Fantasy Baseball: Rumblings at the top of the shortstop rankings?
Xander Bogaerts is king of the hill, while Carlos Correa is buried in the shortstop rankings. Al Melchior looks at how the rest of the season could go for four top shortstops and what it could mean for Fantasy owners.
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Back when we were drafting our teams, I not only had Carlos Correa ranked as the top shortstop for this season, but I had only five players above him in our overall Top 300 rankings. My rationale for elevating Correa to mid-first round status was that he had already demonstrated a level of production that was far superior to that of anyone else at an otherwise weak position.
Now that we are nearly two months into the season, Correa finds himself well outside the top six...at his own position. His modest ranking (10th in Rotisserie value, 11th in Fantasy points) is as much about his falling short of his 2015 standard as it is about the ascendance of fellow youngsters Trevor Story, Francisco Lindor, Aledmys Diaz and Corey Seager and the shortstop eligibility gained by Manny Machado. Scott White, Heath Cummings and I have catapulted Machado into the top spot of our shortstop rankings, but we have all kept the faith in Correa, placing him second.
Yet it is Xander Bogaerts who sits at the top of the shortstop heap in both Roto and Head-to-Head value, and in an even bigger surprise, Ian Desmond is right behind him as the No. 2 shortstop in Roto and the No. 3 shortstop in points leagues (15 points behind Machado). Suddenly, there are plenty of good shortstops to go around, and that could create some impatience among Correa owners. If you own last season's American League Rookie of the Year, you need to start thinking about whether you need an upgrade or if you're best served to be patient.
For anyone thinking about changing their current shortstop situation, it's a good time to get a handle on what to expect from the most prominent players at the position. Does it still make sense to consider Correa one of the best shortstops from here on out? Will we see more of the same from Bogaerts and Machado? And what's gotten into Desmond? Let's break down the first eight weeks for each player, one by one, so we can get a sense of what to expect for the next 18 weeks.
Yes, we still do have a ways to go.
Though Correa is performing well below the level owners were expecting (at least for those of us who drafted him in the first round), he has made progress in some areas. Specifically, Correa has improved his plate discipline, chasing fewer pitches out of the zone and increasing his walk rate. He has also been more of a stolen base threat, having succeeded in eight of his 11 attempts, putting himself ahead of last season's pace.
That may be of little comfort to his owners, who have surely noticed he is homering less and striking out more than he did in his rookie season. The two trends are likely linked, as Correa is making contact less often on pitches in the middle portion of the strike zone (per FanGraphs' heat maps). His contact issues have been especially acute over the past month, so we don't have to wind the clock back too far to remember a time when strikeouts weren't a concern.
Looking ahead, the possibility looms for something that even optimistic owners may not have anticipated in 2016: a breakout. If Correa can return to making contact at a higher rate on pitches that are right down the middle while continuing to steal bases and draw walks with more regularity, we will see an even more valuable version in the future. Correa is still just 21, so that future could happen at any time, though it could also be a year or two off. That latter possibility doesn't mean you should try to sell Correa off. In fact, if you can buy him at a discount, now would be a good time to target Correa's owner in some trade talks.
Part of the reason we can still value Correa as one of the two most valuable shortstops in Fantasy is because of how Bogaerts has managed to climb to the top of the rankings. On the surface, it looks like Bogaerts is breaking out right now. To be sure, he is hitting the ball harder and for greater distances, and even more so than Correa, he has increased his stolen base pace. However, Bogaerts seems to be doing all this while solidifying his status as a potential perennial batting champ. His .404 BABIP suggests he is continuing to hit to all fields, but in fact, he is pulling the ball more frequently this season. Bogaerts is also getting infield hits at a lower rate.
Those trends make Bogaerts one of the most obvious candidates for batting average regression. If he bats below .290 for the rest of the season, Bogaerts is still a valuable shortstop, but one who no longer looks like a sure-fire top two contributor at the position. Just like Correa, Bogaerts could consolidate his skill set, and with weaker pull tendencies and a high batting average, he could be back in business as a true elite. He is also in a lineup that should provide more run producing opportunities than Correa's will. This last factor is the one that should put Bogaerts neck-and-neck with Correa in the Fantasy rankings going forward, but for now, I'll give the edge to Correa and his greater power upside.
The consensus, at least among those who responded to the following Twitter poll, is that Machado will eventually rise to topple Bogaerts in the Fantasy shortstop rankings. Indeed, he is hitting with even more power than during his 2015 breakout season, and he is producing runs at a higher rate as well.
Who do you think will be the most valuable Fantasy shortstop going forward?— Al Melchior (@almelccbs) May 31, 2016
It's Machado's lack of stolen bases that's holding him back from the top spot in the Head-to-Head rankings, and sinking him to third place in the Roto rankings. Orioles manager Buck Showalter has not been one of the more aggressive skippers when it comes to having his speedsters run, so Machado's 28 steal attempts last season came as a bit of a surprise. We don't need to cross our fingers and hope for Machado to start swiping bags in order to believe in him as the top Fantasy shortstop. Bogaerts' imminent regression should take care of that all by itself.
Or am I giving Desmond short shrift by not including him in the conversation over who is Fantasy's best shortstop? Desmond is close in value to Machado so far, even with his stats being watered down by a miserable first two weeks of the season. Since that terrible beginning, Desmond has cut back on strikeouts dramatically, and for the past six weeks, he has looked much like the player who was among the top shortstops in 2012 and 2013.
For Desmond to maintain his improved strikeout rate, he will need to refrain from swinging at pitches outside the zone, as he has done for the bulk of this season. He's been doing so at a rate that far lower than that of any previous full season (25.5 percent, as compared to his previous low of 30.1 percent in 2011, per FanGraphs). Desmond can't afford to backslide to his less selective ways, as he is not significantly better as a contact hitter than he was in either of his previous two seasons. Toss in a suspiciously high .351 BABIP, and it's hard to see Desmond keeping pace with Machado, Correa and Bogaerts. He should have a fine season, but if you can find an owner to pay for Desmond as if he were the equivalent of any of those three, it's time to make a deal.
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