Depth at each position varies from year to year and making adjustments to your bid limits or rankings can be extremely beneficial in preparing for the upcoming fantasy season. How much more do you value getting a decent player at a shallow position? Are the elite players at the position worth the risk? How these questions are handled can go a long way toward deciding the makeup of your roster.
As one might know from reading the tiered shortstop rankings, both of the five-star or $30 shortstops (Troy Tulowitzki and Ian Desmond) reside in the National League. What’s left in the American League won’t rival the NL elites, especially if Tulowitzki stays healthy, but at least AL-only owners have Hanley Ramirez’ migration to Fenway Park to look forward to. Ramirez passed 500 plate appearances for the second time in the last four years last year on his way to earning $21 in NL-only leagues, according to Mike Gianella. Despite good health, he failed to live up to the $32 average price he garnered across expert leagues after the herculean batting line he produced amid injuries in 2013 (.345/.402/.638), hitting .283 with 13 home runs and 14 steals.
Since he’s heading to Fenway and the other hitter-friendly ballparks in the AL’s East division—and since there are no other shortstops that possess a power and speed combination such as Hanley’s—here’s the temptation to consider him an elite option in AL-only. However enticing, actually considering Hanley a $30 player would be unwise due to his lengthy injury history and likelihood of his 2013 production serving as a mere outlier.
Despite health concerns of his own, Jose Reyes has reached 500 plate appearances in four of the last five seasons and earned $29 in AL-only last year after going on the disabled list with a hamstring strain in April. Reyes is set to turn 32 during the season and his power is in decline, as his ISO and SLG have decreased every year since 2011. He’s become more AVG dependent, but his worst AVG in the last four years is .287. For this season, PECOTA projects Reyes to hit .288 with 29 steals and 88 runs scored, but he could score 100 runs in the revamped Jays lineup. Still, going over your bid limit for Reyes is not advisable due to his age.
Alexei Ramirez reached double-digits in home runs for the first time since 2011 on his way to earning $26 in AL-only leagues last year. Despite a low OBP of .305, Ramirez was still able to score 82 runs and drive in 74. Unfortunately, PECOTA doesn’t see a repeat here and is projecting a .266 AVG with nine home runs, 62 runs, 59 RBI, and 21 steals. That projection essentially has him on equal footing with Elvis Andrus, who despite his lack of power has shown in previous years that he can best Alexei in the other categories. Despite getting caught on the bases 15 times last year, Andrus seems to clearly be the better bet for runs and steals.
Alcides Escobar and Danny Santana each benefitted greatly from a high BABIP on their way to being top five AL shortstops last year. Santana needed an almost incomprehensible .405 BABIP to hit .319 because he was striking out 22 percent of the time. Escobar’s single-season BABIPs have gone back and forth each of the last for years, showing that he needs a .320 BABIP to produce an AVG of .280 or better. Both have the speed to steal 30 bases in a season, and Santana even showed some pop with seven home runs in 101 games, but the run total and AVG largely depend on BABIP, which is risky.
Ben Zobrist’s 20-home-run seasons are a thing of the past, but he’s still capable of reaching double-digits in both homers and steals, and earning close to $20 in AL-only leagues.
Xander Bogaerts fell flat in his rookie campaign last year, hitting .240 with 12 home runs. Bogaerts isn’t a speed threat on the bases, so he has to earn his worth at the plate. Still just 22 years old, he isn’t a bust, but PECOTA projects a .257 AVG and 14 home runs this year. With his advanced approach at the plate and Boston’s stacked lineup, he should beat the projected 61 runs scored, though. I might personally be a bit lower on Bogaerts than some of my colleagues—you know, Red Sox nation—but I don’t think it’s any kind of a given that he’ll hit .270 or better and he doesn’t steal bases.
Finally, we’ve reached the portion of the column where I get to wax poetic about my muse, Erick Aybar. He’s far from stardom, but Aybar’s NFBC ADP of 202 is simply way too low. In each of the last four seasons, Aybar has hit 6-10 home runs with at least 12 steals and a solid AVG. He earned $22 in AL-only leagues last year after his average expert league price was merely $14, making him one of the biggest profits at the position. Aybar won’t have a breakout year, but he’ll be solid once again. Considering where he’s being taken in drafts, Aybar makes for a nice failsafe if you miss out on the shortstop you desire early or don’t want to overspend on positional scarcity.
Asdrubal Cabrera and J.J. Hardy are both veterans with power who’ll likely struggle to hit .260. Hardy is on shakier ground, though, after hitting just nine home runs last year. He’s perhaps more likely to reach 20 home runs than Cabrera, but he doesn’t steal bases, which is why I prefer Cabrera.
Jed Lowrie has had trouble staying on the field for the majority of his career and it’s reasonable to assume that his injured finger hurt his on field performance in his second season with at least 100 games played last year. He finished with a .249/.321/.355 line with just six home runs, which was a far cry from his .290/.344/.446 line the year before. Lowrie’s health is always a concern, but he should be able to recoup some of the power he lost last year in Houston, a better park for hitters.
Brad Miller is known for how bad he was to start last season as through the first two months he ruined fantasy teams with a .158/.234/.250 line with 43 strikeouts in 45 games. He hit .265/.326/.447 with seven home runs in 242 plate appearances the rest of the way, but even that came with a 21 percent strikeout rate and .314 BABIP. As long as he receives regular playing time, he should be able to provide double-digit home runs and get close in steals, but Miller’s a total AVG risk given his lackluster BABIP, high strikeout rate, and platoon split.
Didi Gregorius, like Miller, is also entering his age-25 season and has limited experience in the majors. Gregorius should see a bump in power with the move to Yankees Stadium and the AL East, but he still has to prove he’s more than just a .240 hitter who doesn’t steal bases.
While it’s possible to fill an AL-only league with the players mentioned above as starters at shortstop, there’s plenty not to like at the position to seriously consider fading altogether. With uncertainty abound, the elite players don’t seem worth overreaching for and steady producers like Erick Aybar are crucial for savvy owners who wait out the position.
I’ll examine a few interesting AL-Only shortstop targets for deep formats. “Earnings” are based on Mike Gianella’s Rotisserie-style, 4×4 and 5×5 formulas he provided in his Retrospective Player Valuation article from November 20th.
Josh Rutledge – Angels
4×4 earnings: $7 5×5 earnings: $9
Rutledge’s lack of approach at the plate, which was apparent when he was still in the minors, is still his biggest problem. He swings at everything and strikes out too frequently, limiting his AVG potential. Rutledge needed a .353 BABIP last year to hit just .269 and PECOTA projects him to hit .249 this year. The good news for Rutledge is he should have the inside track on the starting second base job with the Angels and with that additional playing time he could earn double digits in deep formats. He stole 12 bases in just 88 games in 2013 and could see an added value boost if he gets back to stealing bases and receives regular playing time all season.
Jose Ramirez/Francisco Lindor – Indians
4×4 earnings: $8 5×5 earnings: $8
Lindor’s presence certainly clouds the playing time situation here, but with only 38 games played above Double-A it’s safe (for now) to assume Ramirez will at least get the bulk of the playing time at the outset of the season. Ramirez’ speed and high contact profile are what makes him a good deep target. He hit .262 with 10 steals in 68 games last year and PECOTA projects him to hit .263 with 22 steals this year. A career .306 hitter in the minors, Ramirez could beat that projected AVG relatively easily. Lindor also projects as a good hitter with speed, but he’s not quite there yet.
Jose Iglesias – Tigers
Iglesias missed all of last season with stress fractures in both shins, but he should be ready for spring training. Iglesias hit just.303/.349/.386 with a .356 BABIP in 2013, when he was traded to the Tigers midseason. He’s a slap hitter with no power and not much stolen base speed, but if he can just stay healthy all year, he’ll have some value in deep formats.
Stephen Drew – Yankees
4×4 earnings -$1 5×5 earnings: -$1
Somehow, Drew’s TAv actually got worse after he was traded to the Yankees last year. With no spring training and no contract until May, Drew couldn’t stop popping the ball up once he got on the field. He posted a 17 percent line drive rate, which was his lowest since 2007, and a career-high 51 percent fly ball rate last year. A .320 BABIP in 2013 got him an AVG over .250, but with his swing out of whack he’s a risky AVG bet at this point. Double digit home runs aren’t out of the question and he might chip in a few steals too, but don’t expect a repeat of 2013.
While this next group still consists of interesting deep targets, both of these guys are backups and should be targeted as part of a bargain strategy.
Ryan Flaherty – Orioles
4×4 earnings: $4 5×5 earnings: $5
Flaherty is basically the Orioles’ version of Don Kelly, a super utility player who also serves as the emergency catcher, only he can play shortstop and has some power. It’s not much, but as he’s shown the past two years, he can reach double-digit home runs or get close in less than 300 plate appearances.
Andrew Romine – Tigers
4×4 earnings: $5 5×5 earnings: $6
Romine is a poor man’s Iglesias, a glove-first shortstop whose glove isn’t as good, but his speed on the bases makes him an interesting fantasy target. While he needs an injury to happen to open up regular playing time, Romine, who stole 12 bases last year, should be a decent source of cheap steals even in a bench role anyway.
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