2015 Rankings: 1B | 2B
It has become a familiar refrain. Since the glory days of Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada and a pre-Yankees Alex Rodriguez came to an end, shortstop has consistently been the weakest position in Fantasy.
And it's not getting any better.
Which isn't to say it doesn't have its share of up-and-comers, those who could breathe new life into the position with the kind of production normally reserved for second or third base. It's just that the holdovers are already running on fumes.
Two of the top producers at the position this year, Jimmy Rollins and Alexei Ramirez, will be 36 and 33 next year -- old by any player's standards but ancient at shortstop, where only the spryest of spry get by in the majors. Hanley Ramirez, though a few years younger, seems to have picked up where he left off on his downward spiral after taking a detour for half a season last year, leaving Troy Tulowitzki as the only shortstop capable of putting up first round-type numbers. And of course, he can't stay on the field for more than two-thirds of the season.
Then, there's Jose Reyes, who for all he does right, can no longer carry a team in stolen bases, which certainly diminishes his value in Rotisserie leagues. And let's not get into his durability issues. Even Ian Desmond, in putting together his third consecutive 20-20 season, has given us some reason to believe he overachieved in the previous two.
It only gets worse from there.
Top 10 shortstops for 2015:
1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies
2. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Dodgers
3. Jose Reyes, SS, Blue Jays
4. Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals
5. Danny Santana, SS/OF, Twins
6. Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs
7. Ben Zobrist, 2B/SS/OF, Rays
8. Javier Baez, 2B/SS, Cubs
9. Alexei Ramirez, SS, White Sox
10. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillie
Santana as a top-five option is exactly what's wrong with the shortstop position. Even to end the year, he was only 86 percent owned. Sure, he was great and all, ranking behind only Tulowitzki in Head-to-Head points per game, and with the exception of maybe the .319 batting average, I don't question the legitimacy of what he did. But I've seen this movie enough times before to know that what I think of a player doesn't count for much. With only half a season of big-league experience, Santana is by definition unproven, and an unproven player can go disastrously awry (see Miller, Brad).
That said, I still rank him fifth and do believe he could, or perhaps even should, be that good. It's just that normally I wouldn't have to rank a player so unproven according to his best-case scenario, finding enough proven players capable of something similar to build in some sort of cushion.
What it means is that if you draft Santana as the fifth-best shortstop -- reaching for him, no doubt -- and he doesn't live up to the billing, not only have you wasted an early-round pick, but you're falling back on the same crumb bums who've underwhelmed you for the last several years -- you know, the Erick Aybars, Asdrubal Cabreras and Alcides Escobars of the world. Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.
Of course, this column isn't meant to be an assessment of the shortstop position as a whole, but an arrangement of the parts therein. And on that front, you may be wondering why I've ranked Reyes as I have. If you're a Head-to-Head owner, you may be asking why so low? Reyes actually outscored Hanley Ramirez on a per-game basis this year. If you're a Rotisserie owner, you may be asking why so high? As I pointed out, Reyes' steals aren't what they used to be.
OK, but Ramirez wasn't that much worse than Reyes in terms of Head-to-Head points per game, and that throwback we saw from him in 2013 gives me some fleeting hope his upside is still better than Reyes' at this stage of their careers -- enough to close the gap, anyway. And as for Reyes' Rotisserie value, yeah, he probably belongs behind Desmond, but not by as much as you'd think now that Desmond's batting average is a liability. The gap there is smaller than the one that puts Reyes ahead in points leagues, what with the disparity in strikeout rate and all. Such are the pitfalls of one-size-fits-all rankings.
I mentioned that Alexei Ramirez and Rollins were two of the strongest contributors at the position this year, stronger than the three I rank directly ahead of them. But what makes it surprising is the extent of their declines prior to this year. At their ages especially, anticipating a repeat is playing with fire, and I'd rather not play with fire at a position where seemingly every pick is a reach.
By comparison, Castro is as safe as it gets at shortstop, which sounds funny since he was one of the biggest busts of 2013. But the way he's bounced back with his typically high batting average and usable power makes that one down year seem all the more like an outlier. Zobrist is sort of the Head-to-Head version with all the walks and doubles, and I would consider flipping the two in that format even though Zobrist's age (he'll be 34 next May) gives me pause.
Baez is probably the most interesting player at the position, and he wouldn't even be eligible there if not for the miracle of Castro's season-ending ankle injury. Yes, I called another man's suffering a miracle. That's how desperate I am for another elite bat at the position. Baez has 40-homer potential, which would vault him just behind Tulowitziki if he's able to capitalize on it, but as we've observed with him striking out every other at-bat in his first taste of the big leagues, he has incredible downside as well.
Next 10 shortstops for 2015:
11. Xander Bogaerts, 3B/SS, Red Sox
12. Jean Segura, SS, Brewers
13. Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
14. Jhonny Peralta, SS, Cardinals
15. J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles
16. Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres
17. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves
18. Erick Aybar, SS, Angels
19. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B/SS, Nationals
20. Alcides Escobar, SS, Royals
Speaking of elite bats, Bogaerts also has that kind of potential, and his strong finish has me contemplating ranking him alongside Baez. I guess the difference is that Baez is still an unknown quantity while Bogaerts by and large flopped as a rookie. I'd rather gamble on the unknown than get burned by Bogaerts again, which wouldn't necessarily happen and doesn't closely adhere to what we know about the way players develop (which is still embarrassingly little, I should add). It's a stupid way to distinguish two players too untested to distinguish otherwise, but until I see some draft results that contradict it, I'm sticking with it. Listen, I'm already fighting an uphill battle by ranking Ramirez and Rollins so low.
The turnaround that came for Bogaerts never came for Segura, but of course, the 24-year-old showed his potential in 2013. His .275 BABIP suggests he was a victim of bad luck this year, and he's too young to write off as a one-year wonder. Besides, he's the last line of defense before the crumb bums -- the assured mediocrity that pervades the position, putting unsuspecting Fantasy owners at an immediate disadvantage by being ... well, their only remaining alternative.
I now count Andrus among them. Looking at his numbers, I never understood how he consistently ranked so high to begin with, and this year revealed just how thin his margin for error is. I do think the Rangers lineup bounces back to some degree, but if he's done as an elite base-stealer and top-of-the-order hitter (a possibility with a new manager and replenished lineup), I fear he'll be just a more expensive version of Escobar.
Of course, Andrus' track record does to some degree elevate him among the not-so-elevated, as does Peralta's power. At this stage of his career, the Cardinals shortstop is a decent bet for 20 home runs, which is certainly useful from a middle infielder, particularly in Rotisserie leagues. But modest power is all he has to offer, and he hasn't been a model of consistency over his career. Hardy seemed like a lock for a healthy home run total coming into this season, and look what happened to his value when he didn't deliver. To me, they're cut from the same cloth.
Within that uninspiring group are a couple players who did inspire Fantasy owners just a short while ago but were so awful in 2014 that any investment in their "upside" is just a desperation heave at this point. Everth Cabrera could potentially be the best base-stealer at the position but has been such a weak hitter apart from 2013, which ended with him suspended for his involvement with the Biogenesis clinic, that he could just as easily lose his job. Simmons remains a source of intrigue if only for his exceptional contact rate. It has to show up in his batting average eventually, doesn't it?
Among those who didn't make the cut, I'm beginning to like Wilmer Flores as a sleeper, but that's largely due to the lack of alternatives. Let's make sure he has a job first. Jed Lowrie and Brad Miller have shown something in the past but have even greater threats to their playing time than Flores, especially with Lowrie entering free agency. Addison Russell and Carlos Correa are both big-time, Bogaerts-level prospects who could debut at some point next year, but they're not making the opening day roster. Francisco Lindor has a better chance and could emerge as a sleeper with a strong spring, but he doesn't have the same upside offensively.