Tiers, Not Fears: Shortstop

You’ll be sweating Dee’s Nuts
Photo Credit: bridgetds

There’s no getting around it: the shortstop position is shallow as hell. Fantasy owners are forced to either overpay based on position scarcity, or take their chances with a cheap scrub. Most people in your fantasy league will not be happy with their SS, and they might even have one of the best options (see: Hanley Ramirez’s 2011). Think about it, people are happily spending fourth round picks on three-category players (and two-category killers) like Elvis Andrus, solely because he plays at short. That’s f’ing ridiculous. You may be thinking, “Okay Starbonell, we know you have some amazing strategy sure to help us win! Why, a fantasy baseball demi-god like yourself probably has all sorts of neat tricks up their Armani crafted sleeves!”

Well, um, not really. Here’s the deal, I’m going into my auctions/drafts with the mindset that I’m coming away with one of three players: Troy Tulowitzki, Dee Gordon, or Emilio Bonifacio. Tulowitzki is the elite guy, Gordon is the player who gives you the most bang for your buck, and Bonifacio is the cheaper alternative I’ll have to settle for if I don’t end up with the first two. I may be forced to overpay for Gordon or Bonifacio depending on the circumstances, but it’s worth it. Everyone else is too expensive or too shitty for my taste.

That may not be the ground-breaking analysis you are looking for, but have you seen the players at this position? Trust me, you do not want to be in a spot where you are spending all season looking for an upgrade at SS. Don’t believe me? Take a gander at the shortstops of your league champions from years past. Don’t see too many wack players there now do you?

“Tier’s, Not Fears” continues after the jump:

The “Tul’” Customer
1. Troy Tulowitzki
Because he calmly sits atop the SS heap with the swagger of a young Daddy Starbucks … I correctly predicted Tulowitzki would be the most valuable SS in fantasy last year before the season even started. After being met with disdain for those comments, Tulo’s performance proved your boy right.  With ISOs of at least .240 each of the last three seasons and 30 HRs in just 143 games last year, it’s easy to see why he’s number one. Aside from the power, Tulo has made strides in other areas. He posted career best marks in K% (13.0) and Contact% (88.5) last year, meaning his BA should again be an asset. Some people may view Tulowitzki as a bit of an injury risk, but that’s just hogwash. As our resident Physical Therapist Don Brown pointed out in his excellent injury piece, Tulo is no more an injury risk than any other player in baseball.

The “Miami” Mob
2. Hanley Ramirez
3. Jose Reyes
They’re “elite” and on the same team, but both of these players come with a fair amount of risk … Hanley’s game took a big step back last year. The chief reason I chose Tulo over Ramirez last season was a combination of two key factors: Hanley’s “work” ethic and his tendency to suffer a myriad nagging injuries. That’s a dangerous combination as a terrible work ethic coupled with a propensity to get nicked up would inevitably lead to a more serious injury, which the lazy Ramirez would struggle to rehabilitate from. Lo and behold, his shoulder injury in 2011 sapped his power (.136 ISO) and sent his LD% to a pathetic 15.9 mark. While the shoulder definitely helped to deflate his power, it cannot be solely to blame. Ramirez’s weak contact trend began two years ago, when he started pounding the ball into the ground over 50 percent of the time while posting a LD% below 17.0 percent. While Ramirez is talented enough to straighten himself out, he may not be over the hump with his shoulder. Miami’s hitting coach voiced some concern about Ramirez’s swing, specifically that his one-handed finish might make it difficult to heal. Ramirez may have to make an adjustment in his swing, but who knows what kind of effect that would have on his numbers. Another thing working against Hanley is the expansive dimensions of the team’s new ball park. HRs will not be easy to come by in Miami, which puts an obvious damper on his value. Ramirez is still a lock for 30 SBs if healthy and if his shoulder holds up, he could still sock 20 or more HRs. The fact that Reyes is hitting in front of him should help boost his RBI totals and his BA should improve as his BABIP was over 60 points lower than his career mark. Still, there’s legitimate reasons to be concerned about Hanley .. Unlike his teammate, Reyes should benefit from the size of Miami’s new ball park as it plays to his strengths. His ability to rack up extra base hits and steal bases at will sets him up for a ton of runs. Reyes also looks great for your BA as his 90.2 Contact% in 2011 was a career-high and he struck out just seven percent of the time. Of course, his talent was never really a concern for Reyes. It’s all about his health. His hamstring woes are a red flag and Reyes has played under 140 games in each of the last three years. The warmer weather in Miami should bode well for his body and could lead to him playing more games than normal, but he’s one of the more obvious injury risks in fantasy. Even if he is healthy, Reyes is really a three category specialist who contributes little in the HR and RBI categories.

The “Overvalued” Combo
4. Elvis Andrus
5. Starlin Castro
Unlike the value combos you find in fast food restaurants, this combo is way too pricey. $20 for a ham sam’wich and chips? Fuck outta here … The argument can be made that Andrus is a cheaper and healthier version of Jose Reyes. He stole a career-high 37 bases last year, has the contact rate to hit .300, and should crack the 100 run plateau this year in a potent Texas lineup. However, let’s not make Andrus out to be anything other than a three-category player. In fact, Reyes almost doubled Andrus’ .082 ISO last year and while Andrus has wheels, he doesn’t have the 50 steal ability that Reyes possesses. There is something to be said for Andrus’ ability to stay on the field, but the third-to-fourth round price tag is a bit much … Castro is a solid bet to hit .300 again, but he’s a relatively underwhelming option considering the price tag. The 91 runs scored were nice, but they can’t mask his deficiencies. While he does have pretty good wheels, it’s hard to see him stealing 30 bases this year because he gets caught more often than Shaggy. Come to think about, perhaps it’s appropriate to say that Shaggy gets caught more often than Castro considering his sexual assault charges. Aside from his base-stealing blunders, Castro also has a very low walk rate (4.9 BB% in 2011) and modest power (.125 ISO last year). With the Cubs in rebuilding mode and now without Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez, one has to expect the counting stats to suffer as well.

The “Buck Banging” Boss
6. Dee Gordon
He sits in his own tier because he is the most profit-friendly player at the position and is simply a better fantasy option than the dudes below … The poster boy of this edition of “Tiers, Not Fears” is the truth on the base paths. He stole 24 bases in just 56 games last year and has 50-60 steal ability. He also has the contact rate to hit .300. Gordon has no power at all and his HR/RBI totals should be dreadful. Then again, they’ll probably be in Elvis Andrus territory. The beautiful thing is, you’ll be able to get Gordon for about half the price of Andrus and get more SBs to boot. Sure Andrus is more “established” in the majors, but these are players with very similar skill sets at the plate. My biggest fear (aside from being raped by a bevy of fat women) is that Gordon’s hype builds as we get closer to draft day and I’ll be forced to pay out the nose for his services. Yet even if the price rises, I’m fairly confident that he will remain a profitable acquisition. If you are in a league with me, prepare to battle to the death for the rights to secure “Flash” Gordon.

The “Solid, But Slacking” Squadron
7. Asdrubal Cabrera
8. Jimmy Rollins
9. J.J. Hardy
These players are among the “better” options at SS, but there’s inherent flaws that come with each of them … Cabrera socked 25 HRs and swiped 17 bags in 2011, but buyer beware. He hit .244 in the second half as his numbers fell off. The power in particular is a question mark coming into 2012. Cabrera was the owner of a .110 ISO prior to last season and 17 of his 25 HRs last year were deemed “just enough” or “lucky” according to ESPN Stats & Information Group. Even is his power doesn’t drop dramatically, fantasy owners will be fortunate to get another healthy season from Cabrera. The injury-prone hitter averaged just 114 games from 2008-2010. Cabrera deserves some respect for his impressive 2011 numbers, but expecting a repeat of that production is foolish … While he can still swipe 30 bags, J-Roll is not the player he was years ago. The power in particular has really nose-dived. Though his 16 HRs from 2011 look solid on paper, they came attached to a .131 ISO and a HR/FB that sat under 8.0 for the second straight year. Sure Citizen’s Bank Park helps him get more balls over the fence than he deserves, but at some point those dwindling power peripherals will affect his HR production. Rollins’ BA is another concern. His .268 mark from a year ago is as good as it will get thanks to his propensity for hitting infield fly balls. Rollins helped his BA cause last year by improving his GB% and LD%, but those figures are worth watching as they were trending negatively prior to 2011. Fortunately, manager Charlie Manuel is stubborn when it comes to moving his veterans out of key lineup spots, so Rollins will still register solid counting stats when healthy. Of course, between his yearly nagging injuries and the fact that Philly’s offense isn’t as great as it once was, there’s reason to believe that J-Roll has his worst season yet … Surprised to find J.J. Hardy here? Me too. Yet after checking and double-checking my ranks, he most certainly belongs in this tier. He’s a very streaky hitter, but he ended up with 30 HRs last year and has always had good pop. An encouraging sign from Hardy last season was his production near the top of the lineup. In the final 96 games, Hardy hit either leadoff or second and posted impressive SS numbers (.268 BA, 25 HRs, .233 ISO, 62 RBIs, 60 Rs). There’s no reason to think Hardy won’t be hitting second on most days this season, which is a positive. Of course, Hardy isn’t without his flaws. He’s never topped 90 RBIs or Rs in his career and is of no help in the SB department (zero last year). Even his power has been an issue before as he registered ISOs under .130 in 2010 and 2009. In other words, he’s a bit of a crap shoot.

The “They’re Only Top 12 Players Because of Their Position” Platoon
10. Erick Aybar
11. Alexei Ramirez
12. Derek Jeter
This trio really isn’t that great, but due to the dearth of talent at the shortstop position, they are still worth starting in 12-team mixed fantasy leagues … It’s hard to fathom the love being shown to Aybar following his 2011 season. Yeah the guy stole 30 bases, but what the hell? I suppose the Albert Pujols signing should provide a boost to his runs scored as Aybar is projected to hit leadoff, but he still looks like a classic three-category player to me. In fact, you can make the argument that his SBs will fall a bit as the team will be less inclined to send him with Pujols’ RBI bat coming up behind Aybar (pause). It’s worth noting that Aybar’s 10 HRs and .142 ISO last year were both career-highs, but fantasy owners cannot expect an improvement there. Power is simply not his game … Alexei Ramirez is one of those players who doesn’t necessarily kill you in any categories, but who isn’t about to carry you to a fantasy title. Simply put: he’s boring as shit. His power/speed potential made him an intriguing fantasy SS at one point, but it has become increasingly clear that he just doesn’t have much upside. He’s 30 years old (which, in Cuban years, could mean he’s 40) and has hit 20 HRs once in his career (.143 ISO). His SB totals are just as underwhelming. Ramirez has never swiped 15 bags and he was limited to just seven SBs last year. When you factor in that the White Sox (who may go into fire-sale mode mid-season) do not offer the best environment for counting stats production, it becomes obvious that Ramirez is a rather mediocre fantasy option … Jeter looked like he was finished early in 2011, but despite the brutal start, he ended the season with a .297 BA, 84 Rs, 61 RBIs, and 16 SBs. Still, fantasy owners should be leery of drafting him. Jeter’s high ground ball rates continued all season, so while his BA shot up, his contact overall remained of the weak variety. Concurrently, his power continued to disappear (.092 ISO last year) while his speed is on the slide as well. The Yankees remain an elite offense and Jeter’s run production will still be quality. That said, Jeter’s age, declining skill set, and increasingly fragile body are all red flags.

The “Best of the Rest” Baller
13. Emilio Bonifacio
After this guy, the options at SS start to get uglier than John Lackey … Don’t get it twisted, I’m not convinced Bonifacio is the real deal. Dude was just a run-of-the-mill utility player with speed prior to last season with a .251/.306/.317 career line and no power. It’s possible he’ll go back to being a middling major leaguer, but at a position like SS, he has some definite fantasy appeal. For starters, he’s eligible at 3B, SS, and OF. He’s also the front-runner for the CF job coming into 2012. His 2011 success featured a .296 BA, 40 SBs, and 78 Rs in 641 PAs, but the peripherals were also in his favor. Bonifacio has improved his walk rate over the last two seasons (9.2 BB% last year) and has been making consistent hard contact over that span too (24.0 LD% in 2011). While pessimists can certainly make the point that Bonifacio has been a “bench” player talent for most of his career, he’s certainly excelled in the right areas over the last two years and looks ready to take the next step. He’ll never hit for any power, but with his SB potential, Bonifacio looks like a very profitable fantasy SS.

The “Fallback” Felons
14. Jhonny Peralta
15. Alcides Escobar
16. Yunel Escobar
17. Ian Desmond
18. Stephen Drew
The argument can be made that any of these guys can finish the season as a top 12 option at SS, but let’s face it, there’s really nothing that inspiring about any of these suckas … Peralta has totaled at least 80 RBIs in each of the last four seasons. His .179 ISO and 21 HRs from 2011 were also his best marks since 2008. And that’s exactly where the “pros” for Peralta end. Peralta’s power can be very inconsistent as he had ISOs under .150 in 2009 and 2010. He also stole zero bases last year, which means that not only are you getting a pretty wack fantasy SS, but you will be forced to load up at SBs at other positions to compensate … There’s some SB upside with Escobar, who could poach 30 in a good year. His contact and strikeout rates also portend an improvement in his .254 BA from 2011. Yet like most fantasy players who can steal bases, Escobar offers little power. What kills Escobar’s value is that he hits in the bottom of a weak Kansas City lineup, so not only will his RBIs be atrocious, but his runs scored will be below-average … A lot of people describe Yunel Escobar’s 2011 as a bounce back season? Really? We’re sweating 11 HRs, 77 Rs, and a .290 BA like that now? In fact, what exactly was he “bouncing back” to? Prior to last season, he scored more than 80 runs and 70 RBIs once. The “upside” here is 15 HRs, a BA over .300, 90 runs, 60 RBIs, and five runs. Those are starter-worthy numbers in fantasy if he indeed hits every one of those marks, but that’s as good as it will get … Desmond slips-on-a-banana-peel’s his way onto what looks to be a respectable spot on these rankings, but don’t get too excited. Most of his value is derived from Davey Johnson’s commitment to using Desmond as the leadoff man. Desmond collected 25 steals in 2011, and he put up a .305 BA as the leadoff hitter last year after taking over in mid-August. It sounds great, but something about Desmond just sticks in my craw (can cross using that phrase off the ole’ bucket list). Maybe it’s his middling power (career .125 ISO) or the fact that his poor plate patience (5.5 BB% and 21.8 K% in 2011) could make his tenure as the leadoff hitter shorter than Dustin Pedroia. Whatever it is, I’m expecting solid, not spectacular, numbers from Desmond … The Drew family continues to produce mediocre results. Drew doesn’t steal many bases (career-high is 10) and has just one 20 HR season to his name (career .143 ISO). After playing in just 86 games last year and watching his K% and BA trend in the wrong direction, fantasy owners are still holding out hope that he has some post-hype sleeper value. Ah base-less optimism.

The “Could Surprise” Community
19. Alex Gonzalez
20. Rafael Furcal
21. Marco Scutaro
22. Mike Aviles
23. Jed Lowrie
24. Cliff Pennington
These players aren’t really all that enticing, but they are good enough to perhaps make some noise in 2012 … Gonzalez has displayed pretty good MI pop in the past, flashing a .197 ISO as recently as 2010. His power should have an easier time playing at Miller Park than Turner Field. However, Gonzalez is 35 and his power has been inconsistent throughout his pro career. He also saw his strikeout rate jump while his BA dipped to .241 in 2011 … As the likely leadoff hitter in St. Louis, Furcal still has some value. Unfortunately, the brittle 34-year-old isn’t likely to make it through a full season. What’s worse, his speed fell off last year (nine SBs in 14 attempts) … Scutaro will bat second in Colorado ahead of Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. It’s a nice place to be, but the 36-year-old couldn’t put up great numbers in Boston’s lineup. Why should we expect his numbers to soar just because he’s in Colorado? Plus, dude offers no power or speed. The runs and BA should be useful, but that’s about all you are getting … Speaking of Boston, the dude likely to take over for Scutaro at SS is Mike Aviles. Boston manager Bobby Valentine believes that Aviles has the “DNA” of an everyday shortstop. Considering that the team’s other options at SS are Jose Iglesias (all glove/no bat) or Nick Punto (all scrub/no love), that’s good enough to coax an endorsement out of Big Poppa Pockets. Even if he somehow doesn’t win the starting SS gig, the Red Sox have brittle players in their infield whose injuries would open up playing time for Aviles. While he doesn’t offer much power (career .131 ISO), he could still hit 10-15 HRs and swipe 15-20 bases while generating favorable counting stats in a loaded Boston lineup … He’s shown signs of having above-average power for a SS, but the injury-prone Lowrie has his weaknesses. He struggled against right-handed pitching in 2011 (.210 BA in 224 PAs) and his power has been rather inconsistent. Lowrie also doesn’t steal many bases (three for his career). While the trade to Houston is presenting him with more guaranteed ABs, his major league performance hasn’t been convincing enough to make me believe he is on the cusp of a breakout … Pennington can steal 20-plus bases and swat double-digit HRs, but he’s been a bit injury-prone in his young career and could end up batting towards the bottom of Oakland’s suspect lineup.

The “Cheap Bastard” Brigade
25. Robert Andino
26. Jamey Carroll
27. Jason Bartlett
There’s something about all these players that could at least make them worthy stop-gap options in classic mixed leagues, but there’s a reason they will be on the waiver wire in most formats … There’s little chance Brian Roberts ever steps on a baseball field again, so Andino steps in as the Baltimore’s 2B and leadoff hitter. While the Orioles offense is promising, Andino’s potential isn’t. He’s the “proud” owner of a .245/.302/.344 line in the majors, has no power (career .086 ISO), and will probably fall short of 20 SBs. Baltimore’s lineup will have to really kill it to carry him to respectable numbers … Like Andino, Carroll is leaning on his supporting cast for fantasy value. Carroll actually has less power than Andino (.058 ISO last year), steals fewer bases (only 10 in 2011), and is 38 years old. Because Carroll can get on base (career 9.9 BB%), hit for a good average, and is set to bat second in Minnesota’s lineup, there is some hope that a healthy Joe Mauer/Justin Morneau combo will help Carroll score a lot of runs. If that happens, his upside is that of a two-category player. Yawn … Bartlett tallied 23 SBs last year and should be running often again in 2011 for the low-scoring Padres. Perhaps the additions of Yonder Alonso and Carlos Quentin may even help Bartlett score 70 or more runs. Of course, it’s worth noting that Bartlett’s production dipped all around last year. He was caught stealing 10 times, registered a career-low .061 ISO, and saw his BA fall to .245 thanks in part to a spike in his GB% (51.2).

The “Warm Body” Posse
28. Clint Barmes
29. Ruben Tejada
30. Sean Rodriguez
31. Daniel Descalso
32. Alexi Casilla
These players are all expected to start or at least lead a time-share. For that reason, they will have relevance in deeper mixed leagues. That said, they are merely just warm bodies filling in a roster spot … Despite spending so many years in Colorado, Barmes topped the 15 HR plateau once. Couple that with his career .252 BA and weak stolen base production (three last year), and you have all the makings of a wack fantasy option. He’s lucky he found a starting job … Tejada has the contact rate to post a decent BA (.284 last year), but he has no power or speed and is part of an atrocious offense … Rodriguez has to carry the shame of engaging Reid Brignac in a position battle for second base duties. Though he’s shown impressive power in the minors, most of it came in the hitter-friendly PCL league. S-Rod also strikes out a lot, which bodes terribly for his BA (.223 last year). While a 10/15 season is possible, that’s as good as it will get  … Descalso will battle Tyler Greene for the starting 2B gig in St. Louis, but neither player has much upside. Descalso is more of a utility infielder and has no power or speed. Even if he wins the competition in spring, he will end up hitting near the bottom of an unimpressive Cardinals lineup and could wind up losing his job to veteran Skip Schumaker … Though Tsuyoshi Nishioka isn’t seen as a threat to his playing time, Casilla can suck all on his own without any help. Casilla has topped 400 PAs once during his career and while he could steal 15-20 bases, there’s not much else he can do for your fantasy team.

The “Deep Sleeper” Syndicate
33. Trevor Plouffe
34. Tyler Pastornicky
Both of these players have some sleeper appeal, but beware of their flaws … Though “Plouffe” sounds like it should be the name of that moment when a girl’s queef gives you an unintentional blowout hairstyle, it’s instead the name of an interesting deep sleeper. Plouffe’s glove is atrocious as the Twins have come out and said that the player they drafted as a SS will only be playing OF or DH from here on out. That said, we don’t look at fantasy options for their glove, we care only for their bats (pause). Plouffe has legit power that he’s shown over the past two years, and if he finds an everyday role in Minnesota, he could become a very valuable player thanks to his SS eligibility. Sure he struggles to make consistent contact and could post a poor BA. Yet if he’s launching 20 or more HRs, it won’t matter much. Keep an eye on the health of some of Minnesota’s fragile players as a couple of injuries could open the door for Plouffe to do work … Pastornicky is considered the SS of the future in Atlanta. He already has 20-steal ability and looks like he could hit for a solid average as soon as this year. However, there are conflicting reports on whether or not he will play this year in the majors at all (let alone start). After all, the kid is 22 years old and he’s yet to break the .120 mark at any level of the minors. With such a limited skill set, the Braves may be right to protect him and keep him in AAA this year for more seasoning. If he kills it in Spring Training, however, he’s not a bad player to consider in deeper leagues as a Ryan Theriot type (i.e.- cheap steals and decent BA).

The “Bum City” Brigade
35. Ryan Theriot
36. Maicer Izturis
37. Brendan Ryan
38. Brandon Crawford
These guys all suck, but depending on playing time and other factors, they could have a modicum of fantasy value this season … Speaking of Theriot, he may actually have some early season value filling in for the injured Freddy Sanchez. Of course, he’ll need to have his speed in tow, which is no guarantee considering he swiped just four bases in 483 PAs last season … Izturis has shit value in LA since the team is loaded with infielders. A trade would do him some good, but it won’t make him worth owning in most leagues. He’s never stolen more than 14 bases in a season and owns a career .114 ISO … Ryan is the starter on paper, but the team has a pair of prospects they can turn to this season (Nick Franklin and Carlos Triunfel). While neither of those youngsters is all that interesting for fantasy purposes, they look like potential superstars next to Ryan (a career .256 hitter with a .083 ISO) … Just to show you how shitty the Giants offense is (and has been for a while), Brandon “Fucking” Crawford is the lead dog in the starting SS race. He’s another no power/no speed bum, but he comes with the added wrinkle of sucking for BA purposes thanks to his problems with strikeouts. Where do I sign up?

The “They Probably Won’t Play This Year, But Are Worth Monitoring” Clique
39. Chase D’Arnaud
40. Junior Lake
There’s a chance these guys play sparingly at the end of the season in the majors, if at all. Still, they have upside and are names worth keeping in the back of your head in case an injury or minor league dominance leads to a call-up … D’Arnaud looks like someone who could steal 30 or more bases. He has a lot of work to do regarding his strikeouts, but he’s worth keeping tabs on in the minors in case he breaks out in AAA this year and forces a call up. Just don’t expect much power … With 18 steals in 28 AFL games during the offseason, Lake is certainly someone who can be an asset in steals. Like D’Arnaud, he’s struggled with strikeouts and has no power. He’ll need an injury to befall Darwin Barney or Starlin Castro in order to have any shot at making a fantasy impact.

*Last update 2/20/12.


About Starbonell

Starbonell is the co-founder of Sons of Roto and one of the most insightful and colorful fantasy analysts in the game. Mixing intelligent and well-researched advice with an entertaining style of writing that is easy to digest, Starbonell is the king of info-tainment.