Welcome to the second installment of our Fantasy Baseball State of the Union. Last week we started looking back to see if this “new” version of the game we love had any significant impact on fantasy. Sure, some of the things you can already imagine, like the increase in stolen bases and the higher batting average are unchanged, but what does that mean for each position? Did it create more value in certain places? How does this affect our draft strategy for 2024? These are the questions I want to answer in this State of the Fantasy Baseball Union series.
You can check out my first base review here, but today we’re going to turn our attention to second base. I sorted by players who have accumulated 200 plate appearances both this season and 2022 and looked to see if there was any significant change in the standard 5×5 offensive categories (batting average, home runs, runs, RBI and steals). I then tried to figure out WHAT this change is, WHY it might have happened, and HOW likely we are to see it again.
It’s not quite the jump we saw at first base. In fact, first basemen hitting over .240 went from 29 in 2022 to 40 in 2023. Now, does that mean first base is a better source of average than second base? Hardly; however, I think it highlights a truth you’ll see throughout this article, which is that second base is not a deep position for fantasy purposes.
There are some high-end middle assets here like Jose Altuve, Luis Araez, and Mookie Betts (who, yes, ranks at 2B), and then some other typically solid middle hitters like Ozzie Albies, Marcus Semien, Ketel Marte, Nico Horner, and even younger guys like Matt McLain and Bryson Stott. So as far as batting average goes, there are still more than enough solid batting average assets at second base, and while we didn’t see a huge jump thanks to the new shift rules, we always knew second base was a spot , where we can get some average help with 24 players who had significant at-bats hitting .260 or better in 2023.
What that tells me is that second base is a good place to target to draft a player that will provide some sort of middle buffer for your power hitters from the outfield. If you don’t get a second baseman who hits for a solid batting average, you might put yourself in a bit of a hole in that category.
This is where we run into problems. The red in the image above means it’s the lowest total by position, so second base has the fewest players of any position to hit over 20 home runs. Yes, the position saw a boost from last year, and full seasons from guys like McClain, Zach Geloff and Edward Julien could boost that number, but you still won’t find many significant contributors at the position.
In fact, only three second basemen have hit more than 20 home runs in each of the last two seasons: Jose Altuve, Marcus Semien and Gleyber Torres. Ozzie Albies has hit over 20 home runs in every fully healthy season he’s played in, so those four names are the only players at the position with consistent power from year to year. Again, you can believe that each of these younger players will join the ranks of the perennial 20-home run hitters, but even that keeps the position number in the single digits.
For us, that means if we want a true five-base contributor at second base, and we would, then it makes some sense to dive into the position early. Getting one of the four mentioned above or Mookie Betts could be a huge boost. There are some intriguing names later when it comes to power like McLain, Geloff, Ha-Seong Kim and Nolan Gorman, but there is much less success and much more risk associated with these picks.
Another category where the second base produces the smallest value of any position. Only Albies, Betts, Semien, Marte, Gorman and Brandon Drury had over 70 RBI this season. Although Arraez had a 69 and Torres, Hoerner and Brandon Lowe all finished with 68s, so there were a few on the fringes. Last year, Semien and Torres had over 70 RBIs, joined by Jake Cronenworth and Wilmer Flores (remember Jake Cronenworth?)
The bottom line here is pretty clear that RBI’s value will be hard to come by at second base outside of the top tier names. You can certainly get some guys who will hit 50-60 RBI on the season, but it’s just another indication that if you don’t grab one of the top names at the position, you’re making it much more likely to get a player who contributes in only four or more likely three categories. While this is good because many of these players go later in drafts, it is simply a strategic component to consider.
If second basemen aren’t going to produce much value in home runs and RBIs, then we need to find other places for them to contribute. With many of the better options hitting near the top of the batting order, we get more consistent production in runs from the second base spot.
As you can imagine, there are more of the same names on the roster here: Betts, Semien, Hoerner, Albies, Marte, Torres, Altuve, Arraez and Stott. When we factor in mileage, we also get Jonathan India, Jeff McNeil, Andres Gimenez, Ha-Seong Kim and Mauricio Dubon. Matt MacLaine would also be involved here with a full season of action, as would Julien.
So what’s the bottom line here? It seems to me that we can use the second base spot to get chips if we find ourselves needing that category, and even though it’s the same guys at the top, we now have players like Stott and McNeil and (to a lesser extent Whit Merrifield and Thairo Estrada) who contribute plus in both average and runs, which can be valuable to your team if you are solid in other categories until you get to these later rounds.
As with every other position, 2023 saw more players contributing significantly to stolen bases, a reality we should reasonably expect to stick with in the future thanks to rule changes. While some of our top contributors in the categories above added some stolen base value, many of them fell just under the arbitrary 15-steal mark: Betts, Altuve, Semien, India, McClain and Geloff all finished with 14 steals (though McLain and Geloff did not play the entire season). We also had Albis and Torres with 13.
Which is a long way of saying that Betts, Altuve, Semien, Albies and Torres have proven to be solid contributors in five categories, while McLain, Geloff and Kim have the makings to grow in that role.
If we’re going to prioritize speed in the middle inside positions, which we usually are, then Nico Hoerner emerges as a stabilizer here. We also see Stott, Kim, Estrada and Gimenez re-emerge, making for a pretty consistent group of solid three-category guys if we skip the top tier of the position.
So to put it simply, there’s a clear top group of five guys at second base with Betts, Altuve, Semien, Albies, Torres, McLain and Gelof. Then there’s a clear next group of three- or four-category guys like Marte, Stott, Hoerner and Estrada, with Kim on the borderline between four-category and potential five-category player depending on his batting order slot and RBI.
As of right now, below is my top 15 2B for 2024. Obviously, a lot can change before the season starts, but this is where we stand right now.
Be sure to check back over the next few weeks as I go through all the positions.