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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.