March 12, 2012
Resident Fantasy Genius
Fantasy Tier Rankings: Shortstops
As a reminder, five-star players are generally going to be your star-level producers that will be selected within the first couple of rounds, usually worth upward of $30. Four-star players are the next step down, worth more than $20. Three stars are worth more than $10, two stars will be in the single digits, and one star will be roster-filler and late-round fliers. Of course, this is just a general guideline. While the rankings will generally follow PECOTA, I will deviate when I feel strongly that a player will over or underperform his PECOTA projection.
I’ve also decided to give my choice for a value pick in each tier—a guy who I think will be worth more than your leaguemates do, or a guy who I believe stands a good chance of beating his PECOTA projection.
For reference, the dollar values were created by our PFM using a league format of 12 teams, 5x5 scoring, and 23-player rosters—broken down as C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9)—and $180 of the $260 budget allocated for hitters and $1 minimum salaries. A minimum of 20 games needed to be played at a position in the previous season to qualify. We’ll be providing values for both mixed leagues and AL-only/NL-only leagues. While this is the industry standard format, your own league structure may differ, in which case you can customize the PFM to your own needs.
Tulo leads off the shortstop list, but I’d be surprised if he winds up on any of my teams. For the kind of investment he’ll require, I’d rather have a guy with a cleaner health record, even if he has top-notch skills. Same thing goes for Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez.
Five-Star Value Pick: Hanley is the VP, although as I said, the risk here is larger than you want for your team’s anchor. But despite what was perceived to be a poor 2011, most of Ramirez’s peripherals were in line his past numbers, excepting a potentially unlucky BABIP. If you extrapolate his numbers over 674 plate appearances (his average from 2006 to 2010), you get a .243/18/35/96/79 line. That’s not too shabby if you ignore the batting average, and it’s pretty close to what PECOTA is projecting him for.
This is one of our deepest Four-Star categories yet. Derek Jeter was overvalued for so long that he eventually became undervalued, and his poor 2011 compounded this effect. Yes, he’s aging, but he still leads off for perhaps the best offense in baseball, can hit for a great average, steal a bunch of bases, and may still have a little pop left in his bat.
Asdrubal Cabrera had one of the most surprising seasons among all players last season, but his power was largely a mirage. He was physically stronger, at least a little bit, but talent evaluators believe he’s a guy with more gap power than home-run power. He’ll hit plenty of doubles, but he’s only reliable for, at most, 15 homers; PECOTA agrees. Even with a power drop-off, Cabrera contributes to five categories, but leaguemates who place undue emphasis on his anomalous 2011 will likely drive his price up.
Four-Star Value Pick: Unlike Cabrera, I do buy into J.J. Hardy’s power this year. Baseball Prospectus 2012 puts it well:
In 2009, Hardy had some mechanical problems that caused his swing to get too long and hampered his ability to pull the ball. The result was too many balls to straight away center—the deepest part of most ballparks. In 2010, he made adjustments but experienced several power-sapping wrist injuries and saw his fly-ball rate plummet. Health, reformed mechanics, a career-high fly-ball percentage, and Baltimore’s friendly dimensions mean Hardy’s power should repeat.
I’m sure to get some comments about Dee Gordon being too low on this list, and while there is certainly plenty of upside in his batting average, I’m not going to spend the kind of money most owners are right now (he went for $24 in LABR NL). A leadoff guy with speed is always a threat to post big fantasy numbers, but Gordon has little major-league experience, suffered some injuries last year, and lacks the patience that may be required to beat his PECOTA batting average projection.
PECOTA is a bit pessimistic on Peralta’s power after he knocked 21 home runs in 2011, and I am too. While he posted a HR/FB above 10 percent for the first time since 2008, his power was strictly of the shallow pull variety, and according to HitTracker, 43 percent of them were fence-scrapers. Back when he was a legitimate power threat, he would hit homers to all fields, belting plenty out past 400 feet. The best news is that he maintained his strong fly-ball rate gains from 2010, which should help keep his power numbers afloat even if his HR/FB drops.
Three-Star Value Pick: Zack Cozart is an afterthought for many fantasy owners after the emergence of so many more exciting middle infield prospects last year (Dustin Ackley, Jason Kipnis, Jemile Weeks, Dee Gordon, etc.). After a strong start to his major-league career, injuries quickly sidelined Cozart. He has good power for a shortstop and hits in a great park for power, and he can contribute double-digit steals while maintaining a decent enough average.
Marco Scutaro isn’t known at all for his power, but he should receive lots of playing time Colorado and could be a surprising source of double-digit homers playing half his games in Coors Field and nearly all of his games in the easier league.
The case could be made for Stephen Drew as the Value Pick here, but his health is a legitimate issue. Still, it was just last offseason that manager Kirk Gibson said Drew was capable of stealing 30 bases, and while he cited durability concerns in allowing him to do so, the possibility still seems to exist that a healthy Drew could swipe 15 or 20 bags. Of course, Drew is not healthy; he’s still dealing with the ankle injury that cost him most of the 2011 season and could sideline him into 2012. If a breakout is to occur, it might have to wait for 2013.
Two-Star Value Pick: I was never as high on Jed Lowrie as everyone else was during his time in Boston, and injuries are a major mitigating factor to his 2012 fantasy value, but I like the thought of what he might be able to do, power-wise, in Minute Maid Park. Between shallower fences down the right-field line and a similarly shallow left-field wall in Boston without the height of the Monster, Lowrie could do well from both sides of the plate if he can pull the ball. Yes, the surrounding lineup is straight out of Bad News Bears, but all the more reason for him to hit high in the order—something he never would have done in Boston. He also no longer has to share time with Marco Scutaro, so his playing time upside is only limited by his own ability to stay on the field.
Tyler Pastornicky may seem like a trendy sleeper pick in fantasy leagues this year—a rookie without the hype of a Matt Moore or even a Yonder Alonso, a full-time job with Jack Wilson as his only competition, and lots of sought-after speed. But be wary, dear readers. Yes, he’ll play full-time, which has value, and yes, he made some strides with his bat last year, but that speed may be notably absent in 2011. If you look at the Braves’ starting eight, the most sensible conclusion to be drawn is that Pastornicky will bat eighth this year—in other words, in front of the pitcher. National League number-eight hitters do not run very often. Just look at Alcides Escobar’s 2010 season in Milwaukee.
Clint Barmes is another guy who could be in trouble. Just as Pastornicky is a speed guy in an unfavorable situation for speed, Barmes is a power guy in an unfavorable situation for power. PNC Park is one of the worst power parks in baseball, and Barmes will struggle. With competent options like Yamaico Navarro and Chase d’Arnaud behind him, Barmes could lose playing time if the power isn’t there.
One-Star Value Pick: The pickings are slim here, but I’d be satisfied with Ruben Tejada for $2 or $3 in an NL-only league. While there’s little upside with any part of his game, he can at least post a batting average that won’t kill you with a handful of steals. Ronny Cedeno is his only form of competition, and in a year in which it would take a divinely sympathetic child with a dickhole of a father for the Mets to have even a chance of competing, the team figures to give Tejada lots of at-bats to see if he can be a usable piece in the future.
With over 1,600 player comments in Baseball Prospectus 2012, you might find it difficult to read through them all before draft day arrives. To help you out, I’ll point you toward some of the most insightful comments for this position. These are the guys that I’d highly recommend flipping to in your copy of the book and reading before you sit down at the draft table.
Be sure to read the BP2012 comments for these shortstops: Elvis Andrus, Alcides Escobar, J.J. Hardy, and Eduardo Nunez.