Although it’s been true for each of the last three seasons, many fantasy owners are still adjusting to the fact that offense from the second base position comes at a premium. It’s not about to usurp the shortstop position’s crown for supreme offensive futility, but it’s the only one within shouting distance.
The league’s second basemen have averaged a .304 wOBA in 2013, which is situated squarely between the .306 and .302 wOBAs from 2011 and 2012, respectively. Fantasy-relevant second basemen obviously find themselves with higher wOBAs across the board, but the overall trend remains true. Unless sitting with one of the few studs at the position, owners have had a difficult time securing consistent production with the bat.
Thus, when a rookie second baseman bursts onto the scene and hits a blistering .335/.371/.524 (.388 wOBA) with nine doubles, two triples and six home runs in his first 177 plate appearances, owners start to feel their hearts flutter in their chests. Of course, this is referencing the scorching-hot debut of Scooter Gennett, who is playing everyday for the lowly Milwaukee Brewers.
At only 5-foot-9, Gennett isn’t a physical specimen on the baseball field, but he possesses a knack for squaring up the baseball and owns a career slash line of .297/.337/.409 through his minor-league career. He’s always profiled as a guy who could provide a solid batting average and score some runs in standard leagues. Aside from that, though, the diminutive second baseman was considered an afterthought for fantasy owners — a Daniel Murphy (circa 2012) type player.
That was before the 23-year-old clubbed six home runs and posted a .189 ISO in his brief major-league debut. This has owners wondering if the sudden power spike from Gennett is legitimate. If so, his fantasy profile shifts dramatically, and he’s absolutely relevant in almost every league.
It seems unlikely he’s able to sustain such an increase in power. His career-high ISO in the minors was .154 in 2010 with Class-A Wisconsin, but his power production has steadily decreased the last three years. In fact, he only managed to compile a .090 ISO over 349 plate appearances in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. The idea that he’s suddenly developed league-average power while dramatically increasing the talent level of his competition is dubious, at best.
Despite the overwhelming statistical evidence that Gennett’s future power production will drop drastically, it’s important to mention two points:
(1) A year or two ago, I spoke with a professional scout who swore Gennett would eventually hit double-digit home runs at the major-league level. He loved the way he squared up the baseball and thought his gap-to-gap power would increase just enough to hit 10-15 homers annually at his peak. Not every scout I’ve spoken with agrees with this sentiment — in fact, the scout mentioned above was the only one — but his assessment seems extremely appropriate given his debut this summer.
(2) Playing at Miller Park should help inflate Gennett’s power numbers. Miller Park has cemented itself as a homer-friendly ballpark since opening in 2001, but it features a short porch in right field since the stadium added the Miller Lite Beerpen. When Greg Rybarczyk, who runs ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, calculated home run factors to right field in 2007, Miller Park had the highest park factor. That’s significant because all Gennett’s home run power has come to right field.
The shorter porch in right field likely won’t massively inflate Gennett’s home run totals, but it certainly presents an advantage that’s worth noting.
So, perhaps it’s too simplistic to ignore the uptick in power. It does seem unlikely he posts a double-digit home run total next season, but if he does and also holds true to his minor-league profile, his best-case scenario could be a season like Martin Prado had last year. Though not crazy valuable, Prado was the 9th-ranked fantasy second baseman in 2012, which would represent strong value in the late rounds next spring.
Keep in mind, though, we’re talking best-case scenario. Assuming the Brewers commit to Gennett as their everyday second baseman next season, owners can expect more of the Daniel Murphy (circa 2012) type season, as mentioned earlier in the article. And Murphy was the 18th-ranked fantasy second baseman a year ago. Nothing exciting, but worth drafting in deep leagues that utilize second base, shortstop and an additional middle infield position.
However, Gennett does offer something more for owners who are willing to play matchups. He absolutely demolishes right-handed pitching. Since his call-up, he’s hitting .379/.413/.600 against righties and only .083/.120/.083 against lefties. That trend has extended to the minors, too.
The statistics on the left represent Gennett’s performance against right-handed pitching, while the numbers on the right are what he compiled against southpaws. The massive disparity at the major-league level can likely be ascribed to a small sample. Still, it’s clear Gennett has traditionally found more success against opposite-handed pitching.
As a fantasy owner, he could become a very useful piece if he’s paired with a second baseman such as Brian Dozier — who destroys lefties and severely struggles against righties. Simply pay attention to the daily matchups and play Gennett when facing righties and Dozier when he’s facing lefties (when possible). That’s not as sexy as regularly having Robinson Cano, Jason Kipnis or Dustin Pedroia in your fantasy lineup, but it could be an inexpensive way to maximize a position that collectively hasn’t produced much at the plate over the last few seasons.
Gennett’s blistering start to his major-league career isn’t a harbinger for things to come. He’s not going to become the next fantasy superstar at second base — that much is obvious — but he can potentially be useful. If he can hit double-digit home runs, he’s an interesting deep sleeper. If not, though, he still has value if some owners are willing to utilize him in a quasi-platoon role. Again, not sexy, but potentially an effective way to maximize production. And squeezing every ounce out of your fantasy roster is how you win championships.
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