Entering the 2023 season, second base is one of the most difficult positions to figure out. Once you get past the first few options, there is a cloud of uncertainty. You can find reasons for concern with just about every player at the position and figuring out which players to bet on being a success can be difficult. From picks 170-190 in drafts, you can get a bounce-back candidate in Jonathan India, a young high-potential player in Vaughn Grissom, a late-career breakout in Brandon Drury, or the always-reliable but never-spectacular Jake Cronenworth. Deciphering this position is difficult and, in the article below, I outline three players I am avoiding in drafts for this season. All three players have a high probability of being busts for this season.
The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!
Second Base Busts to Avoid
Brandon Drury- Los Angeles Angels
If you have been following the Fantrax Staff consensus rankings, you would already know that I am out on Brandon Drury. He has multi-positional eligibility, and I was the lowest on him every time. Drury had a career season at age 29, split between the Reds and Padres. In 138 games he slashed .263/.320/.492 with a .350 wOBA. Amongst players with second base eligibility, his 28 home runs from 2022 ties Jose Altuve for the most at the position. Drafting a player coming off a season like Drury’s outside the top 190 picks as 2B18 seems like a steal. I however, have Drury ranked 27th and would proceed with caution when targeting him.
The most obvious reason to fade Drury is that much of his success can be accredited to playing the first half of the season in Cincinnati.
Before the trade, Drury hit .274/.335/.520 with a 19.2 HR/FB%.
After arriving in San Diego, Drury hit .238/.290/.435 with a 15.4 HR/FB%.
Maybe Drury was just pressing to impress a new team, but the splits are dramatic. Drury’s San Diego slash line is much closer to his career slash of .252/.302/.434 than the 92 games he played in Cincinnati. The batted ball data was relatively similar at both stops in 2023, the only difference was he did not have the inflation of Great American Ballpark. Now, you might be thinking to yourself: “San Diego is a pitcher’s ballpark and Drury’s new home in Los Angeles is much more hitter-friendly.” While you are not totally wrong, for home runs, Angel Stadium ranks closer to Petco Park than it does Great American Ballpark.
HR Park Factors (RHH):
- Los Angeles:112
- San Diego:95
There is no doubt, Los Angeles is an overall improvement over San Diego, but people should not expect Drury to go back to posting the same numbers he did while with Cincinnati.
An issue that Drury has had throughout his career has been his chase rate. From 2020-2021, Drury averaged a chase rate above 37%. Last season, he showed dramatic improvement in this category, but much of this was during the first half. As you can see in the chart below, after the beginning of the season, Drury saw his out-of-zone swing percentage jump back up.
Chasing pitches leads to more weak contact and fewer walks. Both of which could negatively impact Drury’s performance.
The final and biggest concern with Drury is his inability to handle right-handed pitchers. This has been an issue that has plagued him throughout his career. Last season Drury posted a 160 wRC+ against lefties while that number against righties was just 109. 2022 represented a career-high and Drury might always be at best close to average against most pitchers. Meanwhile, Gio Urshela is currently slotted to be a backup infielder and has an average wRC+ against righties of 121 since 2019. There could be platoon risk with Drury especially if he gets off to a slow start.
Drury is a prime candidate to be a bust for the 2023 fantasy baseball season. Rarely do hitters have career seasons at age 29 and see sustained success in future seasons. Drury’s 2022 success was a great feel-good story, but you should not expect similar results in 2023. There are better options available, and I am steering clear of drafting Drury to my fantasy teams.
Andres Gimenez- Cleveland Guardians
Andres Gimenez’s first two professional seasons were a bit of a disappointment, but the former top prospect broke through in a big way in 2022. He posted a .297/.371.466 slash line. He added 17 home runs, 20 steals, and at age 24 has the looks of a potential 20-20 player. Right now, he is going as the sixth second baseman off the board in drafts, around pick 80. Investing in Gimenez requires high draft capital based on one successful season. Proceed with caution as young players do not always keep progressing after one good season.
As many of you know, I rely on xwRC+ for a lot of my player analysis. When the xwRC+ busts article was being planned Gimenez was a prime candidate to land on the list. Ultimately, he was left off so that I could talk about him here. Gimenez posted a 140 wRC+ last season which is 31 points higher than his xwRC+. The model is clearly skeptical of his success and is warning against buying in. The biggest reason is the quality of contact Gimenez posts. These are Gimenez’s numbers in a couple of key inputs for xwRC+:
- Barrel/PA: 4.3%
- Average EV: 87.8 mph
- Sweet Spot: 31.3%
Pulling 2022 data, there were 25 batters that posted a barrel/PA between 3 and 5 and an average EV between 86 and 89 mph. These 25 hitters had an average HR/FB% of 10.14%. Gimenez posted the third-highest rate with a 14% HR/FB. The Guardians do not play in a HR-friendly ballpark, and we should not expect Gimenez to continue posting a home run rate that high. Of those same 25 batters, Gimenez’s wRC+ was the highest in the group with the average being 104. Everything about this list screams regression for Gimenez; proceed with caution in your 2023 drafts.
Last season, Gimenez posted the highest walk and lowest strikeout rates of his career. He managed to do both of these with a 38.4% chase rate and a 26.2% whiff rate. His chase rate ranked in the eighth percentile and is close to his career rates. You can see in the graph below, pitchers started to realize that Gimenez will swing at just about anything. The percentage of pitches he saw in the strike zone decreased throughout the season. There is no coincidence that his strikeout rate increased as the zone percentage decreased. We should expect pitchers to attack Gimenez the same way in 2023.
Second base is difficult and Gimenez is a player that is going to provide valuable stolen bases. There are serious red flags in his profile that you cannot overlook when prioritizing his speed. His draft cost is high and at cost, there are better options later that you should target. Jorge Polanco is a way better offensive player and at almost 100 picks later Vaughn Grissom can provide you just as much speed. I am fading Gimenez and think he will be a bust in 2023.
Whit Merrifield- Toronto Blue Jays
The wheels finally fell off for Merrifield in 2022. Merrifield had not been a true offensive threat since 2019, but he was a reliable source of steals. This changed in 2022 when Merrifield stole just 16 bases while posting the lowest wRC+ of his career. Entering 2023, his draft price is significantly lower than in previous years, but at age 34 it is still too high. I faded Merrifield last year and I have no reason to leave him off this list again this year. His draft price of 2B16 is still too high and you should not be investing in hopes of a bounce back.
Those pointing toward a bounce-back season are for sure looking at Merrifield’s slash line once he arrived in Toronto. He hit .281/.323/.446. Some might think that Toronto is a more favorable spot to hit and while this is the case for home run hitters, Kansas City has the higher park factor and is more designed for Merrifield’s style of play. Here are Merrifield’s percentile rankings for key contact metrics:
- Average EV: 16th percentile
- Max EV: 35th percentile
- Barrel %: 14th percentile
- xSLG: 22nd percentile
Merrifield is not a power hitter and will never be a power hitter. His swing is designed to drive the ball into the gaps which was perfect for Kansas City.
Another benefit of playing in Kansas City was consistent at-bats toward the top of the lineup. This is not the case in Toronto. While in KC, Merrifield averaged 4.42 plate appearances per game. After moving to Toronto, he averaged 2.95. This average will not stay as low in 2023, but we should not project him to see nearly as many at-bats as we are used to. He is also far from guaranteed an everyday lineup spot. The Blue Jays have Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal both on the bench who figure to get some playing time. If Merrifield struggles, the leash could be short.
Merrifield’s fantasy value has been reliant on stolen bases and runs scored. He is not in the position to score nearly as many runs and only stole one base after joining Toronto. Toronto ranked 21st in baseball in stolen base attempts last year. They have big bats in the lineup and want to avoid running into any extra outs. Kansas City meanwhile ranked sixth in this category. With Merrifield’s sprint speed slowly declining at age 34 and now playing on a team that avoids running, we should not expect Merrifield to be a big stolen base contributor.
Merrifield’s value in drafts is being inflated based on name value. People see Merrifield sitting around pick 186 in drafts and think that is an easy way to increase their team speed. As fantasy managers we need to accept Merrifield for who he is and not who he was. Pick 186 is still too high for him and there are plenty of speed options later at 2B. Morel, Berti, Segura, Rojas are just a few of the names that are cheaper in drafts and could steal as many bases as Merrifield in 2023. His declining bat skills point to another bust season for Merrifield in 2023 meaning you should avoid him in drafts.
Are you buying in on Tyler’s favorite bounce-back players? For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!