Ladies and Gentleman, your 2008 AL MVP is a second baseman. He also, probably, went late in every 10 team draft. In retrospect, the 2008 spring training suggested second base was a position on the rise, particularly when players like Dustin Pedroia were more of an afterthought in drafts.
Going into 2009, however, it appears there are only two healthy lockdown reliable second basemen (and the reigning MVP isn’t one of them). After this dynamic duo, things go from good (with upside) to dicey to scary. Ultimately, you’re reading this article because you’re looking for a second basemen you can trust (or because I’m spamming you). With some of the options so devoid of consistency (Rickie Weeks, Brandon Phillips and Dan Uggla please stand up), you’ll want to draft well, or else consign your fate to whoever has the hot hand in the free agent carousel (Jose Lopez, Alexei Ramirez, Kelly Johnson, Casey Blake…you get the picture).
The cream of the crop was supposed to be Chase Utley (I had finished a version of this article the day the news came out). Utley is a fantastic player, someone anyone would be happy to choose as their only second baseman—except for this calamity. Last year, he did an overwhelming amount of damage in April through the end of May (19 HRs, 49 RBIs and .310 average). In my opinion, the loss of time and 200+ at bats moves Utley into the 10th round range. He should be the 13th second basement off the board.
Still, many of you, I know, would like to make the upside play. You think you can make due with a below-average second baseman for half the season then kick into overdrive with Utley in the line-up (especially if you can grab him in the 6th round or so). I’ve been there. I’ve thought those thoughts. When it comes down to it, there are just too many risks associated with this play. When he does come back, will the injury still hamper him? Since he misses all of spring training, how long will it take him to get back into Utley shape?
This injury immediately bumps Ian Kinsler to the top of the board for second base. While he is not as durable as one might hope, Kinsler has excellent tools. If he can play 160 games, he could be the real 2009 Chase Utley. His numbers have been staggering (see my argument here). Still, the injury bug has to be a slight concern.
For some reason, people don’t seem to love Brian Roberts as much as I do. In interest of full disclosure, I’m a Baltimore Orioles fan. There is no bias, however, in B-Rob’s numbers. Last year, I drafted him early and was handsomely rewarded with a .296 average, 107 runs and 40 SBs – he even threw in 57 RBIs. Those numbers mirror his 2007 and are in line with 2006, (when he missed 20 games or so due to injury). Quite simply, he has proven that he scores runs, hits for a decent average and steals many bases. If Roberts is available anywhere in the third round of your draft, grab him. Think about it this way: if you can get Brian Roberts in the 3rd or Utley in the 6/7, you’re going to be much much happier w/ B-Rob a couple of rounds earlier.
Chone Figgins could be a B-Rob light (minus the consistency). He is not a bad choice if he goes where he should, about the 8th/9th rounds. Figgins could offer a .280 average, 80+ runs, and 35+ SBs. Not horrible for that spot in the draft (and probably better numbers than what you can now expect from Utley).
2009 will test your faith in Brandon Phillips: which half year will show up? I loved him going into last year. He rewarded that love with a phenomenal first half, in which he hit .280 with 15 HRs, 58 RBIs and 19 SBs. His second half, however, was disastrous (.225/6/20/4). I’m willing to roll the dice with him as the 4th second basemen off the board, especially if he is available in the 4th/5th rounds. That could be a sneaky play if you get frozen out of the top steady second basemen. Phillips could solidify a weak position without being too costly and could very well end up being the top second basemen at the end of the year.
A potential sleeper for you: Mark Ellis – I could see taking a chance on him. There are some ifs surrounding him (will he stay healthy, will he get to bat in front of Matt Holliday (does this even matter), etc.), but his price will not be nearly as high as someone like Howie Kendrick. If those ifs work out, you could be looking at 20+ home runs – in his last full season (2007), he hit .276 with 19 HRs and 76 RBIs. In 140 fewer at bats last year, he hit 12 HRs and managed to steal 14 bases. A 15 HR/15 SB season is not out of his reach.
The opposite side to the California coin is Howie Kendrick. He falls into the same level of dislike that I have for Robinson Cano (detailed here). Both of them are, for reasons beyond me, tremendously overvalued. The tools are supposedly there, but the production definitely is not. Kendrick has played 72, 88 and 92 games in three “full” seasons. His high watermarks include a tidy .322 average, five HRs, 39 RBIs, 55 runs and 11 SBs. Combining his best seasons doesn’t even make a top 10 second basemen for me. If you’re in a shallow league and want to take a chance on upside knowing the free agent pool will be stocked with the reliable carousel mentioned above, go for it. But in deeper leagues, or more competitive leagues, I’d prefer to secure the services of a second bagger I know I can trust – kind of like going to a bookstore and buying almost any Graham Greene novel (with the possible exception of the Power and the Glory – wasn’t really a fan).
Last year’s top 13:
1. Chase Utley (last year’s overall ranking: 9) Finished: 2nd among second basemen
2. Brandon Phillips (10) Finished: 9th among second basemen
3. Brian Roberts (18) Finished: 4th among second basemen
4. Dan Uggla (38) Finished: 6th among second basemen
5. BJ Upton (40) Finished: 7th among second basemen
6. Chone Figgins (52) Finished: 20th among second basemen
7. Ian Kinsler (61) Finished 3rd among second basemen
8. Kelly Johnson (68) Finished: 10th among second basemen
9. Robinson Cano (72) Finished: 16th among second basemen
10. Placido Polanco (78) Finished: 11th among second basemen
11. Jeff Kent (81) Finished: 32nd among second basemen
12. Freddy Sanchez (95) Finished: 27th among second basemen
13. Orlando Hudson (96) Finished: 28th among second basemen
Outside of the Dustin Pedroia oversight (he finished 1st), these rankings are pretty spot on. The high level of trust in Brandon Phillips and Dan Uggla sure looked good in the first half of the season, but, alas, slumps and injuries (or reversions to form?) derailed both their seasons, as well as my keeper team which started Phillips at second and Uggla at IF.
I liked Ian Kinsler, but not enough. I love Kinsler for next year. My dislike and low ranking of Robinson Cano was accurate. I’m still dubious on whether he can hit for a high average. Meanwhile Jeff Kent gets the Todd Helton first basemen ranking treatment.
Below, I love the top two. After that, I feel like there is a gulf of consistency between them and 3-5. With a repeat year, or something close to it, Dustin Pedroia would vault into the top tier (along with a healthy Utley) for 2010. For now though, if you want to guarantee yourself an elite second basemen, I’d stick to Ian Kinsler and Brian Roberts.
Complete Second Baseman Ranks (* denotes projected starter):
1. Ian Kinsler*
2. Brian Roberts*
3. Dan Uggla*
4. Brandon Phillips*
5. Dustin Pedroia*
6. Mark Derosa*
7. Chone Figgins (if he retains eligibility)*
8. Jose Lopez*
9. Alexei Ramirez (sophomore slump?)*
10. Kelly Johnson*
11. Robinson Cano (eh – as discussed here)*
12. Casey Blake (depending on where he ends up)*
13. Chase Utley (when does he really return from injury?)*
14. Rickie Weeks (Will he be traded? Will he get playing time? Will his body work?)
15. Placido Polanco*
16. Ryan Theriot*
17. Akinori Iwamura*
18. Ty Wiggington
19. Marco Scutaro
20. Freddy Sanchez (a healthier version of Howie Kendrick)*
21. Kazuo Matsui*
22. Clint Barmes
23. Ray Durham
24. Felipe Lopez
25. Mark Ellis (Sneaky play here with upside of 20+ HRs)
26. Alexi Cassila
27. Jeff Kent (Yeah…he got old)
28. Orlando Hudson (He could move up depending on what line-up he slots into)*
29. Jose Bautista
30. Blake DeWitt
31. Ronnie Belliard
32. Howie Kendrick (I don’t like Howie Kendrick…guys who derive most of their value from BA are not my favorite)*
33. Asdrubal Cabrera
34. Ian Stewart (3b of the future? At bats could free up if the Rocks move Atkins)
35. Ramon Vazquez (could put up interesting numbers with full time at bats)