Just a couple years ago, second base had seemingly passed third base as the second-deepest position on the infield. Kelly Johnson had seemingly found his form. Chase Utley and Dan Uggla were seemingly in their prime. Gordon Beckham, Jemile Weeks and Dustin Ackley would seemingly keep the position hearty and healthy for the next several years.
| Tiering is a method of doctoring positional rankings so that players of similar value are bundled into groups. A new group begins whenever the next player down in the rankings has a vastly different projected outcome from the player preceding him. Reducing a position to five or six tiers instead of 30 or more individuals gives you a blueprint to follow as your league's draft unfolds. Naturally, the position to target is the one whose active tier is closest to completion. -- Scott White |
Needless to say, it didn't turn out that way.
Sure, second base still has its bright spots, but because so much of what seemed so certain just a couple years ago has turned out to be anything but, most of the selection is about as disappointing as you'll find at any position.
And so the tiers here look a little different. While at most other positions, each tier contains a good five or six players so that you might actually get to wait a round or two before the next drop-off, some of the tiers here are so small that they might cause you to reach, if you're not careful.
The Elite: Robinson Cano
It's one of the downfalls of the tier approach. If all the tiers at a position are so small that whenever your pick comes up, the active tier is reduced to only a player or two, how do you know when is the best time to target that position?
For Cano, it's easy. He's genuinely elite, so the answer for him is "as soon as possible." Granted, you wouldn't want to reach for him over the other-worldly trio of Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Mike Trout, but at any point beyond that, have at it.
After Cano is where the position gets tricky. In the past, Pedroia and Kinsler might have ranked alongside him in The Elite, but both have had injury woes over the years that may be adversely affecting their numbers now as they enter their 30s. Perhaps last year was a blip on the radar for them -- judging by Pedroia's second half, it's especially plausible in his case -- but just the threat of them missing time justifies their placement in a lower tier.
So there they are, alone with Zobrist in that second tier, which is up and active as soon as Cano goes off the board, presumably with the fourth or fifth overall pick. Because that second tier is so small and in play so early in the draft, you might feel compelled to draft from it even when a number of first-tier players are available at other positions.
Now, sometimes taking a player from a lesser tier at a weaker position is preferable. The point of the tier approach is to make you as strong as can be at every position, not just one. But if you're not careful, the fear of missing out on a tier at a position could distract you from another, more rewarding tier nearing depletion at another position.
That's where knowing when these players typically go off the board comes in handy. Let's say you pick early in the second round at 15th overall. Pedroia has already gone to some sucker, but Kinsler and Zobrist are both available, as are Prince Fielder, Buster Posey and Edwin Encarnacion at first base. Two vs. three means you take Kinsler, right?
Not so fast. Based on where the first basemen normally go off the board, none of them are getting back to you at Pick 34. Zobrist actually has a better chance, so drafting Fielder improves your odds of getting a player from both tiers. If it doesn't work out, at least you get a true stud in Fielder instead of settling for Pedroia. A first-tier first baseman and a third-tier second baseman is better than a second-tier player at both positions.
Of course, if you reach for Pedroia or Kinsler early in the second round, it's not exactly a draft-breaker. You at least get a really good player at a really bad position. A bigger mistake would be reaching for Utley or Uggla a round or two after the last of The Next Best Things goes off the board. Just because they're the last of the second basemen worthy of distinction doesn't mean they take priority over a third outfielder or fourth starting pitcher. Starting Scutaro or Walker at second base isn't such a disaster that you should cripple yourself elsewhere to avoid it.
So when's the best time to draft a second baseman? If you can't get Cano in the first round, holding out for the one fairly substantial tier, The Next Best Things, might be your best bet. Just don't forget the way tiers work. At some point during the lull after Zobrist, someone will get antsy and reach for a Brandon Phillips or Jason Kipnis a couple rounds too early. Don't feel like you have to do the same. Getting Rickie Weeks or Jose Altuve in the ninth round is a victory, not a concession.
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