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February 4, 2014

Fantasy Tiered Rankings

Shortstops

by Paul Sporer

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To read the previous editions of this series, follow the links below:

Today, our positional tier rankings series continues with a look at shortstops.

Players at each position are divided into five tiers, represented by a numerical star rating. Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players that will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and they are projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of last year’s values but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen in 2014.

We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from last year’s PFM using a 12-team, standard 5x5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and, as we did last year, we allocate $180 of a $260 budget to hitters. Players needed to play in 20 games at a position to qualify there. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format, you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players’ dollar values.

Five Star

Despite being the best of the best, the five-star pool still carries some risk. Both Ramirez and Tulowitzki have seriously checkered health profiles while Desmond is a newcomer to the elite ranks after a pair of 20-20 seasons. He gets the edge over Tulo as the latter’s speed has dissipated and his power isn’t enough to overcome the deficit. It’s also dangerous to extrapolate Tulo’s power production across a full season and point to it as upside, considering that he’s failed to top 143 games in any of the last four seasons and has averaged just 110 in the span.

Five-Star Value Pick: Desmond

In the midst of his prime, Desmond isn’t quite the beast he showed himself to be in 2012, but the guy we saw in 2013 is more than capable of sticking around.

Four Star

Speaking of checkered health records, Reyes is a former five-star player who has dipped back, but only barely. There is still obvious five-star potential, but he only stole 10 bases in 83 games after returning from a left ankle injury, and there is some reason to believe that his running may be curbed in an effort to keep him upright. Andrus reversed fortunes with an amazing second half and a revamped offense in Texas puts him line to finally break the 100-run threshold.

This is a pretty measured response to Segura’s awful second half. The power is the real question at this point as he used an 18 percent HR/FB rate en route to 11 homers in the first three months. He hit one over the final three months, including a disastrous 0 HR, 7 RBI showing in the final two. He dropped his OPS month-by-month, and we are left wondering what exactly is real. Speed and contact appear bankable, which should be enough to keep his value high, even as we wait to see how much of the power is legitimate.

Four-Star Value Pick: Everth Cabrera

Admittedly some of this ranking is projection (okay, they’re all projections, but you know what I mean) since we’ve yet to see a full season out of Cabrera, but he has back-to-back $20-plus seasons despite failing to crack 450 PA. The bulk of that is due to a Biogenesis suspension that robbed him of 50 games last season. He also had a right hamstring issue that DL’d him, but I’ve always said that I prefer to bet on a player for whom the missing piece is health as opposed to skills.

Three Star

It’s a mostly boring group in the third tier. Guys like Zobrist, Cabrera, Aybar, Rollins, Hardy, and Ramirez are unlikely to blow up with a massive season or backslide with a completely useless one. Cabrera is probably the most likely candidate for the former, as he is still firmly in his prime and not too far removed from his 25 HR-92 RBI-17 SB season in 2011. Rollins is probably the most likely candidate for the latter as a 35-year old, but I actually see some positive regression for him. His power was way down last year thanks in large part to 3.1 percent HR/FB rate, but he still hit 36 doubles. Get a few of those on the other side of the wall and you are looking at a more palatable 30 2B/12 HR season with 20 SB.

Three-Star Value Pick: Erick Aybar

He gets overlooked because no single category jumps off the page, but he remains a steady earner year in and year out. He is currently the 19th shortstop off the board in NFBC drafts, and while he won’t draw any oohs or ahhs in the draft room, he will return his value rather easily, along with some profit at one of the hardest positions to find surplus value.

Two Star

There is plenty of three-star potential here, but valuing them as such could lead to disappointment given a lack of track record to merit the ranking. Miller has hit at every level on his way up and enjoyed a nice little debut, but it was 76 games. Lowrie finally stayed healthy logging not only his first full season, but even his first north of 400 PA. His six DL stints prior to 2013 are enough to be cautious about his age-29 breakthrough. Peralta certainly didn’t seem to need his enhancements upon his return, but his batting average has ping-ponged around the last four years making him a little tough to fully rely on, even in another quality lineup like the one in St. Louis. Escobar runs enough to maintain some semblance of value even in a garbage season like last year (53 OPS+). The Jeter ranking is an acknowledgement than even a modicum of health (about 110 games) would deliver value.

Two-Star Value Pick: Jonathan Villar

Villar’s downside looks like Escobar’s with a ton of speed to sustain some value, but little else. However, his upside far exceeds that of his light-hitting counterpart. Villar hit 14, 11, and eight home runs in his last three seasons in the minor leagues, but he paced 15, 18, and 12 if all three were bumped to 600-PA seasons. A 7 HR/40 SB campaign is very possible, and though he strikes out too much (which hampers his batting average) he’s on a team with every incentive to play him, almost regardless of the outcome (within reason), as the Astros aim to see if he is someone who can be a part of their future (though the long-term future would likely require a position change, with Carlos Correa on the horizon).

One Star

You won’t get excited about any of these options, as they all have one or more significant warts holding them back. The Arizona situation is a battle, but if Owings wins it outright, he’s a two-star option. Drew’s health is scary enough, but the uncertainty of where he will play 2014 only makes matters worse. I will mention that Aviles is someone I like in very deep leagues or AL-only leagues at the middle infielder slot because the Indians could look to trade Cabrera for reinforcements to their staff (they lost a lot of quality innings with Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir) and Aviles is an easy double-digit HR/SB guy with even 400 PA.

One-Star Value Pick: Yunel Escobar

It’s bland, unspectacular, and altogether not really fun to slot him into your MI spot, but he’ll inch his way to a $9-10 season.

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

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