Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw and Analyst Alex Burwasser recap the top five shortstops this fantasy season as well as the top three busts.
TOP FIVE PERFORMERS
5. Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs
After a fantastic sophomore campaign in the big leagues which saw him lead the league in hits (207) and make the All-Star team, Starlin Castro put together another solid year for the Cubs. He did not hit .300 this year but he hit a very respectable .283 while stealing a career-high 25 bases. A good sign going forward for him is his consistency against left and right-handed pitching, hitting over .280 against both this year. However, an area where Castro needs work is his plate discipline, where for the third straight year he drew less than 40 walks (36).
4. Jose Reyes, SS, Marlins
It would have been really difficult for Jose Reyes to duplicate his 2011 season when he won the NL batting title. A season that turned out to be his last with the Mets when he signed as a free agent with the new-look Marlins. A lot was expected of Reyes and the Miami team as a whole moving into a brand new ballpark and it seemed both were wilting under those expectations. Unlike the team, however, Reyes redeemed himself by hitting .312 after the All-Star break and ending the season with his standard double-digit triples (12) and 40 steals. In fact, he was hitting in the three hole for the Marlins by the end of the year, so if that continues in 2013, expect even more production for Reyes.
3. Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals
One of the best stories in baseball this year was the Washington Nationals, and one of the leading characters in that story was 26 year old shortstop Ian Desmond taking the next step and becoming an All-Star player. Not only did his batting average drastically improve from last year moving from .253 to .292 but he had an enormous spike in power hitting 25 home runs this year as compared to only 8 in 2011. Added with his speed, swiping over 20 bases for the second year in a row (21), Desmond looks like he is a player on the rise for the Nationals and possibly for your fantasy leaderboards next year.
2. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees
Derek Jeter has been around the top of this list for basically the past fifteen years, so why would 2012 be any different? He had 216 hits this season, which was his most since 1999, as well as 47 extra base hits which was his most since 2007. He also hit over .300 (.316) for amazingly the twelfth time in his sure-to-be Hall of Fame career. The only question with Jeter is how long he can possibly keep this up, especially given his unfortunate ankle injury in the ALCS against Detroit, but it would be hard to start counting him out now.
1. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies
Jimmy Rollins, much like Derek Jeter, has been at the top of this list for over a decade now, but Rollins went mostly under-the-radar this season because his team was such a huge disappointment. Obviously, Rollins was not the reason why, blasting his most home runs since his MVP season of 2007 (23) as well as knocking in a solid 68 RBI. A very underrated part of Rollins game has always been his speed, and that was certainly on display this year when he stole 30 bases for the second year in a row and added over a hundred runs scored (102). Rollins is only 33 years old, so there could be a few more years of these type of numbers coming from a premium fantasy position like shortstop.
TOP THREE BUSTS
3. Jhonny Peralta, SS, Tigers
A first time All-Star in 2011, Jhonny Peralta had his best season as a pro for Detroit hitting just under .300 (.299) while providing some serious power with 21 home runs and driving in 86 runs as his Tigers won the AL Central. Detroit again won the AL Central again in 2012 but Peralta was not nearly as big a factor seeing his batting average dip 60 points to .239 as well as his home runs (13) and RBI (63). Peralta needs to hit for power and drive in runs to provide any fantasy value whatsoever because he does not steal bases or hit for a high average.
2. Yunel Escobar, SS, Jays
In a somewhat surprising move given his potential, the Braves traded Yunel Escobar to the Jays after a disappointing start to the 2010 season. It was looking like a steal of a trade for Toronto after a 2011 season that saw him hit .290 with 11 home runs and 77 runs scored. However, he really declined this past season when his average dropped 37 points to .253, but what was most alarming were his walks almost being cut in half from 61 to 35 which left his on-base percentage at a measly .300. For a player expected to be at the top of the lineup for years to come, getting on base three out of ten times will just not cut it for the Jays and for your fantasy team.
1. Dee Gordon, SS, Dodgers
Every year fantasy owners seem to fall into the trap of falling in love with a player who comes up from the minors and excels at a particular statistical category whether it is home runs or strikeouts. In Dee Gordon’s case, it was stolen bases. After being called up in June 2011, he burst onto the scene by hitting .304 and stealing 24 bases in 56 games for the Dodgers. In 2012, he was the opening day starter at shortstop for the Dodgers but he never really got off the ground getting sent to the minors in early July after hitting only .228. He still has a ton of speed — he stole 32 bases — but he cannot provide any value if he cannot get on base in the future.
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By Eno Sarris //
The more we learn, the less we know. For example, we know about batting average on balls in play (BABIP). We know that the league BABIP is usually around .300, and that a player’s unique mix of batted balls can be used to judge a player’s specific expected BABIP (xBABIP). But what happens when a player with some major league track record in the bank is showing a poor batting average but a BABIP that is just about luck-neutral?
Consider Ian Desmond. The shortstop is flawed, but he had power and speed while coming up in the minor leagues, and power and speed at shortstop is almost always playable in fantasy baseball. The problem with Ian Desmond right now is that he has a .234 batting average to go with his three home runs and 20 stolen bases. And his BABIP is .295. And his xBABIP is .286. He’s not unlucky on batted balls right now, but he has a batting average that’s thirty points under his career number in the category. Why?
Obviously, BABIP is not the only component of batting average. The elements that go into a batting average are diverse. Contact is part of it – you have to make contact to get the ball in play. Power is also part of it – power can turn a liner to the shortstop into a liner into short center field. Plate discipline is also a component. You want to avoid swinging at pitches outside of the zone, and you want to make contact on pitches inside the zone. In all three of these categories, there’s some hope for Desmond owners.
At first glance, contact is a problem for Desmond. He’s striking out in a quarter of his at-bats right now and his whiff rate (8.8%) is above average (8.4% this year). But already there’s something not quite right. He’s only slightly more likely to swing and miss than the average player, but his strikeout rate is 5% above average. Given that fact, and the fact that Desmond has improved his whiff rate over last year (10%), it seems likely that Desmond will strike out a little less often going forward.
Power is also not going Desmond’s way right now. He has a below-average ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) right now and has shown better power numbers in the past. In fact his current ISO (.098) would be his lowest number since rookie ball. His minor league ISO was .129 and his Double-A ISOs were both above .155. His major league ISO is .131. And power is the last statistic to stabilize over the course of a season. Give him a good week and he may find his power stroke once again. All it takes is a few doubles.
Lastly, though Desmond does not have great plate discipline, he has made improvements. He is reaching at balls outside the zone less than he has in his career (29.3% this year, 31.4% career, 29.5% is average this year). He’s also making more contact than he has in his career (80.3% this year, 79.2% career, 81% is average this year). Maybe he’s a little too passive right now – he’s only swinging at 63.2% of pitches within the zone, and league-wide that number is 64.7% and his personal career number is 65.5%. But he’s not reaching, and just a few more swings at solid pitches within the zone could really help.
Give Desmond a little more power – possibly from swinging at a few more pitches within the zone – and subtract a few strikeouts, and his batting average will improve. Given the fact that he’ll probably still strike out more than the average player and still won’t show much better than average power, his batting average won’t be awesome. But with power and speed, at shortstop, a .250+ batting average would work in most leagues. If it won’t work for your team, you’re probably best off looking for a new man in the middle.
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By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise & Regression Alert: Mike Morse
Morse was once a light-hitting shortstop in the Mariners organization – his minor league slugging percentage (.425) and 513 minor league games at shortstop might surprise many that saw him play first base for the Nationals late in 2010 (and slug .519). If you look closer at the numbers, though, the power was developing as he aged (four of his five best slugging seasons came since 2009), and he hit a career high number of flyballs in 2010 (37.9%, 33.8% career), so the progression seems natural. That said, he still strikes out a bit much (24.1% in 2010), his .330 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) may not be sustainable (so the .289 batting average may fall), and the outfield is a little crowded in Washington. He’s probably best thought of as a late-round sleeper in very deep drafts next year.
Biggest Bust: Nyjer Morgan
His career-worst BABIP (.305) may not look so bad, but Morgan has no power (.077 career ISO, .145 is average) and lives by putting the ball on the ground and using his wheels to get on base. After three straight seasons of .350+ BABIPs before 2010’s “stinker,” it’s not outlandish to expect a return to better days for the mercurial Morgan. But in fantasy he’s mostly a one-category guy until that batting average returns. Leave him out there until the end of your drafts in 2011, but don’t count him out completely just because of a few run-ins with authority late in the 2010 season.
2011 Keeper Alert: Ian Desmond
We know Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn are fine keepers in the right leagues, and we know Ian Desmond is a flawed player. He doesn’t walk (5% career), he strikes out a bit much (20.3% career), and he’s poor on defense. Last year, his power also tapered off – his .124 ISO was lower than his career major (.145) and minor league (.129) ISO numbers. But ugly wins in deeper leagues, and his production in the ‘counting stats’ – 10 home runs and 17 stolen bases in particular – plays just fine at a tough position, and he’ll get more chances with plenty of job security. Don’t expect him to grow too much (especially considering his .259/.326/.388 minor league slash line), but if last year’s numbers were good enough to play in your league, he should be able to repeat them.
by Eno Sarris //
When you’re in the middle of a cross-country move, you can be forgiven for making some quick decisions about your lineup. Actually, if you ask a certain spouse, you will not be forgiven for ‘wasting time on your fantasy teams when you could be helping with the move.’ Pfft. This is important work here.
In one league, the Fantasy Lounge Roto Champs League, I’ve won two of the past three years — but my team is struggling a little right now. I drafted Alcides Escobar as my shortstop, and even though it took such a late pick that the rest of my team is reasonably strong (up to sixth from last), I’ve been struggling at shortstop and replaced Escobar with Ian Desmond recently. Someone dropped Stephen Drew the other day, though, so I immediately put in the claim for Drew, washed my hands of Desmond, and felt like my team had just gotten much better.
Should I have taken a longer look? These two players sport different approaches and different experience levels. But the results have been very similar. Take a look at the comparison on the right from Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools and you’ll see that these are both bottom-echelon fantasy options in standard 12-team mixed leagues. Bloomberg Sports’ new
Trade Analyzer rates the move as an average one that improves my team in only two stats.
Desmond is hitting just .247 for the year, with four home runs and six steals to date. It’s not luck on the batted ball keeping him down, as his BABIP is about neutral (.295).
Stephen Drew has fared slightly better from a fantasy perspective. He leads Desmond by a comfortable margin in batting average (.268). The rest of the numbers look similar, though: steals (Desmond leads six to five), runs scored (Drew leads 36 to 27), RBI (Desmond leads 33 to 28) and homers (both have four). Like Desmond, Drew can’t blame his low batting average on BABIP, as he sits at .315. Sound familiar?
While their fantasy stats look alike, there are different players under the hood here. Drew walks twice as much as Desmond and has a track record as a superior power hitter. Drew has a .143 isolated power number (ISO, or slugging percentage minus batting average) while Desmond has put up a .124 ISO. Desmond has struck out at a higher rate (20.7% to 18.0%, ML average is 20.5%) and is reaching outside the zone at a much higher rate (34.9% to 24.7%, ML average is 28.4%). The two players’ 2010 triple-slash stats tell the story:
Frustratingly, though, walk rate is not positively correlated with batting average. So though we know that Drew has more real-life value because of his walks, and we can appreciate his selective approach, we cannot say that a player that walks like he does will necessarily put up a high batting average. Look at Adam Dunn for an anecdotal piece of evidence in that regard. We also know that while Drew has more ISO this year and in the past (.172 career ISO), he’s on a three-year decline in that statistic.
So if you can’t depend on Drew for a strong batting average, his power has been on a decline, and he doesn’t own as much natural speed as Desmond, why is picking up Drew and dropping Desmond a no-brainer? Well, for one, strikeout rate is negatively correlated with batting average, so there’s a notch in Drew’s belt. Another reason has to do with track record. As we wrote in the preseason, Drew has shown the ability to hit for power and batting average in his short career, and at 27 years old, he shouldn’t yet be in his decline.
Finally, Drew’s aggregate offensive numbers, and defense, point to a much better real-life player at this stage of their respective careers. While Desmond and Drew sport similar UZR figures, UZR only becomes a reliable indicator of defensive ability once you have three years of data to peruse. What we do know right now is that Desmond is on pace for more than 40 errors this season, including a recent game in which his sloppy D cost Stephen Strasburg a win. The fact that Desmond is also a rookie means there’s a non-zero chance he’ll be sent back to the minors if he keeps struggling too.
If you’re looking for a fill-in shortstop in shallower leagues, or a player to hold in deeper ones, choose Drew over Desmond.
For more on Ian Desmond, Stephen Drew, Alcides Escobar, and other shortstop options, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.