Top 20 fantasy shortstops for 2011by Jeffrey Gross
December 17, 2010
Other 2011 fantasy rankings by position: Catcher || First Base || Second Base
Welcome back. I want to remind everyone that these rankings are based on position eligibility. Players who are eligible at multiple positions will be ranked in comparison with others at each relevant position. You will also note asterisks next to the sames of certain players. These indicate health risks in my eyes. Health concerns have been taken into consideration in the rankings, which colmbine expected talent with expected playing time to yield expected production.
Position eligibility and evaluation criteria for the purposes of these rankings are explained here.
Rank Name Team Oliver Slash (2011)** 1 Hanley Ramirez Marlins .307/.383/.518 2 Troy Tulowitzki Rockies .275/.354/.488 3 Jose Reyes* Mets .278/.330/.426 4 Derek Jeter Yankees .278/.344/.376 5 Alexei Ramirez White Sox .272/.311/.399 6 Jimmy Rollins* Phillies .239/.301/.377 7 Stephen Drew Diamondbacks .261/.324/.427 8 Asdrubal Cabrera Indians .281/.339/.390 9 Starlin Castro Cubs .303/.342/.420 10 Rafael Furcal* Dodgers .275/.344/.399 11 Elvis Andrus Rangers .277/.344/.352 12 Mike Aviles* Royals .276/.307/.398 13 Danny Espinosa Nationals .241/.312/.403 14 Ian Desmond Nationals .261/.312/.399 15 Erick Aybar* Angels .267/.314/.358 16 Cliff Pennington Athletics .237/.322/.328 17 Miguel Tejada Giants .268/.302/.378 18 Alcides Escobar Royals .267/.310/.357 19 J.J. Hardy* Orioles .251/.313/.395 20 Jhonny Peralta Tigers .256/.315/.408*Assuming health (which means assuming the amount of health I expect from them).
**Oliver's 2011 projections have been updated since I wrote down all of the prospective slash lines for my hitter rankings. Due to the sheer volume of time it would take to update my positional rankings for hitters, I am going to keep the Oliver 2011 category listed as is. Most of the projections are essentially similar, but for the most up to date projections, subscribe to THT Forecasts by clicking here. If you are unsure of whether to subscribe to THT Forecasts, you can read about why I love THT Forecasts by clicking here
As you can tell from the above list of players and Oliver projections, shortstop is, as always, more shallow than a kiddie pool. Note the extreme drop-offs in talent as you progress down the list. While most other positions have tiers of players, the shortstop rankings for 2011 largely represent tiers-by-player. Once Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitski are off the board, the pickings start getting really thin really fast.
Jimmy Rollins is the last player on this list that I expect to reach both the 15-homer and the 15-steals plateau, though Asdrubal Cabrera may flirt with it. Once you get past him on this list, the remainder are largely two-dimensional (or in the case of Everth Cabrera and Jed Lowrie, borderline one-dimensional). The farther down the list you go, the more players start hurting you in categories (AVG, RBI, HR) that they do not help in.
Some may question why I am ranking Derek Jeter so high. After a sub-mediocre 2010 (.270/.340/.370) that represented his worst career season at age 36 with signs of decline bookending 2009, why would he be the fourth best fantasy shortstop? Answer: shortstop is just that thin a position. Jeter's .320 wOBA last season was still the seventh best among all shortstops and second only to Alexei Ramirez in the AL.
While modern day Jeter is no longer vintage Jeter, he is still a productive fantasy player whose poor defense at short is a non-factor. Considering that Jeter's second worst batting average in any season is .291, I am not concerned about Jeter's average in 2010. Oliver projects a .278/.344/.376 line, but Jeter's expected batting average (xAVG) based on his 2010 xBABIP (.342) is a robust .299. Accordingly, I expect Jeter to bounce back some in 2011 and probably be underrated. My less scientific than Oliver projection is a .295 average with 14 homers, 20 steals and more than 100 runs. Those are numbers worth owning, particularly at shortstop.
The rest of this list is a parade of horrible. I like Asdrubal Cabrera, Elvis Andrus and Starlin Castro, but I feel Castro will be overvalued by some, that Andrus needs to steal bases more efficiently, and that Asdrubal Cabrera, while solid, is underwhelming and offers limited upside. Cabrera could be a solid play if he produces a .290 average with double digit homer-steal totals, but the fact that I am "salivating" at such production shows you why it is better to sink your money in a Hanley/Tulo bidding war (or pay a premium for Reyes/Jeter) than aggressively acquire Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera (or even Roy Halladay). A top five shortstop plus the 15th best first-baseman is infinitely more productive than a top five first baseman plus Miguel Tejada.
It is important to note that it is no longer 2006/2007. The economy sucks, Khalil Greene is out of baseball and reliable shortstops are scarce. This, along with second base, is where you spend your money. Unlike catcher, your shortstop, unless you draft Rafael Furcal, will likely play 130+ games. He will likely play 150+ games, as shortstops are heading back toward the athletic/defense mold of baseball (more durable and rangy, less productive with the bat).
I spent $45 on Hanley Ramirez in my league last year, while Pujols went for $41. Sure, Pujols did and always will outproduce Hanley, but as I note above, fantasy baseball is about what you create en toto. It is not about who has the best player, but who has the best overall team. You should finance your team accordingly. Perhaps economizing is not the best strategy when you are playing stars-and-scrubs (as I was last season), but I can guarantee you I will gamble on a first basemen a thousand times more often than I will gamble on my shortstop or second baseman.
I ranked Stephen Drew No. 7 overall but offer a word of caution: While Drew has double digit home run-stolen base production and a strong likelihood of racking up plentiful runs, he tends to alternate good batting average/wOBA seasons with bad ones. Here are his career averages, 2006-2010: .316, .238, .291, .261, .278.
He'll get you 10-15 homers with eight to 10 or more steals and 70-plus runs, but the batting average will be the linchpin of his fantasy value. He's a medium risk/moderate reward shortstop, which is not the kind of risk I like to take in fantasy. Hence, do not take my ranking as a stamp of approval. It is just a realization of what I think he will more likely than not do, not a reflection of his downside, which is quite plausible.
The final five or six names on my rankings are largely "leftovers" who could have valuable seasons if the BABIP gods smile upon them in 2011.
Everth Cabrera has good speed and walks a good clip, but strikes out way too much to float a good average. If he streaks an Austin Jackson-like BABIP in 2011, however, he could do big things*. Similar story with Cliff Pennington, who I expect to post a higher average, despite bring less prone to run. Those two might be the highest reward names among the dregs of this list and if you just absolutely forget to buy a shortstop on draft day, you might as well target them.
*With Bartlett being traded to San Diego, Cabrera becomes a non-factor (as does Bartlett).
Hardy's best days and power surges seem a faint memory, but he's still only 28 and there's no particular reason that, if healthy, he can't rekindle his 15-20 home run power stroke. He's unlikely useful as a starting shortstop, but he could make a solid late-round bench/MI option.
Alcides Escobar is touted as a good-speed, average-capable hitter who showed no signs of being able to do either in 2011. Until he shows some ability to survive major league pitching, I will view him skeptically.
Last but not least, I have added a name to my shortstop rankings and I put him pretty high: Danny Espinosa. The more and more I ponder over Espinosa, the more and more I like him. While Espinsoa likes to swing-and-miss a lot (21.7 K% in the minors, using PA, not AB, 14.3% Swinging Strike rate in limited major league play in 2010), he also walks a bit (11.0% MiLB BB%) and has flashed a tantalizing combination of speed (56) and power (40) over his three-year (1205 PA) minor league career). Oliver likes Espinosa for 15+ home runs and stolen bases with a Adam Dunn-like batting average. Espinosa's strikeout total will keep him on the bad side of the BABIP gods' favor, but there is always the change he pulls a Dan Uggla. Given the paucity of talent at short, Espinosa, who was left of my original ranking sheet and is going undrafted in the mocks I have done on MDC thus far, might make a strong value play in 2011.
As always, leave the love/hate in the comments.
Note: My shortstop rankings were updated at 6 P.M. on December 22, 2010. My apologies if the reorganization of players has made any of the above analysis (largely left unchanged, though I have added my two cents on Espinosa) confusing. If you notice a logic error in the updated post, please point it out below via comment or via email. Thanks.
Jeffrey Gross is an attorney (and die-hard Cubs fan) who currently resides in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, he also reviews tasty adult beverages as part of a side project titled "saBEERmetrics." He previously worked for The Daily Illini and Northern Star newspapers as a film critic and sportswriter (respectively). You can reach him by email at saBEERmetrics AT gmail DOT com.
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