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Shortstop Fallers: Jeter, Furcal, Renteria

Earlier today we released our shortstop rankings, and I was stunned to see how shallow the position is when putting my personal rankings together. Oh sure, there’s the two big guys right at the top, but it starts to thin out rather quickly after that. Let’s look at a trio of familiar names more likely to fall down the rankings that climb up them this summer…

The Cap’n: Derek Jeter

Jeter’s fall from grace last year was pretty harsh and slightly unexpected. Yes, it’s easy to predict that a shortstop coming off a seven win season at age 35 would decline the next year, but Jeter set new career lows in AVG (.270), OBP (.340), SLG (.370), wOBA (.320), ISO (.100), BABIP (.307), and WAR (2.5) in 2010. His 65.7% ground ball rate wasn’t just the highest in baseball last year, it was the highest by a non-Luis Castillo batter during the FanGraphs era. After years of posting wOBA’s well north of .400 (usually around .450) to the opposite field with his inside-out swing, Jeter had just a .386 wOBA to balls hit to right field last year. His performances to the pull side and up-the-middle were even worse. Jeter has begun working with hitting coach Kevin Long on his stride, quite a step for a guy that’s stubbornly stuck to what’s worked for so long (not that he should have changed before). xBABIP had him pegged at .335 last year, so a little correction there will get his AVG back where it needs to be, maybe even back over .300. It’s hard to envision such a historically high ground ball rate again for 2011, so some slight improvement there will boost his power output slightly. The history of 36-year-old (and soon to be 37-year-old) shortstops isn’t pretty, but Jeter remains a solid fantasy option at a thin position because he’s unlikely to destroy your batting average and will still score over a hundred runs thanks to his teammates. Double-digit steals are also part of the package.

They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To: Rafael Furcal

Just once in the last three years has Furcal been healthy enough to receive even 500 plate appearances in a season, though he came close last year with 428. When he wasn’t battling hamstring and back issues in 2010, he was actually really good. Furcal hit .300/.366/.460 with 22 steals (just 4 CS), and his .156 ISO was the second highest of his career. His .338 BABIP was also a career high but not outrageously so (.317 career, .322 xBABIP). As always, the key with Furcal is health. He’s been on the disabled list four times in the last three years and dealt with a litany of day-to-day issues as well. When/if healthy, there’s a good chance he’ll meet his projections (.270-.280 AVG, 20+ steals, maybe ten homers), but there’s a ton of risk and he’s not getting any younger (33 all season). Furcal is in a walk year though, so who knows, maybe he has one last contract drive in him.

He Gets Big Hits In The World Series, But So What?: Edgar Renteria

It’s been a while since Renteria was fantasy relevant, and if you think 2011 is his bounceback year … I have bad news for you. Now 35, Renteria’s settled in as a .250-.270 hitter over the last few years with next to no power – he hasn’t cleared a .111 ISO since 2007, three teams ago. That was also the last time he stole double digit bases. Dusty Baker does love him some veterans, but it’s hardly a guarantee that Renteria will get regular playing time over Paul Janish. Even the projection systems are turning the page, forecasting a mediocre AVG with single-digits homers and steals. Avoid Renteria on draft day in mixed-leagues, and I wouldn’t even count on him being a starter in NL-only setups.