The middle infield which includes second base is shaping up to be a deep position. There are many players who discovered new found pop, some sustainable (Altuve), others not so much (Kinsler). In some cases, there are speedsters who will compete for 30+ stolen bases. Other specialists include DJ LeMahieu capable of anchoring batting average.
Before I delve deeper into the rankings, here are the second base risers and fallers in OBP leagues.
The biggest riser is Ben Zobrist. Brian Dozier and Ryan Shimpf are two power hitting second baseman who like to swing for the fences. If you have Kipnis and Kinsler ranked fairly close to each other, in OBP leagues Kipnis has the advantage. In other cases, there are players who do well in OBP leagues by having a strong batting average (Daniel Murphy). Players like Jonathan Schoop, Rougned Odor, and Jose Peraza are poor at drawing walks.
- Jose Altuve (2B, Houston Astros): Altuve’s become one of the best players in the MLB over the years. This past season saw him eclipse 20 home runs for the second time in his career. Based on his HR/FB% being double of his career, it’s likely Altuve hits into that 15-20 range as opposed to 20-25. Altuve’s 56 SB season in 2014 is the outlier in terms of SB. He’s settled into that 30-35 range. The base-running remains elite. The diminutive second baseman saw his line drive rate be four points higher than his career average. Regression here will likely put a hamper in his batting average, closer to his career .311. He should be able to continue to get on base at a high level as his walk rate increased which is supported by a lower outside the zone swing percentage. In 2015, Altuve made a concerted effort to hit more flyballs and pull the ball more. He might not have that consistent 20 HR power however, being in that 15 range is nothing to scoff at. Altuve’s strong performance over the past few years has earned him the number 1 tag at second base and arguably a top ten pick.
- Trea Turner (2B/OF, Washington Nationals): It seems crazy. In half a season, Turner was dynamite. Turner won’t be quite as dominant in 2017 but there is reason to believe he can be very good, like second best fantasy second baseman good! First, he’s always been a stolen base threat as shown by his 33 in the majors and 70 grade speed on FanGraphs. He can reach 35+. Second, the batting average should hover around that .290 range if not higher. In the minors, Turner had good batting averages and has shown to have good hit tools. Furthermore, Turner’s walk rate in the minors hovered close to 10% and his swing tendencies have been fairly average thus far in his short MLB career meaning he won’t get on base at a .370 clip like he did in his first 73 games but something around .340 is certainly within reach. Over a full season, Turner is quite capable of hitting 10 HR. The minor league ISO and home run totals do not support Turner riding a HR/FB% nearing 17%. In Turner, one has a speedy contact hitter much like Altuve when he broke out in 2012. The resistance to drafting him high is understandable given his lack of MLB experience. With him likely batting near the top of the order in Washington, Turner will provide a boatload of steals, 90+ runs, and a good batting average.
- Daniel Murphy (1B/2B, Washington Nationals): I went over Murphy here. After a change in approach, Murphy has become one of the MLB’s premier hitters.
- Jonathan Villar (2B/3B/SS, Milwaukee Brewers): Villar came out of nowhere to become arguably the fantasy MVP of 2016. Villar’s 62 SB were 15 more than second place Starling Marte among qualified hitters (Billy Hamilton had 58 in 460 plate appearances!); this is the main area of Villar’s value. Villar has the profile of a player who can sustain an above average BABIP thanks to his total field approach and speed. He does tend to strikeout a lot, something that will keep him from being a .300 hitter. With a lower BABIP and all those strikeouts, Villar’s batting average will be closer to .270 than the .285 he put up. That combined with 15/45 should make Villar one of the better second fantasy players this season.
- Brian Dozier (2B, Minnesota Twins): Dozier’s 42 home runs will likely make him one of the most overvalued players heading into 2017. He got things going around the second half of the season when he began to strikeout more often, increase his already high pulled ball rate, hit more flyballs in addition to hitting the ball harder. Bulldozier won’t maintain the same HR/FB% and his batting average is projected to go back down to career norms. In the two seasons before 2016, Dozier was in that 25 HR range. I can see him reaching 30-33 but not many more. Considering he generally bats first or second, I wouldn’t expect Dozier to get close to the 100 RBI mark like he did last season. Dozier has also averaged 16 stolen bases per season over the past four years. A career .246 hitter, Dozier produces in four categories.
- Robinson Cano (2B, Seattle Mariners): Cano revamped things a bit as he hit more flyballs than he has since 2010. Cano should see some positive regression in regards to line drive rate which should help him keep up a good batting average and hit 20+ HR. His HR/FB% was above career average; don’t expect him to hit more than 30 HR in 2017. Cano’s outside the zone swing rate increased to his highest rate since 2011 and his swinging strike rate remained above his career average. This makes me think Cano’s strikeout rate will increase this season. He remains a solid player in a good Mariners lineup.
- Matt Carpenter (1B/2B, St. Louis Cardinals): I went over Carpenter in greater detail here. Biggest concern is the back injury, otherwise I see him being a premier player and would’ve been in the top five.
- Rougned Odor (2B, Texas Rangers): Odor is a unique player. He has poor plate discipline, has a good power level, and some speed. He hit fewer popups, an area that plagued him since his career began. He traded contact for power with his 33 home runs showing it paid off. The home runs will come, the average will be acceptable and he will steal a few bases. Continued growth would be a good sign for the 23 year old. Learning to take a walk and reducing strikeouts while maintaining that 25-30 HR power will be key. Odor is quite volatile due to a relatively poor approach at the plate, and consistently below average line drive rate. He reminds me of prime Adam Jones, who was a good player, but something held him back from being a great player. With all that said, Odor’s a top ten second baseman who is capable of being top five by seasons end.
- Jean Segura (2B/SS, Seattle Mariners): The move from Arizona to Seattle will certainly hurt Segura as he’s in a more pitcher friendly environment. The good news is that Segura’s revamped swing will be a constant as he travels across the country. Segura’s .319 average was aided by a somewhat generous BABIP. His HR/FB% was about five points higher than his career average. I think it’s fair to expect something in between his 2015 and 2016 seasons. With that new swing, I’m curious to see if he can reach the 20 HR plateau again (I think he’ll come close). His average exit velocity was 90 MPH with a fairly average barrels per plate appearance. Lastly, Segura’s still got some nice wheels too as shown by his 33 stolen bases last year. The biggest drop for Segura will be batting average. I do believe with his revamped swing, Segura can be a top ten second baseman.
- DJ LeMahieu (2B, Colorado Rockies): I went over DJ LeMahieu’s rise over here. He’s a smart batter who routinely takes the ball the other way. LeMahieu’s BABIP was a tad high this year; it should come down closer to his career average of .352. LeMahieu’s infield flyball percentage was 10%. From 2014-2015, it was 1.1%. Perhaps he tried to get more lift? It does seem like something that won’t stick. LeMahieu has a very good shot at hitting over .300 for the third consecutive season to go along with double digit stolen bases. He’s a good player to target if you’ve gotten or plan on getting low average power hitters (Davis, Bautista, Sano).
- Dee Gordon (2B, Miami Marlins): Gordon is a wildcard because of the steroids and lack of good performance when he came back. The stolen bases are intriguing because Gordon could steal 30+ bases. The strikeout and walk rates remained consistent as did his overall swing rate relative to his career. The big drop came in BABIP. Since his breakout in 2014, Dee’s BABIP: .346, .383, .319. How much it comes up might just indicate how his batting average holds up.
- Dustin Pedroia (2B, Boston Red Sox): Pedroia had his best offensive season since 2011 and was a key figure in a potent Red Sox offence. Pedroia was the beneficiary of a .339 BABIP, the highest single season mark of his career (career average .315). He’ll hit around .300 with a lower OBP bringing in fewer run scoring opportunities albeit still an impressive amount. On the plus side, Pedroia went opposite field much more often than before making it possible he can retain a better than career batting average in 2017.
- Jose Peraza (2B, Cincinnati Reds): Speed is the name of the game for Peraza. In 72 games last season, Peraza stole 21 bases. Peraza’s batting average was inflated in part due to 27.5% line drive rate. He did show an ability to make contact as shown by an elite 94% zone contact rate. I can see him end up around that .270-.280 mark. That should be sufficient to get him to challenge for 35 stolen bases if not more. If you pass on Turner above, Peraza, although more volatile, could be a decent replacement thanks to his blend of speed and contact ability.
- Ian Kinsler (2B, Detroit Tigers): Kinsler changed up his approach to swing for the fences more often and it showed in both contact type and strikeout rate. He hit his highest amount of home runs since 2011 in which his HR/FB% was also 12.5%. Kinsler’s done a good job over the years in racking up counting stats in a strong Tigers offence. The Tigers second baseman’s above average BABIP will likely plummet closer to career levels in 2017. Is the power repeatable? I’m not optimistic because he had fewer barrels per plate appearance than 2015, nor did he see a substantial increase in flyballs or pull percentage relative to his career. Kinsler remains a top fifteen 2B thanks to strong counting stats over the years and above average production in HR, SB, and batting average.
- Jason Kipnis (2B, Cleveland Indians): With Jason Kipnis, I’m a bigger believer the new found power will stick because of a substantial increase in flyballs, higher strikeouts, and a higher flyball percentage. Kipnis had more barrels per plate appearance in 2016 (4.1%) than in 2015(2.7%). He’s turning 30 in April; it wouldn’t surprise me if he fails to reach 10 steals as speed declines with age. With all that said, he has a rotator cuff strain and is expected to miss opening day. Second base is deep enough where you can pass on Kipnis and find a healthy player or pick up a capable batter if things aren’t going too well as the season progresses.
- Ben Zobrist (2B/OF, Chicago Cubs): Zobrist is poised to perform similar to how he has over the past four years. That means 10-15 HR with a .270 average and good strikeout and walk rates. Being in the Cubs lineup will continue to yield good counting stats. While he lacks the upside of fellow teammate Addison Russell, Zobrist has a higher floor. Lastly, Zobrist gains additional value in OBP leagues where his career 12.4% walk rate shines!
- Devon Travis (2B, Toronto Blue Jays): .301, 19 HR, 92 runs, 85 RBI, and 7 SB: That’s the line for Travis in 670 plate appearances split among 2015 and 2016. Travis has posted a .354 BABIP through this time. Realistically, it will fall somewhat but his total field approach will help limit the drop. There’s a chance Travis starts the season on the DL, the primary reason why he is closer to top 20 than top 10. He is close to getting the “injury prone” label if he doesn’t already have it.
- Logan Forsythe (1B/2B, Los Angeles Dodgers): He’s hit 37 HR over the past two years with a respectable .272 batting average. It wouldn’t surprise me to see his batting average sink to .260 given his career average is .255 and that he struck out more this season. He’s not a terrible choice for a starting second baseman although ideally you have someone better.
- Javi Baez (2B/3B/SS, Chicago Cubs): Baez has a lot of potential but he hasn’t lived up to it yet in his short MLB stint so far (222 games). Baez cut down on his strikeout rate by six percentage points but he still had a very high swinging strike rate and outside the zone swing rate. There is upside here due to his minor-league track record and multi-position eligibility. In 142 games spanning only 450 plate appearances, Baez managed to hit .273 with 14 HR and 12 SB. I think he showed a sufficient skill set to make me believe he can be a .255 hitter who can go 15/10 as a floor. 24 years old with 759 career plate appearances, it’d be worth a late round flier to see if Baez has another level.
- Joe Panik (2B, San Francisco Giants): The big issue for Panik last season? BABIP! A BABIP of .245 does nobody any good; unless you’re a pitcher and last time I checked, Panik’s not a pitcher. Panik continued to be elite at making contact, illustrated by a 90% contact rate. He’s capable of hitting 5-10 HR as well. Panik’s full field approach combined with a bounce-back in luck should lead to him batting .300. If he gets a full season of reps in the number 2 spot as he has most of his career, scoring 90 runs isn’t out of the question. I’m a believer in Panik’s skill set.
- Jonathan Schoop (2B/OF, Baltimore Orioles): Power bat with poor plate discipline is a quick and easy characterization of Schoop. The Orioles second baseman has hit 56 home runs over the past three years across 385 games. Swinging strikeout rate suggests he has yet to make some legitimate gains in making contact. I think the strikeouts will go up lowering his average but the power to hit 25 HR is legitimate. He doesn’t steal bases and if he continues to swing in the bottom of the order, the counting stats will be limited.
- Ryan Schimpf (2B/3B, San Diego Padres): Schimpf had one strange year. In his first taste of MLB action at 28, Schimpf hit 20 HR in 89 games with a .217 batting average. He struck out almost a third of the time and his batted balls were flyballs almost two thirds of the time. Schimpf’s swinging strike rate suggests he should have a lower strikeout rate and it is unlikely he continues to hit into as many flyballs as he did. Over a full season, a .230 season with 25 home runs is certainly possible. For players who saw at least 500 pitches, Schimpf led the league in average launch angle (27.7) much higher than second place (22.8).
- Neil Walker (2B, Pittsburgh Pirates): Career .273 hitter who is good for 15-20 HR a year, Walker is what he is at this point. Other than age, there is little reason to be wary of Walker.
- Hernan Perez (2B/3B/OF, Milwaukee Brewers): The soon to be 26-year-old Perez came out of nowhere to hit .272 with 13 HR and 34 steals. Swinging strikeout rate was high showing there are concerns to his game and that his batting average will likely be lower. Perez’s minor league numbers weren’t anything to write home about. If he gets sufficient playing time, there might be something here. Otherwise, there’s not much to be excited about. He’s worth a late round flier to see if there is anything more there.
- Starlin Castro (2B, New York Yankees): Castro hit a career high 21 home runs, no doubt another beneficiary of the MLB’s home run explosion. His HR/FB% was almost double his career average and there is little in his profile to indicate he attempted to hit for more power. Nonetheless, Castro is a career .280 hitter who has shown he’s capable of knocking 10-15 out of the park. There isn’t much else to his game.
Others to Consider
- Jedd Gyorko: BABIP was low even by his standards and HR/FB% was very high (24.4%). Likely hits .250 with 20 HR if he gets sufficient playing time.
- Josh Harrison: 10-15 steals with a .280 average and not much else
- Cesar Hernandez (2B, Philadelphia Phillies): A career .281 hitter with 36 stolen bases over the past two seasons, any drop in BABIP will limit his upside. If you need a batter who can hit for a good average and steal 15-20 bags, Cesar is your guy.
- Yangervis Solarte (2B/3B, San Diego Padres): 29 home runs over past two seasons, career .271 batting average, and doesn’t steal bases.
- Steve Pearce (1B/2B/OF, Toronto Blue Jays): The oft-injured Pearce comes with multi-positional eligibility and will likely be in a platoon. He’s been a strong performer against left handed pitchers in his career and rates league average against righties by wRC+. If he can get a starting job, he’s someone to look into deeper.
This concludes the top 25 fantasy second baseman. There are plenty of players who provide speed both early (Turner, Villar), in the middle (Gordon, Peraza), as well as late round fliers (Perez). The position is deeper than years past; I’d be comfortable with any one of the top 17 as my starting second baseman and take a flier on an upside bat later on (Perez, Schimpf, Schoop).