Season review: second basemen

So far we’ve covered the catchers, third basemen, and over the weekend, the shortstops. Now, it’s time for the second basemen. In my opinion, the second base position is mis-drafted and misunderstood, but we will get more into that later. I’ll start with the table you should be used to by now:

En Masse

+------+----------------+------+--------+
| Year | Second Basemen	|  OPS | WPA/LI |
+------+----------------+------+--------+
| 2004 |            21	| .773 |   .373 |
| 2005 |            21	| .794 |   .981 |
| 2006 |            29	| .764 |  -.170 |
| 2007 |            29	| .777 |   .402 |
| 2008 |            21	| .779 |   .550 |
+------+----------------+------+--------+

The second basemen have consistently out-hit the shortstops in both OPS and WPA/LI. And compared to a league-average batter, these second basemen have been a little less than half a win better. Notice that I said “these second basemen” and not “the league-average second basemen,” because only second-sackers with 450 plate appearances or more were included. For players who accumulated 450 plate appearances (350 for catchers), the average OPS is .787, so second basemen are slightly below average in that regard. Still, today’s second basemen are not a light-hitting group.

The question is whether second base is a top-heavy or normally distributed group. In 2006, the second base position was unusually top-heavy, with Chase Utley dominating the position. He had a 3.45 WPA/LI; next highest was Ray Durham at 2.05. In Yahoo’s player ranker, Utley was ranked 10th overall and the next highest was Chone Figgins at 85. After 2006, second base developed the reputation for being top-heavy, although in 2007 that was not exactly the case.

In 2007, through the Yahoo player ranker, Brandon Phillips would finish the highest at 13, with Chase leading the chase behind him at 24, and then Brian Roberts and B.J. Upton rounding out the top four at 44 and 54 respectively. Second base was no longer a monopolized position at the top, with the gap between Utley and the pack closing.

Heading into 2008, however, Utley still was selected far above all other second basemen, a full 15 picks higher than the second-selected second baseman, Phillips. That was the largest gap between the first- and second-drafted players in a position, larger even than the gap for starting pitchers.

Utley once again in 2008 did not blow the other second basemen away, and once again was narrowly beaten out for the top rank—this time by Dustin Pedroia. Another second basemen, Ian Kinsler whom I will discuss below, also played on par with Utley. So unless you feel Kinsler and Pedroia had lucky seasons and/or Utley had an unlucky one, we can assume Utley should no longer be drafted a round-and-a-half higher than the next second baseman. In that situation, either Utley is being overpicked, or Pedroia and Kinsler are being underpicked. Something should be changing.

Looking at CBS’ preliminary rankings for 2009, the expert there, Eric Mack, has the gap between Utley and Kinsler widened! Chase Utley is ranked fourth overall and Kinsler is the next highest at 25, a 21-pick gap.

I understand boosting second basemen up the overall depth chart because they are not a relatively good offensive position; they are third worst ,actually. But when no second baseman stands out far ahead of the pack and the drop-off in talent as you go down the tiers is minimal, I see no reason why second base should be as heavily targeted a position it once was. I’ll take Kelly Johnson—ranked 188 spots later on Mack’s rankings— every time.

Individuals

The Risers

Already mentioned as the top second baseman of 2008, Pedroia really jumped the ranks considering he was drafted ninth in Yahoo and 12th in ESPN drafts. He is making a living knocking doubles off the Green Monster with 54 this season (35 at Fenway compared to 19 on the road), and even showed some ability to hit them over the wall, with 17 home runs despite his size.

image
Will Chase Utley reign supreme over second basemen in 2009?(Icon/SMI)

Pedroia is young, he’s got Big Papi hitting behind him, he’s got more career walks than strikeouts, and he stole 20 bases in 21 attempts this year, so he’s got pretty much everything going for him.

Mark DeRosa was the 18th second baseman drafted in 2008 and finished with the fifth-best stats. If you look at the luck and indicator stats for DeRosa over the past few years—such as BABIP, walk percentage, strikeout percentage, line drive percentage, and homer/fly ball percentage—they have not changed much with the exception of his HR/FB. That seven-point spike in percentage from seven to 14, coupled with an unexplainable increase in run total by 40 runs, brought DeRosa into fantasy relevance. Considering that few things changed from DeRosa’s 2007 to 2008 season, I don’t see why he cannot repeat his relative success next season.

Kinsler was drafted seventh in Yahoo drafts and sixth in ESPN ones, and ended the season with the third-best stats. However, you must account for the time he missed from Aug. 17 to the end of the season, more than a month of play. If you extrapolate his stats to a full season’s worth, his line would have looked like this: 135 runs, 24 home runs, 94 RBI, 34 steals, a .319 average. Those stats are clearly superior to Pedroia’s and Utley’s. Kinsler, Pedroia and Utley are clearly on the same tier.

Jose Lopez was not drafted and finished with the eighth best stats for a second basemen. I’ll be honest, this guy flew under my radar for most of the season and I never really noticed him until now. I know that’s a bad thing for a supposed baseball expert to say but if Joe Morgan can say that for a player like Andruw Jones, I can get a break on Jose Lopez. Anyway, Jose had a solid season with a .300 average, 17 home runs, and at least 80 runs and RBI, but I don’t see much potential for improvement and if anything he will regress slightly. That is all it will take to him not valuable again.

The Fallers

Phillips, as I mentioned before, was the top second base commodity in 2007, an honor he did not retain in 2008. Falling from a 30-30 guy to a 20-20 this season, Phillips, whose season ended on Sept. 12 because of a broken finger, finished with the ninth best stats. Phillips is a player that requires a more in-depth analysis to accurately predict his future, but somewhere between his 2007 and 2008 seasons seems about right.

Robinson Cano is a notorious slow starter and 2008 was no different. Problem is, he started slower than usual and never really caught fire, though he did enjoy a much better second half than first half. Similar to Phillips, it would take a more detailed analysis of Cano than what I briefly do in these articles to have a good idea of what to expect next year.

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