By Tommy Rancel //
When you think of power positions in baseball you immediately gravitate toward the corners. In fact, last season nine of the top-10 home run hitters had fantasy eligibility at first base, right field, third base or left field. These four positions produced 15 hitters with at least 30 home runs including league-leader Jose Bautista, who started at three corner positions (1B, 3B, RF) in 2010. While the bulk of major league power will continue to come from these positions, there is some power to be had up the middle as well.
The following list is comprised of players with middle of the field (2B, SS, C, CF) eligibility who are projected to hit at least 25 home runs in 2011 by Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary system.
Uggla has been a steady source of power from the second base position. He has hit at least 27 home runs in each of his five big league seasons and has topped 30 in each of the last four years. Although he changed uniforms this offseason, Uggla shouldn’t see much of a difference in home runs and is projected to top the 30 home run plateau for a fifth straight season.
Moving down the list, reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton and NL MVP candidate Hanley Ramirez come as no surprise. Both are ranked within the top-25 of all players according to Bloomberg Sports and will come off the board quickly on draft day.
While the list features some well-known names, there are two under-the-radar candidates among the bunch. After a breakout season in 2009, Aaron Hill hit just .206 with a .695 OPS last season. The good news is he still packed some punch and belted 26 home runs. His 62 home runs since 2009 are second behind Uggla (64) among second basemen. Bloomberg Sports’ projects him for another 27 home runs this year with a nice rebound in batting average as well.
The lone catcher on the list is Mike Napoli. Although he made a pit stop in Toronto, Napoli finds himself in a hitter-friendly environment with the Texas Rangers. He will spend some time at first base and DH, but Napoli’s value comes in his catcher eligibility. He led MLB catchers with 26 long balls last season and should have no trouble matching that number this year; especially in his new digs.
By R.J. Anderson //
The Washington Nationals have played Ian Desmond at shortstop for most of the season. A high error rate notwithstanding, Desmond appears to be a fixture in the Nationals’ plan for the next three-to-five seasons. September’s roster expansion has brought it with the man who could be his double play partner for that time frame. But with Desmond battling injuries, Danny Espinosa has filled in at shortstop, instead of his projected position of second base.
So far, he’s been a revelation. Espinosa has gone 9-for-16 in his first exposure to the majors. He’ll likely remember his Labor Day performance for the rest of his life: two home runs (including a grand slam), and six RBI.
Espinosa played shortstop for Long Beach State University. In terms of recent infield professional production, not many colleges can match LBSU. Bobby Crosby, Troy Tulowitzki, and Evan Longoria represent the most recent of Dirtbag shortstops to make the leap from collegiate competition to the major leagues. Espinosa doesn’t carry with him quite the prospect billing that those three did. For one, he doesn’t have the build of those players, who each stand around 6’3″ — whereas Espinosa is listed at an even 6′. His minor league career comes up short by comparison too:
Nevertheless, Espinosa figures to get regular playing time for the rest of the Nationals’ season, whether at shortstop or second base. Veteran Adam Kennedy, signed in the off-season, has underachieved, hitting only .252/.322/.336. Other Nats middle infielders, like the now-departed Cristian Guzman also failed to hit; the collective .679 OPS from second base ranks as the Nationals’ worst non-center field or catcher position.
Espinosa is no guarantee to outperform that during the final month, but it’s hard to see him doing much worse – especially if his early returns are any indication. The only question that remains now is whether this will be a flash in the pan or the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Either way, Espinosa is worth a long in keeper leagues. And if you’re trying to nail down a championship in your deep league this year, he’s also worth a shot.
By Tommy Rancel
It didn’t take long for Gordon Beckham to prove to the White Sox that he was ready for the major leagues in 2009. The eighth-overall pick in the 2008 draft (second Beckham overall, behind Tim) made his major league debut just 364 days after being drafted.
The University of Georgia product didn’t disappoint, as he hit .269/.347/.460 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 14 home runs and 63 RBI in 103 games. He was named American League Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News and the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Beckham, a shortstop in college, played third base exclusively at the major league level. If we stretched his 14 home runs and 63 RBI over a 162-game schedule, we get a projected total of 22 home runs and 99 RBI. Those numbers are not bad for a third baseman, but fall well below the top producers at the position like Evan Longoria and Alex Rodriguez.
With the acquisition of Mark Teahen this off-season, Beckham will try a new position in the majors; second base. If we take those same 22 home runs and 99 RBI, and apply them to second base, only Aaron Hill of the Blue Jays topped those numbers at the AL keystone position last season.
Looking back at some batted-ball data from 2009, we can get a feel for Beckham in 2010. Among numbers we like to look at as “fluke” stats, namely batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and home run-to-fly ball ratio (HR/FB), Beckham scores well. His .290 BABIP was slightly below average, and could jump over .300 with more line drives (16.6% line drives last year). This would bring his batting average closer to the .280 mark.
Beckham will play a full season at U.S. Cellular Field in 2010. The home of the White Sox had the fourth-highest home run rate in 2009. Because of this, it’s possible that Beckham’s HR/FB rate could move up, placing him among the league’s top power-hitting second basemen.
Another good sign from Beckham was his patience at the plate. He struck out 17.2% of the time last season, but he also walked nearly 9.5% of the time. For reference, Evan Longoria walked 9.1% of the time as a rookie, but struck out 27.2%. With a sharper batting eye, Beckham could increase his walk total, bump up his OBP, and create more run-scoring opportunities.
Beckham’s average draft position (ADP) was 88.2 before Opening Day, which would rank sixth among AL second basemen behind Ian Kinsler, Brian Roberts, Dustin Pedroia, Ben Zobrist and Robinson Cano. He’ll need to meet your league’s in-season eligibility standards first – but that’s impressive company. Looking at Bloomberg Sports’ projections, Beckham’s .864 OPS in 2010 is projected as second-highest figure for AL second basemen.
Because he played third base last season, Beckham will carry multiple position eligibility that Kinsler, Roberts, Pedroia, Cano, and Hill don’t have. Though your draft has ended and the season has begun, see if you can pry Beckham loose from a leaguemate with a well-timed trade offer. The move could prove a big help to your 2010 fantasy team.
For more on Gordon Beckham and other players switching positions in 2010, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
by Eno Sarris
Earlier this week, we took a look at the Post-Hype Sleeper label and some arguments for and against its existence. That led to an in-depth profile of Chris Davis and his hopes for a strong season. Now it’s time to take a look at a second baseman who has seemingly been all hype and disappointing performance for a decade now.
Will this finally be the year for Rickie Weeks? Seven years into his career, he’s still only 27, at an age when many players hit their prime. He’s been injury-prone and his batting average has oscillated between terrible and mediocre. But he’s also tantalized fantasy owners with good power and speed for stretches.
As you can see from the x-axis on the Demand vs. Scarcity chart from the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Sports Tool below, Weeks is the latest-drafted three-star second baseman this year. Bloomberg Sports’ projections are pretty optimistic, as they predict a .267 average with 20 home runs and 19 steals. Those numbers result in a
B-Rank of 124; fantasy players have been more
skeptical, drafting him
much later (183.1 ADP). The sweet spot for drafting him then could be in the 14th or 15th round, in 12- or 10-team mixed leagues.
Still, skepticism remains. Last season actually looked like it might be his breakout year. A bit more than one-quarter of the way into the season, Weeks had hit nine home runs with a .272 batting average. But on May 18th, Weeks learned he had torn the tendon sheath on his wrist and would miss the rest of the season. Wrist injuries can sometimes take a long time to heal; at least Weeks has youth, and time – nearly a full year from his surgery to Opening Day 2010 – on his side.
Because of the small sample size that Weeks created in 2009, we have to take his early-season success with a grain of salt. Let’s instead look at the three years that led up to 2009 and see if there was improvement in some underlying categories for Weeks: power and contact.
Though his power has jumped around a little, there are two reasons to be optimistic. His 2008 Isolated Slugging (slugging percentage minus batting average) of .164 was slightly above-average (the league-average ISO that year was .152). Weeks has shown the ability to put up near-.200 ISOs , though (.198 in 2007); both 2007 and 2008 were more powerful years than the first three of his career. Another reason for donning the rose-colored glasses is the fact that Weeks is hitting more balls in the air with every season. The general trend of his career has taken him from a worm-burner (30.8% flyball percentage in 2005) to more of a flyball hitter (43.5% last year). It wouldn’t take a big leap to make Weeks the cheapest 20-home-run second baseman in the game this year.
The biggest black mark on his career to date (save for his injury-prone nature) has been his struggle to make contact. Again, there’s reason for optimism. Save for last year’s small sample of a blip, Weeks has improved his contact rate every year he’s spent in the major leagues. Getting that rate up from 73.1% in 2005 to 78.1% in 2008 moved him from Adam Dunn territory (72.9% last year) to Kendry Morales‘ neighborhood (78.8% in 2009).
The fact that Weeks has improved his ability to make powerful contact is a real positive, and despite all the injuries, the upside is still there. Considering that he’s going just slightly before decent but unspectacular options like Orlando Hudson (B-Rank: 206) and still has the potential to double Hudson in the power and speed categories, the “Post-Hype Sleeper” label might just apply in this case.
By Tyler McKee
AL East is flush with second base talent. Each team’s starter played
more than 150 games in 2009 and four ranked among the six second
who scored 100 runs.
With top-end talent being rare at the position, any
one of these players makes a strong case to fill that 2B slot. Taking a
look at B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary
ranking system), as well as Bloomberg Sports’ spider charts for 5×5
hitting stats, we can easily identify
each player’s strengths and weaknesses.
The Blue Jays’ Aaron Hill
hit 36 homers last season, first among all second-baggers and ninth
positions. Power is his strong suit; his six steals and .330 on-base
percentage last year fall well short of elite status.
The Yankees’ Robinson
Cano bounced back in 2009 to a career high of 25 homers and the
average among second basemen at .320. He’s well suited to new Yankee
Stadium, a park that favors left-handed hitters and also turned moderate
power threat Johnny Damon into a major home run source last
year. Still, Cano gets a low Bloomberg
B-ranking of 99 because he lacks speed, with only five stolen bases last
year. Cano’s runs scored are also hurt by his aggressive approach at
the plate; his walk rate of 4.5% last year was second-lowest in the
majors for second basemen.
Brian Roberts‘ B-rank
places him at 37, because of his consistency across all five batting
categories. The spider charts show the Baltimore Oriole rating above
average in every category. His 30
steals ranked him second at the position last year. But Roberts has seen
those same speed numbers decline in recent years. Couple this with his
current injury status, a herniated disc that has kept him out of Spring
Training, and one can see why his average draft position is 24 spots
lower than his B-Rank.
Despite a drop-off in batting
average of almost 30 points, Boston’s Dustin Pedroia still
managed to hit .296 last
season with an OPS of .819. Power was all he lacked, with just 17
homers. He managed to swipe 20 bags last year, the second time he’s
accomplished that feat. At 26, Pedroia’s entering his prime and should
be off the board
quickly after Chase Utley and Ian Kinsler. His current ADP
has him drafted
Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist got off to a
torrid start in 2009, earning an everyday job and ending the season as
one of baseball’s most valuable players, with 27 home runs, a
.948 OPS and great defense. Was it a fluke? Zobrist’s .326 BABIP was a
little high (league average is around .300). Meanwhile, isolated power
(slugging percentage minus batting average) was a sky-high .246.
Bloomberg Sports colleague Tommy Rancel has chronicled
Zobrist Code, including Zobrist’s work with hitting instructor
Jamie Cevallos. Still, some regression toward the mean is expected.
Even then, Zobrist projects as an elite option at second base: He’s
going off the board at number 52 according to Bloomberg Sports ADP
information on good second base options, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kit.
I’ll just get this off my chest. I love Matt Kemp. (Pause.) It’s okay, though. Because I also love Chase Utley. (And all of his pomade!)
Let’s say I’m coming up on my sixth pick in the draft, and B-Rank (the
proprietary Bloomberg ranking tool, spit out by gnome-like geniuses toiling in
the depths of the silver mountain that is Bloomberg headquarters on Lexington
Avenue), tells me Kemp is ranked fifth, and Utley is ranked 10th.
That’s just a start. Any tool worth its salt is not
trying to make decisions for you – instead it’s about giving you the
opportunity to make your (informed) decisions. And in this case, the question
is how much you value positional scarcity and consistency.
In one corner we have the rising star. Kemp’s on his way up
the charts and is projected to be the number-one center fielder in baseball
next year. He went from 12th at the position to fourth in
home runs last year, and he did it by slowly ramping up his flyball rates
(from 35.9% his first year to 38.3% last year) while still hitting line drives
in bunches (21.5% career). You can see on his scout page that his slugging
percentage was steady all year, and he didn’t hit a wall. His career
78% stolen base success rate bodes well for him to continue stealing bases at a
rate that has been top-ten in baseball at his position for two straight years. He’s
got the green light. The power is projected to continue its upward trajectory,
and his speed will stick around. What’s not to love? He’s got upside in
In the other corner we have the steady veteran Utley, who also
offers a blend of power and speed. Take a look at Bloomberg Sports’ player scout tool, and you’ll see
that Utley’s been number one at his position since 2007. In the past three season, he’s ranked third, first,
and second in home runs; second, seventh, and twelfth in batting average; and 16th, 13th, and sixth in stolen bases among second basemen. If you want efficiency on the basepaths, Utley is your man: He owns an 88% career success rate – and
wasn’t caught once last year in 23 attempts. Of course, his game is still built around power; Utley’s SB total last year was the
best of his career, he’s 31 years old now and has likely peaked in the stolen base department.
Power and consistency are more likely to be lasting traits. Utley’s never hit lower than
.282 in a season, or slugged worse than .508 — he’s still the consensus best second baseman on the board. Bloomberg Sports’ Demand vs. Scarcity chart shows you that only Ian Kinsler joins Utley in the category of five-star second basemen. Only seven
second basemen rate as four-star or better.
Let’s just go back to the Demand vs. Scarcity chart
for Kemp, because it’s my favorite tool in the tool belt. You’ll see that Kemp
is a five-star center fielder, like Utley is at his position, but that there are
three others in his tier. There are also 11 center fielders that are
four-star or better. If your league doesn’t break down outfielders into three
positions, Kemp’s talents become even less exceptional, as Bloomberg Sports rates 23 left fielders and
right fielders with four stars, and 11 with five stars.
If you value positional scarcity, the nod goes to Utley. If you want the young guy on his way up no matter where he plays, you
For more information on Chase Utley, Matt Kemp and hundreds of other players, check out the new Bloomberg Sports fantasy application.