The Shortstop Mine Field

If all goes according to plan, our next round of rankings will be published later today. As you may have guessed, the position du jour is shortstop. As of this writing, only five out of seven sets of rankings have been entered into our handy shared Google doc.

It’s clear we have some deep disagreements about shortstop values. I’m going to break this into two parts – the guys I like more and the guys I like less than my colleagues. I’ll hunt for some meaning behind the madness. Because our rankings are not final, don’t be surprised if any numbers cited wind up slightly incorrect. We still need to address a couple guys who slipped through the cracks in the first run.

Bullish

Brandon Crawford
Eugenio Suarez
Cesar Hernandez
J.J. Hardy
Brock Holt
Brad Miller
Addison Russell
Zack Cozart
Ryan Goins

Crawford was the fourth best shortstop last year. He’s in line for power regression – his 16.2 percent HR/FB ratio is over 10 points higher than the rate he posted from 2011-2014. However, I’m not convinced he’s in line for steep regression. I have him ranked sixth with an expectation of about 15 home runs, a few stolen bases, a tolerable average, and good run production for the position.

The next best ranking for him is 16 with two others pegging him at number 28. If I’m missing something, I can’t figure it out. Crawford seems like the poster child for players whose defensive ability gives them the time to develop as hitters. Ozzie Smith is a classic example, he went from awful to quite decent as a hitter. Yadier Molina and Carlos Ruiz jump to mind among catchers.

By contrast, I understand why I’m on my own little island with regard to Suarez. I ranked him ninth. The next highest rating is 24th. To put words in their mouths, my fellow rankers are worried about where he’ll get playing time. They also don’t trust him offensively. I have confidence the Reds will start Suarez. They’ll either trade Brandon Phillips or send Suarez to left field.

As for his hitting, he should bat near the top of the Reds lineup. His home stadium is sooooo homer friendly (incidentally, that’s also probably why I like Cozart more than others). If Suarez is lucky, he’ll swat 20 home runs while batting ahead of Joey Votto. There’s upside for better OBP and contact skills than he’s shown in the majors.

Skipping ahead to Miller, my slightly bullish rating (14th, seven spots ahead of the next ranker) is based on the assumption that he’ll start at shortstop. My colleagues are probably just more worried about the other internal options than I am.

In Yahoo leagues, Hernandez has interesting position eligibilities (that’s even truer of Holt). Shortstop is his best fantasy position. Hernandez will get a crack at the leadoff job. He should post a good runs scored total, 20 steals, and a solid average in 650 plate appearances. He’ll kill you in home runs and RBI. It’s not a great profile, but I still think that puts him around number 18 at the position. The others ranked him above number 40.

I think Hardy could one day be healthy again. No further explanation necessary.

I suppose I’m more comfortable projecting growth from Russell. He had a 13.7 percent swinging strike rate last year, but nothing in his development profile suggests he should have whiff problems. With a fantastic supporting cast, the potential for a massive breakout exists. I’m of the opinion that he’ll need a couple years to reach his ceiling, but I’d rather bet on Russell than Marcus Semien.

I ranked Goins 31. That’s kind of like saying nobody will draft him. Two of my colleagues ranked him in the 40s while two more didn’t deign to give him a number. I like his new OBP skills and selectivity.

Bearish

Jose Reyes
Jean Segura
Trea Turner
Jose Iglesias
Asdrubal Cabrera
Andrelton Simmons
Chris Owings

Let’s actually start with Owings because I’m quite confused about his inclusion here. I think Owings is a fantastic sleeper this year – the kind that you can actually always get for $1. Of all the free shortstops, none has a better chance to finish in the Top 10 than Owings. Lurking under the surface is a ceiling that includes 15 home runs, 20 stolen bases, run production, and a decent average. Will he actually do that? No, probably not. My ranking was nine spots after the next lowest.

Reyes is not in my top 300 hundred. I rank him 24th among shortstops. Reyes’ next lowest ranking is 13. As for my pessimism, there’s the obvious reason – he’ll miss the start of the season with a trial, suspension, and/or jail time. There’s the less obvious reason – the Rockies always intended to trade him prior to the season. And there’s the least obvious reason – I don’t think he has much in the tank for 2016.

Let’s address that last comment. When players have off field issues, it affects their training and focus. We see players struggle when they have marital trouble. Reyes was also pretty terrible after joining the Rockies. Coors Field did not help. We can try to chalk that up to personal disappointment. It has to hurt to be traded away from a contender. But there’s also a reason the Jays made the move in the first place – Reyes was rapidly declining.

Segura. This one I just don’t get. I have him pencilled in as number 36. The next lowest ranking is 22. His composite ranking is 14. He’s Billy Hamilton with a quarter of the stolen base potential. He’ll run, but he doesn’t reach base. I don’t see any reason why that would change. Segura is barely a major league player. Later this season, some contending team is going to acquire him as a utility man and pinch runner.

I know what’s happening with Turner. It’s the inverse of Miller (above). My colleagues are assuming he beats Danny Espinosa for the starting job. I don’t think he will, at least not initially. Turner may be the better short and long term play for the Nationals, but teams are always careful to develop depth.

If Espinosa is the starting shortstop, the club can hang onto another major league quality utility man and toss Turner back to Triple-A. Then, if Daniel Murphy or Espinosa hit the disabled list, Turner can slide onto the roster. If Turner wins the job, then Espinosa takes the utility role. The club probably loses the unnamed other utility man. An injury would force the club to take development time away from somebody like Wilmer Difo.

Iglesias represents a situation where I may need to go back for more research. My first reaction to seeing a rankings gap was to say “when has he ever been good?” Last year actually. He had a great contact rate with about 85 percent of plate appearances ending with a ball in play. Add in his history of above average BABIPs, and you have a recipe for a high average hitter with some secondary skills. I may need to revisit my ranking.

In Cabrera and Simmons, I may be underrating boring veterans who play regularly. Cabrera in particular offers home run, stolen base, and run production value. I’m not sure 650 PA of Simmon is any different from Freddy Galvis. We agree Galvis is roughly the 46th shortstop, so I’m not sure why we have Simmons ranked 21st.

We hoped you liked reading The Shortstop Mine Field by Brad Johnson!

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Galvis might not play regularly. J.P. Crawford is knocking on the door.