Fallers at Second Base

On Thursday, Jeff rolled out our composite second base rankings and we’ve since looked at Risers, Top Targets, and the bargain bin. All three of the gents featured on today’s “Fallers” list are clustered in our third tier, yet all of them have easily performed like tier 1 talent at least once in their career. Let’s peek at at why they’re not getting more respect from us.

Kelly Johnson

Johnson was second to only Rickie Weeks and Robinson Cano in wins above replacement in 2010. Anyone who predicted that has a great future in Las Vegas sportsbooks. It wasn’t entirely unexpected that Kelly Johnson would have a nice year for the Diamondbacks after they bought low on him, but the power boost was a surprise. The question of course is, can he keep it up? That he’s on the fallers list gives you a hint.

His batting average looks fine to me in the .275 range if you accept that 2009 was a real outlier and he’s capable of a BABIP in the area of his career .318. But it’s the power that looks like a sore thumb. A couple graphs to articulate:

In case you didn’t click on the graphs to sharpen them up, this is Kelly Johnson’s HR/FB rate and his ISO. That big yellow bar is 2010 with the previous two years before it and the big green career line after. That’s either someone with a rainbow glove giving you the finger or that’s Kelly Johnson trying to tell you to not expect so much in 2011.

Now there are players that like to hit at Chase Field and then there’s Kelly Johnson. I realize Chase Field is a hitters park, and certainly a good hitters park for lefties relative to home runs, but looking at his splits suggests that gravity may kick in and while the fall may not be precipitous, it should be evident. Here are his OBP, SLG, ISO, BABIP, and wOBA splits for home/road:

I don’t have to give you a pretty graph to tell you he’s not likely to hit 26 home runs again, all you need to do is scan the projections in his player page, which average out right around 18, which I have little problem with. So what we’re left with is a second baseman that ought to produce well enough to be in the top 10 at the position, just not in the top tier. He’s still a nice combination of power and speed, but expect fewer home runs and RBI, and probably a little lower batting average.

Brian Roberts

Brian Roberts was one of the strongest fantasy producers at second base from 2005 to 2009. A bad back in Spring Training and three epidurals later, Roberts snuck in only 59 games in 2010 and questions surround his ability to get back to his All-Star form in 2011.

In just 261 plate appearances, Roberts did manage to hit 4 round trippers and swipe 12 bags, which is in line with the typical Brian Roberts season pro-rated out although his ISO was well below career levels (.113 vs. .136) and his SLG% was at a 5 year low. He appeared to be scrapping a little more at the plate with an elevated O-swing% and swinging strike rate over his career levels (28.7% O-Swing vs. 19.2% career). The sample is of course small, so take it with a typical grain.

Roberts is already complaining of some back/neck soreness in camp, and his ADP is reflecting concern sitting around 127 (combined Yahoo/ESPN/MDC).  Projections are suggesting he can put up a .280, 10HR, 24 SB season with a good deal of runs. If that’s the case, he certainly has value – but there’s a good deal of risk for a 33 year old coming off some serious back issues.

Ben Zobrist

I actually like Zobrist a fair amount headed into the 2011 draft, but it’s almost entirely wrapped up in his versatility as he qualifies at 1b, 2b, and OF in most systems (and he’s also the back up at SS, so eligibility is possible there too). It’s awfully handy to have a guy like him on your bench in a pinch.  But that whole on your bench part is the reason he’s rounding out the fallers list as Zobrist entered 2010 as a very highly ranked player and subsequently laid an egg.

Well, more specifically, his fly balls were the ones doing the egg laying.  Take for instance his HR/FB rate:

His HR/FB rate, which was above 17% for two seasons dropped to a pedestrian 6% in 2010. His flyball rate was right in line with career levels, but his BABIP on fly balls was a paltry .071 while the AL average last year was .134 (his career BABIP on fly balls is around .095, so at least some improvement might be expected).

Zobrist should be good for steals in the high teens and double digit home runs, just expect those double digits to be more in the low teens than the high 20’s again. His batting average has the potential to be a drag, but it shouldn’t be as bad as it was in 2010. His ADP across the Yahoo/ESPN/MDC is right around 111, whereas his ADP in 2010 was right around 50, so while he has value this season, his stock is certainly down.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

12 Responses to “Fallers at Second Base”

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  1. Chris R says:

    As a Johnson owner (he said Johnson owner!) I hope that image IS a guy in a rainbow glove giving me the finger. It’s not as if he is a one hit wonder — his 2007 season in ATL was pretty similar in most respects, but he finds himself in a park that suits him. I suspect he will regress to 20 HRs or so, but the BABIP is sustainable and I continue to do well at getting on base, hitting to the gaps and scoring runs.

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  2. Neight says:

    So both Johnson and Zobrist had HR/FB seasons in 2010 that were outliers. Johnson’s uncharacteristically high, Zobrist’s low. Why then do you predict regression for Johnson, but not for Zobrist?

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    • Michael Barr says:

      Low teens would be regression in the HR department for Zobrist.

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      • Neight says:

        Maybe i’m finding regression to be too loose of a term.

        He hit 10 hr in 2010 with a “pedestrian” HR/FB ratio. If you’re going to say he’ll regress to hit low teens (12, 13, 14), then you are heavily discounting or ignoring his 2008-2009 numbers. I think this warrants explanation.

        If you use 3 year averages for FB% and HR/FB, give him the same 550 AB and maintain his K %, he hits 22 hr.

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      • Michael Barr says:

        Neight – My guess is his HR/FB rate will come back towards his career rate of about 11%, which I think is fair. If his FB rate holds at a career rate of 37.7%, that puts him right around 17 if he gets the AB’s. But that’s part of the problem projecting Zobrist is he really doesn’t have a guarantee for full time play – I tend to be conservative, thinking he’ll play in about 135 games instead of 160 – thus, I’m more comfortable saying 14 rather than 20. We’ll see if there are any Maddon tea leaves to read in the coming weeks.

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      • Erik Hahmann says:

        I think Zobrist has a guarantee of playing time, the problem is predicting where. He’s going to play. His defense is too valuable.

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  3. Erik Hahmann says:

    Zobrist is going to gain 1B eligibility during the season as well.

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  4. batpig says:

    I agree with some of the sentiments above — Zobrist is a RISER not a faller! Last year he was overrated… this year he is UNDERrated. As noted above, “regression” for Zobrist means he would be expected to be better than last season. A 2B with multi-position flexibility, potential for SS eligibility, who should put up 15 HR / 15+ SB with good R and RBI totals is quite valuable.

    I would think Rickie Weeks (coming off a monster career year) would be more of a “faller”.

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    • batpig says:

      also I play in an OPS league not an AVG league so I don’t care about that .253 career AVG ;-) obviously that’s more of a risk for those in standard 5×5…

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    • Michael Barr says:

      I don’t buy that he’s underrated this year. People are gun shy of another stinker. Whether you want to say he’s rising or falling, the fact is he’s not what managers thought he was headed into 2010, which is the point – he has fallen, his stock is down, way down, from what he was last year. That he’s likely to outperform last year just means that he’s not going to be useless.

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  5. OzzieGuillen says:

    There are a lot of second basemen who can match Roberts in value this season. I would rather avoid an injury risk with a guy who can’t even crack the top 10 at his position (Cano, Utley, Pedroia, Uggla, Kinsler, Phillips, Zobrist, Prado, Weeks, Johnson or Hill). Give me the upside of Gordon Beckham over the downside risk of Roberts.

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