Second base is a deep enough position these days that even if some teams double up, everyone in a 12-team league should end up with a decent-to-good second sacker. Having said that, the cream of the crop here creates just as much separation from the rest of the pack as it does at other positions.
Keystone King: Robinson Cano
Robinson Cano takes the mantle for the first time in his career after an other-worldly 2010 season, which is a season he could very well duplicate in 2011. The good – Cano has only missed eight games the past four seasons, which is interesting in that that’s the same number of games Nick Johnson misses every time he sneezes. Also good is the fact that Cano has lowered his GB% in each of the past four seasons, with his GB% of 44.2 last season equaling his career low. The bad – his ISO was so high last season, his .214 mark was second to only Dan Uggla, it may have nowhere to go but down. Certainly his Marcel forecast thinks so – it only forecasts him for a .176 ISO, which would actually be lower than his 2009 mark as well. Cano was also a teensy bit BABIP-lucky last year, as he had a .326 BABIP compared to a .313 xBABIP. Still, Cano’s health, and the chance that he could duplicate his four category dominance from 2010 place him at the top of the heap.
Don’t Call It A Comeback: Chase Utley
After holding the brass ring from 2005-2008, Utley was – in terms of WAR – dethroned by Ben Zobrist in 2009 and again last year by Cano (and Rickie Weeks and Kelly Johnson). But whereas the Zobrist dethroning had the tinge of Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson, the Cano-Utley duel could resemble the classic Ali-Frazier battles – if that is, Utley can stay healthy. At 120-125 games, Utley is a solid second round pick, as even in his limited time last season he still ranked top 10 among second basemen in R, HR and RBI. At the 155+ games that he played in three of the four seasons prior to 2010, he’s a no doubt first-rounder. Whether or not you believe in his ability to stay healthy and productive will largely be a function of your risk tolerance, but certainly if he slides to the second round, you’ll want to snap him up.
Laser Show Returneth: Dustin Pedroia
When he went down with his foot injury last season, Dustin Pedroia was on his way to being more deserving than ever of his moniker “Laser Show.” Had he kept up his 22.2% line drive rate for the rest of the season, it would have paced all second basemen and have been eighth best in the Majors overall. One thing to watch with Pedroia is that last season he seemed content to trade strike outs for home runs – his ISO and K% both jumped to previously unforeseen levels – albeit in a small sample. Even if that doesn’t continue, expect Pedroia to once again be a five category monster. And if it does continue, perhaps lil’ Dustin will put together his first 20-20 season.
Mr. “I Can’t Even Beat Pedroia In Gratuitous Fantasy Rankings”: Ian Kinsler
Consider the man who has constantly been in Pedroia’s shadow to be the start of a very healthy second tier. If Utley doesn’t test your risk tolerance, Kinsler certainly will. As we saw in 2009, a full season of Kinsler can be all sorts of spectacular. Unfortunately, 2009 was the only season of his five in the big leagues in which he topped 600 plate appearances. As a result, Kinsler is starting to slip on draft boards. We’re a glass half-full lot, so we still have him ranked fourth overall. But ESPN and Yahoo! both have him as the fifth second baseman coming off their draft boards (49th overall on ESPN, 37th on Yahoo!), and Mock Draft Central has him as the seventh second sacker off the board, at an average 54th pick. That’s a wide enough ADP variance that it’s something of which you should be mindful. One item of note – last season Kinsler hit about the same percentage of ground balls as he did fly balls, something that hadn’t happen before and partially explains his drop in home runs. Neither his Bill James nor Marcel projection see that as a continuing trend, as they have his ISO rebounding from his career-low .125 back into the .170’s, but it is also worth keeping an eye on.
Table Test-er No More? Dan Uggla
Bill Simmons’ creation of the “Table Test,” for the guy who brings a lot to the table but also takes a lot off the table (as typified by point guards like Rajon Rondo) would seemingly apply very well to Dan Uggla. Uggla brings power and big shiny runs scored and RBI totals, but at the same time doesn’t steal bases, is awful defensively and doesn’t hit for average. Or make that, didn’t hit for average. Last season’s breakthrough of a .287 batting average has taken Uggla to another level. Was it for real? Well, Uggla’s 2010 BABIP of .330 was nearly identical to his xBABIP of .327, so he certainly wasn’t lucky in that sense. But Uggla does have an on-again, off-again trend with his BABIP numbers in general. In the on-years, his BABIP is over .300, and his AVG is .260 or better. In the off-years, his BABIP is in the .270’s, and his AVG the .240’s. Whether or not this is the on-year or the off-year average-wise, one thing that will certainly continue is the power. In baseball’s integration era (1947-present), there have only been 24 seasons where a second baseman hit 30 or more homers, and of them, Uggla has the most with four seasons – the last four seasons. The average may come and the average may go, but Uggla will reliably provide that thump.