February 7, 2017
Welcome to Splitsville
This is the shortstop edition of Welcome to Splitsville, where we discuss players at the position from both a daily and seasonal perspective. For an introduction and catcher week, click here. For first-base week, click here. For second-base week, click here. For third-base week, click here.
The opening theme for the last two articles was how second base and third base both had surges in production league wide in 2016, particularly in the power department. George Bissell does a great job covering this in his State of the Position pieces that run every Monday. Shortstops continued that power trend. Power output from shortstops was at an all-time high in 2016, with shortstop ISO rising to .145, the highest in baseball history at the position. It was up from .119 in 2015, and .115 in the five seasons prior. The ISO surge was fueled by 565 home runs, easily the most in history at shortstop. Shortstops in 2000 hit 484 home runs during the steroid era, the second highest at the position. In 2015, shortstops hit 408 home runs, 157 less than 2016.
What this means for daily fantasy owners, and why I’m writing about it in this piece, is that there are now more productive options at shortstop than ever before. Punting the position with a cheap, light hitting SS hitting is no longer as appealing of a strategy.
Corey Seager is one of those power hitting shortstops that can be an elite play in certain matchups. Seager has hit .335/.395/.562 with a 159 wRC+ and .227 ISO in 540 career PA vs right handed pitchers. Seager’s 156 wRC+ vs RHP last year ranked seventh-best among all hitters in baseball last year regardless of position. Only David Ortiz, Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Daniel Murphy, Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson were more productive against RHP last year. Because the wRC+ is park adjusted, it takes into account Dodger Stadium’s pitcher friendly tendencies. Seager is often an outstanding play on the road against average to below average RHP, especially in divisional games at Chase Field.
Here are the best performers vs RHP and LHP over the last two seasons at shortstop. League average wRC+ for shortstops is 91 vs. RHP and 96 vs. LHP.
Vs. RHP (min 200 PA)
Some thoughts on various shortstop eligible players:
Carlos Correa had a disappointing season for fantasy owners who drafted him in the first or second round, but his season was historically special for a shortstop as young as he is. Correa’s 122 wRC+ in 2016 was the fourth greatest age-21 season for a shortstop in baseball history, and the second best season for a shortstop that young since 1933. Correa now has a 127 wRC+ for his career, which ranks fourth best among shortstops age 21 or younger. His .199 ISO ranks second, behind only Alex Rodriguez. There’s room for a lot more growth, and there’s a chance Correa evolves into a monster hitter in the next few years as he gets into his mid 20s. It should be noted that Correa played through most of September with a nagging shoulder injury that his manager, A.J. Hinch, said was crippling his power and explosiveness. The numbers backed it up: Correa had a paltry .080 ISO in September with an 84 wRC+ playing through the injury. Had Correa just been shut down after he got injured, his season line would have looked a little better. The Astros are also moving the CF wall in by about 30 feet, demolishing Tal’s Hill, which might add a few homers.
Troy Tulowitzki experimented with a new leg kick load last winter, and it made me somewhat excited to see what would happen with it. It was the same type of load that teammate Jose Bautista used to overhaul his mechanics and break out as a superstar. I thought this new swing load might be a way for Tulo to regain some of that lost power that went away after his hip surgery. Unfortunately, he abandoned it very quickly during spring training and went back to his standard toe-tap during the season (not that a new load would have guaranteed any better results, of course). I guess he never felt comfortable with it. The point of all that is that there is evidence that Tulo is in a steep physical decline. His park and league adjusted wRC+, which takes into account Coors Field’s extreme park effects, has been barely above league average the last two seasons after sitting at 139 from 2009-2014. He still has value as a top 10-ish shortstop, but it’s probably safe to say his days as an elite fantasy shortstop are over.
Marcus Semien is often a good play against most left handed pitchers in daily leagues. Semien has a career line of .288/.328/.493 with a 126 wRC+ and .206 ISO, and in the last two seasons, it’s at a 132 wRC+ and .217 ISO. Semien’s problem in daily fantasy leagues is often lineup slot and his home ballpark. Nearly 200 of Semien’s PA last year came in the 7-9 lineup slots, and Oakland’s Coliseum doesn’t do hitters many favors. Watch out for when Semien is facing an average to below average
The switch hitting Francisco Lindor basically has zero platoon split so far in his career. Against RHP, Lindor has a 119 wRC+ and .144 ISO. Against
Jean Segura will be moving back to SS in Seattle. Segura made an adjustment with his hands during his swing last year and started squaring the ball up a lot more often. Here’s what he said about his adjustment: “Now with my hands lower, I don’t have to go down and then go up to hit the ball. I go directly to the ball. I do everything in one motion instead of doing it three times. When I attacked the ball with my hands up, I had to go down, go up again and swing.”
Aledmys Diaz’s contact quality wasn’t quite as good as the results. Diaz’s expected OPS based on his exit velocities and batted ball angles was .814, 65 points less than his actual OPS. His xBA was .278, 22 points lower than his actual BA of .300. Maybe his hit placement tool is just really good and he’s going to outperform that peripheral statistic, but there might be some regression in 2017. An .814 OPS with a .278 AVG is still excellent for a shortstop, though. Diaz has a strong strikeout rate of 13%, which bodes well for a high batting average, and looks like a good bet to hit 15 HR.
I wrote about Asdrubal Cabrera in our staff shortstops to target piece that ran on Monday. Some clips from that: Cabrera’s fantasy value in seasonal leagues wasn’t great last year largely because of poor counting stats. He finished 17th in both RBIs and runs scored at the position, and without much speed to steal bases, he just wasn’t particularly valuable in 5x5 standard. But what Cabrera could actually control outside of poor performance from his teammates was very good last year. Cabrera’s .810 OPS was fifth-best at shortstop, one point behind Carlos Correa’s .811 OPS. His 23 HR were seventh-best. His .280 AVG was eighth-best. With better performance from Mets teammates next year, Cabrera can get his R and RBI into a more respectable range, especially if he hits second in the order, which manager Terry Collins placed him in for much of the second half. Most importantly, Cabrera may have made a swing adjustment after he came off the DL in the middle of August. After he came off the DL, Cabrera hit a ridiculous .345/.406/.635 with 10 HR and a .291 ISO in 165 PA. It wasn’t all just small sample outcome noise; Cabrera cut his swinging strike rate down from 11.7% before the DL to 7.5% after the DL. Cabrera obviously won’t hit .345 with a 1.000 OPS for all of 2017, but I wonder if there is a real change in his hitting profile that might lead to a higher level of performance than we anticipate. Maybe there isn’t any change, and it’s all just randomness, but I’m willing to pay his current price in seasonal leagues to find out. In daily leagues, Cabera is best used when he’s batting in the no. 2 hole, which he did in a little more than half of his PAs last season.