2019 Dynasty Risers and Fallers: Second Base
It’s that time of year where we start to analyze the 2018 season and see what players are going to be climbing up or falling down draft boards in 2019. I’ll be going through position by position to find guys I expect to be risers and fallers, or the guys I think you should know about as you gear up for drafts and trades during this non-existent off-season. This week we’re looking at second base!
Second base has been hailed as deep by the community for a while, and it is. Though not nearly as deep or talented as shortstop, there’s enough talent here where you can afford to wait a bit in drafts. There’s also some decent buy-low options in the old man department ( see fallers). When compiling my rankings, second base averaged out to be the second youngest pool of talent. Hopefully, these write-ups help you find the value you seek for 2019.
Second Base Risers
Javier Baez 25, MLB, CHC
Javier Baez is a mystery. When analyzing Baez, the one thing we can say is that he’s made consistent adjustments at the plate to become a better hitter. I tend to stay away from hitters like Baez who are reliant on contact; I prefer hitters with stronger walk-rates so that when they have cold spells they have another skill to fall back on.
The Cubs middle infielder made his biggest strides in his approach against offspeed pitches. Baez increased his BB% on offspeed pitches by 5.7%, his slugging by .053, and his wOBA by .044.
While still swinging almost as much as he ever has, Baez seems to have become more selective with the pitches even though his BB% actually dropped. He was also more effective at sending some of those pitches the other way (4.2% increase in Oppo) and traded some of his fly balls for a stronger line-drive percentage.
Despite my hesitation towards his approach, it’s working. Baez has grown as a hitter, and he’s still only 25. Considering he’s shown the ability to adjust to his competition throughout his minor and major league career thus far, I think he’s a safe buy-high in dynasty.
Garret Hampson 24, MLB, COL
The first thing I think of when I see a Coors hitter is “I’ve Got the Power.” Now that might not even be a coherent thing to think, but it happens. Hampson actually doesn’t offer much in the way of power. He’s never had an ISO over or even close to .200, but he did manage to hit double-digit home runs between three levels last year. Maybe that materializes in Coors, but the good news is that Hampson has other intangibles that have placed him firmly as a riser for 2019, primarily speed.
The 24 year-old middle infielder swiped 38 bases last year, and Fangraphs has him graded with 70/70 speed. That’s great and all, but we’ve seen plenty of speed-first players provide little else in the majors. The good news about Hampson is that he has demonstrated a strong eye and hit tool throughout his career. Thus, we’re in a situation where we have the in-demand skill of speed, and a greater likelihood it will be impactful based on his success at the plate.
Hampson has become a bit of TDG favorite, and thus I’m not sure you’ll be able to get him on the cheap. The middle infielder comes with his risk as well: playing time. Story went Super Saiyan, Brendan Rodgers looks like he may be destined for second base, and that leaves Hampson’s best possibility playing at third (once Arenado is traded or leaves)? Regardless, his skillset is still intriguing, and as my Dynasty’s Child cohost so often likes to remind me “good players find playing time.”
Brandon Lowe 24, MLB, TB
First thing that comes to my mind with Lowe? This.
I’m a big fan of Lowe. The minor league numbers are impressive. Strong ISOs near .200 throughout the minors, great walk-rates (his highest rate coming at the major league level at 25.7%), and flashes a bit of speed as well. There’s a bit of a logjam in the middle infield for Tampa with the success of both Daniel Robertson and Joey Wendle, but I believe that Lowe is talented enough to see consistent playing time. He’s also had limited experience in the outfield, so there’s potential for him to pick up some time there.
Lowe made his debut in the majors in 2018, and just kind of kept doing what he does. He managed a slash line of .233/.324/.450 with six home runs and two steals in 148 at-bats. I’d expect the average to tick up a bit as he adjusts to Major League pitching, though maybe not much higher (his xBA was actually .221 and Steamer has him projected to hit .251 next season). However, in OBP leagues he should gain some value as I expect him to manage at least a .330 OBP, if not higher. That’ll be paired with double-digit homers, and anywhere between 8-15 steals. I’m in!
Whit Merrifield 29, MLB, KC
Well gee-whiz, this dude had himself a year! I’m not really a gambler, but if I was I’d put money down that we just saw Merrifield’s best season. If you’re rebuilding, it’s an awfully good time to sell. Still, this isn’t the end of solid production from a player that has to be considered elite due to his skill set. Mainly that he has excellent plate skills, a bit of pop, and a whole lot of speed.
2018 saw Merrifield produce the best slash line of his career, .304/.367/.438. By the way, how the hell did that slash line even happen?! Merrifield upped his walk rate by 4%, thereby combining an above-average walk rate with elite contact. Oddly his swinging-strike rate was higher in 2018 than 2017, but he swung less at pitches out of the strike zone. He also made more contact on those pitches than he previously did.
Merrifield’s speed will generally produce higher batting averages than his xBA, and the resulting high BABIP. Thus this may not be the end of Merrifield’s .300ish average. However, I think it’s best to bet on somewhere between .260-.280. The combination of strong plate skills, a bit of pop, and a whole lot of speed have marked the arrival of an elite second baseman. Buy high.
Gleyber Torres 21, MLB, NYY
Welcome to the party, Mr. Torres! The twenty-one-year-old put up a helluva first full season. Torres owners can rejoice as it appears you’ll be in for plenty more seasons like this ahead. Despite showing little home run pop in the minors, Torres’ bat fit right into Yankee stadium. The young infielder managed to smack 24 homers over the course of 484 at-bats.
He’s still young, and I don’t know that I’d expect much more than, at most, mid-twenties homers, but he’ll provide a decent amount of speed as well. Torres has displayed excellent plate skills throughout the minors but looks to have run into a bit of batted ball luck in the majors. Torres’ stolen base ability looks to be more based on his ability to read pitchers than pure speed. He ranked 300th on the Baseball Savant’s Sprint Speed leaderboard, and Fangraphs has him ranked with 50/40 speed.
Whatever his flaws, this was a fantastic first-year campaign and at 21-years-old with tremendous hype and pedigree, we’re looking at dynasty gold. Perennial double-digit steals, homers, and a strong ability to get on base. He’ll take a bit of a hit in average leagues, but he provides enough otherwise in a potent Yankees offense. You’ve probably missed the boat on acquiring him at a reasonable rate, but I’d buy if I could.
Second Base Fallers
Franklin Barreto 22, MLB, OAK
Welp, things haven’t gone great for Barreto thus far in the high minors and Major League. Although he managed 23 of these between his time at both levels in 2018, you’ll notice Barreto has a very large swing. That swing has lead to too many strikeouts and will lead to many more. That swing has too many holes for him to produce any kind of positive in batting average.
|Year | Level
|2016 | Double-A
|2017 | Triple-A
|2017 | MLB
|2018 | Triple-A
|2018 | MLB
Take a look at the above table. I’ve omitted one stint at Triple-A with a very small amount of ABs, but I wanted to illustrate a trend for the young slugger. Since he left Double-A, Barreto has swung-and-missed a lot. He just hasn’t been able to catch up to more advanced pitching. Another discouraging sign? A sharp decline in steals.
Despite my less than positive analysis of Barreto, it’s helpful to remember that he’s only 22 years old. Which means, of course, he’s going to swing and miss too much, and it shouldn’t be surprising that he hasn’t had the success a prospect of his pedigree expected. The swing does look too big to me. I think the best case scenario is that end up with a version of Triple-A 2018 Barreto in the majors with more power. If you’re rebuilding, Barreto could make a cheap gamble, but temper expectations.
Brian Dozier 31, MLB, LAD
Dozier’s average fell off a cliff in 2018. Why? A large portion of Dozier’s metrics look quite similar to his previous years, but there appear to be two big problems for the 31-year-old second baseman. One was swinging and missing at pitches outside of the strike zone.
In 2018, Dozier actually put up an identical walk rate of 11.1%, and he took more pitches per plate appearance than he had in his entire career. I’m a big proponent of patience at the plate, but not when it’s accompanied by a large drop in ISO. The lowest exit velocity since 2016, Dozier’s slugging dropped from .498 to .391.
It came out later in the season that Dozier had been dealing with a nagging knee injury for much of the season. He commented that the knee kept him from swinging at pitches he would usually swing at, that could explain the rise in pitches per plate appearance, and potentially the drop in power. Dozier also missed time due to a back injury in both July and September.
The injuries in 2018 made Dozier’s future production a bit more uncertain. Are we witnessing the decline of an aging second baseman, or was his power and ability to make contact zapped due to being hurt? Whatever the case I think there are worse players you can take a chance on. 2018 seems like the worst case scenario, and there’s potential here for a dead-cat-bounce in 2019. Don’t buy him for sticker price, obviously.
Daniel Murphy 33, MLB FA
Welp, another aging player at second base. Murphy’s home runs dropped from 23 to just 12, and his slugging percentage dropped by over .100 points. While the decline seemed sharp for Murphy, the decline in power looks like it may have actually started the previous year.
Unless you were checking Murphy’s Baseball Savant page, you were unlikely to notice any kind of power decline from him. His ISO declined slightly, but most everything else was in line with his career norms. Yet, the narrative here could be similar to that of Dozier.
Murphy had micofracture surgery on his right knee at the end of the 2017 season, and thus missed a portion of the 2018 season. He managed to get 97 plate appearances in the first half, but only hit one home run. However, Murphy received 254 plate appearances in the second half and crushed 11 home runs.
Again, is this an old-man in decline or someone recovering from injury? Either way, I’d probably be less willing to trade for Murphy because he’s 33 and post knee surgery. Worth a gamble if you can acquire him cheap enough, but at his age there probably isn’t too much left in the tank.
Dustin Pedroia 35, MLB BOS
Another old-man at second base, another old-man with injury problems, specifically the knee. If you’ve paid attention much at all to baseball in 2018, you probably are aware of Pedroia’s failed rehab attempt. You also probably know he has a history of being unable to stay on the field.
If you’re like me you really didn’t think that Pedroia’s value could drop any lower, but with essentially an entire missed season in 2018, it did. Stop me if I’ve written this before ( I have), but I think there’s actually a microscopic amount of value to be had here. After all, Alex Cora is saying that he’ll start the year as the Red Sox lead-off hitter on 2019. Although he says Mookie will lead off after the first game.
Now, I’ll acknowledge that I’m a Sox homer. Yet, I’ll also say the dude has a career .366 OBP and is going to be hitting atop what was the best offensive team in baseball in 2018. Is he the piece you need for your championship run? No, but in an ideal world, he’s not a terrible one-year stopgap if you’re waiting for the Keston Hurias of the world to arrive.
To be clear, waiver add only.
DJ LeMahieu, 30, MLB, FA
Did you know that LeMahieu had the most homers of his career in his age-30 season? I did not know that until I started researching him. That’ll happen when you alter your launch angle by 3° and increase your exit velocity to 91.1 MPH. LeMahieu altered his approach at the plate, and as a result, he hit more dingers, especially on the road.
I was definitely expecting the majority of his homers to have come at home. That was not the case, and it’s not true for his career either (28 homers away, 21 at home). So no matter where we see LeMahieu land in free agency, he should put up similar power numbers. The problem, however, comes in the BABIP boost that LeMahieu receives at the confines of Coors Field.
Average has been a strong positive for LeMahieu in Coors, but that time is most likely coming to an end. The Rockies are loaded with up-the-middle talent, and probably will not bring him back. Meanwhile, instead of .270-.330 batting average we’ve grown to expect we’ll probably be closer to .230-260. An OBP near .300 and maybe a home run total in the teens. Not terrible, but nothing I’d want to roster.