Working the Second Base Beat: Tears of Sadness

On Mondays during the season, I generally focus on the second base position, whether that’s highlighting a specific player or breaking down my tiered rankings for the position. The tiered rankings ran last week and it’s too early in the season to meaningfully analyze individual player performance; however, I have noticed a couple things I wanted to touch on as we begin the second week of the season.

One of the more interesting aspects of the 2013 fantasy baseball season was the realization that the second base position was actually quite bad. It didn’t dip below the anemic level of shortstops, but its collective .305 wOBA wasn’t far behind and was worse than the league-average catcher. When discussing position scarcity and the shortstop position, fantasy owners should lump second base into the same group. In deeper leagues, the second base position can get ugly rather quickly.

Early this season, the overall performance has been relatively similar. Second basemen have averaged a .309 wOBA. Notably, however, second basemen haven’t been hitting for much power and have stolen a plethora of bases. The position has only combined for 10 homers, which is the lowest mark for any position in baseball. Even shortstops have hit 14 long balls as a group. The low power output is likely a product of guys like Emilio Bonifacio, Dee Gordon, D.J. LeMahieu, Ryan Goins, and Brian Roberts getting regular playing time. Similarly, those guys tend to offer significantly more speed than power, so we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that second basemen have stolen 28 bases, which is the second-most in baseball behind only center fielders. That marks a shift — though, obviously early — from last year in which shortstops were a better source of stolen bases than second basemen.

I’m not ready to dub second base “the new shortstop,” as the shortstops in Major League Baseball are only averaging a .278 wOBA, but it’s a noticeable shift in expected production from second base. Perhaps owners should be valuing power from their second basemen and fully expecting double-digit stolen bases, if not more. This is something we’ll have to revisit throughout the season, but it seems the offensive profile at second base is continuing to shift as teams have placed greater value on defense. After all, power guys like Dan Uggla and Rickie Weeks wouldn’t be brought up at second base anymore.

Just a couple quick notes on individual players:

Emilio Bonifacio has been one of the hottest waiver wire claims in the past week because he’s currently hitting .500/.548/.571 with four stolen bases. Before being too quick to write off his performance as merely another “small-sample size” overreaction, consider the fact that he has stolen at least 28 bases in each of the past three seasons and has batted atop the Cubs’ lineup early this year. The Cubs’ lineup will likely be horrendous, but someone has to score the runs. If Bonifacio is utilized as a super-utility player and regularly sees top-of-the-lineup plate appearances, he’s certainly rosterable. Eventually, that batting average is going to dip back near his career .266 average. Even then, though, fantasy owners are potentially getting 30+ stolen bases with a batting average between .260 and .270. That’s rosterable.

Chase Utley remains a volatile asset because he’s fragile and could easily miss a large portion of the season due to injury, but fantasy owners who took a chance on draft day are loving the early production. The most-encouraging aspect of his torrid start is the power, as at 35 years old, it’s unclear when that will suddenly plunge off a cliff. It doesn’t appear he’s lost his power stroke, though, which is fantastic news. Just don’t expect him to be running anytime soon.

Brian Dozier is batting leadoff for the Minnesota Twins and already has three stolen bases. He should still be expected to have platoon issues, but batting leadoff could offset that by helping his run and stolen base totals. And if he can clobber 15+ homers yet again this season, fantasy owners can overlook the batting average issues.

We hoped you liked reading Working the Second Base Beat: Tears of Sadness by J.P. Breen!

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

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Emcee Peepants
Emcee Peepants

The thing with Utley is that he doesn’t seem to know he’s fragile and will still steal bases if it’s the right “baseball play”. He only has one gear and if he gets 500+ PAs, he’ll get 10+ steals. My second favorite Phillie ever, after MJS.