In ESPN leagues, the top three performers at second base shouldn’t surprise anyone. Dustin Pedroia, Jason Kipnis and Robinson Cano were expected to be the top three or four fantasy options at the position, and although each of them have experienced some hiccups in different ways, they’re still producing better than their counterparts.
Who’s fourth, though?
Despite his .383 wOBA and 148 wRC+, it’s not Matt Carpenter. Despite his double-digit home runs and 56 RBI, it’s not Brandon Phillips. The fourth-best fantasy second baseman this year has been 29-year-old Howie Kendrick.
By most objective measures, Kendrick has been one of the best second basemen in all of baseball. Amongst qualified players at the position, he owns the best batting average (.335), second-best wOBA (.369), second-best wRC+ (139) and third-best WAR (+2.3). He’s stolen the fourth-most bases and hit the fifth-most home runs. In short, he’s not only been greatly productive, but he’s been well-rounded.
In many ways, well-rounded has always been who Kendrick has been for fantasy purposes. He’s always offered low double-digit homers and stolen bases — with a good batting average and mediocre RBI/run statistics. And while that’s never been overly valuable, this season, the home runs and batting average project to be well above his career norms. ZiPS has Kendrick hitting 16 home runs, stealing 14 bases, and hitting .308 on the season. That’s even better than his 2011 numbers, when he finished with a .349 wOBA.
Putting that type of season in perspective, only Aaron Hill hit north of .300 last season, while launching 15+ home runs and stealing 10+ bases. Only Dustin Pedroia and Brandon Phillips did so in 2011. No second baseman accomplished that feat in 2009 or 2010. It’s not a very common combination of skills for a second baseman. Very often, fantasy owners are sacrificing batting average to get power, or sacrificing power to get average and stolen bases. Kendrick is one of the few second basemen who projects to offer all three.
The key for Kendrick to remain an above-average fantasy option at second base will be maintaining his pace for a .300+ batting average and 15+ home runs.
Many have pointed to his .385 BABIP as a reason why his batting average will fall precipitously in the second half, but be careful not to overstate the point. He owns an obscene 29.8% line drive rate, which will naturally support a high BABIP. More than that, though, Kendrick has a career .344 BABIP — so even if his BABIP does fall throughout the rest of the year, it doesn’t project to fall much. That gives him a very good chance to maintain his .300+ batting average on the season.
Instead of watching his BABIP, fantasy owners should worry about his approach at the plate. He’s swinging at a career-high 41.4% of pitches outside the strike zone, and his swinging-strike rate has increased to 11.0%. Those could be indicators that his strikeout rate will increase, which will certainly take a bite out of his batting average — regardless of his BABIP. This is the one major red flag surrounding Kendrick for the final three-plus months of the season.
As far as his power is concerned, the numbers are encouraging. He’s hitting fewer balls on the ground, so he should have more opportunities to hit home runs if those numbers hold up. His 17.4% HR/FB will likely come down in the second half. If he continues to hit the baseball in the air, though, he could compensate for that decline.
Howie Kendrick has quietly been one of the best second basemen in all of baseball this season. He’s provided a rare combination of average, power and speed. If he can continue to provide an elite batting average and above-average power, he’ll prove to be a real steal for those owners who grabbed him on draft day. And even if the power drops off, he can still provide value in stolen bases and batting average — especially since the second base position has been rather underwhelming this year across the fantasy landscape.
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