You can't go wrong at second base.
I mean it. If you played in a 12-team league, I'm guessing the one you had wasn't appreciably worse than the one anyone else had, provided you acted when newer, better options emerged on the waiver wire.
Of all the hitter positions, it was the most homogeneous in 2015. There was no clear standout -- well, maybe one -- and the top 12 continued to rearrange itself right up until season's end.
Which makes ranking the position for 2016 pretty interesting. Since you can't go wrong, really, upside, age and track record all count for more than 2015 performance, so if you're wondering why I rank one player over another, well, there's the criteria.
So is second base a deep position? If you're at minimal risk of getting burned there in a 12-team league, I'd have to say so, but in a middle-heavy sort of way. If I had to predict today, I'd say only one second baseman goes off the board in the first two rounds.
Top 10 second basemen for 2016:
1. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros
2. Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins
3. Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins
4. Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Nationals
5. Rougned Odor, 2B, Rangers
6. Robinson Cano, 2B, Mariners
7. Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians
8. Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals
9. Joe Panik, 2B, Giants
10. Devon Travis, 2B, Blue Jays
That one is Altuve, who pulled away toward the end of the season with his continually improving power. That said, Gordon actually outperformed him in batting average and stolen bases, both players' two best areas, but of course, Altuve's power is a differentiator. It manifests more as doubles than home runs right now, but because he's still only 25, he should continue to improve in that regard. Between that likelihood and the fact we know he has the capacity for an even higher batting average, his upside sets him apart.
Of course, 2015 may be as good as it gets for Gordon while we've clearly seen better from players like Dozier (in terms of walks and stolen bases), Kipnis (in terms of home runs) and Cano (in terms of everything). But each of those players was so different from the first half to the second that it's hard to know exactly what to expect from them. Cano was the only one who finished better than he started, hitting as many home runs in the second half as he had all of last year, but considering he'll be 33 next year and has needed a late surge to salvage his numbers the last two years, you should know better than to assess him on his second-half numbers alone.
Because Dozier is the preeminent home run hitter at a position short on power, I set him apart from the other two, with a separate tier of Rendon and Odor in between. Odor is certainly the trendier pick, performing at a near-elite level after his return to the big leagues in mid-June, but Rendon did his best to salvage his numbers the last two months of the season after an injury-plagued start. And let's not forget he was getting drafted ahead of even Gordon and Dozier before the first of those injuries sprang up this spring.
After Kipnis, Wong and Travis are your best bets for elite production, but of course, neither ended 2015 on the best terms. Travis is the riskier of the two since his shoulder issues are all too reminiscent of what Jurickson Profar's has gone through at the start of his career, but I have a feeling Wong might be the tougher sell since his issues are performance-related. Why so hasty, though? He's still only 24 and has demonstrated both power and speed at a position where that skill set would be invaluable, all while making contact at a higher-than-average rate. You'll have plenty of safe second basemen to fall back on if he doesn't take the next step next year.
And I don't mean just Panik, who may strike some as boring since he doesn't stand out in the traditional counting stats. He dominates peripherally, though, and had a surprisingly sustainable BABIP for a player who hit .312. On a per-game basis, he actually outperformed Travis in Head-to-Head points leagues, his many contributions adding up to make him something like a much younger version of ... well, the first player in this next group of 10.
Next 10 second basemen for 2016:
11. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Tigers
12. Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF, Royals
13. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox
14. Logan Forsythe, 1B/2B, Rays
15. DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Rockies
16. Neil Walker, 2B, Pirates
17. Howie Kendrick, 2B, Dodgers
18. Daniel Murphy, 2B/3B, Mets
19. Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds
20. Javier Baez, 2B, Cubs
Now, I know what you're thinking. If you owned Kinsler or Zobrist, you were doing cartwheels the entire second half. Both actually outscored Odor and Cano on a per-game basis this season, and yet here they are 11th and 12th.
This is the point where age enters into the equation. Second base is the bunchiest of the positions this year, remember, so if Kinsler and Zobrist have been better than some of the players I've ranked ahead of them, it isn't by much. Kinsler is 33 now and has seen his home runs and stolen bases steadily decline over the last four years, to the point that you can't even trust him to reach double digits in those categories. His low strikeout rate and surplus of doubles have kept him afloat, as has a high run total atop a productive lineup, but eventually, the other shoe will drop. If the difference between him and the youngsters behind him (in terms of 2015 production, that is) is too small to care, why risk it?
It could be worse, you know. Kinsler has managed to stay healthy the last few years (a departure from earlier in his career, strangely enough), and so he's a clear step above the increasingly brittle Pedroia, who has also seen his power and speed numbers gradually decline the last few years. Zobrist forms the bridge between the two and has had a great year, but the longtime Ray will be 35 early next year. He's at the point in his career where anything more he does is gravy.
The No. 14 spot is where the position takes an underwhelming turn. At that point, we're clearly beyond the Rendons and Odors of the world in terms of upside, so I'm taking kind of a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately approach to the position. I just can't see Walker, Kendrick or Murphy being anything more than a fallback option. It's not a problem if one winds up as your starter, but it means you've resigned yourself to merely keeping afloat at the position.
Forsythe and LeMahieu offer a little hope for something more since they've obviously outperformed those three this year, but it's taken a career performance from both, two players already well into their primes. Where do they go from here? Maybe Forsythe approaches 20 home runs again and LeMahieu maintains a high enough BABIP to keep his batting average over .300, but then they're only standing still while others like Rendon and Odor are passing them.
And then there's Brandon Phillips, who I'm legally obligated to rank in the top 20 given how he has miraculously turned back clock this year. That other shoe that's eventually going to drop for Kinsler? It already did for Phillips in 2014, but he has come roaring back with more than 20 stolen bases, reaching that milestone for the first time in six years. No bonus points for witchcraft, though. Rollins successfully turned back the clock last year, and we've seen how his 2015 has gone.
The ultimate risk-reward pick at the position is Baez, who I could make a case to rank ahead of Walker, even, if we knew he'd be eligible at second base next year and already had a starting job locked up. Both remain to be seen, as does Baez's ability to hit major-league pitching, but his power bat gives him top-five potential at the position.
Wondering where Matt Carpenter and Matt Duffy are? They didn't play second base enough this year to retain their eligibility there next year. Jonathan Schoop's ugly peripherals hold him back, but he could challenge Dozier as the premier power hitter at the position. Also, Dilson Herrera and Jose Peraza are two newcomers to keep in mind. Both are projected to start for their respective teams if incumbents Murphy and Kendrick walk.