So this time last year we looked at shortstops and it was, well, not pretty. But good news! Even though the six-spotters haven’t gotten there yet, they’re getting awfully close to getting there. The massive influx of young talent gives hope where there has been really very little of it for a long, long time, but it’s important to pump the breaks a little bit. Three-star guys like Francisco Lindor and Addison Russell barely cracked the top-200 and -300, respectively, in overall value last year despite showing flashes of brilliance, and they along with the likes of Correa and Seager will have to navigate their first full seasons on the back of winter scouting report re-writes. Still, it’s nice to finally get to say some positive things about the position—even if that applies more broadly to points formats than OBP leagues, as we’ll see.
In case you missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can find those here:
On-base percentage is one area where the position remains exceptionally weak. Shortstops walked at just a 6.3 percent collective rate last year, easily the worst group mark, and that drove the second-worst on-base percentage of the positional groupings. The lack of walks—and hit-by-pitches, too, for that matter—left shortstops dependent on batted ball outcomes for the highest percentage of their on-base production, and that also means greater volatility on a seasonal basis. The handful of “risers” I’ll discuss below only gained value insofar as they didn’t actively lose any in the switch to OBP values—for context, only seven shortstops in the entire league managed to work walks at even a league-average rate across 400 or more plate appearances last year (and that tally includes the likes of Ryan Goins, Ruben Tejada, and The Artist Formerly Known As Jimmy Rollins). And only Tejada managed to add a single dollar’s worth of added value. Yuck. On the flip side, the down-arrow guys lose value, sure, but seeing as how the vast majority of the position did the same last year the relative impact at least stings a little less.
Marcus Semien, OAK – Semien in the first half certainly looked to fit the bill I discussed above of a sophomore struggling with adjustments, but by the second half his whiffs were down and his walk rate pick up into above-average territory. His 8.2 percent rate down the stretch is a far cry from the figure north of 15 percent he once posted in a full season of plate appearances in the high minors, but it was an encouraging signal of potential growth. The possibility for continued development here is absolutely worth plucking Semien for your OBP league well before his standard ADP in the 250 range. Standard: High-Two Stars, OBP: Three Stars
Brad Miller, TAM – I had plenty of nice things to say about Tampa’s new starting shortstop yesterday, and those good vibrations reverberate that much louder in OBP leagues. His 9.6 percent walk rate was the best of any shortstop to log 400 plate appearances, and as I noted he did it by making concrete adjustments with his approach and execution in the box. He’s a guy that always posted outstanding walk rates in the minor leagues and appears to have made real and encouraging progress at the dish last year, and his appeal as a later-round target in standard leagues bumps into mid-round territory in OBP formats. Standard: Two Stars, OBP: Low-Three Stars
Trevor Story, COL – Story is currently going off the board 23rd among shortstops in NFBC drafts, as managers hedge on a possible suspension/likely injury at some point for Jose Reyes. And in OBP formats he should be that much more of a popular grab-‘n-stash. Story tends to get overlooked at times because of his massive minor-league whiff totals, but he has put up a double-digit career walk rate in over 2,300 plate appearances, and that along with the power-and-speed combo and Coors is enough to push him onto the bottom of the One-Star list alongside Turner as a solid end-game speculative play. Standard: Zero Stars, OBP: Low-One Star
Others: Carlos Correa has nowhere to go tiers-wise, but it’s certainly worth noting that his walk rate north of nine percent jives with minor-league performance and drags his relative value at the position that much higher in OBP formats…Corey Seager showed an outstanding approach in his brief big-league cameo, though it is worth noting that his 12.4 percent walk rate almost doubled his effort in 550 high-minors plate appearances earlier in the year, and a bet on small sample noise is probably the prudent one until proven otherwise…Similarly, Ketel Marte’s nigh-on double-digit walk rate in the majors last year marked a significant departure from his aggressive minor league approach and should be treated with skepticism by OBP players…Jung-Ho Kang posted the fourth-best OBP-AVG split among shortstops to clock 350 plate appearances last year, but he did it in spite of a poor six percent walk rate thanks to a demonstrable ability and willingness to take one for the team (his rate of getting hit once every 27.5 plate appearances was the third-highest of any hitter). That may be sustainable, or it may be a fluke, and managers should be wary of the OBP construction until we get more data.
Xander Bogaerts, BOS – It is always difficult to figure proper valuation when a prospect comes up and succeeds in a different way than he was supposed to, and Bogaerts may be this year’s poster child for that problem. The aggressive, contact-oriented version of Bogaerts we saw last year lost almost four and a half bucks of –only value in the switch to an OBP format, thanks largely to a walk ate south of five percent. Now, to be fair, he lost that much because he had (significantly) more to lose than any other shortstop. His reasonably hard, all-fields contact profile mitigates some risk of a batting average collapse, but banking on another .372 BABIP seems foolish, and the overall risk that comes with his kind of uncertain approach is enough to downgrade him into Russell-Lindor range. Standard: Four Stars, OBP: High-Three Stars
Jean Segura, ARI – Segura took his already-hyper-aggressive approach to 11 last year, drawing the lowest rate of walks of anybody at the position and posting the worst-OBP-AVG split. He’s a one-trick pony in OBP leagues, and while the steals are nice, they’re not that nice – mostly because he doesn’t get on base enough to steal more of them. Managers employing his services in OBP leagues last year lost out on more than $5 of additional value their standard-league counterparts reaped. Invest in steals elsewhere, preferably someone who won’t actively tank your other categories. Standard: Low-Three Stars, OBP: Two Stars
Starlin Castro, NYY – Castro was barely outdone by Segura last year, both in terms of raw walk rate tininess and also lost OBP wages. He’s shown a marginally better approach in the past, but when you’re sitting on a .243 TAv what’s a little extra pressing? The chase-rate explosion certainly isn’t a good thing for someone already starting from the fringes of a socially acceptable plate discipline profile, however. He’ll be able to lean on Mystique and Aura for counsel this season, but that may not be enough for OBP leaguers to overlook his net-negative $4 from last season. Standard: High-Two Stars, OBP: Low-Two Stars
Alcides Escobar, KCR – Escobar has proven the pitfalls of BABIP-dependent offense as well as anyone over the last couple years, and that price has been steeper in OBP leagues than their standard counterparts. Last year he cost his AL-only managers $3.73, and the year before he ran them for almost almost a buck more. Similar to Segura, the stolen bases will get you so far, but the AVG volatility really knocks him down a peg or three. Standard: Two Stars, OBP: Low-Two Stars
Others: Erick Aybar’s consistency has always been a notable asset, but the pop continued to slide off the table last year and his combination of still-elite (slap) contact rate and age ensures he’s not likely to suddenly start waiting around for more free passes any time soon…Alexei Ramirez’s days as a premier option at the position have passed, and the fall is slightly more precipitous in OBP leagues. He posted his best walk rate in four years last season and still ran one of the ten-worst OBP-AVG splits at the position…Adeiny Hechavarria barely made our first tier for standard play as a late-round afterthought with no carrying tool in most formats, though it is worth noting that he made some steady-if-incremental progress with the stick last year. Those gains shouldn’t be speculated upon in OBP formats, however, where his NL-only earnings were three and a half bucks lighter last year.
Points formats are where you really start to see the depths at which this position plays relative to the more real-offense-friendly positions in the game. Where 26 first basemen posted a Total Base Rate (TB/AB) of .450 or higher, four shortstops did. In raw terms, 10 first basemen grabbed at least 250 total bases on the season, while a solitary Xander Bogaerts perused that plateau alone with his thoughts. Shortstops did whiff at the lowest rate of any of the positional groupings, so if nothing else beyond some speed, at least they offered an opportunity to fill a position while keeping a lid on your team’s whiffs.
Jose Reyes, COL – It feels dirty (and it should) to consider Reyes given the accusations at hand, but if you’re so inclined to throw morality to the wind it is also risky given the potential for a potentially lengthy suspension. The numbers equation tilts farther in the direction of risk tolerance in points leagues, as his excellent contact rate and home in Coors to help boost total base compilation bumps him higher in the tier, assuming an adequate placeholder can be obtained for any suspension period. Standard: Low-Three Stars, Points: Three Stars
Erick Aybar, ATL – Aybar is one of the most boring fantasy players around, though as I noted in the OBP section he has been creeping ever-closer to true slap-hitter status of late. Still, in his current tiered neighborhood his excellent strikeout rate takes on huge relative value, as he’s the only two-star guy with even an above-average strikeout rate (much less a good one). He’s also a consistently strong doubles hitter, with at least 30 on the board in each of the last five seasons. Boring isn’t always bad. Standard: Two Stars, Points: High-Two Stars
Jose Iglesias, DET – Iglesias’ aggressive approach doesn’t help him much in on-base formats, but he’s shown consistent barrel control and the ability to hit .300 over more than 800 plate appearances when he’s been healthy over the last three years. He can leg out a few doubles and triples, too, and combined with a single-digit strikeout rate he can add some value in points leagues, again if he’s healthy. That’s the problem, though, as he missed one entire season and a large chunk of another over the past two years. Still, the production upside that would come with 600 plate appearances bumps him barely into the next tier here. Standard: One Star, Points: Low-Two Stars
Didi Gregorius, NYY – Gregorious made notable strides in improving his production as the year on last season, hitting ball harder in the second half en route to a .294 average and .417 slugging percentage that cracked the top 20 at the position. His season-long whiff rate south of 15 percent was good for a top-10 rate among shortstops as well, and that, too, fell in the second half. The moderate home-run and doubles power that scouts long suspected began to materialize, and the home ballpark offers a nice additional nudge to where he makes sense to look at near the end of the second tier in points formats. Standard: One Star, Points: Low-Two Stars
Others: While Corey Seager’s big league sample was small, his solid whiff rate jived with a dramatic drop in his strikeout total at Triple-A last year, and the tantalizing potential for huge total base numbers along with a manageable strikeout rate is a dream very much alive…Francisco Lindor paired the second-best total base rate with an above-average strikeout rate in his debut last season, solidifying his value in the fourth tier…Jung-Ho Kang’s strikeouts are a liability, but he showed spectacular slugging potential in the second half after settling into an expanded role against more familiar pitching. If you’re light on total bases he’ll make for a solid stash play.
Ian Desmond, FA – In addition to the uncertainties surrounding his landing spot and potential to shake off last year’s disaster, points leaguers in early drafts also have to talk themselves into overlooking Desmond’s outsized strikeout rate – one that is magnified all the more in its negative effects on account of the relative drain at the position. Desmond’s near-30 percent strikeout rate was the worst in class, and while he eventually compiled strong homerun and doubles numbers he needed the fourth-most plate appearances at the position to get there. That huge number didn’t help managers feel any better about the whiff rate, either, and his value in points leagues takes a significant tumble. Let somebody else gamble on a resurgence here, knowing that even if it does it’ll still cost an arm and a leg in strikeout fees. Standard: High-Three Stars, Points: High-Two Stars
Addison Russell, CHC – Russell’s obscene strikeout rate last year was the only one hanging out in the same county as Desmond’s, but we can at least point to a much more reasonable rate at Double-A the previous season for a source of optimism, and he made some notable in-season progress to trim the fat as the summer went along. Russell’s overall pop was similarly uninspiring last year, though with enough hints at young player progression that his value doesn’t ding nearly as hard as Desmond’s. Standard: High-Three Star, Points: Low-Three Stars
J.J. Hardy BAL – The downturn of Hardy’s career in his 30s has been well chronicled at this point, and the decline has been even steeper in points formats. A funny thing has happened to him over the past couple years, though, as his strikeout rate has exploded without a correspondingly outsized jump in either his chase rate, overall swing rate, or swing-and-miss rate. He isn’t seeing or creating more strikes, per se, but the distribution of those strikes has realigned his offensive profile for the worse, and we’re now two years and a full thousand plate appearances into this new normal. At 33, the odds of an abrupt about-face grow longer by the day, and I’d just as soon stay away from the risk here, which is all the higher in points leagues if recent production trends continue reasonably unabated. Standard: High-One Star, Points: Low-One Star.
Others: It was a weird year to be sure for Troy Tulowitzki, as pretty much everything about the hitter he was in both Colorado and Toronto last season marked a dramatic departure from his prior demonstrated skill set. It’s prudent to bet on the track record here, but it’s also riskier to do so in a points league, where his suddenly-well-above-average strikeout rate threatens to take another chunk out of his extra base production…Brandon Crawford’s massive HR:FB rate explosion covered up a lot of the warts of his points-league game last year, and if he’s unable to replicate it in one of the worst ballparks in baseball for high HR:RB rate aspirations, his whiff rate (about 22 percent over the past couple of seasons) will take more of the center stage…Above I touched on Marcus Semien’s improvements last year, but he’s trying to improve from an extremely disadvantageous starting point from a points league perspective. Even continued gains in his contact rate are likely to leave him running a below-average strikeout rate for another year, and that puts additional pressure on his pop to shine through in full force…
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