Monday, March 23, 2009

Through the Wardrobe—A Fantasty Look at the Shortstops

Whoops, I guess this is the danger of writing for public consumption—you run the risk of looking like an utter jackass. Even when you think you're taking the necessary precautions, every now and then, risk yanks your card.

Today is apparently 'every now and then.'

I've been making a rather large fuss over how thin I think the third base position is heading into the 2009 fantasy baseball season. Thankfully, I had the good sense to modify my stance to top heavy rather than thin otherwise I'd be twice the fool. However, the fact remains I thought third base would be the biggest problem area in the new season.

What I neglected to do was take a gander at all the positions.

Said gander would've revealed the real problem spot in the infield can be found in the hole between second and third. On a lot of teams—fantasy and true blue—"hole" is a literal term...


Okay, having taken care of the dirty work and served myself a generous portion of my own size 12 Adidas, let's recompose ourselves. Although I have badly overestimated the depth at short, it still doesn't really change my overall draft strategy—I'm still most concerned about second base and the hot corner.

Ironically, the incredible paucity of top tier talent at shortstop makes drafting there relatively simply.

If you have a top pick, use it on one of the trio of elite shortstops. Otherwise, sit on the spot and try to grab a bargain later on in the draft. There truly are only three locks at the position so, unless you can grab one of those three, you'll be in largely the same boat as the majority of your league.

Granted, the second tier captains of the infield stand a far better chance of being able to compete on a weekly basis with the triumvirate at the top. However, they all have glaring weaknesses that really should've bumped them down a notch.

That's right—I'm saying there might not even be a true second tier of Major League Baseball shortstops. See what you think:


1. Hanley Ramirez, Florida Marlins—126 runs, 33 HRs, 67 RBI, 35 SBs, .301 average

Albert Pujols and David Wright—those are the only two stallions I'd consider taking of Ramirez having reassessed the infield depth (i.e. take Miguel Cabrera off the board). Considering Boston's first choice at short in 2009 was Jed Lowrie, can you imagine if they'd kept this guy?

Josh Beckett's working out and offense is never gonna be a team like the Red Sox' problem, but a 25-year-old shortstop with slick leather who contributes in every facet on offense doesn't exactly come around every year. Or every 10 years.

Take another look at those numbers and then mix in the next couple sentences. A sore shoulder slowed Hanley in '08 and he was leading off for the Fish. The guy basically kept the Marlins in the middle of the pack as far as run production.

With Cameron Maybin in camp and hitting decently well so far, there's a good chance Maybin leads of and shifts Hanley to the three hole. That would probably take a bit out of his runs scored, but you'd see a far more dramatic inflation of his RBI total.

His theft total did drop from 50+ to 35, but he's still young and his speed is truly scary. Figure 35 is the floor.

2. Jose Reyes, New York Mets—113 runs, 16 HRs, 68 RBI, 56 SBs, .297 average

Whoo doggy, the National League East should be called San Pedro De Macoris.

Reyes is another phenomenal talent at the position with a proven track record at the tender age of 25 (26 in June). He lacks the natural power of Hanley Ramirez, but I said Ramirez' speed is scary—well Jose's speed is inhuman.

The guy can pick 'em up and put 'em down. Flat out. That eye-popping number in the swipes category actually represents a decline of 22 steals from 2007. So, yeah, 65-70 SBs isn't unrealistic from Reyes.

Of course, even 50+ may be missing the mark if he does drop down (a la Ramirez) to the three spot. I think I'd probably put David Wright there since the No. 3 hitter is usually the team's best one, but a sane person can't really argue with Reyes.

And that would mean Jose Reyes would be hitting (presumably) directly in front of Mr. Wright. Hello Mr. Fastball—an increased daily intake of the straighties could be exactly what Jose needs to push that homer total closer to 25 or even 30. The drop in order should also do wonders for his RBI total in the loaded Met lineup.

Even if it's Carlos Beltran (which would be really odd since it would put Wright second or fifth), that's still some nice protection.

3. Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies—76 runs, 11 HRs, 59 RBI, 47 SBs, .277 average

We're about to see that precipitous drop and, coincidentally, this is the last NL East SS on the list.

Rollins was the 2007 NL Most Valuable Player, but he's looking up at two guys from his own division. That's messed up and the only way I can spin the situation.

J-Roll just has the misfortune of playing in a division with the three best shorts in the game, being the oldest of the trio (at 30), and coming off a season that went a bit off-track following an April ankle injury never to really rediscover the rails.

For the 2009 season, I see that as good news.

Jimmy's a bad man—he did not forget how to hit so you can expect a rebound to his '07 glory. Probably not quite that high, but plan on substantially more power as well as the counting stats that go with it. His speed and average should hover right in the '08 levels with possibly a modest step forward in average.

I'm expecting a big year from Ryan Howard and Chase Utley as well so Rollins would probably see a bump in numbers even if his own performance didn't change from last year.


4. Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox—65 runs, 21 HRs, 77 RBI, 13 SBs, .290 average

Weeee! Did you feel that in your stomach? If you did, what you felt was going from three top 10 fantasy producers to...Alexei Ramirez.

I'm not trying to slam Alexei—in honesty, that sort of production in his first 480 Major League at-bats makes me think he could be joining the Big Three before 2010. But contemplate for a second how reliable and how insanely productive Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Jimmy Rollins are.

While Alexei Ramirez may end up being every bit as productive, he's got ONE SEASON in the bank.

We're dropping from three of the most proven, high-end commodities in the fantasy game to some johnny with less than a full year's experience. Anyway, I covered Alexei more in-depth with the second basemen.

5. Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks—91 runs, 21 HRs, 67 RBI, 3 SBs, .291 average

Again, another talented youngster with a ton of potential. At 26, the younger Drew is a safe wager to build on a very impressive 2008 campaign. Of course, at 26, there's a chance he could regress substantially.

Drew exploded in '08—he raised his batting average almost 60 points and almost doubled his home run output—so there's no guarantee he's cleared the hurdle and his arrival is permanent.

Like Alexei Ramirez, he could eventually be a top tier SS, but he doesn't have the speed of the other guys (or at least he doesn't show it) so he seems destined to have an annual view of their spikes.

And he ain't even close yet.

6. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies—48 runs, 8 HRs, 46 RBI, 1 SB, .263 average

Forget the 2008 numbers—he missed basically the entire year with a torn quad and torn up hand. Tulo gets the benefit of the doubt and the No. 6 spot because of his 2007 seasons and the way he finished '08.

When he finally did get on the field to stay, Troy began to find that power stroke that had so many fantasy owners reluctant to give up on him. At only 24, this is another shortstop who could be elite...eventually.

But, like the others, he isn't there yet and, considering the talent at the top, it's a stretch to call Tulowitzki a level below guys like Hanley, Reyes, and Rollins.

Furthermore, like all the Rockies, the loss of Matt Holliday could do substantial damage to Troy's numbers.

7. J.J. Hardy, Milwaukee Brewers—78 runs, 24 HRs, 74 RBI, 2 SBs, .283 average

Those look like solid second tier numbers next to the triple play atop the positional rankings, right? So what am I getting so excited about? After all Hardy is only 26 (27 in August) so there's plenty of room for him to grow as well.

That's all true and, actually, I was surprised to see his average that high. But J.J. is way too streaky for my tastes. He's one of those guys who seems like Albert Pujols for a couple weeks and then turns into Randy Johnson except without the pitching arsenal.

When a guy spends large runs of the MLB season hitting like my younger sister, I have a hard time endorsing him here.

But 24 dingers from your middle infielder and an average making eyes at .300 demands it.

8. Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland Indians—104 runs, 23 HRs, 89 RBI, 3 SBs, .276 average

Ladies and gentlemen, meet your third highest ranked shortstop from 2008. Peralta actually outperformed Jimmy Rollins, finishing 76th to Rollins' 88th.

Twelve spots—that's what Jhonny's best year as a pro was worth compared to an obviously down year for Rollins. You want insult to injury? Peralta's 27 in May, finished 30+ spots ahead of Derek Jeter, and Jeter's off the board (on average) 20 spots before him in most Yahoo drafts.

I'm not gonna go that far, but I'm still not convinced this is the norm for Peralta.

It's basically his third such season in his last four, but 2006 was a serious stinker. Too much of one to ignore completely—even after two very healthy campaigns.

With that nagging at the back of my mind and the odds favoring a break-out season from the youth above, I can't jump Jhonny any higher.


9. Rafael Furcal, Los Angeles Dodgers—34 runs, 5 HRs, 16 RBI, 8 SBs, .357 average

Furcal is going (on average) with the 57th pick in Yahoo drafts. Most fans know he only had 143 ABs, don't they? He's not gonna hit .357 for a full year—hombre's got a single .300 season in his whole seven-year career.

And he's not gonna see a full year. Furcal is papier-mache—he'll give you good average, power, and speed while he's on the field. Fortunately, that hasn't been too often since he came over to the Bums.

10. Mike Aviles, Kansas City Royals—68 runs, 10 HRs, 51 RBI, 8 SBs, .325 average

In case you haven't picked up on the subtle signs, I prefer youth and potential to superstars on the fade. That get Aviles over the more trusted (and overrated) names below.

I covered him a bit under the second basemen, but he's 28 and only saw 410 ABs in '08 (his first year in the Bigs). Figure a full year with a hefty reservoir of experience/confidence should allow Aviles to replicate those numbers—I'd guess with a bit more power and a little less average.

11. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees—88 runs, 11 HRs, 69 RBI, 11 SBs, .300 average

Yankee fans, start your engines. Seriously though, how can you take Jeter over anyone previously mentioned? Most of them have outperformed the pinstriped captain and they're all younger. Most of 'em are a lot younger than Derek, who will be 35 in June.

I've always loved the guy. Derek Jeter is definitely one of my favorite non-San Francisco Giants of my lifetime—he's always played the game the right way and carried himself with class off the field.

But nobody stays young and beautiful forever. Not even Jeter.

12. Michael Young, Texas Rangers—102 runs, 12 HRs, 82 RBI, 10 SBs, .284 average

It's safe to say that, at 32, Young is deteriorating. His average dipped below .300 for the first time since 2002 and for the first time ever when registering over 600 ABs.

The runs will probably stay up there because of the Rangers' potency, but expect the rest to continue to erode. If Young struggles with the position change to third base, he might carry it with him into the batter's box and that would probably hasten his demise.

13. Miguel Tejada, Houston Astros—92 runs, 13 HRs, 66 RBI, 7 SBs, .283 average

Tejada will be 35 in May, his name popped up in the performance-enhancing drug witch hunt, and he's been in steady (and kinda rapid) decline. These are all signs that indicate the wheels are about to come off Tejada's wobbling wagon.

It might not happen in '09, but why bet against Mother Nature?

FliersYunel Escobar (Atlanta Braves), Jerry Hairston Jr. (Cincinnati Reds), Khalil Greene (St. Louis Cardinals), Ryan Theriot (Chicago Cubs), Clint Barmes (Rockies), Orlando Cabrera (Oakland Athletics)

I could essentially list every single shortstop in the league under fliers, so I just picked some the sexiest ones. The truth is, most of the guys outside the 13 mentioned in some detail have ownership levels fluctuating between 20 and 60 percent.

When 40 percent of Yahoo leagues don't even consider a player worthy of ownership, suffice it to say the potential for contribution isn't great.

Still, a guy like Escobar had a very promising start to his young career and then failed to deliver on the promise when handed the starting gig in '08. At 26, there's a ray of hope.

Greene put up terrible numbers for the San Diego Padres in '08, but he goes to a real professional lineup in '09 so he gets a shout-out.

Theriot plays in a live yard with a potent lineup and Barmes plays in a livelier yard with a less potent lineup. Both give you additional flexibility up the middle.

After that, throw a dart.

And it probably won't matter because, unless you can get one of the three royals, you're gonna be swinging a limp noodle like the rest of your league.

Next up...the outfielders.

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