Season review: shortstops

We’ve already taken a look at the catchers and third basemen of 2008, and now it is the shortstops’ turn. The basic format of this article will be the same as the others, with me starting off by throwing a table at you.

En Masse

+------+------------+-------+---------+
| Year | Shortstops |  OPS  |  WPA/LI |
+------+------------+-------+---------+
| 2004 |         24 |  .746 |   -.144 |
| 2005 |         25 |  .735 |   -.332 |
| 2006 |         27 |  .750 |   -.224 |
| 2007 |         27 |  .755 |   -.089 |
| 2008 |         21 |  .747 |   -.093 |
+------+------------+-------+---------+

Shortstops have been fairly consistent over the past five years, although a positive trend in offense is apparent especially in WPA/LI. Zero WPA/LI is league average, so shortstops are consistently below-average. However, in the past two years they have come awfully close to zero, though without actually touching it. The 2007-08 spike in production coincides with the emergence of the class of the shortstop position: Hanley Ramirez. Hanley, after batting .301 with 33 home runs and 35 stolen bases, has established himself as the dominant shortstop—if not player—in fantasy baseball.

Before this season, however, the shortstop position had been characterized by an elite triumvirate at the top. In the early 2000s, it was Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Derek Jeter. Then A-Rod became a third basemen, Nomar got hurt, and Derek progressively got worse. In their place rose Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez, and Jose Reyes. Because of the large gap in talent from the elite to the next tier, shortstops were a target of mine early in drafts. Either Rollins, Reyes, and Ramirez found their way onto my fantasy teams this year as a result; a move whose success depended on which player I got.

The overall change in character for the shortstop position, I feel, is that the triumvirate-then-steep-drop-off configuration has been replaced by a more balanced distribution of talent, save Hanley. Several shortstops who have enjoyed breakout seasons, and who I will discuss in the individual players section, have jumped from negative WPA/LI into positive territory. In doing so, they have bolstered the depth of the shortstop position, effectively making it a position not on my “target early” list for next year. We will go over draft strategy for each position at a more relevant date, i.e. closer to next season.

Individuals

The Risers

+----------------+-----------+-----------+-----+----+-----+----+------+
|    Player      | 07 WPA/LI | 08 WPA/LI |  R  | HR | RBI | SB |  AVG |
+----------------+-----------+-----------+-----+----+-----+----+------+
| J.J. Hardy     |      -.24 |      2.27 |  78 | 24 |  74 |  2 | .283 |
| Stephen Drew   |     -1.12 |       .83 |  91 | 21 |  67 |  3 | .291 |
| Jhonny Peralta |      -.90 |       .64 | 104 | 23 |  89 |  3 | .276 |
+----------------+-----------+-----------+-----+----+-----+----+------+

Based on WPA/LI, it appears that J.J. Hardy had a much better year fantasy-wise, but if you take a look at those traditional 5×5 stats, all three players had astoundingly similar seasons.

Hardy came out of nowhere to hit 26 home runs in 2007. Even to people who followed the second-round pick in the minors it was a surprise because he had never put up similar power numbers before. As you can imagine, people were skeptical about Hardy’s ability to repeat his 2007 production in 2008, and consequently he fell to 139 overall in Yahoo drafts and 168 in ESPN. Hardy virtually replicated his 2007 season this year, proving his power totals are no fluke.

Stephen Drew was heading into 2008 with the weight of being one of the worst shortstops in 2007, as you can see from his -1.12 WPA/LI. Putting it all behind him, the talented Drew raised his batting average 50 points and nearly doubled his home run total. I’m not completely sold on Drew yet, but if he falls far enough in drafts I won’t hesitate to select him.

image
Will Jhonny Peralta finally get respect in ’09? (Icon/SMI)

Jhonny Peralta never seems to get any respect from the baseball community. He had played in three major league seasons, two of which have been solid, especially for a shortstop. Despite his young age and general success, Peralta was not drafted high in 2008. Proving we were wrong again for not selecting him, Peralta had another solid season, with a .276 average, 23 home runs, and 89 RBI. Compounded with the fall of some of the older shortstops, Peralta had arguably the third-best season of any shortstop this year. Overlook him no more.

The Fallers

Troy Tulowitzki was the fifth shortstop selected on average in drafts after a monster rookie season in which he batted .290 with 24 home runs and 99 RBI. Unfortunately, Tulo got off on a terrible note in 2008, batting just .152 through the month of April. Then, on April 29, Tulowitzki tore his quad muscle and missed all of May and most of June. Upon returning to action, Tulo regained some of his former self. From the day he returned to the end of the season, he posted a .834 OPS, which is almost exactly equal to the .838 mark he put up in 2007. So even though he is listed as a “faller,” I do not believe Troy Tulowitzki is necessarily someone to avoid in 2009.

Jimmy Rollins came off his 2007 MVP season, in which batted .290 with 30 home runs and 40 stolen bases, looking like a fantasy stud. He was drafted inside the first round of most leagues and unfortunately for his owners did not deliver. Well, at least not to expectations. Rollins batted .277 with 11 home runs and a career-high 47 stolen bases, which are great numbers for a shortstop. But his value in 2006 and 2007 came from his power numbers—he had 25 and 30 home runs in those years respectively—and the 11 home runs in 2008 just doesn’t compare. He went from the five-tooled Hanley to the overrated Carl Crawford. Still, Rollins had a lot of positive developments in 2008. He walked more, struck out less, swung at less pitches while making contact with a higher percentage, and hit more line drives. Whether Rollins can hit more fly balls and more fly balls for home runs will determine his value in 2009.

Carlos Guillen, Derek Jeter, Edgar Renteria, and Michael Young are all nice players, but are starting to show the effects of age and as a result did not put up the numbers we once saw from them. I would not expect any sort of resurgence from these guys.

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