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Shortstop: Fantasy Baseball’s Most Unpredictable Position

Heading into the 2009 season, no fantasy position was as screwed up as shortstop. The first three spots were written in stone but if you looked at 10 different rankings, it is possible you might not have found even two lists which had one player the same in their rankings from four through 20.

And if we thought it was a mess heading into the year, it has been even more unpredictable two-thirds of the way through the 2009 season. I am going to use the preseason rankings of my friend Troy Patterson from Roto Savants to illustrate this point. Patterson does excellent work and readers may recognize his name from comments he has left on articles here previously. I am going to compare his rankings versus the current numbers for SS from the RotoTimes Player Rater (RTPR).

1. Hanley Ramirez (RTPR #1) – Ramirez probably went in the top three of your draft, if not first overall. He checks in today with a dollar value of $33.19 and in raw dollars is the third-best fantasy hitter.

2. Jose Reyes (RTPR #25) – Reyes had been one of the most consistent fantasy players the past four seasons but has had this year ruined by his leg injuries.

3. Jimmy Rollins (RTPR #14) – Rollins deserved to be the third shortstop off the board this year but a first-round pick was too high. Rollins delivered first-round value in his MVP season of 2007 but that season he set career bests in four fantasy categories and also had 41 SB.

4. Jhonny Peralta (RTPR #19) – Peralta hit 20+ HR in three of the past four seasons but this year is on pace to hit just 14. Also, he projects to finish with just 66 R, after scoring 104 last season and finishing with 80 or more the previous three seasons.

5. J.J. Hardy (RTPR #31) – Hardy was coming off back-to-back strong fantasy seasons in which he contributed in four categories. For healthy players, he belongs in the conversation for biggest fantasy busts of the year with his -$5.08 dollar value so far.

6. Stephen Drew (RTPR #20) – Owners enthralled by his strong second half in 2008 have been really disappointed by Drew’s 2009 season. After putting up a .927 OPS after the All-Star break last year, only a strong season at home this year has kept 2009 from being a disaster. Drew has a .225 AVG away from Chase Field and a .667 OPS in road games.

7. Troy Tulowitzki (RTPR #6) – Injuries ruined Tulowitzki’s 2008 season and fantasy owners were cautious with him heading into this year. Tulowitzki got off to a slow start but since June 7th he has a .320-15-36-40-10 line in his last 50 games.

8. Derek Jeter (RTPR #2) – Jeter’s days as a fantasy star seemed to be over but he has surprised everyone by once again being a five-category fantasy player. After posting 11 HR and 11 SB in 150 games last year, Jeter has 11 HR and 19 SB in 99 games this season.

9. Michael Young (RTPR #3) – Another player whose best fantasy days seemed to be behind him, Young has thrived with a move to 3B, although he retains his SS eligibility for this season. Young is on pace for his best year since 2005, when he finished 11th in the MVP race.

10. Rafael Furcal (RTPR #23) – A trendy pick to be the fourth SS off the board, Furcal has been healthy this season but not nearly as productive as he was last year before going down with a back injury. Furcal has been hot lately and will likely move up among SS before the year is out.

Six of the top 10 players on this list have current positional ratings of 14 or lower. Compare that to Patterson’s first base list, in which eight of the players in his preseason top 10 currently rank in the top 11 spots at the position.

So, which players not listed above currently rank in the top 10 SS? They are as follows:

4. Jason Bartlett (Patterson preseason #23) – In his third season as a full-time player, Barlett is far surpassing numbers he put up previously. He already has established career-bests in HR and RBI and is only 3 SB off his personal best.

5. Miguel Tejada (Patterson #12) – A .339 BABIP is certainly helping to rejuvenate Tejada. But he also benefits from a strong performance in RBIs. Updated ZiPS forecasts him to finish with 92 RBIs, which would be his best mark since 2006 and 29 more than he produced last season.

7. Marco Scutaro (Patterson not in top 25) – In his age 33 season, Scutaro will establish career highs in all five fantasy categories. Yes, some of that is due simply to playing time, but Scutaro did post 592 PA last season.

8. Ryan Theriot (Patterson #15) – Most people were not as bullish on Theriot as Patterson was. He had a .340 BABIP last year (with no power) and the Dutton and Bendix xBABIP model had him for a .291 mark in the category. No one was expecting Theriot to post a .336 BABIP this season.

9. Yunel Escobar (Patterson #18) – It seems like just yesterday that pundits were referring to Escobar as a “Yutility infielder” and now he is a solid starter in a 12-team mixed league.

10. Asdrubal Cabrera (Patterson not in top 25) – Cabrera was draft worthy coming into the season due to his eligibility at both 2B and SS. A .359 BABIP has made him a starter in most leagues, although he has also contributed more SB than anyone expected.