I should have known. I was thrilled to have acquired Troy Tulowitzki upon his entrance into the American League at the trade deadline in AL Tout Wars. I crossed my fingers that he would remain healthy, and productive, for the several months on my squad. That wasn’t to be. Naturally, it was a freak injury that has now sidelined him, causing his many fantasy owners to groan and think to themselves “of course this happened to him”.
If you missed the news, Tulowitzki suffered a bruised back and a cracked left shoulder blade, with the best case scenario having him returning in two to three weeks. Since that means there’s a very real chance he’s done for the season, or makes it back for just a couple of games, it’s time to search for a replacement. My American League only options are pathetic. But yours might not be. So here are a couple of shortstop eligible hitters owned in fewer than 50% of leagues that could make up for at least some of the lost production.
Eugenio Suarez, CIN | CBS 31% Owned
Suarez himself was the beneficiary of an injury when incumbent Zack Cozart went down with a season-ending knee injury. He debuted with the Tigers last year and didn’t show a whole lot offensively. His ISO sat below .100, he didn’t offset the lack of power with much speed and he struck out too often which resulted in a low batting average. But this year, he has shown more of the power that he displayed in the minors in 2014. His HR/FB rate has more than doubled and his ISO has done nearly the same.
Although his strikeout rate remains worse than average, his SwStk% is barely above the average and he showed better contact skills in the minors. For whatever reason, his walk rate has plummeted this season with the Reds, which is odd since he has swung slightly less often than the average. His walk rate has been respectable in the past, so improved patience in the future would result in a higher runs scored total. His BABIP is unlikely to remain an inflated .342, but his pop-up rate is low, which helps, and he shouldn’t be as much of a drain on your average as he was last year.
Though obviously Suarez won’t come all that close to what Tulowitzki would have been projected to do the rest of the season, at least the categories each contribute in are the same, as that’s important. Suarez leans toward the power-hitting side, which Tulo obviously does, and he has mostly been hitting in the middle of the order, which should tilt his R/RBI totals toward the RBI side, like Tulo.
Jedd Gyorko, SD | 27% Owned
Since his intriguing 2013 debut, Gyorko’s short career has been a roller coaster. He was derailed by injury last season, which likely led to the disappearance of his power, and he hit just .210 with a sad .275 wOBA. This year, he opened the season as the Padres starting second baseman, but poor play resulted in a loss of playing time and he was eventually demoted to the minors on June 10.
But since being recalled from Triple-A on June 30, the Gyorko we remembered from 2013 has returned. His power has fully rebounded, as he has hit 12 homers over 249 plate appearances (a 29 home run pace over 600 PA). And check out his batted ball distance trend from 2013, splitting 2015 into his games through June 10 and since his recall.
He’s hitting the ball further than ever before so he’s looking healthy again. So he could very easily match what Tulo would have contribute in home runs, and perhaps even runs batted in. Of course, his batting average is unlikely to be as good, and he’s managed to score just five runs that didn’t come on his own home runs. So the runs scored are going to be lower, but possibly matching two categories is a win when trying to replace a top tier talent.
Ketel Marte, SEA | 13% Owned
I first discussed Marte back in early August after he was recalled from the minors. At the time, his playing time was a little up in the air, as he was originally recalled to fill in temporarily for a banged up Robinson Cano. I figured he’d start most games, but not every day. This is actually what happened. But now the team traded Austin Jackson and Brad Miller has become a left fielder. So Marte has shortstop all to himself and he has been the every day lead off hitter.
How could a regular lead off hitter who plays shortstop and has speed be owned in just 13% of CBS leagues?! Counting the two from last night, he now has seven steals in 166 plate appearances. That’s a 27 steal pace over 650 plate appearances, which is basically what we had expected from the Jean Segura/Alcides Escobar/Elvis Andrus trio. And none of those players are owned in anywhere close to 13% of leagues.
He has yet to hit a home run and counts just four as his high for a full minor league season. So unlike the players above, you will not be getting the same stats from Marte as you did from Tulo. That could be problematic or maybe it won’t be. It depends on where you sit in each of the categories. So far, Marte hasn’t hit for average. He hasn’t been truly detrimental, but he hasn’t been an asset. But, his SwStk% is excellent and suggests that an improved strikeout rate should be in his future. He has been rather patient, which has probably caused his strikeout rate to be higher than his SwStk% suggests. It’s not such a bad thing though as that patience is propping up his OBP and keeping him at the top of the batting order.
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.