Posted: Wednesday February 9, 2011 5:41PM ; Updated: Wednesday February 9, 2011 5:41PM

Second base offers value beyond small group of elite talents

Story Highlights

Second base offer fantasy value well into middle rankings of position

Despite inexperience, Jake McGee may be best bet to close for Rays this year

John Axford's strikeout rate makes him better pick that Chris Perez in 2011

By Ray Flowers, BaseballGuys.com, Special to SI.com

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robinson-cano2.jpg
Not many second basemen could hit the 29 homers Robsinon Cano hit in 2010.
AP

Pitchers and catchers report next week. Lots of questions. Let's get to them.

There seems to be a lot of talk that second base is a shallow position this year. I just don't see that, do you?
-- Erick, Bridgeport, Conn.

The answer is yes, and no (how is that for clarity?).

There is a group of two at the top in Robinson Cano and Chase Utley, and behind them are five others who could still be considered elite or near elite options: Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips, Rickie Weeks, Dan Uggla and Ian Kinsler. If you are in a 12-team league, that means more than half the squads will have a top-flight second sacker. However, there is a drop off after that group of seven. Still, there is plenty of talent left in that 8-15 range.

Look at the ADP list from Mock Draft Central has Howie Kendrick as the 16th best second sacker, this after doing something the last two years that only he and Utley did at the position (for an answer to what the duo did give I Like You Because a read -- see the bottom of the article for the answer).

Let's look at the 2010 season and the group in total.

There were 14 second basemen who hit at least .275 (minimum 400 plate appearances).

There were 11 second basemen who hit 11 homers.

There were 13 second basemen who knocked in 50 runs.

There were 20 second basemen who scored 55 runs.

There were 15 second basemen who stole 10 bases.

Is there a group of second sackers that make the position a bit top heavy? Yes. But I would also argue that if you miss out on one of the stars at the position there are still plenty of "starters" to be had well into the teens.

Who do you think will emerge as the closer with the Rays? It seems to be like the names everyone is throwing out there are Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth and Jake McGee. That doesn't excite me very much.
--
Bill, Thornton, Colorado

Bill, this is the exact issue that came up for me in the recent FSTA Experts League Draft that was held in Las Vegas. Not knowing the answer to that question, I drafted McGee, and then later called out the name of Farnsworth, in the 12-team, mixed league (you can read about the draft in Vegas Baby and the FSTA). I know that isn't ideal, or the answer you want to hear though, so let's see if I can help lend some clarity to the situation.

What should you do when faced with an uncertain situation like this one? I fall back on the notion that you should always draft skills over roles. In fact, I wrote How to Evaluate Relievers to explain this exact line of thought. Basically, I target the skills a pitcher possesses and let others worry about selecting a guy who appears to be in a better role despite a lack of skills. Let's follow that line of thought with these three hurlers by looking at their career rates.

J. Peralta: 7.32 K/9, 3.08 K/BB, 0.70 GB/FB, 1.34 HR/9
Farnsworth: 9.04 K/9, 3.21 K/BB, 1.14 GB/FB, 1.28 HR/9

Both of these hurlers have had success in their careers, though both are clearly long-ball prone, which is a big time concern for a reliever late in the game. Peralta also gives up a lot of fly balls, which can lead to doubles and triples as well, so you would have to think that Farnsworth would be the choice between the two based purely on skill. Also in Farnsworth's favor is the fact that he has huge advantage in experience (837 innings compared to 322.1 innings for Peralta) as well as history working the ninth inning (27 saves to Peralta's two). Based on skills, and in this case track record, I would have to think that Farnsworth would be in the lead despite the fact that he has only one save the past four years.

What about McGee? For those of you who don't know who he is here is a quick rundown: McGee is the next great arm with the Rays. Drafted out of high school in 2004, McGee is now 24 and ready to pitch in the big leagues. The Rays, as always, took a measured approach with their hurler, and last season he was tremendous working his way through Double and Triple-A batters. In 30 appearances he tossed 105.2 innings leading to a 3.07 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 127 Ks, good for a K/9 mark of 10.82. Thirty appearances shouldn't equal more than 100 innings for any reliever, and that's the issue with McGee -- he's been groomed as a starter (19 of his 30 appearances last year were starts). However, the Rays are blessed with five solid arms in the rotation (David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and potential rookie star Jeremy Hellickson), which means that McGee will either have to relieve or be sent back to the minors (barring a trade or injury). How the Rays choose to use him, i.e. his "role," will completely determine McGee's fantasy value in 2011 because it is clear that his skills are the best of this trio of arms.

Given the uncertainty here, those of you who are risk adverse would be advised just to pass on the whole situation. If you look at the skills, my main course of action when evaluating relievers, the trio would break down McGee, Farnsworth and Peralta. The problem is the guy with the best skills is a starting pitcher who has all of five innings of big league work under his belt. Like I said, it's a dicey situation all around.

What are your thoughts on reliever Chris Perez and John Axford? Seems like the two young pen aces are being drafted next to one another.
-- Rick, Wichita Falls, Texas

You are right about the two relievers being valued similarly, just look at their ADP's: Perez (175), Axford (187). Both are right-handed, young, with often dominating stuff that is almost always on display unless walks get in the way. Let's compare each guy's performance from '10.

Perez: 8.71 K/9, 4.00 BB/9, 2.18 K/BB
Axford: 11.79 K/9, 4.19 BB/9, 2.81 K/BB

Obviously, the massive K mark of Axford gives him the advantage here, even though both were afflicted by the yips at times last season when they were unable to throw strikes. Don't look past Perez merely because of his lower total last season; the kid still has 171 punchouts in 161.2 innings pitched at the big league level.

Perez: 0.74 GB/FB, 19.6 LD-rate, 5.5 HR/F
Axford: 1.48 GB/FB, 19.4 LD-rate, 2.4 HR/F

Three things deserve a mention. Both guys were right on the big league average in line drives allowed. Second, both hurlers were pretty fortunate in the homer category last season; it would be tough to expect either hurler to repeat their stellar HR/F marks in '11. Third, Axford has a massive advantage in the GB/FB category. Not only does that make it more likely that he will be able to keep the homers in check, it also make Axford the ideal pitcher -- a strikeout artist who keeps the ball on the ground.

Both guys enter the year as the unchallenged closer in their respective homes. Neither is a lock to be a top-10 guy this year; there are still questions about the walks and whether or not they can sustain the success they have flashed in their young careers, but both appear on their way to being valuable fantasy arms. If I had to choose between the two I'd take Axford -- that K/GB combo can be deadly to hitters.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Drive, 5-8 PM Eastern, on Sirius 211 and XM 147. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account. Or e-mail Ray a question for next week's piece, drop him a line at fantasyfandom@yahoo.com.

 
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