February 18, 2011
Like last year, the fantasy rankings are broken into tiers. Generally speaking, five-star players should be worthwhile in five categories and have an auction dollar value of $30 or more in your standard, mixed leagues. Four-star players should be worth at least $20 and useful in four categories, three-stars $10 and up, two-stars are more of your single-digit buys that you hope fill a hole or return some bargain value, and one-star players are, most likely, roster filler in the deepest leagues that you hope can be worth the buck you throw down on them.
This year we are listing stats like we have in the past (plate appearances, average, R, RBI, SB and HR projections from PECOTA) but are also including dollar value estimates produced by the Player Forecast Manager. In order to make these columns fit into the tables, I had to shorten them: "2L-$" is for mixed leagues, and "1L-$" is for AL- or NL-only leagues, depending on the player. The dollar values may not match up perfectly with the tiers, but those are just cases of PECOTA and I disagreeing on a player.
For reference, the dollar values were created with the PFM using standard 5x5 roto scoring, 23-player rosters--broken down as C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) Util (1) P (9)--and $180 of the $260 budget allocated for hitters and $1 minimum salaries. A minimum of 20 games needed to be played at a position in the previous season to qualify (though I snuck a few brand new players likely to qualify in). If your league uses different settings, be sure to plug them into the PFM to see what kind of differences in dollar value we are talking about--I set these to be as close to standard roster construction as possible.
Ramirez is the only player who keeps Albert Pujols from being the unquestionable first pick (or most expensive player in an auction). Of course, that's assuming he bounces back in 2011 to his pre-2010 production. If he can avoid missing 20 games and posts the stats above, that won't be difficult for him to do. Troy Tulowitzki had the same value in 2010 that is projected above. The difference, of course, is that Tulowitzki missed 40 games in 2010 and dealt with a broken wrist. A fully operational Tulo is a dangerous thing for National League pitching, and can produce something worthy of the five-star designation.
This may be the saddest four-star tier in the entire series. The difference between Jose Reyes and the three-star shortstops behind him is about 25 stolen bases--if his leg problems persist, he won't earn this slot, though as Jay Jaffe pointed out the other day, sometimes the Reyes you know is better than the Reyes you don't.
Derek Jeter had his worst season ever, but thanks to a combination of high standards to measure against and his playing the least productive offensive position on the diamond that doesn't require extensive padding, he still merited a three-star rating. If he bounces back a little at the plate, he'll match or exceed that value, but a year just like 2010--surrounded by an impressive Yankee lineup--would do the trick as well.
Alexei Ramirez may have been the most productive offensive shortstop in the American League last year, which is a lot like being the most talented member of Nickelback. If Ramirez were to consistently combine his occasional patience with his power, I would be much more excited about his benefitting from the Adam Dunn era in Chicago. At least he doesn't have to rely on Mark Kotsay anymore.
Stephen Drew is one of those players people just don't like very much (why this trait seems to run in the Drew family, I will never understand), so chances are good you can snag him later or for less money than he will be worth. PECOTA is pretty into him this year, which gives you even more reason to hop on board the SS Drew.
Starlin Castro is my shining beacon of hope in what is an otherwise dark and dreary stretch of shortstop hell. I just want to draw little hearts all over the page to explain how I feel about him and his potential, but I'll try to control myself. As far as 2011 is concerned, though, he's still a three-star kind of shortstop. He doesn't have much power yet (hey, give him a break--how many homers did you hit when you were 20 years old?), but he should hit .300 or better and steal some bases.
Which is more than you can say for Jimmy Rollins. PECOTA and Bill Baer dig Rollins in 2011, but I'm not quite convinced. I've relented enough to include him in the three-star category--even if he fancies his Willie Mays Hayes alter-ego, J-Roll, over what he is actually capable of doing, he may have enough speed to be useful in fantasy. The problem is that you will probably have to pay far more than he is worth to get him at auction, because he is a name that fans (and analysts) are still willing to take risks on. To summarize: nothankyou.jpg.
I'm going to be honest here--I don't know much about Nishioka. PECOTA likes him (and has done pretty well with Japanese players who come to major leagues, or even American players who go to Japan and come back to the major leagues). If he can steal some bases and hit for some power in a lineup as good as Minnesota's, he'll outperform two-thirds of this list without even trying. Craig Brown will have much more on Nishioka next week, so keep an eye out for that.
If Elvis Andrus hits four homers in 2011, it will be four more than he hit in 2010. He's probably going to be a solid hitter at some point (at least for the position), but I would like to see it happen before I go out of my way to pick him ahead of the few capable shortstops in the league. Juan Uribe something something homers, [fat joke]. I miss the old Yunel Escobar. That guy was cool. He hit some homers, hit for average, and had enough upside to be a three-star player.
Alcides Escobar should steal bases under Ned Yost, now that he has escaped Ken Macha, terrible baserunning manager extraordinaire. Whether he hits is more up for debate, but that's why he's ranked where he is. Ian Desmond matched his weighted-mean forecast in 2010, and with a little bit of growth, could do the same this season. He's not a great fantasy shortstop, but he's a good one to wait on if you've missed out on filling the position until now.
Miguel Tejada's saving grace at this point may be his shortstop eligibility. I think he still has a little bit left in the tank, though not enough to get him out of this tier. Rafael Furcal is in the two-star tier mostly because he has these occasional flashes of power that make us all forget he's a slap-hitting shortstop who steals bases. I get the sense this is a ranking I will regret, though, so if you're similarly on the fence, feel free to drop him further. Jed Lowrie should get lots of playing time in Boston, and has a chance of winning the shortstop job outright before too long. He's better than his PECOTA forecast, and his lack of a clear job is the one thing keeping him out of the three-star category.
Jason Bartlett isn't going to recover his stroke by moving to Petco Park. Asdrubal Cabrera has the potential to be much, much better than this, but he's never played a full season, and has as much disappointment in his career stats as he has quality. Peralta probably shouldn't be rostered in mixed leagues, though shortstop eligibility in an AL-only makes him useful. Even in leagues that don't count on-base percentage, Yuniesky Betancourt is a disappointment. A solid NL-only pick, but he's only useful when compared to the names that come after him in this table.
There was a time when I liked watching James Hardy hit, but those days seem to be very far away. Orlando Cabrera could be a decent AL-only pick since he will be eligible at short and second, giving him some MI status at a low price. Marco Scutaro would be higher than this, but, like teammate Jed Lowrie, the playing time situation just isn't clear enough for me to recommend either more heartily than I have. If Paul Janish plays most of the time at short and hits like he did in 2010, he is actually pretty decent. PECOTA thinks that's a long shot, but his multi-position eligibility gives him a reason to be rostered in NL-only. I hope I never have to play Cesar Izturis as my starting shortstop in an AL-only league again, and given their acquisition of Hardy, it seems like Baltimore is having the same thought.