February 9, 2017
The -Only League Landscape
National League Shortstops
Shortstop is supposed to be a shallow position in roto, especially in AL-only and NL-only leagues. You know, the kind of position where a couple of teams in your league have a really good player, a few more teams have someone halfway decent and the rest of the league has slick fielders who get the bat knocked out of their hands regularly.
This rule of thumb doesn’t apply any more. Shortstops have closed the gap relative to other positions. Paying a positional premium doesn’t make nearly as much sense when the position doesn’t look that different than the other positions. And there’s no need to chase anyone when the depth at the position means that you’ll be able to find someone playable to fill your shortstop vacancy.
Of course, the NL-only landscape at shortstop isn’t quite as deep when it comes to premium talent as the AL-only landscape. The top echelon at shortstop in the American League features Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa. While the top end of the National League crop isn’t quite as impressive, it’s arguably deeper through the middle and bottom end of the player pool.
Let’s take a look at the 10 most expensive shortstops at auction in 2016 in NL-Only leagues:
Table 1: 10 Most Expensive* NL Shortstops, 2016
*Position eligibility in Table 1 is determined based on preseason eligibility. In addition, the figures in Table 1 are rounded to the nearest whole number. Please don’t comment on anything you think is an arithmetical error unless you take that into account.
It’s not every year that a rookie is the most expensive player at a position, especially by a $5 margin. Corey Seager rewarded the faith of NL-only league owners who bought him, outperforming the hype and earning a few bucks of profit above his salary. He hit .308/.365/.512 with 26 home runs, 72 RBI, 105 runs, and three stolen bases on his way to the NL Rookie of the Year award. He’s a good bet to turn in a repeat performance and should be paid as such, but there’s no need to chase him past your bid limit given the depth of the position.
Only two players out of this group failed to at least break even for their owners. Erick Aybar started showing his age, hitting a meager .243/.303/.320 while stealing only three bases in eight attempts after seven consecutive seasons with double-digit steals. Addison Russell showed his age, too, although he falls on the opposite end of the age spectrum. In his first full season in the majors, he hit for decent power with 21 home runs, 95 RBI and a .179 ISO but struggled to hit for average, posting a .238 mark. $15 in earnings for a 22-year-old is pretty good, but the market’s exuberance for the highly touted youngster translated into a $4 loss at the end of the season. They can’t all be Corey Seager.
Let’s take a look at the list of NL shortstops ranked by 2016 earnings:
Table 2: Top 10 NL Shortstops, 2016
*The figures in Table 2 are rounded to the nearest whole number. Please don’t comment on anything you think is an arithmetical error unless you take that into account. Also note that the average in the $ column is an average across ten numbers while the averages in the Price and +/- columns are averages across nine numbers since one player in this table (Aledmys Diaz) was not purchased at auction in expert leagues.
Those are some serious earnings. The top two earners at shortstop in the National League, Jonathan Villar and Jean Segura, were also the top two earners among all hitters in the National League, beating out the corner infielders, corner outfielders and everyone else. They were also the only two National League batters to earn $20 or more in profits.
Villar hit .285/.369/.457 with 19 home runs, 63 RBI, 92 runs, and a league-leading 62 stolen bases. In the current low-steal environment, those steals go a long way. He also brings positional flexibility to roto rosters, as he will qualify at both SS and 3B on Opening Day in standard leagues and will add 2B eligibility by the end of April with Orlando Arcia manning short in Milwaukee. The steals and the multi-position eligibility should help him remain a top-tier option in 2017, although repeat performances in home runs and batting average don’t seem like great bets.
The Diamondbacks got a monster season out of Jean Segura and sent him on a one-way trip to the AL West for his efforts. He hit a robust .319/.368/.499 with 20 home runs, 64 RBI, 102 runs, and 33 stolen bases. Heading into the 2017 season, he’s one of the most polarizing players in roto due to the unexpectedness of his 2016 stat line and his move from Arizona to Seattle, but those bids will be placed in AL-only leagues, not NL-only ones.
The one undrafted player in Table 2 is Aledmys Diaz, who was promoted in April to fill the early-season vacancy at shortstop in St. Louis left by the injury to Jhonny Peralta. The Cuban hit .432 in April and .315 in the first half with 13 homers, securing the position for himself regardless of Peralta’s health. The 26-year-old’s performance dropped off in the second half, but his .257/.341/.440 line after the All-Star break was still respectable.
Besides the huge profits turned by the two guys at the top of this table, the most striking thing about it is the amount of youth. None of the top five and only two of the ten players in Table 2 (Brandon Crawford and Asdrubal Cabrera) will be in their thirties in 2017. Barring an avalanche of trades to the AL or unexpected drop-offs in performance, the depth of shortstop in NL-only leagues looks like it will persist beyond 2017.
Here are a few lower tier options at shortstop in NL-only leagues that are worth investigating as long as they stay inexpensive.
Orlando Arcia – Brewers (2016 NL-only earnings: $4)
Sean Rodriguez – Braves ($13)
Ketel Marte – Diamondbacks ($10 in AL-only leagues)
Dansby Swanson – Braves ($6)
Amed Rosario – Mets (n/a)
J.P. Crawford – Phillies (n/a)