I don’t know if it’s short-man’s syndrome or if Dave Kingman and Rob Deer have suddenly (somehow) inspired a new generation of second-baseman-wannabe power hitters. It’s been talked about before, but it bears repeating: good second basemen used to hit around .270 with 70+ runs, a handful of home runs, and about 15-20 stolen bases, all while playing good defense.
With the steroid era, we started seeing second basemen launching 20+ home runs on a regular basis. In fact, it became expected. Now that Major League Baseball is cracking down on PEDs, we’re starting to see a reversal of expectations for these Jeff Kent, Bret Boone-wannabe second basemen.
Dee Gordon led the charge in 2014 by being a total throwback to the Whitey Herzog style of baseball: slap the ball, leg it out, steal second (and maybe third), then score however you can. Oh yeah – and play great defense, too. 2014 saw a few potential power-hitting sleepers at second base emerge, but don’t be jaded by the home run stat alone.
Power Hitting Second Base Sleepers...
At first glance, you’d think Zach Walters would be a great sleeper pick in your 2015 draft with his 10 Home Runs in 127 at bats! That’s one home run for every 12.7 at bats! Hey, you might be right, but we’re not holding our collective breath.
If you project Zach Walters out to a 600-at bat season, he would have hit .181 with 47 HR and 80 RBI. Do you stick with a guy that long into the season when he’s hitting .181? Probably not.
By contrast, Robinson Cano hit just 14 home runs in 2014, but he drove in 82 RBI in 595 at bats. The difference is that he hit .314. Not only did he drive in runners with base hits (singles, doubles and home runs), he was also on base a lot more which wears pitchers out, worrying about runners on base and working from the stretch.
Of course, that’s Robinson Cano, so that may be a bit of a stretch as a comparison. Here are some other second basemen to compare to the all-or-nothing breed of power-hitting sleepers at the position:
- Chase Utley drove in 78 RBI with 11 HR in 589 at bats – and he only hit .270.
- Howie Kendrick drove in 75 RBI with 7 HR in 617 at bats (although the Angels had him hitting cleanup for a portion of the season in 2014, but his skewed statistics are another discussion).
- Aaron Hill drove in 60 RBI with 10 HR in just 501 at bats and a sub-par .244 average (projected to 600 at bats would give him 12 HR and 72 RBI).
What we may be seeing here is a turning point in baseball, back to the pre-steroid era where we’ll be happy if our middle infielders can just get to ground balls and make an accurate throw to first base, offensive power be damned... but that's now what fantasy owners want. We want - and need - offense.
Special note: in 1985, St. Louis Cardinals’ Second Baseman, Tom Herr (under Whitey Herzog), managed to drive in 110 RBI with just 8 home runs. He also hit .302, drew 80 walks to just 55 strikeouts, recorded 596 at bats in 159 games and stole 31 bases (with just 3 caught stealing). Hitting ahead of him in the lineup were Vince Coleman and Willie McGee; behind him was Jack Clark (cleanup) and Andy Van Slyke (fifth). The Cardinals lost in 7 games in the World Series that year, but their recipe for success was clearly built around speed, contact hitting and defense. Could this be the new trend (if you can call it “new”)? Guys like Dee Gordon and Emilio Bonifacio hope so, but it remains to be seen just how long teams stick with the power-hitting second baseman expectations.
More importantly for you, are any of these guys worth a draft pick in 2015 as a possible sleeper?