Hoo boy, is it ugly out there in shortstop land. As J.P. noted in his look at the State of the Position earlier in the week, this notoriously thin position for fantasy has gotten even thinner over the past couple of seasons. AL-only leagues that use OBP face quite possibly the worst collection of options in the history of fantasy baseball, while Javier Baez’ name on the auction block should cause points leaguers to break out into cold sweats from sea to shining sea this spring. Buckle up, baby. Let’s sift through some rubble!
Shortstops collectively posted the lowest walk rate of any of the positional groups in 2014, and this collection of tiny, fleet-footed men also proved to be the most difficult for pitchers to drill. It added up to easily the worst performance in OBP-AVG differential. And it gets even worse for managers in AL-only leagues: six of the top seven-earning shortstops came from the senior circuit last year, and only one qualified guy (Ben Zobrist) managed to clear so much as a single dollar of added value in OBP formats.
Ben Zobrist, OAK
The aforementioned Zobrist has been one of the gold-standard players in OBP leagues for seven years running now, and while his power and speed numbers have diminished with age, his on-base skills are still crisp as the $20 bill he was worth in AL-only leagues last year. $21, actually, which was about $2.50 more than his return in standard leagues. He trailed only Jose Reyes in returned value, largely on the strength of his AL-leading 82 point OBP-AVG separation. He remains one of the best bets around to post a top-three OBP at the position with double-digit power and speed numbers, and especially given the wasteland of AL-only options he should be pursued particularly aggressively in those leagues.
Standard: High-Three Stars, OBP: Four Stars
Jhonny Peralta, STL
Peralta somewhat quietly led all major-league shortstops in WAR last season, and central to his performance on the offensive side was the triumphant return of his early-career walk rate. His 9.2 percent mark was his best since 2007, and if you can believe it, his .336 OBP was actually good enough for the seventh-best mark among shortstops. It was a nice bump on his 15th-best AVG. It’s worth nothing, however, that there actually wasn’t much in his peripheral approach to suggest a sustainable step forward; he actually chased more pitches out of the zone last year, which coincided with a more aggressive overall approach. Still, even if he regresses towards his career 8.2 percent walk rate, he’ll figure to see a nice boost in OBP formats as a mediocre AVG turns into a slightly favorable category asset.
Standard: Low-Three Stars, OBP: High-Three Stars
Jimmy Rollins, LAD
Rollins posted the second double-digit walk rate of his career last season, solidifying Veteran Jimmy Rollins as a guy with a really solid approach. He’s now posted walk rates of 8.9 percent or better in each of the last five seasons and should be a decent bet to do so again next season. It doesn’t make for an entirely huge value boost in its own right; he netted an extra two bucks for his managers in OBP leagues last year. But with shortstops overall faring so poorly at getting on base the relative value of Rollins’ stability is worth significantly more on draft day.
Standard: Low-Three Stars, OBP: High-Three Stars
Brad Miller, SEA
Miller still has some work to do in spring training to beat out Chris Taylor and lay claim to the starting job in Seattle. But if and when he does emerge victorious he has the kind of offensive skillset to make for a nice MI upside play in OBP formats. His sophomore campaign on the whole certainly wasn’t one for the ages, but after posting an 11.3 percent walk rate across his minor-league career, Miller finally started showing signs of bringing his patience with him to the bigs. His eight percent first-half walk rate jumped a point in the second half, when he posted a .268/.330/.464 mark over his final 111 plate appearances. That’s a tiny, statistically insignificant sample to be sure, but still one driven by a noteworthy four percentage point drop in his chase rate. The power-speed-patience raw material is here, and it’s worth an investment on draft day.
Standard: High-One Star, OBP: Two Stars
Jed Lowrie, HOU
Lowrie has long tantalized managers in OBP leagues with his strong batting eye and decent pop, and the collapse of his homerun rate last year may just leave him a bit undervalued in drafts this spring. Despite a tough earnings year overall he returned the second-highest value boost in OBP formats among AL shortstops on the strength of a nine percent walk rate. That figure is right in line with his career mark, and given the nice boost in offensive climate he’ll see in Houston he makes for a safe veteran option, particularly for AL-only leaguers.
Standard: High-One Star, OBP: High-Two Stars
Brandon Crawford, SFG
Crawford logged the fifth-best OBP-AVG differential and was one of only six shortstops to clear a double-digit walk rate. It was a substantial jump over the plate discipline he’d previously shown, but it appeared to coincide with an altered approach. He swung and missed more, particularly on pitches in the zone, but then he managed to lay off pitches out of the zone once he was in deeper counts. The explosion of swinging strikes on in-zone pitches isn’t a good sign, especially given the relatively modest boost to his power numbers that resulted from the new approach. So it’s unclear how sustainable these gains are. But there’s probably enough here to bump him a couple notches on your OBP league draft boards.
Standard: Low-One Star, OBP: Low-Two Stars
Alexei Ramirez, CHW
On the long list of AL shortstops who lost value in the jump to an OBP format last year, Ramirez set the pace, hemorrhaging almost five bucks off his mixed league return. He posted his third consecutive season of a sub-four percent walk rate in tying for the worst OBP-AVG differential at the position. There’s certainly something to be said for the consistency of his peripherals and his offensive profile in general – shortstops who can post double-digit homers and 20-plus steals don’t grow on trees. But the OBP drag is enough to legitimately eat into his overall value, making a lavish investment harder to justify in the greater context of a draft.
Standard: Four Stars, OBP: High-Three Stars
Jean Segura, MIL
Segura deserves significant leeway for his down year last season given the extenuating circumstances, and I’m generally bullish on some amount of rebound. But managers in OBP leagues are going to be stuck depending on a substantial BABIP spike to restore an overwhelming majority of his value. Segura’s 43 point OBP-AVG spread last year checked in 33rd out of the 41 hitters who qualified at short, and his 4.9 percent career walk rate has held steady over close to 1,200 plate appearances over the last two seasons. His groundball-heavy batted ball profile should be enough to drive his BABIP north to where owners need it to be, but the risk of another light return is significantly higher in these formats and should be accounted for in Segura’s draft value.
Standard: Three Stars, OBP: High-Two Stars
Alcides Escobar, KCR
Escobar’s the guy Alexei Ramirez tied for the worst OBP-AVG differential among shortstops last season, and unlike Ramirez he doesn’t have power potential to offset any of that lost value. With just a 36-point career OBP-AVG differential Escobar is something of a poster child for the perils of BABIP dependence: he got unlucky in 2013 and produced just $7 of OBP league value. Last year lady luck was on his side and he produced $20. It’s always more of a crapshoot to lean on guys whose value is tied so heavily to batted ball results, and in OBP leagues the risk is elevated proportionate to that variance. Escobar makes for a high-risk proposition this season in OBP formats given a likely-inflated draft day price coming off last season’s monster return on investment.
Standard: High-Three Stars, OBP: Low-Three Stars
Daniel Santana, MIN
Santana got pitted by a killer wave of lady luck last summer, riding a .405 BABIP to an out-of-nowhere top five showing at the position in standard leagues. He lost about $3.25 of his value in OBP formats, however, after posting the fourth-worst OBP-AVG differential at the position. He was narrowly clipped by teammate Eduardo Escobar in the race for highest chase rate at the position, and especially given that aggressiveness it’s probably fair to assume that a player who posted a 14 percent line-drive rate in his minor-league career is unlikely to reprise last year’s 26 percentmark again next season. He’ll figure to see a nice boost in his counting stats with a full season of at-bats, and the added SB and R potential in particular shouldn’t be discounted. But his value in OBP leagues really takes a licking even if he hits .280 instead of .320, let alone if the AVG tumbles down into the mid-.200s.
Standard: High-Two Stars, OBP: Low-Two Stars
Chris Owings, ARI
Owings is the Winthorpe to Brad Miller’s Billy Ray Valentine in OBP leagues. He profiles with a similarly modest yet enticing power-and-speed combo, but his solid AVG projection plays down in OBP leagues where Miller’s can play up. He’s posted historically poor walk rates throughout his professional career, taking a free pass in just a paltry three and a half percent of his 2,100-plus minor-league plate appearances before challenging a five percent mark last year. The modest step forward was theoretically encouraging, though it should be noted that after drawing seven walks in the season’s first month he mustered all of nine over his final 241 plate appearances (3.7 percent). Let someone else take an end-game flyer on the 23-year-old this season.
Standard: Two Stars, OBP: One Star
There may be no instance in all of fantasy baseball where playing positional scarcity and grabbing an elite option can pay greater dividends than shortstops in points formats. The position boasted the second-lowest whiff rate of the positional groupings last year, but also easily the lowest collective ISO. Investing in the rare jewel of a guy like Jose Reyes or Alexei Ramirez who combines a lower whiff rate with strong extra base hit potential can pay huge relative dividends, and that’s to say nothing of the mouthwatering proposition of 150 games from Troy Tulowitzki. Shortstops with high whiff rates make for dodgy propositions in points formats, where failing to take advantage of an opportunity to offset strikeouts elsewhere can have greater consequences unless your guy delivers top-shelf power. And, realistically, there just aren’t many safe bets to do that.
Alexei Ramirez, CHW
Where Alexei’s overall value takes more of a hit in OBP formats, the opposite is true in points leagues. Among shortstops last season he checked in second in total bases, seventh in total-base rate, and sixth in strikeout rate. It’s a pretty spectacular combination for points league play, especially given the dearth of quality shortstop options. While he doesn’t have a ton of space to leap up the shortstop rankings his upward mobility in the larger draft pool relative to his positional peers is significant.
Standard: Four Stars, Points: High-Four Stars
Erick Aybar, LAA
Aybar put up the lowest whiff rate of any shortstop last season, and it has improved gradually every year for five straight seasons. He also finished seventh in total bases, though it’s worth noting that his extra base hit rate was only 18th, and he played 13 more games last season than he ever has in his career. There’s some downside risk that accordingly goes along with durability concerns, and that keeps his points league inflation in check a bit.
Standard: Low-Three Stars, Points: High-Three Stars
Andrelton Simmons, ATL
Simmons disappointed far and wide after earning many a “sleeper” tag last season, as his power regressed and he put up another season of ugly BABIP and speed numbers. But in points leagues he was at least a bit more tolerable, largely on account of the second-best whiff rate among shortstops. He’s now posted a sub-10 percent rate in over 1,400 major-league plate appearances. And while his total base rate fell off a cliff last year, he’s just 25 and one season removed from posting a top-15 mark at the position. Regardless of whether his power shows up again the elite strikeout rate provides him a nice floor of value in points formats.
Standard: One Star, Points: Low-Two Stars
Wilmer Flores, NYM
Flores showed some intriguing characteristics in his 274 plate appearances last summer, most notably an ability to translate his stellar minor-league whiff rates to the big leagues after an overmatched introduction to the Show in 2013. He was the fourth toughest shortstop to strike out despite what can charitably be described as an aggressive approach on balls out of the zone. And he showed enough pop to produce as a middle-of-the-pack option in total-base rate. There’s a bunch of risk with the profile, chief among them a poor defensive reputation and Ruben Tejada peeking over his shoulder. But as a low-cost flyer at the back of a points league draft Flores isn’t a bad option at all.
Standard: Low-One Star, Points: High-One Star
Yunel Escobar, WAS
Escobar’s whiff rate has eclipsed 12 percent just once in the last seven years, and while he doesn’t hit for much power there’s some playable stability in the lack of strikeouts. He’s also moving from one of the worst doubles ballparks in baseball in Tampa to one of the best in Washington, so there’s some potential for a much-needed ballpark assist to his numbers as well. It’s not a sexy profile, but he shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle on draft day as a nice MI option in medium-depth leagues.
Standard: Zero Stars, Points: One Star
Ian Desmond, WAS
Obviously if he leads the position in total bases again, the strikeouts won’t hurt quite as much, and he’s more than capable of doing just that. So while the drop isn’t a precipitous one, the strikeout issues are a legitimate enough concern that if he doesn’t produce that elite level of power his margin for generating a surplus return on your draft investment gets awfully thin awfully quick. The risk is enough to knock him down just a couple rungs on the ladder in points formats.
Standard: Five Stars, Points: Four Stars
Xander Bogaerts, BOS
I’m keeping this one short and sweet, because Ben and Matt are watching and I’m sick to my stomach just thinking about writing unkind words about The Franchise. But results are results, and last year Bogaerts posted one of the worst whiff rates at the position and paired it with a poor 24th-ranked extra-base hit rate. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because he’s going to be awesome this year and that’s really all there is to say about that.
Standard: Three Stars, Points: High-Two Stars
Javier Baez, CHC
Mike was very much correct in his tier analysis that Baez’s absurd power upside is more than enough for standard league owners to bite the bullet and invest despite the downside. But in points formats Baez’s comic book whiff rate just won’t allow owners to get too crazy. And while he did pop nine homers in just 229 plate appearances in his rookie campaign his total base rate checked in just 35th at the position. Basically, he’s got a lot of growing to do very quickly, and until he demonstrates that he can he’ll be the ultimate boom-bust gamble in points leagues this year.
Standard: High-Two Stars, Points: One Star
Brad Miller, SEA
Where Miller gets a nice boost into solid flyer territory in OBP leagues he barely hangs on to the rankings picture in points formats. His minor league whiff rates were generally solid, and he held his own as a rookie. But his contact rate plummeted last year while his power production came in middle-of-the-pack for the position. There’s certainly projection here, particularly given the track record as a prospect. But as more than a second-tier MI flier in medium-depth points leagues Miller’s not a guy to rely on given the demonstrated downside risk.
Standard: High-One Star, Points: Low-One Star
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