Ever year at every position there are booms and busts. In 2017, at the second base position, Jonathan Villar was a notable bust. However, if you managed the waiver wire well, you could have picked up Whit Merrifield to offset the negative impact to your team. In today’s article I will examine a couple booms and a couple busts from 2017, and see what we can learn from these players so that we don’t make the same mistakes in our upcoming 2018 drafts.
As mentioned in the introduction, Jonathan Villar is the most notable second base bust of 2017. Villar, coming off a season with 19 home runs and 62 steals, was pegged as a top 30 pick even after accounting for his power to regress to the 12-14 home run range. What we didn’t expect was for his walk rate to fall from 11.6% to 6.9%, or his strikeout rate to jump from 25.6% to 30.3%. Villar was bad enough that he lost playing time to Eric Sogard and ended up playing just 122 games.
Looking under the hood, these negative trends in walk rate and strikeout rate appear driven by a more aggressive approach at the plate, evidenced by increased swing percentages on pitches both inside and outside the strike zone. I wonder if after a breakout season Villar put too much pressure on himself. Or maybe opposing pitchers were able to key in on Villar after being more aware of his potential. After all, he was a bit unknown to the National League prior to 2016, as he was traded to the Brewers from Houston in November of 2015. It’s hard to quantify these things, but at the end of the day Villar is a great reminder not to overpay for one great season.
Despite the ‘bust’ label, Villar still hit 11 home runs and stole 23 bases, thus still providing some value for your standard 5×5 league – just not enough to warrant what you drafted him for. Heading into 2018, Villar is being drafted around pick 180. At age 27, my money is on Villar to have a bounce back season and out-perform his 2018 ADP. He has a great chance to win the starting second base spot for the Brewers and could reasonably be a 10 homer, 30 steal guy, with potential for even more stolen base.
Odor, currently age 24, had his breakout campaign in 2016 when he hit 33 home runs while posting a triple slash of .271/.296/.502. He followed it up with another 30-home run season in 2017, but his triple slash took a big hit coming in at .204/.252/.397, thus qualifying him for the ‘bust’ label. The big knock on Odor is his inability to take walks. He posted a 3.0% walk rate in 2016 and a 4.9% walk rate in 2017. How do you pitch to a guy that can’t take a walk? Throw him balls and hope that he swings away. That seems to at least be part of the story for Odor’s batting average struggles, as he saw a 3% uptick in balls from 2016 to 2017. Odor also suffered from a bit of bad luck. He had a career low BABIP of .224, down from his career average BABIP of .278. With no real changes in Odor’s batted ball profile, I think some positive regression is in order. Projections have Odor at a .256 average for 2018 which sounds about right. Early ADP for Odor is pick 107 and he’s the ninth second baseman off the board. The .204 batting average will scare many away, but Odor has a great shot at surpassing his ADP value and finishing the season as a top 5 second baseman. He comes with the bonus of posting double digit steals the last two seasons, something which can’t be said for most of the other power hitting second basemen out there. I think this 2017 bust will be a 2018 bargain.
Age 26, Schoop is coming off the best season of his young career. He hit 32 home runs with a .293/.338/.503 triple slash. The power is real, and hitting in a great ballpark with a great surrounding cast, Schoop was able to accumulate 92 runs and 105 RBIs. The breakout was not totally unexpected; Schoop’s power has been trending positively the last few seasons, going from 15 to 25 home runs from 2015 to 2016, respectively. If only it were this easy to identify the breakout players all the time.
Heading into 2018, Schoop is being drafted around pick 60 and is the fourth second baseman off the board. I am a little bearish on this valuation because I don’t think Schoop can replicate his .293 batting average from 2016. With a 5.2% walk rate, any batting average regression will be felt in on-base percentage as well. If this sounds a bit familiar, it’s because Schoop has a lot of similarities to Odor in terms of plate discipline and batted ball profile. Refer to the table at the right for further details. I expect some regression in Schoop’s average to around the .275 mark, but if I’ve learned anything from Rougned Odor, it’s that players with low walk rates may be an easier target for pitchers. Perhaps there is a higher risk that Schoop’s batting average regresses further than expected. In addition, Schoop made his first All-Star appearance in 2017. He will be on every opponent’s radar when they square off with the Orioles. With a Manny Machado trade likely to occur by July 31st, Schoop will be even more a focus for his opponents and his supporting cast will take a hit for the second half of 2018.
Whit Merrifield, a late bloomer, played his first full season (145 games) in 2017 at age 29. Merrifield was very good in his first season: showing off his speed with 34 stolen bases, some pop with 19 home runs, and ability to hit for average with a .288 batting average. He seemingly came out of nowhere and was a waiver wire steal for those who picked him up.
In the minors, Merrifield never hit more than 10 home runs in any year and only broke the 30-steal mark one time, though he did break the 20-steal mark on several occasions. Merrifield was a player who I missed out on because I looked at his unimpressive minor league numbers and his age and expected him to fall back to Earth at any moment. I still expect him to regress to a 10 home run, 20 steal player for 2018, which is more in line with his minor league numbers. That regression never happened in 2017 though. Merrifield carried his stellar performance through the end of the season, including a .306 average and 8 steal September for the fantasy playoffs. What I learned from Merrifield is that despite all the numbers we analyze, baseball is an inexact science. Sometimes you have to roll with the hot bat and hope for a little bit of luck.
That wraps up the review of second base booms and busts from 2017. I hope this look-back was useful for your draft preparations. Thanks for reading and I will be back next week with the first of two installments of second base rankings.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and John Gozzi live on Sunday February 11th, 2018 from 7:30-9pm EST for episode #97 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This is our kick off show for the new 2018 fantasy baseball season. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Joe Iannone. Joe is a tenured writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com. Click on his name to see his portfolio of writing. His main focus is in the pitching arena.