December 18, 2009
Shortstop Rankings Review
It was as difficult to get quality production out of shortstops as it was catchers in 2009, which is a fancy way of saying that the position was generally awful. Part of this was due to injuries that weakened an already shallow pool of talent (my eyes and those of many readers started to glaze over when thinking about any shortstop past the eighth spot) but a lot of it was thanks to poorer than expected seasons from a significant number of starting shortstops.
Before diving in to the rankings, I also want to start some discussion about what it is we should do about the lists themselves. Should the format change? Should it stay the same? Would you prefer something like star ratings and tiers, like those that Kevin Goldstein uses in his Top 11 Prospects list, or do you want to retain the basic 1-20 ranking system? For that matter, are 20 players at each position enough? Let's get all of these ideas out in the open now so that there's plenty of time to accommodate requests by the time ranking season rolls around. That way, I provide you with the service you ask for, and still have time to do the things I plan on doing for you outside of that. Reply in the comments, ask me in chats, e-mail me, or talk to me via Twitter (@Marc_Normandin) over the next few months with your thoughts; I may not respond to all of you, but I will keep track of your replies for the purposes of 2010's rankings.
1. Hanley Ramirez (.318/.399/.548 PECOTA) .342/.410/.543: Ramirez showed a little less power than forecasted, as he didn't cross the 30 homer mark again, but he drove in over 100 runs for the first time, scored 101 times, and stole 27 bases. It was kind of greedy of Ramirez to take all of the shortstop production for himself, but whoever drafted him was thankful for it.
2. Jose Reyes (.309/.374/.478 PECOTA) .279/.355/.395: Reyes appeared in just 36 games due to injury, which ruined plenty of owner's seasons given how high he was drafted. He had surgery to clean scar tissue out from behind his knee in October and should be ready for spring training.
3. Jimmy Rollins (.293/.360/.458 PECOTA) .250/.295/.423: Want to know the worst part about Jimmy Rollins' disappointing season? He was still an average shortstop offensively. His .252 EqA is the exact average EqA for the position, despite an on-base percentage under .300 and a significant dip in batting average. Rollins did pick things up in the second half (.272/.306/.495) to save his season, but that's little consolation to those in head-to-head leagues who suffered through a .229/.287/.355 start to the year. The one positive is that he still managed to score 100 runs and drive in 77 while stealing 31 bases, so things ended up looking good for him at least in the superficial fantasy sense.
4. Stephen Drew (.278/.342/.470 PECOTA) .261/.320/.428: Drew failed to follow up on his breakout 2008 campaign, and didn't match his weighted mean PECOTA forecast either. His R and RBI totals were solid enough for the position (71 and 65), but the batting average hurts, and the fact that he doesn't steal any bases makes the negatives tougher to swallow. I'll have to rethink his placement on the list next year, though as you'll see, his season doesn't look all that bad in a relative sense.
5. J.J. Hardy (.284/.344/.459 PECOTA) .229/.302/.357: I can understand thinking that ranking Hardy fifth was too high, but even his biggest critics have to admit that 2009 was a bit extreme on the failure scale. Coming off of a very productive 2008 that should have been repeatable (normal BABIP, an ISO around expectations, a low liner rate), Hardy fell apart this past year. His power disappeared, his strikeout rates rose, and his BABIP fell to .264, partially due to a 13.9 percent line drive rate. This is a player who is capable of 4-5 wins a year, so this kind of dramatic drop off is either a terrible sign for his future or a blip on the radar-he's a player I plan on going in-depth with before the season starts, so we'll figure this one out.
6. Troy Tulowitzki (.283/.356/.452 PECOTA) .297/.377/.552: Tulowitzki rebounded as PECOTA's weighted-mean projection indicated he would, but then he piled some more offense on top of that for good measure, as the 24-year-old put up a season that looked more like his 90th-percentile projection. He needs to work on being a better base runner (20-for-31 on steals this year), but you have to love 32 homers out of a shortstop, along with 101 runs and 92 RBI. The best part may be that he slugged .507 on the road, which takes away his biggest problem-the Coors effect. I said in the rankings I wanted to see more consistency on the road and against right-handers before moving him up further than this in the rankings, and he delivered on both accounts.
7. Rafael Furcal (.290/.363/.406 PECOTA) .269/.335/.375: "Between the ridiculous .380 BABIP and the 164 plate-appearance sample size, you shouldn't expect Furcal to repeat last year's performance over the long term." Furcal's forecast was actually on point, as his batting average was the one problem here. Shockingly, he said with eyes rolled, Furcal didn't repeat his 2008 BABIP, and posted a much more normal .303 rate, which killed his chances of repeating an unrepeatable stretch of baseball. Most worrisome with Furcal is that he stole just four more bases than the year prior, despite being on base about 150 additional times. If he's going to slug under .400 and not steal bases, then he's not going to stick at seventh in anybody's rankings, no matter how terrible the position is.
8. Derek Jeter (.288/.353/.383 PECOTA) .334/.406/.465: Coming off of his worst offensive season since the mid-'90s in his age-35 season, it seemed like a safe bet to rank Jeter eighth. There were two things that happened that I did not foresee (one that I should have). First, NuYankee Stadium gave him a huge power boost, as his ISO at home was .164 versus .100 on the road. Second, He put up a .369 BABIP, which was more in line with his recent past, excluding 2008. So what do these two things tell us going forward? Jeter's going to have some bonus points attached to his slugging thanks to 81 games in an offensive haven, which does count for something (especially in roto). Also, it looks like the problem with 2008 is that Jeter's BABIP crashed, killing his batting average and dragging down his slugging. As long as he can keep the BABIP up, the batting average should stay in a decent area, and new Yankee Stadium should help him keep his slugging up a bit too. Jeter stole 30 bases again, and did so with a high success rate, but he's been pretty boom or bust with steals throughout the second half of his career, so I'm not sure what to make of that in terms of 2010 yet. All I know is that between the new park, the lineup around him and what we know about his BABIP, eighth just won't do for him next year.
9. Ryan Theriot (.283/.359/.350 PECOTA) .284/.343/.369: Theriot's production was pretty much as expected-a decent enough batting average, 20+ steals, and 80+ runs. He's had basically the same season three years running in that regard. It ain't pretty, but it works if you miss out on the quality up top and don't want to fight over the second tier shortstops.
I've received a few questions about Cristian Guzman's having the third-highest VORP forecast among shortstops. If you look at his last few years, it's easy to see why PECOTA thinks he's this good. Guzman was terrible beyond words in 2005, he missed all of '06, and he collected just 174 plate appearances in '07, though he did hit .328/.380/.466 in that time. He then put together a solid year for a shortstop in 2008, hitting .316/.345/.440 over 579 plate appearances. Since it bases its projections on the past three years of data, PECOTA is working with those last 753 plate appearances. I have no qualms in believing Guzman can match his forecast-he's hit that line the past two years, which is why he has that projection in the first place-but I don't agree that Guzman will have that line in 2009, but with the PECOTA cards released, a look at his 25th percentile to see if it's either far off is still pretty promising (.308/.344/.425).
He missed on the batting average, which helped drag down the other two numbers, but looking at his 25th instead of weighted-mean proved to be an important distinction given the significant difference in value.
11. Jhonny Peralta (.261/.327/.425 PECOTA) .254/.316/.375: PECOTA and I took some flak for treating poor Peralta this way, as he was coming off of a .473 slugging year, but he ended up being a good sport and had a bad year. Given his career path, he should be great next year when no one drafts him, and then play terribly in 2011 when everyone expects him to do it again.
12. Khalil Greene (.245/.306/.421 PECOTA) .200/.272/.347: Greene's season is difficult to categorize, as he dealt with traditional injuries as well as social anxiety disorder. He had to spend time on the DL because of his stress and anxiety, and given he was trying to rebound from a poor season with a new team, it's not shocking he didn't do well.
13. Miguel Tejada (.288/.331/.416 PECOTA) .313/.340/.455: I feel like Tejada is one of those guys who will only do well if I say negative things about him. The only real difference between 2008 and 2009 was 20 points of BABIP, so I wouldn't expect his forecast to change that much for 2010.
14. Yunel Escobar (.287/.357/.387 PECOTA) .299/.377/.436: Escobar ended up with a season that fell somewhere in between his 2007 and 2008 campaigns and resembled his 90th percentile forecast. Escobar had a reverse platoon split this year, struggling against lefties (.232/.343/.348) but pummeling right-handers (.327/.392/.472). This was the second year in a row with a reverse split, so keep an eye out for it (though the number of plate appearances are still far too low to call it legitimate). He's entering his peak years, so we'll see him ranked higher than this in the future-he just had to show he deserved it first.
15. Michael Young (.279/.334/.393 PECOTA) .322/.374/.518: As with Jeter, I discounted how high Young's BABIP figures normally were, and with a return to his regular levels in 2009 came a rebound season. The fact that he played in a healthier state than in 2008 helped out as well. This was his best campaign since 2005, so I don't think we should expect an exact repeat in 2010, but his forecast should improve significantly regardless.
16. Mike Aviles (.268/.309/.409 PECOTA) .183/.208/.250: Aviles didn't get a chance to show the world that his early season struggles were just that, as he appeared in just 36 games before hitting the DL with what was supposedly a strained right forearm. It turns out there was a lot more drama involved than that, as Aviles felt pain in his elbow and forearm during spring training but played through the pain thinking it was just soreness. While initially diagnosed as a strained forearm, it turns out Aviles needed Tommy John surgery that ended his 2009 and will cost him part of his 2010. Placing 16th among shortstops sounds right for "Player that doesn't disclose injury and medical staff that can't diagnose it once he does," yeah?
17. Edgar Renteria (.276/.332/.391 PECOTA) .250/.307/.328: "Edgar Renteria should improve some by moving to the National League, but don't expect him to turn back into the star hitter that he was for the Braves a few years ago. He still struggles against right-handers, and the park he's moving to is not a hitter's friend." Well, I was right about two things; the problem was that he didn't improve at all by moving to the NL.
18. Jed Lowrie (.260/.341/.432 PECOTA) .147/.211/.265: Lowrie didn't get a lot of playing time, as the Red Sox settled on Julio Lugo as their starting shortstop until they got tired of him as well. Also, Lowrie was still bothered by his wrist that had been surgically repaired, which kept him from attempting to reach this forecast. I'm still of the mind that he's lost at the plate and doesn't make enough contact to utilize his power potential, but he won't get a chance to do so in Boston with Marco Scutaro now entrenched at short.
20. Jason Bartlett (.257/.310/.345 PECOTA) .320/.389/.490: Bartlett's 90th percentile forecast was .281/.340/.386. He was a .276/.337/.362 career hitter going into his age-29 season. PECOTA felt he would do what he normally did, and even put his Beta as 0.88, which translates into "I'm really sure this is how it's going to be." Instead, his BABIP jumped over 30 points, his ISO crossed the .100 mark for the first time (only stopping at .170), and he made whatever fantasy owner jumped on him first a very happy person until about the All-Star break, when he still hit well for a shortstop but dropped that MVP-ish line. If anyone can prove to me in writing they thought Bartlett was a top five shortstop prior to the 2009 season, I'll buy you a beer someday. Seriously.
Looking at the "Just Missed" guys, I took the opportunity to point out that Alex Gonzalez, despite a starting job, was not the man for your fantasy team. This was true until he joined the Red Sox and did well, solely to spite those of us who know he isn't good, because for some reason, members of Red Sox Nation have a love affair with him that I will never understand. Brandon Wood never got the playing time to prove he was a worthwhile shortstop, so anyone who drafted him didn't get a chance to be disappointed. Alexei Ramirez is the one shortstop in the "Just Missed" section to snag playing time-he was ranked on the second-base list and was given a courtesy mention here for his dual eligibility. His season was disappointing relative to 2008, but it wasn't too bad for a shortstop-again, a reminder of just how poor the pickings are at the position.