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Okay, I lied. Turns out this isn’t a four-part series but will now be a quintuple-header. Call it a caffeine-induced diarrhea of the keyboard verbiage-fest, but I got a little carried away and wrote over 2000 words on the second baseman. So I decided to rewrite my lede and save the third baseman and shortstops for tomorrow, pushing the other spots back a day. I promise to limit my Diet Mountain Dew intake.
So today we’ll follow up yesterday’s review of the post-break prognosis for catchers and first basemen with a look at second basemen. Organizing names in this manner poses a bit of an issue with multiple eligibility players. Where should they go? I placed these hitters in the position that was best for the narrative. My column, my rules.
By means of reminder, the order is based on my rankings. In parentheses is the player’s first half rank based on 5x5 roto-scoring followed by my pre-season positional ranking. My column, my rankings.
1. Robinson Cano (1H-5, PROJ-2): Well, we were half right; Cano’s power has suffered with the move to Safeco Field. But what’s interesting is his already stellar average is even more stellar. Perhaps it’s by design, perhaps it’s happenstance, but Cano has shifted his batted ball profile as he’s hit fewer fly balls and more grounders. As hard as Cano hits the ball, more grounders is a good thing in terms of BABIP and this has played out. He currently sports a BABIP of .365, 40 points above his career norm. Time will tell if this is a change in approach or a sample size blip but the prudent course of action is to use this added batting average buffer to augment power elsewhere, at the expense of average.
2. Jose Altuve (1H-1, PROJ-7): Back in March, I partnered up with a fellow NFBC veteran and we entered the Ultimate Auction. We decided to go with a four-player core and build around that. We had a group of players to target for each spot in the core except one – Altuve. To make the plan work, Altuve was the only player of his ilk that would suffice. As Murphy’s Law would have it, Altuve was the last of the core to be nominated, though part of that was our doing as we opted to wait until someone else put him up for bid. It was a risk as Altuve was one of the few remaining sources of speed, especially from the middle infield and someone could have chased those pilfers. On the other hand, the longer Altuve stayed off the table, the less everyone else could pay. We chose this route in the hopes he was not bid up since our own funds were dwindling. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good as we were able to snag Altuve for $19 and thus far he’s doubled that in earnings. His batting average is going to fall back a bit which will slow the stolen base pace a bit, but Altuve should still hover near .300 the rest of the way which means the steals will continue to flow. And while I don’t want to turn this into too much of a #humblebrag or screw with karma too much, the rest of the core is Carlos Gomez, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. Let’s just say so far it’s been a good season.
3. Ian Kinsler (1H-2, PROJ-4): Kinsler was a popular player to avoid in the spring as the change from a great hitter’s park to a more neutral venue was interpreted as a bad thing. But here’s the issue with that. If you focus solely on the effect for right-handed hitters, the difference isn’t all that extreme. Those either recognizing that or just continuing to trust Kinsler’s talent have been rewarded as Kinsler has really put it together. His average will likely dip below .300 by season’s end but it’s still going to be much better than expected. Combine that with homers and steals in the high teens and you have the same player Kinsler was in Texas.
4. Daniel Murphy (1H-4, PROJ-6): Murphy’s proven the increase in production displayed last season wasn’t a fluke. A high batting average over a ton of at bats is still Murphy’s bread-and-butter, but the average is no longer vacuous. The only negative is he’s not picking his spots to run as well as in the past. Last season he was 23-for-26, an outstanding 88 percent success rate. Thus far Murphy is a more pedestrian 11-for-15, 73 percent which may reduce his attempts if he continues to get nabbed.
5. Dustin Pedroia (1H-10, PROJ-1): It’s too bad grit isn’t a category as that would help mitigate the lack of power and speed Pedroia has produced. Whether Pedroia is playing hurt or it’s one of those years, .280 with 2 HR and 4 SB is an off-year for Omar Infante (sorry Mr. Infante, no disrespect intended). To be fair, Pedroia has picked it up in the batting average department, hitting .333 in July but with nary a homer or steal, it’s vapid. In case you missed the memo, it’s use a synonym of empty that begins with “v” day. The possibility exists that the four-day respite may help Pedroia heal up a bit but relying on it is a risk.
6. Jason Kipnis (1H-18, PROJ-3): In a way, Kipnis is a victim of the 150 at bat sample we saw in 2011 when he swatted 7 homers, despite a pedigree suggesting the power was more fluke than fact. Though, he did take a (small) step up last season from 2012 in the home run department. Combined, this served to inflate Kipnis’ power potential. That said, he’s hit three so far – one more than Dee Gordon, two more than Ben Revere and two fewer than Billy Hamilton. Dude, they get the point. Oh great, now I’m writing what the voices in my head are saying and you now know a 51-year old fat white guy calls himself dude. Anyway, the rest of Kipnis’ profile is on par with what’s expected. In a way he reminds me of the aforementioned Kinsler and to a lesser extent, Ben Zobrist. You’re not exactly sure what you’ll get but chances are parts of it will be really good and occasionally everything will come together. Kipnis is even fallowing a similar market value arc as early on, Kinsler and Zobrist were both second and third round picks before their inconsistency dropped them down a few pegs. This made them decent upside plays; just like Kipnis will be next season.
7. Brian Dozier (1H-3, PROJ-15): Dozier is going to be interesting to follow the last 2 ½ months. His pace has already slowed so we’ll skip over saying his pace will slow down. There’s an overblown belief that doubles turn into homers as a player matures. I say overblown since the notion has proven to be a myth. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come to fruition on an individual basis, which is what appears to be the case here. The question is whether Dozier’s spike in HR/FB is a new skill baseline or just a few fortuitous gusts of wind and hitting shorter homers in smaller parks. I think he’ll settle in the low 20’s for baseline (assuming he hits at the top of the order) which means he’ll surpass that this season and disappoint his owners that pay for that power next season. For the rest of this year, expect more of the same – decent counting stats with a low average.
8. Howie Kendrick (1H-7, PROJ-11): With the disclaimer that I see this as happenstance and nothing more, Kendrick is showing a bit of what the fine folks at Razzball so cleverly termed Saberhagenmetrics as his HR/FB mark has oscillated from 4.1% in 2008, 12.2%, 6.9%, 16.5%, 8.9%, 15.7% to 6.6% this season. As such, his power is down but at least Kendrick is running. Dealing with Kendrick is the same as before – he’ll hit for a decent average with good but not great production so use the average buffer to pile up counters elsewhere.
9. Chase Utley (1H-6, PROJ-9): Granted, his power is down from last season but cut him a break, Utley is 35 and has dealt with more than his fair share of health issues. Still, considering he was likely acquired for an injury discount, his owners have not been disappointed. If you trust the veteran to stay healthy the rest of the way, more of the same can be expected.
10. Omar Infante (1H-13, PROJ-12): I was brought up never to say anything bad about a person if they aren’t able to defend themselves so when I took a playful pot-shot at Infante earlier, I did it knowing he’d have his say here. If it weren’t for a couple of injuries curtailing his overall numbers, Infante would be on pace for a double-digit homer and steal season which isn’t bad for an end game mixed play, especially since his cost was dropped since he was a question mark to begin the 2014 season on time. As a team, it would not be surprising for the Royals to pick up the run-scoring pace as they have a slew of players that have collectively struggled. If this indeed manifests, Infante’s production should dovetail and he could be a nice boon for runs the rest of the way.
11. Neil Walker (1H-9, PROJ-14): It appears the herniated disk that was such a concern at the beginning of 2013 is not going to be an issue which means Walker can go about doing what he does best – squashing right-handed pitching. In what has to be the most bizarre stats for switch-hitters, Walker has 42 of his 43 cannonballs against righties, though to be fair his at bats against lefties has dwindled. Still, for those in daily games, if you see Walker in the lineup against a southpaw, don’t think “he’s a switch-hitter, I have the handedness edge.”
12. Kolten Wong (1H-27, PROJ-19): Someone give this guy a cup to pee in (just a joke, not accusing anyone of anything). Since July 6, Wong is hitting .321 with 5 HR, 8 RBI and 8 runs and he’s even found the time to swipe three bags. Unto itself, this doesn’t mean much. That is, he’s still the same player; expectations shouldn’t change. But what likely changes is Mark Ellis should expect even more pine time as Wong’s streak has probably earned him near full-time run the rest of the season. Wong may not hit 5 more HR the rest of the way but his average should pick up and he’ll continue to find time to steal.
13. Rougned Odor (1H-29, PROJ-51): Here’s where the my column, my rules comes into play with respect to position designation as I wanted to say a few words about Odor (and Mookie Betts in a moment) so the likes of Ben Zobrist, Martin Prado, Matt Carpenter, Dee Gordon and Anthony Rendon have been assigned other spots where they’re eligible. Odor has had to learn on the job and he’s quietly holding his own. Prorated to a full 162, Odor’s line is .260-9-52-6-55. Keep in mind this is primarily from the bottom of the order so if Odor hit near the top he’d have double-digit homers and steals which would be…um…Omar Infante-like production, albeit with a lower average.
14. Aaron Hill (1H-15, PROJ-8): Hill’s another player that has Zobrist-like tendencies (Zobristometrics?) to excel in one category but not put it all together in terms of average, power and speed. Like the others of this ilk, it lowers expectation thus market cost but does leave room for upside. Specifically with regards to the rest of the season, Hill’s average is down on account of more whiffs and a low BABIP. Studies show the elevated whiffs are likely to be an issue the remainder of the season but a BABIP boost should help Hill’s average a bit. He’s not a strong buy-low candidate since he doesn’t run any longer and the increased whiffs will hurt his production.
15. Mookie Betts (1H-N/A, PROJ-N/A): I realize I’m really showing my age (and that the caffeine buzz still hasn’t worn off) but when I see Betts play, I can’t help but think of the David Letterman line in The Top-Ten Differences Between the New York Mets and Pond Scum. “All pond scum are named Mookie”. It was hilarious at the time and if you google Mets and pond scum you’ll see why. Anyway, Betts sneaks onto this list because I put five other second base eligible players elsewhere. He’s not assured of regular time – in fact I have him for about 180 at bats the rest of the season. His inclusion is mostly to point out stolen bases are still down from a couple years ago so the category is more bunched. Someone like Betts that can snag another dozen or so bags can really help, especially since he’ll have dual second base and outfield flexibility in most formats.
NEXT TIME: Third basemen and shortstops (I hope)