2011 MLB debut, his HR/FB rate barely budged and ISO just marginally above his career average.

Unfortunately, he continued the upward trend in both his SwStk% and strikeout rate. The former has risen every season since 2012, while the latter has jumped each year since 2013. Struggling to make contact to a greater degree every single season is an ominous trend. I’ve literally never seen a player who’s skills have been all over the place each year throughout his career like Lawrie. Check out his FB% and IFFB% rates! Sadly, since he does have power and a bit of speed, he’s never going to be a bad choice to speculate on cheaply. AND HE’S STILL ONLY 26…well, he’ll be the magical age 27 next year! That simply means that quitting him will be difficult.

Pod’s Pans: Second Base
PLAYER Mike Preseason Rank Consensus Preseason Rank Actual Rank
Ian Kinsler 8 4 6
Dustin Pedroia 16 10 9
Kolten Wong 20 13 37

So this season, Ian Kinsler matched his home run total from 2014 and 2015 combined, and yet because of the leaguewide power spike, still finished ranked in between mine and the consensus. He even scored 117 runs, his second highest career total! Kinsler was clearly one of the biggest beneficiaries from the power surge, as his HR/FB more than double and matched his previous career high. He also may have sold out for power, as both his SwStk% and strikeout rate reached a career high. At Age 34, it would be silly to expect a repeat. But this season gave us so many silly results that who knows what’s real and what’s just part of an elongated Inception dream?

I expressed bewilderment over my Dustin Pedroia ranking as my projections were similar to the other systems published on FB during the preseason. But he actually outperformed, as his HR/FB rate only regressed marginally from his 2015 spike and his BABIP climbed to a career high, which is pretty surprising for a guy who just finished his 10th full season. Obviously, I wouldn’t bet on a BABIP repeat, and he should be good for another 10 homers or so, while flirting with double digit steals. Essentially, he’s Brandon Phillips, but with a better walk rate and two years younger.

Since my projections account for lineup slot, I’m rarely a fan of hitters who figure to bat at the bottom of the order. That was my issue with Kolten Wong, and he batted seventh or eighth in the vast majority of his 2016 plate appearances. That would adversely affect his counting stats, but what did more harm was that he simply lost his starting job, with a minor league demotion mixed in. He still showed some speed and a bit of power, while encouragingly reducing his strikeout rate and IFFB%, while upping his walk rate. A spot at the bottom of the lineup is going to continue holding back his fantasy value, but if he opens the year with a full time job, he could yield some profit to deep league owners.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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IMO Brandon Phillips is properly valued assuming the rankings are for 10-12 team leagues. He has the 2nd highest BA of his career and the most steals since 09 as a MI at the age of 33! He comes with risk of decline. He is very likely to beat his ranking by a little but there is also a decent chance he falls of the cliff.

I don’t think it is worth taking Phillips unless he is undervalued. I think the better play is to draft a higher upside player and hope he pans out or you find someone on waivers.