Top 20 fantasy shortstops for 2011

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.

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Comments

  1. Andrew said...

    Rankings look solid to me. In general, I think shortstops will be taken too early next spring as fantasy players overcompensate for scarcity.

    Lowrie looks like a nice endgame pick here.

  2. yummy said...

    I would have Theriot on this list assuming he is batting leadoff. He will have his .293/.345/.388 line with 20+ steals and 100+ runs in front of Pujols and Holliday.

  3. brt said...

    I know that, by ignoring him, people can pretend that he doesn’t exist, or think that he’ll just go away, but…I really think that Yuniesky Betancourt belongs on this list instead of a guy like, say, Everth Cabrera.  He won’t get on base a lot, but he will pop you a home run from time to time and isn’t entirely useless from a fantasy standpoint.

  4. Dave C said...

    Your list closely tracks mine.  The last few years it has felt like 2B was the thinnest position; this year it is SS hands down. 

    Reyes is a real wild card.  Assuming you can’t get Tulo or Hanley, where would you start considering Reyes in a 10-team snake draft?

  5. Chris said...

    Why does Oliver hate Tulo?

    Only one year (injury plagued 2008) has Tulo hit below .290, yet Oliver has him with a .275 AVG? His career line is .290/.362/.495, with the last two years being better than his 2007 breakout season (2008 is a wash IMO), so why does Oliver assume such massive regression?

  6. Izzy said...

    Last year, after battling mono Jed Lowrie put up a line of .287/.381/.526 and hit 9 home runs in 197 plate appearances (one less than Jeter hit in 739 plate appearances). He had an even strike out to walk ratio (25:25). I’d be very surprised if he put up a .234/.319/.382 line.

  7. Peter Schiller said...

    # 20 Jed Lowrie? He isn’t even the Red Sox starting SS in 2011. That would be Marco Scutaro. Please explain why you have Lowrie over Scutaro on this list. Thank you!

  8. James said...

    It kind of seems like you forgot about Yunel Escobar.  Almost all of his drop-off last year was babip induced so I don’t really see how he’s not a top 20 SS next year.

  9. Peter D said...

    If the Bartlett to SD deal goes through I guess that would pretty much kill any value that Evereth Cabrera had (given the Hudson signing).  Also, it would give much more value to a guy like Reid Brignac who could probably match Asrubal Cabrera’s numbers (currently ranked 8th).

  10. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @All,

    Thanks for the feedback. There are a lot of comments here I want to address, but I’m buckled down with my final law assignment through Wednesday morning. Please check back around then, I will answer everyone’s comments/questions.

    Thanks (wish me luck)

  11. John said...

    I’m sure Scutaro was an oversight.  As long as the Sox keep him, he’s got to be a top ten option (there is not a bad spot to hit in the Sox lineup at the moment).  If the Sox trade him because they wish to go with Lowrie, Scutaro still starts wherever he goes and outperforms at least five people on this list.

  12. kevin said...

    definately agree on yunel, at the very least he absolutely has to be above evereth cabrera. Personally I’d put him towards the bottom of the top ten, he could easily wind up with drew-like numbers. Besides it seems like once a year a blue jay comes out of nowhere to hit 35+ homers (hill, lind, bautista). I know thats extremely unlikely, but I can’t say I’d be shocked if he put up 20-25 with a .275 batting average.

  13. Lefty said...

    With typical Japanese to MLB league rate conversions, Nishioka probably falls to 16th or so – but I would have Hardy a bit higher, and E Cabrera completely off the list…

  14. Jim C said...

    You may know a lot, but you don’t know it all. Ian Desmond will have at least 15 HR’s and 15 steals next year. I promise.

  15. wily mo said...

    couple other notes -

    if you’re really “assuming health” for furcal i don’t see how he’s not higher. health is his big problem. he paced out to something like 13/34/.300 over a full season last year and actually was hot sometimes when he was on the field, which is more than most of these guys can say.

    guys who i feel like oughta be on the list but aren’t = aviles, uribe, yunel.

    aviles appears to have a steady talent level as a pretty solid line-drive hitter when he’s not recovering from surgery and does just enough with the homers and steals to keep it interesting.

    uribe’s been one of the better power sources from SS the last couple years and appears to have at least partially figured out the whole don’t-swing-at-absolutely-everything conundrum in his 30s. dodgers have a financial commitment to him now, so he’ll play. a lot of his bad AVG last year stemmed from a couple of periods where he had nagging injuries – he went almost a full month once with practically zero hits on account of a sore wrist.  seems bizarrely underrated by everyone to me.

    yunel i think you have to stick with the underlying talent level and just assume that was an off year.  lot of people said he might be the kind of guy where a change of scenery would be good motivation.  he’s not super amazing but neither is anybody else on the bottom third of the list, and he’s at least got some theoretical upside. certainly my preferred shortstop named escobar.

    it really doesn’t look like everth is even going to play in the majors next year.

    i do see lowrie taking over for scutaro, sometime midyear if not right away. he was awesome filling in for pedroia late last year and has the pre-mono-and-wrist-injury minor league track record to back it up. the red sox aren’t idiots.

  16. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I did not see the Padres acquired Hudson…the byproduct of shutting one’s self off from the world of baseball for 2 weeks (I wrote these rankings in advance).

    I will update accordingly. Espinosa will bump up. I’ll debate another move or two

  17. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Chris,

    Thanks. I’ve got 20 hours to go, 10 more pages to write and edit on an IP paper.

    @All re: the lack of Scutaro,
    My quick address to this issues is that I do not believe that Scutaro remains a red sock in 2011. I feel the team is going to attempt to move him to a team needing a SS in order to cut some salary provided that J.L. or Jose Iglesias can stay healthy and productive. I have JL>JI on my depth charts.

    @Jim C,
    I agree that Ian Desmond will hit 10+/10+ and will approach 15/15, but his AVG will be a killer and who knows where in the lineup he will bat at this point.

    @All,
    Assuming health means assuming the level of health I have assigned him. It does not mean “assuming he plays 150+ games”, but rather assuming he is at least as healthy as always. I expect Furcal to top out around 120-130 games. He’s no spring chicken and the SB production I feel will be limited by age and lingering health issues (do the Dodgers put the brakes on to preserve his leg health?)

  18. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Also, I think everyone is underrating Cabrera here. I expect a .260 AVG, 90+ R, 40+ SB over 140+ games. His HR/RBI totals will be pathetic, but he’s a solid MI gamble in my eyes.

  19. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @James,

    No Escobar because he’s an MI in my eyes at best. He can’t really eclipse 10 HR (he did once, but I call that the fluke not the rule. True, most of Yunel’s power is pull power (which Bautista showed a plus at Rogers Center), but even if he hits 14 again, he’s gonna have a ceiling of 5 SB, plays a disproportionate number of games against better pitching staffs than the NL East ever had and he’s not a middle of the order (and possibly going to end up in the bottom 1/3 of the order) hitter. Hence, poor R/RBI/SB value, decent AVG potential and average HR production, at best. I’d rather have Jed’s counting stats, Hardy’s power upside and Everth Cabrera’s superior speed. He’s an MI play, for sure, but he’s not a SS you’d want to start

    Mind you, most of the guys past the #15 slot are not SS’s you’d like to start. The farther down the list you go, the less upside/more downside players present

    Keep the questions/comments coming. I will address the remainder of them in about 48 hours.

  20. Kevin said...

    Well I guess we disagree on yunel, for what it’s worth here are my counterpoints:

    1) He started his career with hr totals of 5 (in about 3/5 of a season), 10, and 14. I think it’s entirely possible that he gets back to the mid teens at age 28* in that park. (* although potentially a “miguel tejada 28”)
    2) I can’t possibly believe he keeps a 3.3% HR/FB ratio (7.6% career)
    3) I think the NL East to AL East thing is kind of overrated (Jason Bay agrees with me). He’s still gonna face dice-k, ivan nova?, 4/5 of the orioles staff, etc.
    4) Lineup spots can easily change, and he gets on base more than most shortstops which i think keeps his run total higher than you’re expecting

    Yeah he won’t help with steals but other than that I guess we agree to disagree. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  21. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Kevin,

    I recognize the point, but Yunels ceiling is super limited and his contributions are minimal. I’d rather take a higher upside gamble than settle with an UPSIDE of .290 AVG, 80 R, 60 RBI, 5 SB, 10-15 HR.

    Compare Espinosa (my #21 ranked SS): 20/20 capable with R/RBI potential depending on slotting. Sure, poor AVG, but he’ll get you solid numbers in 3 other categories.

    Or compare Cabrera, who will get you at least as many runs and strong SB totals. Weak RBI and HR totals, but when you compare and give up 10-20 RBI plus 10 HR for +30-40 SB, you say hmm, do I want to take the AVG risk? Given Cabrera’s ability to walk, its a better gamble. More downside, but more upside, whereas Escobar has no upside honestly and a moderate-plus downside.

  22. wily mo said...

    re: everth cabrera. i actually do like his speed factor. the main problem is, the padres have acquired jason bartlett and orlando hudson. so where and when is everth going to play?

  23. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Ok, this is going to be a super long comment post, but here is my attempt to address everyone’s questions, supra:

    @Andrew,
    Thanks. I’ve been thinking about Lowrie lately and I am more and more convinced he needs to be shuffled down for Danny Espinosa or Mike Aviles.

    @yummy,
    I do not believe in Theriot. As a Cubs fan, I watched him erode over the past few years. He always has nice first halves and poor end-of-seasons. I particularly remember his 2007 implosion down the stretch. His career first half numbers: .294/.352/.364. His career second half numbers: .273/.344/.346. Theriot never had much upside (20 SB with poor SBA), but he’s now on the wrong side of 30 and neither 2009 or 2010 inspired any confidence that he’s even plateaued. Oliver expects something akin to Theriot’s career second half for all of 2011: .271/.328/.332

    @brt,
    If Cabrera had a starting job, I would disagree with you based on Cabrera’s pure speed upside. However, Cabrera will likely be a back up MI in 2011. Hence, I cannot argue here by default. Bentacourt is truly one of the worst players in modern baseball, however. He might be the worst player since Neifi Perez, though Cezear Izturis is really making a run at that title too…QUERY: does Bentacourt as a starter cancel out the benefits of Greinke the pitcher??

    @Jeff Zimmerman:
    Check the rankings by 5pm today. They will be updated and you will find Aviles and Espinosa on the bottom. They’re underwhelming “play-it-safe” options with no upside and some downside. That is why they are ranked lower than guys with upside. Espinosa could be top 15 or better, but he’s got so little MLB proof under his belt that I cannot say whether he will sink or float. Hence, I am being cautious with him.

    @Ron,
    You are correct. It was an omission. Check back on this last after 5pm and you will also find Peralta here. Still not big on Peralta for 2011. I am expecting a .250-.260 AVG with 15 or less HR, maybe a stolen base, maybe 70 or 75 RBI and even less Runs. Oliver seems to agree.

    @Dave C,
    If you can’t get Tulo/Hanley, Reyes has to be off the board by round 4. I’d recommend the risk at round 3, though Jeter or Alexei Ramirez might make a better round 5/6 play if you are risk averse.

    @Steve W,
    I know nothing about Nishioka. I defer to whatever Patrick Newman says about him. Newman’s the pacific league baseball expert and I thank him for bringing my attention to Colby Lewis last offseason. I do not rank players I have no feel for, as doing such is a pure unscientific guess. I might as well throw a dart. What are you projections for Nishioka?

    @Chris,
    I think Oliver hates Tulo because Oliver doesn’t “know” that Tulo was injured in 2008. I’m much bigger on Tulo than oliver. I am expecting .285-.290 AVG, 30 HR, 10+ SB with palpatable R/RBI totals.

    @Izzy & Peter Schiller,
    I like Lowrie, but it looks like the Red Sox do not. If Lowrie gets a starting position, I’d peg him as a fantasy sleeper worth a flier, but as it stands it looks like Scutaro, to my surprise, is here to stay. At least to open the season.

    @Peter D,
    You are 100% correct. Bartlett to San Diego drops him entirely off my SS rankings list. Braniac is less palatable than you’d think. Espinosa is a better, comparable play in an easier division to hit.

    @Kevin,
    If Yunel does that, I will eat a sheet of paper saying I was wrong. I have set precedent doing such (I will be “eating my words” on youtube later this or early next month for predicting the Indians to make the playoffs in 2010…)

    @Peter Schiller,
    Lowrie is ahead of Iglesias on the MI depth chart

    Did i miss anyone? Keep the feedback coming smile

  24. Chris said...

    @Jeffery:

    That makes complete sense. Is there any way to make Oliver place less weight on 2008 (or any other players injured or otherwise ‘down’ years) once it’s shown that it’s the exception rather than the rule? Or will Oliver try to blast you out of an air lock after politely explaining that he cannot allow you to do that?

  25. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Chris,

    I do not know specifically how Oliver weights previous performance. I would recommending emailing the site via http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/about/#contact with a specific question about that.

    Like any projection system, you take it with a grain of salt. I like Oliver as a strong baseline comparison point for players, but where I love/hate a guy Oliver hates/loves, I make manual adjustments.

    Read this for xBABIPs thoughts on Tulo:
    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/fantasy/article/2010-xbabip-splits-and-adjustments/

  26. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Jeff B,

    Thanks for the info. If this data is correct, and Nishioka does steal 35-40 bases, then I would rank him #12 or #13, around Mike Aviles and Elvis Andrus

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