2015 Fantasy Baseball: The Fielding Chronicles — Second Basemen
Why should I bother reading this article?
Fantasy sports players are always looking for an edge. Any information we can get are hands on that will help us pick players is appreciated. At first glance, it may appear like fielding may have nothing to do with fantasy production. It doesn’t directly. However, with teams becoming more sophisticated in their ability to decipher the value of a player, fielding is becoming a more important consideration.
If you are looking for who is going to get playing time, you might be advised to take a look at the fielding numbers. Elite offensive players will always play because offense carries the day. When we start looking at mediocre offensive players, the ones that can field their position are the ones that get to play.
How does this fielding thing work?
For our purposes, we will use “The Fielding Bible” by John Dewan. He’s released three editions in book form, but billjamesonline has been keeping up with the numbers on a daily basis. There are numerous fielding platforms one could use. I choose to keep track of the fielding bible (or defensive runs saved DRS) because I like their methods. They keep track of every play made or not made via video.
They take the plays made at each position and rate them between routine and nearly impossible. Then, each player is tracked according to the number of plays they make in each category. If they make more plays they have a positive rating. If they make fewer plays they have a negative rating. Then, they use that rating to convert it into positive or negative runs saved.
The Elite Fielders
Ben Zobrist is an interesting case on his own. If you add the innings he has at first base, third base, shortstop, and in the outfield he has nearly 10,000 innings like the other second basemen on this list. Overall, he is not nearly as effective when you include all of the other positions. He has +28 runs in 2300 innings as a right fielder, but the rest of the positions he more or less broke even as a defender.
My man crush on Zobrist is well-known and documented. This is just another reason for that man crush and why he has been one of the top ten players in the American League for most of the last eight seasons. Whether it is the Rays or the Athletics, they find somewhere to put him. The rest have played second base almost exclusively and are compiling good fielding numbers. When you add those to the offensive numbers they put up, all four players are potential Hall of Famers down the road.
As you will notice, these players have fewer innings than their elite counterparts. Robinson Cano and Brandon Phillips are the noted exceptions. Of course, both have been very gifted offensive players. Cano is still gifted while Phillips is on his way down. Yet, when you look his numbers from last season you can see the value in allowing him to continue at second base in Cincinnati. The rest have not reached 10,000 innings and might not this season.
Aaron Hill is close, but the DIamondbacks have him playing some third base now. One of the reasons why we include the 2014 numbers is that it helps us understand why some players get benched even when they positive ratings over the course of their career. Like hitters, some fielders lose their touch as they get older.
Howie Kendrick and Omar Infante are more typical of the solid fielders we see at most positions. They usually hover between neutral and slightly above average. Infante has been sojourning around the league for most of his career. Usually, he serves a stopgap until the organization finds someone that is either better with the glove or with the bat. Still, there is always a market for mediocre players.
2014 was a forgettable season for Jason Kipnis and Jedd Gyorko on a number of levels. Now, the Padres have a number of different options at second base, so Gyorko’s playing time could be limited. Most assumed it was due to the slumping offensive numbers and that certainly is part of it, but he doesn’t have much margin for error. If you notice, Kipnis was actually an average fielder except for last season, so I’m sure the Indians hope he will return to that this season.
The rest are either playing because they are too good offensively or are on the verge of being replaced via trade or the bench. Dan Uggla is already there as he washed out following the 2013 season. Yet, he still hangs around on the Nationals’ bench. Daniel Murphy is on the trading block and has been for some time. Fortunately, he brings below average defense to a number of positions other than second base. As we know, Jose Altuve is among the best offensive players in the game right now.