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Draft Round Battles: Kipnis Vs. Pedroia

The good folks at Mock Draft Central don't yet have a ton of sample size data to work with this early in the fantasy league drafting season, but I'd bet their current second base rankings are going to end up being pretty stable until Opening Day, even if a few overall average draft positions change.  Robinson Cano is still a no-brainer first round pick and easily the best 2B available, while on the next tier down, you have Jason Kipnis and Dustin Pedroia battling it out for the right to be the second second baseman baseman taken taken.  Kipnis holds a very narrow lead at this point (34.93 ADP to Pedroia's 36.12) but let's further explore which player you should be taking to lock up your keystone position.

On paper, we have a battle between a player entering his prime against a player who is in the middle of his prime, though since we're forecasting the future, we have to acknowledge that Pedroia (who turns 31 in August) could potentially start to decline.  I doubt that'll happen, however, since Pedroia "rebounded" from a slightly disappointing 2012 campaign to hit .301/.372/.415 with nine homers, 84 RBI, 91 runs and 17 steals over 160 games and a league-leading 724 PA. 

Now, I used the quote marks since the narrative surrounding the 2013 Red Sox was that they were able to storm back to glory since their free agent acquisitions all delivered and their incumbent veterans all turned things around from poor and/or injury-plagued 2012 seasons.  While Pedroia did spend some time on the DL with an injured right thumb in 2012 (an injury that continued to plague him last season as well), he still played 142 games and hit .290/.347/.449.  As you've probably noticed, that .797 OPS is actually higher than the .787 mark that Pedroia posted in 2013.

The culprit was a power shortage, as reflected by the drop in slugging percentange and Pedroia's career-low (over a full season) .114 ISO.  He also had a career-low fly ball rate (27.9%), though it didn't hurt his overall production much given that Pedroia's 21.6% line drive rate was above his career rate and his highest in three seasons.

Pedroia has always gotten a big boost from playing at Fenway Park --- an .880 OPS at home versus a .767 OPS on the road --- and those splits became even more pronounced in 2013.  Seven of Pedroia's nine homers came in Boston en route to a .867 career OPS, while he had only a .712 OPS and two of his homers in away games.  This stands out as a red flag to me, since it doesn't help your fantasy team much if your third-round pick only hits like a third-rounder or better for half of the schedule.

Kipnis has a similar red flag in that you're not really sure what player you're getting on a week to week basis.  In 2013, Kipnis hit .284/.366/.452 with 17 homers, 84 RBI, 86 runs and 30 steals, making him one of the better 5x5 threats in all of fantasy baseball.  Mighty numbers, sure, though those numbers were largely generated during a red-hot 11-homer, .333/.421/.618 stretch in May and June.  Minus those two months, and Kipnis was otherwise pretty average, with a .724 OPS over the last three months (and an ugly .555 OPS in April).  He also benefited from some major batted-ball luck in the form of a .345 BABIP.

In a standard roto league, Kipnis' production roller coaster wasn't too concerning, since at the end of the year, he still had more fantasy value than any second baseman besides Mr. Cano.  In a weekly head-to-head, though, Kipnis' peaks and valleys were a lot more frustrating unless you had the good sense to sell high in early July.

Breaking down the 5x5 projections for 2014, both players' RBI and runs totals will probably be a wash given that they both play in strong lineups.  Kipnis has the edge in speed, with back-to-back 30-steal seasons to his credit (though Pedroia isn't exactly a slouch in his category, with a career average of 19 swipes per year).  I'd give Pedroia a narrow edge in batting average, as he's still an expert at grinding out at-bats and finding holes in the diamond, and Kipnis' 2013 BABIP worries me.

So it basically all comes down to power, and that's where Kipnis has the slight edge at this time.  It could be that Pedroia's offseason thumb surgery will finally correct the injury that has been bothering him for two full years and he'll regain his old pop, though it's worth noting that his 2010-11 campaigns (when he had an 11.4% home run rate) both far exceeded his 7.7% homer rate, so those years may have been the power outliers rather than 2012-13.  And, Pedroia's "old pop" only once topped the 17-homer mark, so even if Pedroia returns to his average homer output, it wouldn't be surprising to see Kipnis keep developing and crack the 20-homer plateau.

I can see why the early ADP rankings are so tight between these two players, as it's hard to pick a clear winner.  If I was picking a better pure hitter I'd go with Pedroia, but pure hitting doesn't always translate to 5x5 counting stats, so I'll have to give the slight nod to Kipnis.  He's just entering his age-27 season so the best could be yet to come for the Tribe's second baseman, while it's possible (though unlikely) that Pedroia will start to decline and become a fantasy liability outside of Fenway. 

Kipnis also struggled in the second half of 2012, so yes, I realize I'm picking a player with basically four good months out of 12 as a Major League starter over one of the steadiest players in the sport for the better part of a decade.  I'm crossing my fingers that Kipnis continues to realize his potential or else I'll be the latest to be burned for underestimating The Muddy Chicken.

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