These introductions have been filled with C- jokes and should probably be avoided. Just like the players below should be avoided, based on the recommendations of our Baseball Prospectus staff.
(You see, this is a joke that should be avoided which makes it like the jokes I am describing so it is meta. This paragraph fits this model as well, so it is another joke of this ilk. This is awful and I apologize for subjecting you to it.)
Brandon Crawford, Giants
Lots of players get underrated because of “boring” production. At shortstop, though, it seems, that the boring players who show some power relative to their peers (in the past this was J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, and Jhonny Peralta) become somewhat overrated. Home runs are great, but the scarcity of power at the position has apparently inflated some players’ price tags.
This season, that player is Crawford (currently about the eighth shortstop off the board), who broke out in 2016 with 21 home runs, besting his past high of 10. Crawford is certainly a fine option, but he neither steals many bases nor helps in batting average, and I am going to bet that he is unlikely to repeat his 16.2 percent HR:FB rate, which bested his previous career high of 7.0 percent in 2014. Even if Crawford does repeat his 2016, he was still only the seventh-most-valuable shortstop. Add in the fact that many might also be overrating him because he either (i) made us look good if we waited on shortstop last year or (ii) was a productive replacement option in shallow leagues, and we get a pretty decent reason to avoid Crawford at his current, little-profit-to-be-gained price. —Jeff Quinton
Ian Desmond, Free Agent
Less than a week from the start of spring training, the 30-year-old remains unsigned, casting an omnipresent shadow over his current fantasy value, and further amplifying his risk in early-spring drafts. A card-carrying member of the exclusive 20/20 club three of the last four seasons, Desmond failed to reach those lofty statistical peaks (hitting 19 home runs and stealing only 13 bases) in 2015. The glaring red flags in his profile, a rapidly increasing groundball rate (which climbed to 53 percent last season) an astronomical 30 percent strikeout rate, and rapidly eroding speed on the bases put his status as a top-10 fantasy shortstop in jeopardy in 2016.
Speaking of jeopardy, it’s time for every fantasy owner’s favorite game show: blind player comparisons, using PECOTA projections from the 2016 BP Annual. If you haven’t ordered your copy, I suggest you get on that right now.
- Player A: 600 PA, 71 R, 20 HR, 72 RBI, 17 SB, .263 AVG
- Player B 608 PA, 63 R, 16 HR, 71 RBI, 3 SB, .263 AVG
- Player C 522 PA, 67 R, 14 HR, 54 RBI, 10 SB, .250 AVG
PECOTA has a long memory and is forecasting a slight rebound in steals and average for Desmond (Player A), who is currently going 114th in NFBC average draft position (ADP). Meanwhile, Jhonny Peralta (Player B) and Marcus Semien (Player C) are going nearly 130 picks later in ADP, at 241 and 253, respectively. While Peralta doesn’t offer any speed, he’s a lock to encroach upon 15-to-20-homer territory, and Semien, who hit 15 homers with 11 steals and a .257 average last season, is just entering his physical prime at age 25. The point of this exercise is to further illustrate that the gap between Desmond and “replacement-level” fantasy options at the position is evaporating. —George Bissell
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Lindor is probably a top-10 shortstop in baseball next year. His glove is special and he was a three-win player at 21 years old. He’s always been a better real-life prospect than fantasy prospect, though, and his surprising 2015 campaign at the plate doesn’t really sway me. He hit .313/.353/.482 with 12 homers and 12 stolen bases in just 438 plate appearances. The problem is that I get really nervous about players who suddenly outperform their professional track records, even if they’re young with big pedigrees. Lindor never hit above .306 in his minor-league career, aside from a five-game stop in Mahoning Valley in 2011, and only hit above .300 once. His minor-league average is a .279 batting average. He also only hit 21 homers in 1,880 minor-league plate appearances. I’m not ready to believe he’s a perennial double-digit home-run producer. I can easily see Lindor hitting .270 with six-to-nine homers and 20 stolen bases. That’s good, sure, but that ain’t worth grabbing as the fifth-overall shortstop—and that’s where he’s currently going in NFBC leagues. As much as I like him as a player, there’s no chance that I’m investing in Lindor this year. —J.P. Breen
Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs
Russell was ranked the fourth-best fantasy prospect in baseball entering 2015, and he was adequate in his rookie season, earning $5 in mixed leagues and $11 in NL-only formats. As George Bissell pointed out earlier this week, he is one of only four rookie shortstops aged 22 or younger to mash 13 or more taters. Without question, Russell’s future is bright and his fantasy value is enhanced by being a member of the 1927 Yankees 2016 Cubs.
All of that said, I think we’re jumping the gun by tagging Russell as top 6-8 option at the position. For starters, Russell had all of 74 games of experience at Double-A and Triple-A before making his major league debut last season. The fact that Russell held his own in 2015 despite limited experience in the upper levels of the minors is a testament to his innate ability and capacity to make adjustments on the fly. He took some lumps in the process—a .242 batting average and 28.5 percent strikeout rate, for example—and I think it’s reasonable, if not probable, that he takes some more in the short term given his inexperience.
About those 2015 adjustments: Yes, Russell made some mechanical tweaks and experienced a autumn power surge, hitting more than half of his seasonal home run total in August and September. On the flip side, his contact rate was more than four percentage points lower from August on than it was previous. He became extremely pull happy while skewing his batted ball profile more heavily towards fly balls. The resulting 12.5 percent HR:FB rate doesn’t seem outrageous but Russell’s exit velocity ranked in the bottom third of players with 200 or more at-bats and his batted ball distance in the bottom half. I don’t think he’ll hit for an acceptable average if that approach doesn’t change and I’m skeptical about the power sticking around, barring an adjustment.
Oftentimes we make the mistake of seeing only upside in a young player who has shown something at the major league level without accounting for an appropriate amount of downside risk as he’s still developing. At a cost that takes most of the profit potential away, I’m happy to let someone else pay for the early portion of Russell’s learning curve. —Greg Wellemeyer
J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles