Last season was a banner year for second basemen in terms of fantasy baseball. The usual suspects (Cano, Pedroia, Kinsler, Phillips) all had excellent years, while guys like Ben Zobrist, Howie Kendrick, and Ryan Roberts also put up big years. Coming into 2012, second base was a position fantasy owners felt like they could count on for big production in the middle infield. Unfortunately, injuries and ineffectiveness have made second base one of the more spotty positions thus far. Right now, the ESPN Player Rater has second-year player Jason Kipnis easily leading the way.
Kipnis, a 2009 second-round pick, was raking in his big league debut last year before ceding to a hamstring injury in August. There were certainly high expectations for him coming into 2012, though he seemed to be overshadowed by Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley, who has been a disappointment thus far. Kipnis, however, has been a big time power speed threat, posting 11 home runs and 17 steals so far. And while his 25 home run pace may be a surprise, it is the speed that has really grabbed my attention. As a minor leaguer, he never surpassed 12 steals, so where has this speed burst come from? Kipnis has always drawn rave reviews for his baseball IQ and baserunning instincts, and he is showing why in his first full season, having only been caught once all year. Simply put, Kipnis is getting better fast.
Nothing unusual jumps out at you about the season Kipnis is having, either. His BABIP, strikeout and walk percentages, ISO, and batted ball stats are all very similar to what he has done previously. In other words, what Kipnis is doing seems very sustainable. His splits, both home/away and platoon, are really the only ugly mark on an otherwise excellent season. While players typically benefit from playing at home, Kipnis is thriving on the road this year, hitting .326/.376/.556 as opposed to a paltry .227/.287/.320 at Progressive Field. That may be a freak thing, but his platoon splits are cause for a least slight concern. Kipnis has mashed righties to the tune of a .304/.352/.484 line with 9 home runs. Against lefties, his triple slash is an ugly .218/.289/.337 with just 2 home runs. It is not uncommon for young players to have trouble with same side pitchers, and this is not to say Kipnis will not figure it out. However, it is something to keep an eye on.
The bottom line is that Kipnis is a top 5 second basemen at this point. And as far as this season, with Pedroia’s lingering hand injury, the only second basemen I would rank ahead of him are Cano and Kinsler. Other than that, I do not see better options than Kipnis. It is surely too late to buy low on him, but in keeper leagues, especially if you are out of the race this year, Kipnis is a guy you can build around.
Ben Zobrist was nothing short of awful over the first two months of the season, hitting a combined .203/.342/.397. This led to many frustrated owners, but with the climate at second base, there were not many other quality options. If you have not noticed, Zobrist is out of that early season funk. He has absolutely crushed the ball in June, hitting .319/.430/.500 in 20 games with 3 home runs. Especially for those in leagues that count OBP, he is back among the fantasy elite, with a 16.5% walk rate that leads all second basemen and ranks 5th in all of baseball. There may still be time to buy low on Zobrist, so do so if you can.
King of the Hill
Everyone remembers Aaron Hill‘s crazy good 2009 season in which he had 36 home runs and 108 RBI, but two poor follow up seasons led to his departure from Toronto as well as elite fantasy status. It turns out that a change of scenery may have been exactly what Hill has needed. Since being traded to Arizona (a hitter’s haven), Hill is hitting .303/.372/.494, which is nothing short of studly. He has a massive platoon split this year — .360/.408/.655 home versus .210/.299/.311 away — but as long as he continues to play half of his games at Chase Field, does it matter that much? Hill currently ranks 6th on the player rater and a hot June (5 of his 10 home runs) is only helping.