2016 Pod’s Picks & Pans: Shortstop

It’s another day of picking and panning, and today we move onto the shortstop position. A discrepancy in ranking could really only be for one of two reasons (or both) — either a difference in projected performance or a difference in converting that projected performance into a ranking or dollar value. It’s not always easy to figure out what is causing the gap, but it is always interesting to discover who I am more bullish and bearish on than the gang.

For the shortstop position, my Picks will only include those in my top 20 and my Pans will only include those in the Consensus top 20.

Pod’s Picks: Shortstop
PLAYER Mike Consensus Diff
Zack Cozart 8 31 -23
Corey Seager 2 5 -3
Jean Segura 10 20 -10

Zack Cozart enjoyed a power breakout last year before his season was cut short thanks to a busted knee. Prior to his injury shorted half-season career year, he had been a pretty useless fantasy player. But as I stated in my Cozart player blurb,

His batted ball distance surged, validating his power spike, while his power related metrics, specifically his fly ball and pull rates, both reached new heights. All of these metrics support the increased power…

So now we’re left with a 30 year old coming off major knee surgery, so it’s anyone’s guess how the injury recovery will affect his performance. And although he has hit in multiple spots in the batting order during the spring, there’s a real chance he opens the year hitting second. Also, if Billy Hamilton continues to suck at reaching first base, he’ll find himself back to the bottom of the order, giving Cozart the opportunity to lead off. There’s risk here, obviously, but the consensus rank is treating Cozart like last year never happened and 2014 is his true talent level. That’s crazy.

I had no idea I was so bullish on Corey Seager until I ran through my Pod Projection. If his knee injury lingers and forces him to open the year on the DL, of course his ranking drops. But this ranking was before the knee issue cropped up. I could completely understand the consensus ranking of fifth, but I’m simply less bullish on the guys they ranked ahead of Seager.

I’m a Jean Segura fan?! I had no idea. Part of the optimism, no, all of the optimism stems from the fact that he’s likely to open the year at the top of the Diamondbacks order. That means he’ll have an opportunity to also contribute positive value in runs scored, aside from just the steals.

Pod’s Pans: Shortstop
PLAYER Mike Consensus Diff
Xander Bogaerts 4 2 2
Troy Tulowitzki 6 3 3
Addison Russell 19 11 8

Surprise, surprise! Xander Bogaerts tops my Pans list, though a ranking of four versus two might not actually mean a whole lot. Actually, it indeed does, as checking back on my values, there is an enormous gap between Francisco Lindor’s value, ranked third, and Bogaerts. I shared my Pod Projection last month, so you know exactly what I’m forecasting and it’s clearly for less than most others. I can’t deny that he has the potential to finish second in value, but actually ranking him there requires lots of hope and wishcasting.

When I rank players, it is 100% mathematical. I project everyone, run them through my valuation system, and sort in descending order. Those are my rankings. Unfortunately, injury prone players like Troy Tulowitzki are hurt because of their lower projected plate appearance totals. Remember, I’m valuing and ranking that specific player’s contributions, not the shortstop slot that would be filled by Tulo and a replacement player when he suffers from his annual injury.

Aside from the injury risk, there’s also some clear performance risk. Last year, he posted career worsts in many offensive metrics and although the sample size was small, he was below average offensively after he departed Colorado. At age 31, I’m not sure how much of a rebound we can realistically project.

It’s easy to get excited about Addison Russell, as he was the 11th overall pick in the 2012 draft, was a top prospect, and showed an intriguing combination of power and speed in the minors. And he’s just 22 years old. Now for the bad news — he struck out a ton at the big league level, barely played at Triple-A, and will be hitting eighth in the Cubs lineup. All three of those are huge red flags, but I think the last of those three is the worst. Batting in front of the pitcher in the National League is the worst lineup slot in baseball. It’s going to cap his plate appearances and counting stats and make it real difficult for him to provide significant value in runs scored and runs batted in.

This time, the Cubs stacked lineup actually works against him, as it drastically reduces the chance he eventually moves up in the lineup. Who else is going to bat at the bottom?! He seemingly could move up as far as seventh, with Miguel Montero dropping to eighth, but unless an injury strikes, I cannot imagine anyone else hitting at the bottom.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Re: your treatment of Tulo (and other injury guys) – rankings aside, on your draft sheet, do you incorporate replacement value when you project missed time? Or are you just OK with never getting a guy you project as an injury risk, because others are including a replacement player in the valuation?

If the former – wouldn’t that be a better method of ranking players for this article?
If the latter – could you explain why you choose not to value the replacement player?