Second Basemen


RotoAuthority Unscripted: A Second Base Cage Match

This is an article about old versus new. This is an article about years of production versus what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? This is an article about season-long performance and predictability versus unexpected hot streaks. And I don’t know how it’s going to end. 

Yes, you guessed it. This article is about Chase Utley and Luis Valbuena.

I suppose a bit of context is in order. In the RotoAuthority Silver League, I entered the month of September (or at least I exited August) with a pretty sizeable lead of 14 points in the standings. I kind of figured on coasting into championship, since the lead hadn’t changed much in at least a month or two.

Boy, was I wrong.

Hat tip to the owner of Tanaka Flocka Flame for shrinking that lead to 3.5 points, despite being without their name-inspiring star. So, I’m not exactly coasting like I expected to. Desperate might not be quite the right word…but maybe it is.

My hitting needs some more work, as I can conceivably pick up points in Runs, HR, and RBI—and I need to not lose them in AVG and SB. Which brings me to my dilemma.

Assuming for the moment that I don’t have the flexibility to drop anyone else, am I better off taking the surging Valbuena over the slumping Utley?

Let’s take a look.

Round 1: Recent Performance

In the last 30 days of 5x5 stats (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG)
Valbuena: 18/6/10/1/.292
Utley: 6/0/11/2/.189

Obviously, it’s an easy win for Valbuena—that’s why we’re having this conversation, and that’s why his ownership is up from 4% (in Yahoo! leagues) on August 27 to today’s 23% number. He leads my waiver wire with those 18 runs scored and six home runs—though Oswaldo Arcia beats him on the latter account in plenty of free agent lists, I suppose.

Notably, it’s not a knockout, as Utley bests Valbuena in RBI and steals. Plus, while the batting averages would be nice to switch retroactively, is there any indication they’ll continue? And it’s not like runs scored are the most predictive stat in the world.

Winner: Valbuena. On to the next round.

Round 2: 2014 Season

On the season, 5x5 plus some more: (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG/SLG/OBP)
Valbuena: 499 PA 61/16/48/1/.245/.329/.440
Utley: 617 PA 69/11/76/7/.273/.342/.414 

Utley runs up huge advantages in RBI, steals, and average—making it harder for me to believe Valbuena really will out-average Utley over the rest of the season, but Valbuena does noticeably better in power. Some of that difference—especially in RBI—can be chalked up to a big difference in plate appearances, so that makes Valbuena’s runs total even more impressive compared to Utley’s. Looking a little further under the hood, we can see that Valbuena’s got a strikeout percentage of 20.8%, compared to Utley’s 13%; Valbuena’s BABIP is sitting at .286, while Utley’s is .297. So, over any relevant stretch of time, it seems likely that Utley will outperform Valbuena in batting average, but I’m comfortable enough predicting that Valbuena will hit for more power. Call this one for Utley, but by perhaps less than it seems.

Winner: Utley

Round 3: Career Track Record

Uhh…yeah. You don’t need the stats to back this up, but I’ll give you them just so you can be reassured that I’m not lazy. Well, not that lazy, anyway.

Again in the (R/HR/RBI/SB/AVG/SLG/OBP) format.
Valbuena: 205/45/170/6/.228/.309/.374
Utley: 921/228/884/136//286/.370/.489 

I told you. Considering his shorter career, Valbuena’s career numbers are perhaps more relevant than Utley’s, but that doesn’t make this fight any less daunting for the upstart. It also gives us even more to worry about in the batting average department.

Winner: Utley But enough about the past. What about the future?

Round 4: Schedule and Teammates

Anyone who’s played fantasy baseball for more than a week or two has figured out that player performance has a bit of variation from week to week and month to month. With about two weeks left to go (is that it?) we have to take the context of the games each player will be playing into account.

Also, anyone who’s played fantasy long enough to start a second season knows that runs and RBI have about as much to do with the player generating them as they do his teammates helping him along—or getting in the way. 

On the season, the Cubs’ current roster of players has only generated about 3.0 more WAR than the Phillies…but they’ve done it with nearly 1000 fewer PA, because so many Cubs players have come up from the minors recently. Despite the gap in PA, the Cubs have actually hit 24 more homers than the Phils, and the squad has a .311 wOBA compared to the Phillies’ .297 mark. If you’re starting to think of this in degrees of badness, I’ll agree…but the degrees are relevant: the Phillies are a lot worse.

How about their place in those lineups? Valbuena has been bouncing around the top of the order in the last week, recently behind Jorge Soler and the recently-returned Anthony Rizzo, and in front of Welington Castillo. Chris Valaika, Javier Baez, and Chris Coghlan have also been batting in front of or behind Valbuena. Uh…keep in mind this is about degrees of bad, though things look a lot better with Rizzo back. 

Utley’s team has been a lot more stable, so it’s more fruitful to look at his season-average lineup slot: typically third behind Jimmy Rollins and Ben Revere and in front of Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd. So it’s no surprise that Utley has more RBI by a wide margin. The lineup-context makes things look more salvageable for Utley in this, now very extended round.

But how about the schedule?

Well, I profiled the Cubs’ and Phillies’ schedules in the same article. Let’s see how they look: about Philadelphia, I said, “You don’t want any part of their lineup.” For Chicago, however, I suggested that “Cubs hitters could be sneaky-good, with a slate of bad pitching staffs to face in the last month.” But that was on the month. Half the month is gone. So, who are the Cubs and Phillies really facing?

Cubs: Home (9): Reds (2), Dodgers (4), Cardinals (3); Away (3): Brewers (3)

Phillies: Home (3): Braves (3), Away (9): Padres (3), A’s (3), Marlins (3)

Wrigley Field (park factor of 0.894) has been the one of the worst parks to hit in this year, and while the Phils’ Citizens Bank Park is also pitching-friendly (park factor 0.917) it’s still friendlier to hitters than the Friendly Confines has been. The Cubs’ three games in Milwaukee are also in a pitchers’ park…while the Phillies get games in the hitting Death Valley that is San Diego, but get some good news: Oakland and Miami have, somewhat surprisingly, played as hitters’ parks this year. Park-wise, I’ll give this to Utley.

Unfortunately for both players, though, their schedules feature games against four of the top five pitching staffs in the NL (two series each, of course). The Cubs and Valbuena get a reprieve in the form of Reds and Brewers games, while the Phillies have to take on the Padres at home and the A’s.

Recapping a long Round 4: The Cubs’ lineup is a little better, and their schedule is a little easier. The Phillies’ home park is less unfavorable, and Utley hits near players that are at least sort of producing within his bad lineup.

Winner: Tie! I know, I know, we all hate ties, but this one does seem to be pretty close, with the most relevant information being that neither player is in a good situation.

Final Winner: Chase Utley

Yes, champion fends off the challenger in this cage match. Valbuena has put up a great month so far, but should we be surprised? There was a reason I said Cubs hitters could be “sneaky-good” this month...but Valbuena actually hasn't. In fact, he put up his impressive 30 day numbers almost entirely in the last couple weeks of August. Go figure. Maybe his "hot streak" has already cooled off.

After getting really excited to pick up Valbuena (he just about had me after Round 1), I have to say I don’t really recommend it. I’m sticking with the more consistent—albeit slumping—Utley.

Feel free to second-guess me when the rest of my lead slips out of my fingers….



RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Second Base

This week is the last of our hitter rankings, with only the ever-exciting middle infield positions left to post. Today, we give you Second Basemen, a delightful position filled with speedsters, injury-risks, low batting averages, and a surprising amount of players with flexible eligibility. Saturday will deliver us Shortstop; sandwiched between them, we'll see Closers ranked by Luckey Helms on Thursday. So it should be a pretty exciting week all around.

In case you missed it, check out the OutfieldCatcher, First Base, and Third Base for the fuller picture.

These rankings are gleaned from the brains of the entire RotoAuthority staff, they're tiered, and the round by round guides are vague suggestions that will vary from format to format...but you know all that because you read the first four articles in this series.

Tier 1: New Team, Same Tier (Round 1)

1. Robinson Cano

Cano is likely to lose some counting stats by shifting to the Mariners' lineup and park. That's not ideal, I guess, but the distance between him and everyone else is so huge that I wouldn't worry about it much. It also helps that Seattle's Safeco Field isn't quite the black hole it used to be, presumptively thanks to the moved-in fences.

Tier 2: Old Guy, New Guy (Round 3)

2. Jason Kipnis

3. Dustin Pedroia

Mark Polishuk covered this draft round battle back in January, and we all came to pretty much the same conclusion: Kipnis by a hair. Both are noticeably better than your other options.

Tier 3: Said "Other Options" (Rounds 5-8)

4. Aaron Hill

5. Matt Carpenter

6. Ian Kinsler

7. Ben Zobrist

The dropoff here is pretty big. I've said rounds five through eight, but maybe Hill should be in his own tier, because he's the only one I'd consider taking in the early part of that range. His health has been questionable, but he has raked consistently with Arizona. Carpenter is a question mark too: his BABIP will go way down, but how far? And how much value will be left? The Cards' lineup ought to keep those runs scored pretty high, at least. Kinsler and Zobrist seem unlikely to reach 20 homers or 20 steals again, but they still do a little of everything.

Tier 4: Value From Imperfection (Round 9-13)

8. Jose Altuve

9. Chase Utley

11. Jedd Gyorko

12. Brandon Phillips

13. Martin Prado

14. Daniel Murphy

Altuve's strong in steals and doesn't hurt in average...but he isn't that helpful anywhere else, thanks to the rest of the Astros. Utley hasn't been healthy since...well, since he was a first or second round pick, I believe. Nab a solid backup if you want him. Gyorko has nice power, but serious BA and OBP issues. Phillips is declining and expensive--but those are problems for real life, not fantasy. He still does just enough of everything to be useful, and if he continues to hit behind Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, he should rake in the RBI again. Prado is unexcitingly decent, which is a pretty useful sort of player. Murphy was a pleasant surprise last year, but it's difficult to see him repeating completely. The steals, especially, came out of nowhere--but then, he was only caught three times. Now I'm just arguing with myself.

Tier 5: Underrated (Rounds 14-17)

15. Jed Lowrie

16. Jurickson Profar

17. Brian Dozier

18. Howie Kendrick

Lowrie isn't getting much love (outside of a very sensible Rotographs article) but he was a pretty great hitter last year. Injury risk is the only reason he's this low, which is understandable enough--but he can hit. Consider getting him and Utley together and hoping they don't get injured at the same time.... Profar fizzled in the Majors last year, but what could we expect? Up and down, on and off the bench, moving around enough to be eligible (in some leagues) at second, third, and short. He was a great prospect for a reason, and it's well worth taking a chance now. Dozier has just enough power and speed to be interesting, though he is buried in the Twins lineup. Kendrick is a pretty dependable batting average guy in a decent lineup.

It's worth noting that all eighteen of these players makes a pretty decent second baseman or middle infielder--all can start on good fantasy teams. The next tier will change that.

Tier 6: The Point at which You Wished You'd Gotten Your MI Already (After 17)

19. Omar Infante

20. Neil Walker

21. Alexander Guerrero

22. Anthony Rendon

23. Kelly Johnson

24. Kolten Wong

25. Emilio Bonifacio

26. Dan Uggla

27. Rickie Weeks

28. Nick Franklin

Infante and Walker are safe, unexciting picks. The former will help a little in average, the latter in homers. They make useful handcuffs for the riskier options above them. Guerrero doesn't seem to be looking super sharp in the Dodgers' camp, but keep watching him. If he does end up starting, bump him up a tier or two. Rendon ought to show more than he did last year with more stability. If Johnson gets most of the playing time for New York, he could be a good, late power source. He's a bit more valuable in daily leagues. Wong may or may not be ready, but any live hitter in the Cardinals' lineup ought to be okay in the counting stats. Bonifacio is supposedly coming off the Cubs' bench, but if they use him often enough, he might help in steals. Uggla is pretty bad, but can hit the ball a long way. Weeks may be done, but if the rest of March goes well for him and he wins back the starter's job (big if), he could be draftable. Franklin is on the outside looking in for Seattle, but if he gets traded or steals Brad Miller's shortstop job he gets interesting quickly.

Second base is very short on elite talent, but after the top guys are gone, there are a surprising amount of decent options. This is where to target your MI player, as usual. In shallow leagues, I wouldn't worry much at all about position scarcity here, as you have plenty of opportunities to take fliers on interesting players with question marks and handcuff them with safer moves. This is one year that I actually expect to be happy with my second baseman.


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The Market Report: Second Basemen

The Market Report is a weekly analysis of player valuations in the fantasy marketplace in an effort to find undervalued commodities.

Let's continue our look at the market for each position entering 2014, analyzing second basemen this week. As usual, ADP values are provided in parentheses.

Tier One

1. Robinson Cano (6)

2. Jason Kipnis (19)

3. Dustin Pedroia (22)

Tier Two

4. Matt Carpenter (41)

5. Ian Kinsler (47)

Tier Three

6. Aaron Hill (65)

7. Ben Zobrist (75)

8. Brandon Phillips  (76)

9. Jose Altuve (77)

Tier Four

10. Jedd Gyorko (93)

11. Martin Prado (100)

12. Daniel Murphy (109)

13. Jed Lowrie (113)

14. Chase Utley (126)

15. Jurickson Profar (132)

Tier Five

16. Anthony Rendon (153)

17. Neil Walker (181)

18. Howie Kendrick (191)

19. Brian Dozier (203)

20. Kolten Wong (209)

21. Scooter Gennett (214)

22. Omar Infante (217)

Undervalued

Martin Prado (ADP 100)

Let me start by saying I don't see a ton of profit to be gained at second base. I'm mostly on board with how the market values players at the position, so I'll have to take what the draft gives me. I'm also going to cheat here in a sense and select a player who isn't actually the second baseman for his team. Penciled in as the everyday third baseman and projected to hit second for the Diamondbacks, Prado certainly has the skills to return a profit on his current ADP. Over the past five seasons, he's been rather consistent in posting low strikeout rates with slightly below league-average power. While he's hit for a wide range of AVGs, it's mostly just due to some wild swings in BABIP. It's interesting that he had 17 SB in 2012, but that looks like an outlier in retrospect, as he's never had as many as five in any other season. Ultimately then, you're drafting him mainly for the runs and AVG. Beyond those statistical contributions, however, there are additional benefits to owning Prado. For one, he qualifies all over the place, eligible at 2B, 3B, and OF. That positional flexibility can do wonders for a roster when unforeseen injuries take place. In addition, this is a stable stock here. Given that he puts the ball in play so frequently and will rack up a ton of at-bats hitting second, he's unlikely to be a bust. You know what you're getting in Prado, and there's value in reliability.

Howie Kendrick (ADP 191)

I find it a tad strange that the asking price for Kendrick is so cheap as we head into draft season. I'm not here to argue that he's anything spectacular. Even so, this is still a player with a career .292 AVG, so he's a good bet to be a positive contributor in that category. The power is league-average at best, but he can approach 15 HR. Yes, he had just six SB last year, but that was his first full season failing to reach double digits. He'll never score many runs due to consistently low walk rates, and he only can get so many RBI hitting near the bottom of the lineup (even though the Angels offense has nowhere to go but up). I think it's safe to say I'm damning with faint praise here, so why do I think Kendrick is undervalued? Well a Roto line of 70 / 12 / 70 / 12 / .290 is actually quite valuable at second base. Last year Zobrtist put up a virtually identical line of 70 / 12 / 71 / 11 / .275 and finished 11th on the ESPN Player Rater at the position. In short, I view Kendrick as a player who lacks the upside to finish among the elite at second base but has a fair chance to wind up in the top ten.

Overvalued

Ian Kinsler (ADP 47)

I assumed Kinsler's draft stock would take a steep hit this offseason with the move from Texas to Detroit, but he's still viewed as a top-50 fantasy player. When Kinsler used to go inside the top 20 in drafts a couple years ago, I felt the fantasy community was failing to fully factor in his injury history. Well, he's reached 600 plate appearances in four of the past five seasons, so I actually don't worry about that much anymore.

Now I just think he's overpriced based on the expected on-field production. Since going 30/30 in 2011, we've seen consecutive seasons of marked decline in power and speed. This past season his average flyball distance was a measly 265 feet. Meanwhile, he was only 15 for 26 in SB attempts last year, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him run less frequently going forward. In fact, I'd take the under on 20 for HR or SB in 2014. In three of the past five years, he's also hit below .260, so he isn't a good bet to help there either. Ultimately, I see Kinsler as a player who can still be helpful, but the fantasy community is making a mistake in viewing him as a star at this point in his career. Just last week the folks at ESPN ranked him 32nd overall, ahead of stud hitters like Buster Posey and Shin-Soo Choo as well as aces like Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. I'm sorry, but that's just crazy to me.  


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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.



Go Bold or Go Home: Ben Zobrist Is a Top-30 Fantasy Pick

You may have read about the ongoing campaign to have a Robocop statue built in downtown Detroit, a project I fully support, by the way.  More cities totally need to build tributes to their pop culture icons; there is no good reason why we couldn't have a bronze Heisenberg erected in downtown Albuquerque by the end of the year.  Besides, a Robocop statue would be a nice companion piece to the Zobocop statue that fantasy owners built in 2012 in honor of Ben Zobrist's three-position eligibility.

Ah, Zobrist as a shortstop.  Just remembering that wonderful day last summer when the Rays experimented with moving the Rock Zobster back to short brings a smile to my face.  Zobrist began his career as a shortstop, of course, and took to the position again with little issue, making Joe Maddon a hero to fantasy owners everywhere. 

Now, I may be praising this situation because it specifically helped me out of a fix in a league last year, but I couldn't have been the only one.  I'd drafted Troy Tulowitzki as my starting shortstop and watched in horror as his season was halted at the end of May.  That left me with a big hole at SS and given that Yunel Escobar (my backup) was also struggling and the middle infield waiver wire was as barren as ever, I was in a tight spot...until Zobrist began getting starts at short.  Zobrist owners the world over joyously counted down the days until he officially gained eligibility and then, my shortstop problem was solved; I just slid Sheriff Zobo from outfield to short and boom, I was set. 

There's nothing that fantasy owners appreciate more than options.  We all love to embrace our inner Joe Maddon and mix and match our lineups whenever possible since (let's be honest) it's kind of an ego boost.  This is why, with apologies to Jose Oquendo, Zobrist became the Secret Weapon of the 2012 fantasy baseball season.  His dual eligibility as both an outfielder and a second baseman was already valuable, and adding shortstop to the mix just shot his usefulness through the roof.

It's for this reason that I would jump on Zobrist as quickly as possible in your upcoming draft.  It blows my mind that the Mask of Zobo only has a 72.23 ADP in Mock Draft Central's most recent average draft position report and is, on average, the 68th player taken.  That means in your standard 12-team league, Zobrist is still available by the sixth round, making him an incredible bargain at that stage of the game. 

If you're in a league with no bench spots on your roster, I'd argue that Zobrist could be a second-round pick given that his versatility will allow you some precious flexibility in a roster setup that specifically limits flexibility.  Even in a standard 5x5 league with bench spots, however, I'd say that Zobrist should go no lower than the third round based on sheer production alone.

While everyone was fixated on the "SS" designation next to his name last season, let's not overlook the fact that Zobrist hit .270/.377/.471 with 20 homers, 74 RBI, 88 runs and 14 steals.  That's a good season no matter where you play on the field, but it's particularly valuable at the middle infield spots.  Zobrist's .848 OPS was topped by only two second basemen (Robinson Cano and Aaron Hill) and exactly ZERO shortstops; Ian Desmond came closest at .845.  Even at the deeper outfield position, only thirteen outfielders posted higher OPS marks than Zobrist in 2012.

The warning signs on Zobrist are his age (he turns 32 in May) and the fact that he has been having greater difficulty hitting at Tropicana Field in recent years, as evidenced by his large home/road splits (.916 OPS away/.773 home in 2012, .897 away/.738 home in 2011).  That said, I'll worry about a decline when I start to actually see signs, and to me, Leelee Zobieski seems like a pretty safe bet to at least replicate his 2012 numbers in 2013. 

That alone would make him arguably the top fantasy shortstop given how many question marks surround the other top-rated SS candidates, though I suspect the continually-improving Desmond and a healthy Tulowitzki will be at the top of the heap come season's end.  Amongst the top second basemen, I'd put Zobrist behind only Cano and Hill, as I agree with Alex Steers McCrum's evaluation of Hill and I've already outlined some of the concerns facing other highly-drafted second basemen.

Taking Zobrist early means you can essentially cover two of the traditionally-shallowest positions right off the bat and then focus on middle infield help later if one of your sleepers is still around in the ninth or tenth round.  Like real-life general managers, your draft strategy can become "picking the best player available" without worrying too much about position since you've already got the Swiss Army Zobrist on your roster.  Given the volatility of those middle infield spots, Zobrist can also be shifted partway through the season if that sleeper you liked in your draft never actually wakes up during the season.

It's just simple fantasy logic that a player who can play three positions is more valuable than a player who can play only one, if everything else is equal.  Dustin Pedroia may hit as well as Zobrist in 2013 or even better but I'll still take Zobrist first since Zobo The Greek has more innate value within the actual game of fantasy baseball.  His versatility can help you as much as it helps the Rays in real life, so don't hesitate to jump on Zobrist early in your draft.  If my advice pays off, you can build a statue in my honor.



Go Bold or Go Home: Aaron Hill is the 2B for You

There aren't too many good second sackers around these days--not that there ever were. So why can you get one of the best ones in the sixth round? Well, if you're drafting against me, you probably can't.

Going into last year, Aaron Hill was persona non grata, after a lost 2011 split between Toronto and Arizona. Even his desert resurgence wasn't enough to pique my interest...and then 2012 happened. Here's what his stats looked like:

.302/.360/.522, 26 HR, 44 2B, 14 SB

Not too shabby. Now, I wouldn't take him over Robinson Cano (duh), but here are the numbers of the other three second basemen that I listed above Hill on our Second Base Rankings.

Dustin Pedroia: .290/.347/.449, 15 HR, 39 2B, 20 SB

Ian Kinsler: .256/.326/.423, 19 HR, 42 2B, 21 SB

Ben Zobrist: .270/.377/.471, 20 HR, 39 2B, 14 SB

It's obvious enough that Hill had the best 2012 by far, but we aren't drafting for last year. What can we expect for next year? Here are their Steamer projections for next year (courtesy of Fangraphs.com):

Hill: .268/.327/.442, 20 HR, 33 2B, 10 SB

Pedroia: .290/.364/.454, 17 HR, 39 2B, 20 SB

Kinsler: .264/.347/.444, 21 HR, 36 2B, 17 SB

Zobrist: .262/.363/.439, 19 HR, 35 2B, 11 SB

Honestly, none of these are the most amazing of projections, but how different does Hill look from the others? Not very, though Pedroia does stand apart a little, and Zobrist's ability to play shortstop and outfield gives him extra value. Hill comes out resembling Kinsler the most, though there reasons to worry about Kinsler going forward. Even if Hill is fifth-best among this group, is he three rounds worse? More like three picks worse, at the most.

So why am I so excited about Hill? Well, it's because I think there's a great chance that he beats that projection, and more reason to be optimistic about him than any of his immediate competitors.

Remember that lost 2011 season? I don't know what happened that season, beyond a plummeting HR/FB rate, but when I look at his recent seasons it's that bad one that stands out. I know what you're thinking: what about that horrible 2010, when he hit just .205? That was pretty bad, wasn't it? Let's see you try to hit for average with a .196 BABIP and a LD% that dropped by nearly half. What he did manage to do was launch 26 homers. For all I know, his 2011 woes came from trying to fix a 2010 that wasn't broken. Even if they didn't, whatever caused that lost season is long over--except in the eyes of a computer-generated projection system.

Discounting that year, Hill has hit 26 homers or more in three of the last four seasons and has hit for a helpful average in two of them. If 2010 was the result of bad luck, and 2011 the result of...something that ended with Hill's trade to Arizona, then the years worth remembering are his excellent 2012 and his even better 2009, when he hit 36 homers and topped 100 in Runs and RBI. The fact that he's shown this kind of excellence before reassures me that last year wasn't a fluke. It might be over his true talent level, but maybe not by as much as mock drafters and projection systems think.

Playing in Arizona, he'll get home park benefits that were sixth in baseball for runs and homers last year, and he should be planted firmly into a solid situation for counting stats, with Paul Goldschmidt, Martin Prado, and whichever outfielders happen to be on the lineup card that day. While the other top second-sackers have good hitting environments and supporting casts (not counting Zobrist, but you wanted him at short anyway), they don't have a big advantage on Hill in that department.

Hill is far above the players in tiers below him--including Jason Kipnis, who's getting drafted 24 picks ahead of him, and Brandon Phillips, who comes just one pick later. After that, you run into Jose Altuve, Danny Espinosa, and Rickie Weeks and you know you're in trouble. With an ADP of 74.75, it seems like a pretty big reach to go for Hill as early as the fourth round, but I can easily see you getting a bargain there. Projection systems have him looking very similar to the hitters getting drafted in that range, and they might just be unduly pessimistic about him.

The more I've thought about it, the more I've come to realize that I'd probably rather take the chance that he reaches his upside over any of the more conventional choices in his tier. There's a very good chance that he finishes 2013 second at his position only to Robinson Cano. Just like last year.



2013 Position Rankings: Second Base

Position rankings hit the real infield today, with second basemen. Traditionally a thin position for fantasy production; the keystone isn't an exception this year. Maybe the best you can say for it is that it's still richer ground than shortstop, as the top of the field is pretty talented and decent options are present until near the middle rounds. The bad news is that it drops off really far after that. The worse news is that you're probably going to need two second sackers, because you really don't want to fill your MI slot with a shortstop.

Last week, we looked at First Basemen and Catchers. Before that, we led off with the Outfield. This round of rankings goes 30 players deep; they're divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price. If a player has other positions in parentheses, that means you can draft and start him there. For most such players, second base is probably the position at which you'll be drafting them.

1st Round

1. Robinson Cano, NYY

Yup. He's going among the upper picks this year and he's worth it.

3rd-4th Rounds

2. Dustin Pedroia, BOS
3. Ian Kinsler, TEX
4. Ben Zobrist, TBR (SS, OF)
5. Aaron Hill, ARI

The second tier at second base has slipped a little, with (relatively) down seasons from Pedroia and Kinsler flattening their value out a little. As Mark put it some time ago, Kinsler has the higher ceiling and the lower floor, but his overall direction isn't promising. The good news is that Zobrist continues his quiet brand of goodness and super-flexibility. The better news is that Hill put up a great year, with 26 homers that bested everyone at the position not named Robinson. In context, it looks to me like his lousy 2011 was the outlier year.

5th-6th Rounds

6. Jason Kipnis, CLE
7. Brandon Phillips, CIN

Kipnis really cooled off in the second half, so I have minor doubts for next year. But only minor ones, as his speed is good and he was expected to proved even more power, so he could grow into increased homer totals. Phillips does a little--but not a lot--of everything, and should benefit from a powerful Reds lineup.

7th-8th Rounds

8. Jose Altuve, HOU

Altuve gives good speed and he hit for average last year. I tend not to trust anyone for whom batting average is a primary skill, because a little bad luck can go a long way when it comes to hurting a guy like Altuve's value. Also, who will hit him in? That said, if you took him, be glad: you just reached the end of the second basemen you're happy you drafted.

10th-11th Rounds

9. Danny Espinosa, WAS (SS)
10. Rickie Weeks, MIL

Espinosa has a little power and a little speed, but he's got a good chance to be a liability in batting average. He reminds me of a less-proven Brandon Phillips. He's worth taking a round or two earlier as a shortstop. Weeks should bounce back, right? There's a good chance he won't spend most of next season under the Mendoza line, and a healthier BABIP would make him significantly more productive. Unfortunately, his history of injury still affects his value. After this, the second basemen take another significant turn downward.

15th-16th Rounds

10.5 Kyle Seager, SEA (3B--18 games at 2B)
11. Dan Uggla, ATL
12. Chase Utley, PHI
13. Neil Walker, PIT
14. Howie Kendrick, LAA

I told you there would be a long drop. If he's eligible in your league, Seager could be a sneaky-good choice for second. Uggla lost just about everything last year, but before that he was so good that all he has to do is get a little back and you get great return for this kind of inpvestment. Cross your fingers and hope for a little more BABIP and a few more balls over the fence. Can Utley keep his body together? He was pretty good in 77 games last year, but you better have a backup. Better yet, make him the backup. Walker and Kendrick are similarly unexciting, relatively solid plays at this point. Especially if you're looking for a starter at second.

18th-19th Rounds

15. Jedd Gyorko, SDP
16. Dustin Ackley, SEA

If Gyorko gets the official starting job from San Diego, go ahead and bump him into the next tier. He's an interesting prospect, who could have some real pop in his bat. Ackley has some presumed upside, but with two seasons under his belt he hasn't shown much of it.

20th-22nd Rounds

17. Chris Nelson, COL (3B)
18. Omar Infante, DET
19. Marco Scutaro, SFG (SS)
20. Daniel Murphy, NYM
20.5 Michael Young, PHI (3B/1B--16 games at 2B)
21. Jeff Keppinger, CHW (3B, 1B)
21.5. Emilio Bonifacio, TOR (OF--15 games at 2B)
22. Kelly Johnson, TBR

Nelson has some pop and plays for Colorado, always a nice mix. Remember how Phillips did a little of everything, and then Espinosa did even less? Well Infante does less than him, but at least he does it in all five categories. Scutaro is a better than average bet in batting average, and he makes a useful MI selection because he can play second and short. Murphy hit 40 doubles to go with an average near .300, which means he should be in good position to take advantage of whatever scoring opportunities happen for the Mets. Young has descended into mediocrity, but that's better than what anyone below him can say for themselves. If your league has 15-game eligiblity or less, he could be a decent MI; Bonifacio could net you some steals under the same circumstances. Keppinger might put up an acceptable average but won't do much else. Johnson is caught in the Tampa Bay mix-and-match, but if he gets regular playing time he could be useful at MI.

23rd Round and Beyond


23. Brian Roberts, BAL
24. Gordon Beckham, CHW
25. Johnny Giavotella, KCR
26. Logan Forsythe, SDP
27. Darwin Barney, CHC
28. Maicer Izturis, TOR
29. Jemile Weeks, OAK
30. Cliff Pennington, ARI (SS)

Let's face it, these guys are warm-bodied injury replacements for deep leagues. Technically, there is some upside to be found here, but not enough to consider betting on for more than a bench role.

Things start breaking down quickly at second base, with all the options after number ten or so having low upside, low chance of reaching their upside or both. Not only that, but two of the top nine will probably be drafted as shortstops, thinning things out even more. Moral of the story: don't be the last team to take a second baseman. In fact, the overall weakness of the position makes me readier than usual to grab one of the top players, even though several of them come with serious question marks. No wonder Robinson Cano is getting drafted as high as third overall.



Three September Call-Ups To Watch For

The calendar turns over to September this Saturday, meaning clubs will expand their rosters and call-up extra players for the stretch run. Most September call-ups are spare parts - third catchers, extra left-handed relievers, etc. - but every so often a team will bring a top prospect to the big leagues and give him a month's worth of playing time. David Price and Francisco Rodriguez are the two most notable September call-ups in recent memory, as both went on to become key components of a deep playoff run. Impact like that is the exception though, not the rule. Here are three high-end prospects who could make their way to the big leagues next month and actually have some fantasy value...

Jurickson Profar | SS | Texas Rangers

The 19-year-old wunderkind from Curacao has emerged as baseball's top prospect this summer. Profar has hit .280/.367/.452 with 14 homers and 16 steals in Double-A this season, which is insane production given his age relative to the competition. It's worth noting that he's played some games at second base lately and in each of the last two games, he was used off the bench as a pinch-hitter. It's very possible the Rangers are preparing him for a call-up, though Jeff Wilson of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram says it may not happen until the end of the Double-A postseason.

Fantasy owners should keep the plight of Mike Olt in mind when considering Profar's fantasy impact. Texas called up their other elite prospect in early-August and he's gotten just 32 plate appearances so far, including only six starts in 26 team games. Perhaps things will be different later in September after the Rangers clinch a playoff berth, but I would be skeptical right now. Profar is a definite keeper long-term, but his 2012 impact may be severely limited.

Wil Myers | OF | Kansas City Royals

After starring at the Futures Game in Kansas City and for most of the season in Triple-A, the 21-year-old Myers may finally get a chance to crack the outfield in Kauffman Stadium next month. He's hit a whopping .307/.384/.589 with 35 homers in 568 total plate appearances, pretty much confirming that he's ready for the next level. Calling up Myers could require the team to either finally bench Jeff Francoeur or sit Lorenzo Cain, the latter of whom might actually have a future with the team. If he does get the call and does play everyday in some outfield position, Myers could be a nice little late-season boost for fantasy owners, potentially chipping in something like 5-6 homers the rest of the way. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Shelby Miller | SP | St. Louis Cardinals

Earlier this week Joe Strauss of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (on Twitter) that there is a "strong sentiment" within the organization to promote Miller, the 21-year-old flamethrower who's pitched to a 4.89 ERA with 10.4 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 130 2/3 Triple-A innings this year. Those numbers aren't all that impressive overall, but the right-hander has a 57/4 K/BB in his last eight starts and seems to have figured some things out.

If the Cardinals do recall Miller next month, they'll have the option to use him out of the bullpen or instead of Joe Kelly in the rotation. I wouldn't count on him replacing Jason Motte as closer, so he would have the most fantasy value as a starter. The September schedule is loaded with intra-division games as always, meaning a whole lotta games against the lowly Astros and Cubs. St. Louis also has a West Coast swing through San Diego and Los Angeles on their slate, adding two top pitcher's parks into the mix. Miller definitely offers some impact potential going forward, assuming the club actually decides to call him up and insert him into the rotation down the stretch.



Utley's Injury Opens The Door For Freddy Galvis

Middle infielders are prone to sharp declines, particularly second baseman after years of turning the blind double play pivot at the bag. Roberto Alomar and countless others fell off a cliff without warning, and now injuries are taking a toll on Chase Utley. The 33-year-old missed 43 games with a thumb issue in 2010 and 45 games with a knee issue in 2011, and chances are he'll open this season on the DL with knee problems as well. Here's what GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told Jim Salisbury of CSNPhiladelphia. com...

“He hasn’t been felling all that great,” Amaro said. “He hasn’t gotten to the point where he feels confident enough to get on the field without making it worse.”
 
“I would think it’s doubtful that [Utley] would be prepared to play second base for us opening day,” Amaro said. “We’re trying to hit it with a couple of different things to get him over the hump."

Assuming Utley has to start the season on the shelf, 22-year-old Freddy Galvis is almost certain to open 2012 as the club's everyday second baseman. Utility man Michael Martinez recently broke a bone in his foot as well, giving Galvis a little more security. The Phillies are reportedly looking for some infield depth, but the job appears to be his for now.

Baseball America ranked Galvis as Philadelphia's sixth best prospect in their 2012 Prospect Handbook, but unfortunately for fantasy owners, it wasn't because of his offense. "Galvis is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the minors," wrote the publication. "He has plus range despite fringy pure speed, and he also has excellent hands, an above-average arm and incredible instincts ... A switch-hitter who sprays the line drives, Galvis makes consistent contact but will never hit for much power."

Defense and injuries will keep Galvis in the lineup, but he does have something to offer fantasy owners: stolen bases. He stolen 23 bags in 137 games split between Double- and Triple-A last season, a year after swiping 15 in 138 Double-A games. The Phillies didn't emphasize the running game as much last year after losing first base coach and baserunning guru Davey Lopes to the Dodgers, but with Utley and Ryan Howard hurt to start the season, speed figures to become a bigger part of their offense. Batting eighth ahead of the pitcher will boost Galvis' on-base percentage just a bit (via intentional walks), which should then boost his stolen base total.

Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS projection system expects a .261 average with 19 steals out of Galvis given regular playing time, putting him in a class with guys like Jemile Weeks (.267 and 21), Dexter Fowler (.264 and 18), and Lorenzo Cain (.259 and 17). Not a star player, but a decent fantasy option to fill out your roster in case of injury or in a particularly deep mixed league/NL-only setup. Galvis figures to pick up both second base and shortstop eligibility, and the extra bit of flexibility is appreciated. Utley's injury is going to hurt the Phillies and fantasy owners alike, but Galvis is a useful piece that could contribute more than expected with just a little BABIP love.



2012 Position Rankings: Second Base

Second base is one of fantasy's stronger positions, with several elite producers, plenty of depth, and a number of young breakout candidates. It also helps that a number of these players are eligible at other positions, and flexibility is always appreciated. Remember, these rankings are gearing towards 12-team mixed leagues and traditional 5x5 scoring.

  1. Robinson Cano, NYY - At 29 years old, Cano is right in the prime of his career with a great supporting cast and ballpark. There is no such thing as a guarantee in fantasy baseball, but he's close to a lock for .300/25/100/100. Don't expect more than a handful of steals, however.
  2. Dustin Pedroia, BOS - Pedroia showed no ill-effects from his 2010 foot injury, posting career highs with 21 HR, 91 RBI, and 26 steals last year. He might not hit for that kind of over-the-fence power again, but he'll flirt with a .300 average, score a ton of runs, and steal 20 bases.
  3. Ian Kinsler, TEX - Kinsler led all qualified second baseman in steals (30) and was second in homers (32) last season, but only once in his six years has he topped a .286 batting average. Last year was also the first time he avoided the disabled list, and he won't do much for your RBI total hitting atop an admittedly great lineup.
  4. Dan Uggla, ATL - You can count on Uggla to do everything but hit for average and steal bases. He's on a five-year run of at least 146 games played, 31 HR, 82 RBI, and 84 runs, with an average of 157 games played, 33 HR, 91 RBI, and 96 runs. No reason to expect any different in 2012.
  5. Ben Zobrist, TBR - Zobrist's last three years have been all over the spectrum, going from great (2009) to decent (2010) to above-average (2011). He doesn't hit for the kind of average you'd expect from a speedy guy with a high ground ball rate and a turf home infield, but he contributes to the other four categories consistently. Outfield eligibility makes him a bit more valuable as well.
  6. Brandon Phillips, CIN - Once a perennial 20-20 guy, Phillips' power output has been in steady decline since 2008 (18 HR in 2011) while his stolen bases total dropped for the second straight year (14). He's still a safe bet for 15-15 with a solid average next season, and he should help plenty in the runs scored and driven in departments.
  7. Howie Kendrick, LAA - Kendrick parlayed the best season of his career into a fat new contract extension, meaning everyone is expecting him to do it again. The .330+ batting averages everyone forcasted during his days as a prospect have never materialized, but he's consistently around .290 and is trending upwards in the power and stolen base departments.
  8. Rickie Weeks, MIL - The Brewers will count on Weeks offensively after losing Prince Fielder (and potentially Ryan Braun for 50 games), but unfortunately he's spent time on the disabled list in all but one of his six seasons. If healthy, he'll give you 20 HR and threaten double-digit steals with plenty of run production.
  9. Chase Utley, PHI - Injuries have hindered a player that was once one of fantasy's best, limiting Utley to just 218 games over the last two seasons. He's more of a 15-15 player than a 30-15 player these days, and his increasing susceptability to left-handers may drag his average down. Be careful, second basemen tend to fall off a cliff quickly.
  10. Michael Young, TEX - I wouldn't expect another .338 batting average and his days of 20+ homers are probably over, but Young will both score and drive in a ton of runs in that lineup and ballpark. As always, his biggest fantasy asset remains his ability to hit for average. After playing just 14 games at second last year, there's a non-zero chance he'll lose eligibility this year.
  11. Dustin Ackley, SEA - Safeco Field is a pitcher's park but it is slightly less suffocating for left-handed bats. Ackley was suberb in his debut last season, and should improve his output with a full season of at-bats in 2012. A .280-.290 average with double-digit homers and steals is a safe bet.
  12. Neil Walker, PIT - Walker's first full year in the big leagues was a success, and at 26 years old it's reasonable to expect him to improve his .273/12/83/76/9 performance. I don't think he can do 20 HR over a full season just yet, but more than likely you'll get help in all categories.
  13. Danny Espinosa, WAS - Don't expect Espinosa's low-.200's batting average to improve as long as he employs that uppercut swing, but that same swing gives him legit 20+ HR power. He's also a threat to steal 20 bases if he picks his spots a little better. Some BABIP luck could result in a huge season.
  14. Kelly Johnson, TOR - I think Johnson is a little underrated at the moment, mostly because his 2011 season is a disappointment compared to 2010. He still hit 21 HR with 16 steals, and his batting average should get out of the gutter with some help from the turf in Toronto. There was no significant change in his batted ball profile from 2010-2011, so it's fair to expect a BABIP-fueled rebound.
  15. Jemile Weeks, OAK - Rickie's kid brother is going to have to create all his fantasy value himself, because his teammates and ballpark won't help at all. He could slash his way to a .290 average with 40 stolen base upside, but you'll get nothing in the other three categories.
  16. Ryan Roberts, ARI - Roberts might not retain second base eligibility if the D'Backs intend to use him as their everyday third baseman, and his track record is mighty short. The downside is an unrosterable player, but the upside is a 20-20 guy maybe 80+ runs driven in.
  17. Jason Kipnis, CLE - If you take Kipnis' performance from his late season call-up and extrapolate it over a 162-game season, it works out to 30+ HR and 20+ stolen bases. I promise you he won't do that in 2012. The lefty swinger could push 20 homers and ten steals if he stays healthy, making him a prime breakout candidate.
  18. Marco Scutaro, COL - Scutaro does a little bit of everything, but nothing exceptionally well. The move from Fenway Park to Coors Field probably hurt him given the drop-off in his supporting staff, but Scutaro is a safe late-round pick who will help you just enough in all five categories. I like him as a waiver wire injury replacement more than anything.
  19. Aaron Hill, ARI - Hill hasn't been the same player since swatting 36 HR in 2009, mostly because he's gotten power hungry and added a huge uppercut to his swing. His batting average won't improve until he stops hitting so many balls in the air, and last year's eight homers and 21 steals were the reverse of what was expected. He's a hard guy to pin down.
  20. Daniel Murphy, NYM - The Mets figure to use Murphy as their primary second baseman next season, but even if that experiment doesn't work out, he'll see enough time there to retain eligibility. He can hit for a solid average but doesn't figure to contribute many homers or stolen bases.
  21. Jose Altuve, HOU - The 5-foot-7 listing might be generous, but they don't count height in fantasy. Like the younger Weeks, Altuve has to produce all of his fantasy value himself with batting average and stolen bases because he won't hit for power and his teammates won't help him out very much.
  22. Ryan Raburn, DET - With Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch entrenched in the outfield corners, Raburn will see his most of his time at second this year. He's hit at least 14 HR in each of the last three seasons, though his batting average has declined for two straight years now. We've been waiting for the breakout for a few years now, will it come in 2012?
  23. Gordon Beckham, CHW - It's been a tough few years for the eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft. Beckham has the pop to hit double-digit homers and the potential to break out at any moment, but we're going on 1,500 plate appearances of sub-replacement level fantasy production. Upside can be tempting, but try to resist.
  24. Jamey Carroll, MIN - Carroll hasn't hit a home run in two years, and that's unlikely to change with the move to Target Field. He has consistently hit in the high-.200's with double-digit steals however, and his walks have value in OBP leagues. Not a guy you want to start everyday, but a fine substitute. 
  25. Ryan Theriot, SF - After four straight years of 20+ steals, Theriot dropped to just four last season. Part of that was the Cardinals' offensively philosophy, but he also got caught six times. Theriot has fantasy value as a .270 hitter with 20+ steals, so we'll have to see a) if the Giants give him the green light in 2012, and b) how much they actually play him.

Honorable Mentions: Sean Rodriguez & Jeff Keppinger, TBR; Robert Andino & Brian Roberts, BAL; Orlando Hudson, SD; Omar Infante, FLA; Mark Ellis, LAD

Other Positions: Catcher, First Base


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