2B Sleepers and Busts for 2020

The hidden gems and ticking time bombs at second base.

The greatest feeling in the world is drafting the dude who has a breakout season after no one wanted to draft him. The sleepers are the hidden gems of every draft. They are the diamonds in the rough. On the other hand, the worst feeling is drafting a hitter early in a draft and watching him fail to produce throughout the season. These guys are the busts. They’re the ticking time bombs who should always be avoided. Sleepers can sometimes be easy to identify, but identifying a bust is much tougher — especially at a thin position like second base.

Second base this year has a small group of really good hitters, followed by a bunch of guys who are just all right. For the hitters I deem as sleepers and busts, it is important to consider their ADP. Not all degrees of “sleeper-ness” or “bust-ness” will be the same.

Note: ADP provided by NFBC leagues.

 

Sleepers

 

Howie Kendrick (Washington Nationals, ADP: 366.98)

 

With Ryan Zimmerman opting out of the 2020 season, it was fair to say that Howie Kendrick would see a good amount of playing time at first base with counterpart Eric Thames. But the introduction of the universal DH provides even more opportunity to give Kendrick everyday at bats. All of this is great for Kendrick, because he still has fantasy eligibility at second base. In 2019, Kendrick had his best offensive season yet, slashing .344/.395/.572 across 370 plate appearances. He hit 17 homers with a .400 wOBA and a 146 wRC+. He also posted a career-high walk rate of 7.3% and a career-low strikeout rate of 13.2%.

But, at age 37, can Kendrick repeat this kind of success? His Statcast metrics make me think so! Last season, Kendrick had a hard-hit rate of 48.3% and an average exit velocity of 91.6 mph. These metrics were in the 94th and 92nd percentiles, respectively, of all MLB hitters. Perhaps the craziest stats are his expected stats, which say he slightly underperformed in SLG and wOBA. His xSLG of .622 and xwOBA of .419 were both in the 98th percentile, and while his xBA of .336 was a few ticks below his actual BA, it still landed in the 100th percentile. Kendrick barreled the ball at a rate of 11.4% and whiffed at a rate of just 17%. He scorched the ball and very rarely missed. Even if he doesn’t hit as well, he will probably still turn in solid offense for an ADP past the 300s. You can expect him to sit in the middle of a solid lineup, giving him plenty of opportunities to drive in runs, while boasting a high batting average with some decent power.

 

Tommy Edman (St. Louis Cardinals, ADP: 133.48)

 

Tommy Edman made his major league debut in 2019, accumulating 3.2 fWAR in just 92 games. The versatile infielder, who has second base and third base eligibility in most leagues, slashed .304/.350/.500 with 11 home runs and 15 stolen bases. Additionally, he boasted a .357 wOBA and a 123 wRC+. Edman found his success with his high-contact approach at the plate and speed on the base path. Although he only walked at a rate of 4.6%, he only struck out 17.5% of the time and whiffed at pitches just 18.9% of the time. Edman’s strikeout rate put him in the MLB’s 72nd percentile, while his whiff rate landed in the 84th percentile. Edman’s shortcomings come from batted-ball metrics that show his contact in 2019 was weak. With an average exit velocity in the 21st percentile and hard-hit rate in the 19th percentile, Edman is not going to be a source for power. Instead, his ability to make consistent contact, paired with a 29.1% line drive rate, should make him a source for a solid batting average.

Even in the worst case scenario, Edman should be in the lineup every day. In a shortened season, everyday playing time should be prioritized in leagues where counting stats matter. This is where Edman will stand out. He should be a solid source of runs if he can consistently bat at the top of the Cardinals’ lineup, while also producing a sufficient number of stolen bases. All that for someone being drafted past the 13th round in 10-team drafts.

 

Ryan McMahon (Colorado Rockies, ADP: 175.74)

 

2019 was Ryan McMahon‘s first full season at the MLB level. The results were a bit underwhelming, but they offer a lot of upside for a hitter going as late as the 23rd round. McMahon slashed .250/.329/.450 across 539 plate appearances. He slugged 24 homers, scored 70 runs, drove in 83 runs, and posted a great walk rate of 10.4%. Although he held just a .330 wOBA and 88 wRC+, his quality of contact was (almost) outstanding. A 91st percentile hard-hit rate and 90th percentile average exit velocity (almost) makes him a great hitter by Statcast batted-ball metrics. But his extremely hard contact doesn’t quite reap the benefits they should because he has a 51.2% ground ball rate. His hard contact is going right into the ground, making for a lot of outs. This commonly leads to poor results and even worse expected results. His xBA was in the 25th percentile, and his xSLG and xwOBA were both in the 39th percentile. His consistent lack of contact is another factor lending to his poor expected stats. McMahon had a strikeout rate of 29.7% (bottom 6% of the league), and a whiff rate of 32.5% (bottom 9% of the league). In fact, he posted the ninth-worst SwStr% among qualified hitters. He whiffed the most at breaking balls, at a rate of 40.2%, but also crushed them when he made contact, with a .545 xSLG. He was highly troubled by off-speed pitches (like changeups), hitting just .205 against them. So what’s the silver lining? McMahon has pretty solid plate discipline. Although he swung and missed as much as he did, he had the 43rd-lowest chase rate. This means that his trouble is with pitches inside the zone. This is a positive, since it is typically easier to make adjustments when you know you aren’t swinging at unhittable pitches.

McMahon is one or two adjustments away from being a very effective hitter. He hits the ball very hard and doesn’t chase many pitches, two skills that make for a fantastic hitter. But he still has to cut down on swings and misses in the zone and needs to elevate the ball more. McMahon has enough power to hit 30+ home runs, and will have plenty of RBI opportunities while hitting in the middle of a top-loaded Rockies lineup. McMahon has raw skill that just hasn’t been fine-tuned yet, but at a 170+ ADP (and as late as the 250s), he is well worth a pick.

 

Busts

 

Gleyber Torres (New York Yankees, ADP: 29.27)

 

How could Gleyber Torres possibly be a bust? Well, he’s not really a bust, but should he really be the first second basemen off the draft board? I’m not saying Torres isn’t a good hitter — he is very good! However, for someone who is being ranked as the top second basemen and being drafted as early as the first round, I think his ADP makes for potential of him being a “bust.”

Torres crushed the ball in 2019, hitting .278/.337/.535 with a .358 wOBA. He slugged 38 home runs and turned in his second straight season of a 120+ wRC+. As a centerpiece of a tremendous Yankees lineup, he scored 96 runs and drove in 90 runs. So where are the negatives? Let’s start by seeing how his 2019 season stacked up against the other 11 hitters who fill out the top 12 ESPN-ranked fantasy second basemen.

PA Hits HR Runs RBI SB AVG
7th 8th 1st 7th 5th 9th 8th

And if we look at some more advanced metrics:

wRC+ wOBA xwOBA xBA xSLG
7th 7th 9th 10th 6th

It’s rare a player is the leader in every offensive category at their position, but for a top-2 ranked second basemen, surely we would expect Torres to stack up better, right? He was outside the top five in every fantasy category besides home runs and RBI, and the advanced statistics don’t look friendly to him either. Why? For starters, Torres had a hard-hit rate in the 33rd percentile and an average exit velocity in the 49th percentile. His barrel rate was much better, but still just in the 70th percentile of all MLB hitters. He had a league-average strikeout rate, but a terrible whiff rate that put him in the 25th percentile. If he isn’t making consistent and quality contact, is his power sustainable?

Further, 19 of his 38 homers were pulled fly balls, and his eight opposite field home runs averaged a distance of just 370 feet, with seven of the eight courtesy of the short porch at Yankee Stadium. Considering the small confinements of his home park, it’s reasonable to think Torres will still produce great power numbers for a second basemen in 2020. But it’s also reasonable to think that his offense takes a step back and he produces well outside of a top-2 hitter at second base. Given his ADP, if he isn’t producing like a top second basemen, he’s probably not worth the pick.

 

Jonathan Villar (Miami Marlins, ADP: 43.74)

 

I think of the three busts listed, Jonathan Villar is the most “true” bust candidate. His offensive production is based on his ability to steal bases, which will undoubtedly be impacted by a short season. Less games played means less chances to rack up steals. Good base stealers will still be good base stealers, but there will probably less of a margin between stolen base totals. Villar’s most valuable asset may not be there this year, and the rest of his offense won’t make up for it.

In 2019, Villar hit .274/.339/.453 with 24 home runs and 40 stolen bases. He was second only to Mallex Smith in stolen bases. He scored 111 runs atop the Orioles Triple-A lineup, leading all second base-eligible hitters. But what can we expect from Villar in 2020? Well, I already noted that he will have far fewer opportunities to swipe bags, but he also looks like a good candidate for offensive regression. Villar doesn’t hit the ball very hard at all. Statcast’s measures put him in the 28th percentile of average exit velocity and the 39th percentile in both hard-hit rate and barrel rate. He also strikes out and whiffs way too much for someone without true power. His 24.6% strikeout rate ranked in the 31st percentile and his 27.6% whiff rate was in the 27th percentile. These poor metrics delivered expected stats that weren’t in line with the results he achieved.

Actual Expected Actual – Expected
AVG .274 .249 .025
SLG .453 .412 .041
wOBA .335 .313 .022

His largest over-performance comes in the power department, which makes sense when you actually look at his home runs. Villar almost had as many home runs in 2019 as he did in 2017 and 2018 combined. I’m sure the juiced ball had added an inherent inflation to Villar’s power, but so did his batted ball direction and home ballpark. A study of ballpark factors on fly balls by Alex Fast showed what parks led to an over-performance of pulled home runs. In other words, some parks resulted in more pulled home runs than what would have been expected based solely on the batted-ball metrics. Oriole Park, Villar’s 2019 home park, was eighth on the list. Villar hit 16 of his 24 homers at home and only one of them was barreled. Of the 15 that were fly balls, only one of them was hit to the opposite field. It’s probably safe to assume that a handful of these homers were benefited by his home park. His new home park, Marlins Park, ranks 19th on the same list. So although it’s not in the bottom 10, it still isn’t nearly as friendly as Oriole Park. Mix this in with the reminder that Villar doesn’t hit the ball hard or barrel it consistently, and you get a hitter who isn’t worth your roster spot. His 43.74 ADP is way, way, way too high for him, and you are better off waiting on a more reliable second basemen.

 

Brandon Lowe (Tampa Bay Rays, ADP: 195.93)

 

Before a quad strain ended his rookie campaign, Brandon Lowe was crushing the ball. He hit .270/.336/.514 with 17 home runs and 17 doubles in just 327 plate appearances. He turned in a solid .354 wOBA and 125 wRC+. You’d think with an ADP of 195.93, this kind of potential would make him a sleeper, but I’m not buying what he’s selling. Lowe really only outperformed in the batting average department, with an xBA of .244. His .377 BABIP was the seventh highest (min. 300 PA) in the league. But Lowe still barreled the ball 16.3% of the time and held a 91.1 mph average exit velocity. Both of these marks are tremendous, but for someone with a strikeout rate of 34.6% and a whiff rate of 37.7%, a lack of consistent contact will catch up to him. Plus, Lowe’s swinging-strike rate of 19.1% was the fourth-worst (min. 300 PA) in the league. That much swinging and missing will limit the amount of damage he can actually do, and a few steps back are inevitable. Most projections for Lowe’s 2020 season are in agreement.

AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
THE BAT .242 .317 .444 .321 103
ATC .249 .321 .467 .330 104
Depth Charts .246 .319 .449 .324 104
Steamer .248 .322 .449 .325 105
ZiPS .244 .316 .449 .322 104

In the best case scenario, drafting Lowe will get you a league-average hitter and middle-of-the-pack second basemen. Unless he makes an improvement to the hole in his bat, there’s a lot of bust potential with him.

Tommy Edman photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire | Ryan McMahon photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire | Gleyber Torres photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire | Jonathan Villar photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire | Featured image by Alyssa Buckter: alyssabuckter.com

Kyle Horton

Kyle is a former Division 1 baseball player and Cincinnati Reds fan. Please follow him on Twitter @Hortonimo, he already told his mom that you did.

2 responses to “2B Sleepers and Busts for 2020”

  1. Avatar Jon Gray’s Toe says:

    Brandon Lowe is an interesting case – on the one hand the stats don’t lie, on the other hand it is only half a season worth of data in a rookie season. Lowe was known in the minors for having a pretty good eye – I wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up in 2020 with an improved refined approach. I see Lowe as a dynamic case study who could show a skills improvement this year.

    • Avatar Kyle Horton says:

      Yeah sample size is the biggest thing with Lowe. He certainly hit the ball hard last year, but how sustainable the overall results are with that whiff rate is what we will have to wait on

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