Second look: Top 20 fantasy second basemen for 2012

Over the next week or so, in an attempt to catch up on fantasy season, I am going to do a top 20 or so list by position for the players who will either be eligible at that position under Yahoo! default standards to start the season or who are projected to gain eligibility within the first month of the season (e.g., Miguel Cabrera and Jesus Montero). The rules of eligibility for Yahoo fantasy leagues:

The following conditions apply to a player’s position eligibility:
1. A player’s position eligibility will not be adjusted prior to the beginning of the season. (If a player in spring training is playing a “new” position, that position will not appear until a player has met the criteria for a change.)
2. Players will not lose eligibility at a previously established position at any time. (For example, if a catcher-eligible player begins to play first base exclusively, he will remain eligible at catcher for the entire season.)
3. It is not possible to customize this setting within Custom Leagues. All leagues are subject to the same constraints.

Gaining eligibility at a new position:
If a position player makes five (5) starts or 10 total appearances at a new position during this season, he will become eligible to play that position in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball. Pitchers need to make three starts to become eligible as a starter and five relief appearances to qualify as a reliever.

ESPN imposes a more rigorous default position eligibility standard (e.g., 20 games played at the position last season, 10 games played in the present season), so you may have to do additional research if you play ESPN fantasy to verify that players listed in these articles are in fact “position eligible” in your league.

These rankings are based on 5×5 standard Yahoo! Roto leagues. Rankings are not based on real-life value but fantasy value. Hence, players like Juan Pierre tend to have value for you closer to what Kenny Williams is willing to pay him in real life. Projections listed below are courtesy of Brian Cartwright’s Oliver projection system. I recommend that you purchase a subscription, as the pre- and in-season updates are an invaluable fantasy tool.

My rankings are not exclusively based on Oliver’s projections, however. Rankings are primarily determined based on total production by category, balance in production, and scarcity of production level. Because I am ranking players by position, positional flexibility is not taken into account in my rankings (though you should absolutely consider positional flexibility at the draft board).

Tiers represent groups of relatively fungible players, guys who if you traded me the guy at the bottom of that tier for the top guy would not require you to add “too much” value to pull off a trade. In other words, guys within a tier are relatively easy to trade for one another.

If you have any specific questions about my rankings, please post them in the comments.

Here are my top 20 fantasy second basemen for 2012.

TIER 1
Rank      Player Name          Team      Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash
1         Ian Kinsler          TEX       .255/.344/.437
2         Robinson Cano        NYY       .305/.352/.507
3         Dustin Pedroia       BOS       .292/.367/.451

TIER 2
Rank      Player Name          Team      Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash
4         Ben Zobrist          TBR       .257/.350/.423
5         Brandon Phillips     CIN       .282/.333/.434
6         Chase Utley          PHI       .271/.366/446

TIER 3
Rank      Player Name          Team      Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash
7         Dan Uggla            ATL       .256/.336/.471
8         Rickie Weeks         MIL       .269/.351/.458
9         Michael Young        TEX       .302/.349/.447
11        Michael Cuddyer      COL       .288/.349/.482
10        Howie Kendrick       ANA       .277/.319/.419

TIER 4
Rank      Player Name          Team      Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash
12        Jason Kipnis         CLE       .257/.322/.430
13        Danny Espinosa       WAS       .239/.310/.418

TIER 5
Rank      Player Name          Team      Oliver's Projected Triple-Slash
14        Kelly Johnson        TOR       .241/.319/.431
15        Aaron Hill           ARI       .247/.299/.395
16        Jemile Weeks         OAK       .263/.316/.369
17        Dustin Ackley        SEA       .263/.350/.402
18        Neil Walker          PIT       .271/.326/.424

TIER 6
19        Ryan Roberts         ARI       .245/.326/.397
20        Gordon Beckham       CHW       .248/.311/.383

Tier 1

The guys in this tier are pretty self explanatory, but the ordering might seem a bit goofy to you at first look. Ian Kinsler as the number one first baseman? Am I serious?

In case you didn’t read this article I wrote last year comparing the 2011 campaigns of Ian Kinsler and Robinson Cano, here is the relevant chart the article produced:

Using some mathematical “reverse engineering,” here are how Cano and Kinsler’s BABIP-luck neutralized 2011 stats stack up using their career BABIPs:

Name Team AB H HR R RBI SB AVG ZAVG ZHR ZSB ZR ZRBI ZSUM
Robinson Cano Yankees 577 177.0 26 96.4 111.5 8 0.307 1.1 2.1 0.2 2.5 3.1 9.0
Ian Kinsler Rangers 569 162.7 28 117.2 78.1 27.1 0.286 0.6 2.4 2.5 3.4 1.7 10.5

As I noted in the article, “when you strip out Kinsler’s poor BABIP luck, whether you use his career BABIP or 2011 xBABIP, he should have been a superior fantasy producer [to Robinson Cano].”

Enough said? Pedroia’s the perpetual safe pick (not a whole lot of upside in any category, but not a lot of downside either with across the board contribution (although I suppose injuries could always be an issue).

Save for ranking Kinsler number one overall, you might notice that the rest of my second basemen rankings are pretty conservative.

Tier 2

Tier two exclusively consists of four-category contributors. Zobrist arguably has the lowest ceiling of the group (an argument I would not make, mind you), but he’s also got the highest floor of the group around .270/17/17. 2010, and not 2009/2011, was the fluke for this totally legit player with useful positional flexibility.

Phillips is a guy I never seem to like, but always impresses. Like Zobrist, he has high-teens power/speed upside, but with better batting average prospects in an arguably better lineup (more runs and RBIs). So why is Phillips rated lower? It’s a matter of age. At age 31, there’s nowhere to go but down for Phillips (who, to be frank, does not have the most age-able skill set), and there’s plenty of risk that Phillips “only” turns in a 2010-like campaign in 2012. Phillips does not walk a whole lot, so his stolen base totals will likely hinge upon how well his bat holds up and whether his speed score drops for what would be the fifth consecutive season.

Chase Utley, like Phillips, offers 35 home runs plus stolen bases upside, but he’s been a perpetual injury risk the past two seasons who hasn’t hit for an elite batting average for several seasons. Still, over a mere 103 games last year, Utley managed to produce 25 home runs plus stolen bases—which is more than plenty of second basemen did last year.

Utley is still a very productive player, but he’s no longer the first-round talent he once was. Utley is immensely valuable, though, in leagues that use net stolen bases (especially ones that use OBP). Over the past three seasons (374 games played), Utley has been thrown out only twice in his past 50 attempts.

Tier 3

Tier 3 consists of guys who arguably have enough upside to go toe for toe with the guys in tier 2, but also have enough risk/downside to merit keep them in a separate tier.

Dan Uggla really exploded after starting the first two months of the season doing nothing. He’s never going to hit for average, but his true batting average talent line at this point in his career is still much closer to .260 than it is to .230. Uggla may not offer much speed, but he makes up for it with plenty of pop. He should approach the 90 RBI mark this season as well.

Now that he’s finally broken out, the big question is whether Rickie Weeks can stay healthy. If so, .270 with 20-plus homers and 10-plus steals is in the cards with plenty of runs scored to boot (assuming No. 1/2 lineup slotting). If not, who the heck knows what he’ll manage to do. I wouldn’t bank on (that is, pay for) more than 500 plate appearances this year.

I really don’t like Michael Young, maybe because he’s primarily a batting average guy (a category I hate to gamble on) with modest pop and even more modest speed offerings. Still, he bats in the middle of the Rangers’ potent lineup and should nab you at least 20 home runs plus stolen bases. Young always ends up producing ahead of where I rank him through pessimistic “negging,” but I am finally caving in and ranking Young where he’s historically produced.

Cuddyer is not a real sexy player, but like Young, he tends to get the job done: 20 home run power, five-plus stolen bases and batting average prospects toward the upper end of the .280s make Cuddyer, though an aging player, an attractive one at second base. The move to Coors should help keep him plenty productive despite any expected regression from his 2011 production line.

Howie Kendrick is essentially Michael Young with 10 more stolen bases and 20 to 30 fewer points of batting average. I might prefer Kendrick’s balanced production ahead of Michael Young, but I promised myself to stop undervaluing the value of batting average in 2012.

Tier 4

Two guys with lots of upside, minimal track record, and plenty of downside occupy Tier 4. Kipnis could do what most expect Howie Kendrick to do: hit .270, blast 15 or so home runs and steal double-digit bases. But he also could do none of that, and hit a buck fifty or worse. To me, Kipnis offers more immediate upside than Ackley. Just don’t expect Kipnis to continue last year’s 36-game pace.

I have written plenty about Espinosa in the past here, here, and here. The long and short, however, is that Espinosa is essentially a Dan Uggla-type with more balance to his home runs plus stolen bases contributions and fewer runs plus RBI upside. If Espinosa continues to cut down on the strikeouts and swings-and-misses, he could potentially develop into a .250-.260 hitter. And who wouldn’t pay for .250/20-plus homers/15-plus steals out of the second base position?

Tier 5

Let’s start the tier 5 analysis with a legitimate question: What is the difference between Aaron Hill and Kelly Johnson? In theory, both are 20-home run second basemen with moderately poor batting average upside and decent speed contributions. Both seem to disappoint despite all their potential, and they were traded for each other last year. They’re both also 30 years old this season. I can’t really recommend one over the other, but if you forced me to pick I’d have to side with Johnson’s more consistent power tool in a still-home run friendly park.

Jermile Weeks has 30+ stolen base upside and could could be a real stolen base machine if his major league walk rate approaches his minor league rate. Despite a relatively low strikeout rate and a strong line drive showing last year, I do not view Weeks as a legitimate .300 hitter without luck on his side. He hits the ball in the air too often for a guy with an isolated power under .120. But .280 is certainly plausible. Weeks is a very strong middle infield option for 2012, and is the best bet outside the top 12 second basemen to end up top 12 by the end of the season.

Ackley should develop into a useful, potentially All-Star caliber, second basemen in his prime years, but the Mariners have to hate Yuniesky Betancourt for “single handedly” costing them Stephen Strasburg. I see Ackley’s ceiling as Kelly Johnson at his best, but Ackley’s minor league numbers are decently underwhelming. A .270 batting average with double digit home runs and stolen bases is in the cards for the athletic second baseman, however.

While I do not have anything particularly negative to say about Neil Walker, I likewise have little praise for him either. He has the lowest upside of anyone in this tier, but should be the best bet of this group to hit each of .270, 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases.

Tier 6

Ryan Roberts does a little bit of everything with a poor batting average but positional flexibility to boot. He offers double-digit home run and stolen base upside, but I doubt he’ll crack .260 next season.

Will Gordon Beckham stop teasing us with flashes of brilliance and decide, once and for all, if he’s going to be fantasy-relevant? This is the last year I am going to rank him, without a whole lot of justification beyond my gut, unless he finally produces. I still cannot believe that this is the same player who was the centerpiece of a trade I made for David Wright before the 2010 season. Beckham has Kelly Johnson-like upside, but immense downside. Consider him a high-risk, modest-reward late-round, AL-only flier at best right now.

As always, leave the love/hate in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. JoeC said...

    The reason I’d put Cano, and even Pedroia, ahead of Kinsler is the injury factor. For me, you have to take that into account.

    Cano last 5 years: over 600 at-bats every year except for 2008, when he had 597.

    Kinsler last 5 years: over 600 at-bats just once, last year.

  2. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Larry,

    Altuve honestly kind of slipped my mind. But I wouldnt ranking him higher than Neil Walker.

  3. Jeffrey Gross said...

    JoeC,

    Here’s the thing. Even if Kinsler plays less games than Cano, their value is close. If Kinsler plays more, he’s better. Considering Kinsler ~ Cano if injured, then Kinsler+Replacement ~ Cano likely as well if you strategize correctly.

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