- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

Shortstops on the Rise

Earlier today, Erik rolled out our Shortstop rankings and tiers.  For kicks we should reveal the individual lists we used for our combined rankings as the variability is remarkable, and it demonstrates just how fluid this position is. To be sure, shortstop is my biggest conundrum headed into 2011 as it seems there isn’t a tremendous amount that differentiates the majority of these guys after you get out of the second tier.  So here’s to trying to mine some risers from the list that might provide a little something added to a middling or low draft pick at what is shaping up to be an awfully uninspiring inventory at the 6.

Ian Desmond

That Desmond is a riser on this list is a testament to the lack of high quality fantasy contributors at shortstop. It also reflects an assumption that he will improve upon what was actually a fairly productive year at the plate in his rookie debut.

For fun, a quick shortstop comparison from 2010:

Player A: .269, 10 HR’s, 65 RBI, 17 SB

Player B: .270, 10 HR’s, 67 RBI, 18 SB

Sure, I’m leaving out the massive chasm between the two in runs scored, but Player A is Ian Desmond and B is Derek Jeter.  No, I’m not saying Ian Desmond is Derek Jeter, but that six slots in our rankings separate the two, and roughly 8-10 rounds separate their ADP (average of 51 to 153, Jeter to Desmond) sheds light on just how fine the differences are top to bottom.

But enough about the Capt’n, the thing to like about Desmond is that he can give you solid contributions across four categories and won’t kill you in a fifth (RBI). He’s likely to hit out of the 2 slot this season, and that ain’t a bad place to be with Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth behind you, so the chances that he scores 70-75 runs seem awfully good. Most projection systems suggest his power and speed numbers ought to creep up a tad this season, putting him in the mid teens in home runs and potentially grabbing 20+ bags.  He isn’t one for a free pass and his strikeout rate is likely to stick around 20%, so you probably want to steer clear in a league with OBP, but a shortstop with an ADP in the 150’s who could deliver .280/15/65/70/20 would be a solid pickup if you find yourself needing both a shortstop and some stolen bases.

Starlin Castro

Did you know that Castro had more doubles in 2010 than Derek Jeter or Hanley Ramirez?  In 125 games, Castro proved his rapid ascent through the minor leagues wasn’t a fluke with a triple-slash of  .300/.347/.408.  But perhaps because he only hit three round trippers and stole 10 bags, he did it awfully quietly, not getting a ton of attention outside of Chicago. Headed into 2011, while there may not be room for great improvement, we should expect that Castro can continue to build on his rookie season by providing solid fantasy contributions in batting average, runs, and stolen bases.

There will be a lot of folks that will point immediately at Castro’s .346 BABIP and cry foul, but with a ground ball rate over 50% and a high contact rate, it’s possible this isn’t an outlier at all.  Obviously, we have just 500 plate appearances at the major league level to dissect so a lot will be gleaned from what he does this year, but I wouldn’t discount his ability to hit for high average based on a perceived luck factor.

His combined ADP is right around 158, so you might be staring at both he and Desmond if you’re needing a shortstop in the middle part of the draft.  You’ll have to ask yourself what you need more, the extra 10 home runs or the .20 points on the batting average.  Or punt.

Alcides Escobar

I was pretty surprised to see Escobar traded this offseason, although I guess you have to give up something to get Zach Greinke, huh? But swiping just 10 bags all year last year after stealing 176 in 647 minor league games in his career, I’m rather excited to see what he will be capable of in Kansas City.

To say Escobar didn’t hit in 2010 would be kind. He posted the lowest Batting Average, OBP%, SLG%, w/OBA, and w/RC+ of any regular NL shortstop. On top of it, the primary weapon that Escobar had, his wheels, was all but abandoned. If anyone could use the proverbial change of scenery, it is Escobar.

Now with KC, we will hopefully get to see what Escobar can really do. Nobody expects him to hit for power, but for a guy with contact skills similar to that of Castro (not quite the ground ball rate), we should expect his BABIP to significantly improve over the .246 from 2010.  And the more he gets on base, the more chances he has to cut loose those legs. The big problem right now with Escobar might be plate appearances as he’s penciled in as the #9 hitter, which, compared with leading off, is going to rob him of about 150 plate appearances, and that’s significant.

He’s being drafted as early as 202 (ESPN) and as late as 352 (MDC), with Yahoo in between – so it’s tough to dial in a reliable ADP. But if you’re a believer in the wheels and still in need of a shortstop in late rounds, .275/5/45/65/25 should look pretty tempting.