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February 9, 2017

The -Only League Landscape

National League Shortstops

by Scooter Hotz


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

Rank

Player

$

Price

+/-

1

Corey Seager

$27

$24

2

2

Addison Russell

$15

$19

-4

3

Brandon Crawford

$18

$18

0

4

Jean Segura

$36

$15

21

5

Jonathan Villar

$38

$11

28

6

Asdrubal Cabrera

$18

$11

8

7

Erick Aybar

$3

$9

-6

8

Javier Baez

$16

$8

8

9

Jose Peraza

$15

$5

10

10

Jedd Gyorko

$13

$5

8

Average

$20

$12

8

*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

Rank

Player

$

Price

+/-

1

Jonathan Villar

$38

11

28

2

Jean Segura

$36

15

21

3

Corey Seager

$27

24

2

4

Trevor Story

$20

4

16

5

Aledmys Diaz

$19

6

Asdrubal Cabrera

$18

11

8

7

Brandon Crawford

$18

18

0

8

Chris Owings

$17

3

13

9

Freddy Galvis

$16

1

15

10

Javier Baez

$16

8

8

Average

$22

$11

12

*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)
The 22-year-old seems to have fallen off the radar of roto owners despite the fact that he was ranked as the 12th-best prospect in Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101 Prospects list heading into the 2016 season. He struggled offensively in hitter-friendly Colorado Springs but was promoted to the big leagues anyway. He hit only .219/.273/.358 in 216 plate appearances in the second half while displacing Jonathan Villar at shortstop. He’s a glove-first shortstop, but he’s probably not as bad a hitter as his 2016 line suggests, and he has stolen at least 20 bases each year since the start of his professional career. He could be a bargain on auction day, especially since steals are getting harder to find.

Sean Rodriguez – Braves ($13)
In his age-31 season, Sean Rodriguez had a career year. Playing all over the diamond, the veteran utilityman hit .270/.349/.510 in 342 plate appearances with 18 homers, 56 RBI, 49 runs and two steals. He signed a two-year deal with Atlanta in the offseason, where he is once again expected to play all over the diamond rather than every day at one position. He could be a cheap source of pop who can slot in at nearly any position in the endgame of an NL-only auction.

Ketel Marte – Diamondbacks ($10 in AL-only leagues)
The main prize received by the Diamondbacks in the Jean Segura trade was Taijuan Walker. They also received Ketel Marte in the deal, a player who earned $10 in the context of AL-only leagues in 2016 on the strength of a .259/.287/.323 slash line with one home run, 33 RBI, 55 runs, and 11 stolen bases. He’s not guaranteed to be an everyday starter in Arizona—he’ll have to compete with Brandon Drury, Nick Ahmed, and Chris Owings for playing time in the middle infield. If he can lock down a starting spot, he could be a passable source of counting stats in NL-only leagues, especially taking his new home park into account.

Dansby Swanson – Braves ($6)
Drafted first overall by Arizona in 2015, the gloriously coiffed shortstop made it all the way to the big leagues by the end of the 2016 season. Traded to Atlanta in December 2015 along with Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair for Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier, Dansby Swanson impressed in a 38-game stint with the Braves, hitting .302/.361/.442 with three homers and three steals. He combines 12-15 home run power with the potential for 12-15 steals and a solid approach at the plate. Roto players like the soon-to-be 23-year-old who contribute across all categories without excelling in any single category tend to be slightly undervalued at auction, so Swanson could end up being available at an attractive price despite his prospect pedigree.

Amed Rosario – Mets (n/a)
There isn’t any room in the Mets infield for top prospect Amed Rosario right now, but Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes, David Wright and Neil Walker are all on the wrong side of 30 with significant injury histories. While the Mets tend to take their time developing their prospects, if they’re in contention and need to fill a hole in the infield, Rosario could get the call. If he ends up getting significant playing time in 2017, he could do some serious damage considering the fact that he enters the year as one of the top 10 prospects in the game after a breakout 2016 season split between High-A and Double-A.

J.P. Crawford – Phillies (n/a)
Speaking of top prospects, J.P. Crawford is expected to make his debut with the Phillies at some point during the coming season. Like Amed Rosario, Crawford is a consensus top ten prospect in baseball. He had a disappointing season offensively in 2016, hitting only .244/.328/.318 in 87 games in Triple-A after 36 games in Double-A where he hit .265/.398/.390. Defense is his calling card, but Crawford has the approach and contact skills to hit for average in time while stealing double-digit bases.

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

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Shortstops,  NL-Only

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Premium Article 2017 Prospects: Kansas... (02/08)
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Fantasy Article The -Only League Lands... (02/03)
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The -Only League Lands... (02/10)
Next Article >>
Dynasty League Positio... (02/09)

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