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Jhonny Peralta and Yunel Escobar: Scraping Bottom

If there’s one thing that we can take away from reviewing Zach Sanders’ Shortstop End of Season Rankings, it’s that the position, on the whole, is not very strong. The overall drop-off going from Jimmy Rollins at number one with a $22 value to say, J.J. Hardy at number 17 ($8) or even Zack Cozart at number 22 ($1) isn’t that dramatic and Rollins’ numbers really weren’t anything to freak out about. So if you choose to wait on the position in 2013 and not invest big money in one of the top five, you’re not exactly slitting your fantasy throat. In fact, when you start scraping the bottom of the barrel and end up with Jhonny Peralta or Yunel Escobar, you’re not really doing damage to your team, but you’re also not doing much to help it either.

The simple fact about guys like Peralta and Escobar is that you don’t actively seek to draft either of them. You end up with them. You’ve built up your team at the other positions, and then you’re basically just looking for a warm body to plug the hole at shortstop with a guy who will at least go out there every day and and play. Hopefully he contributes something, but so long as he’s not batting .205 without a lick of power or speed, he’ll do. Both players, as well as any of these guys ranked below them, more or less, serve that purpose.

Peralta was at his most valuable back in 2007 and 2008 when he was banging 20-plus home runs with an average in the .270’s. In the four years since, he’s re-visited those numbers just once, and in the surrounding years, including last season, his level of production could best be summed up with the phrase, “ho hum.” Average walk rate, slightly better than average strikeout rate, middling power, no speed. His one resurgent year (2011) gave a glimmer of hope, but when his ground ball rate spiked back over 40-percent again and his peripherals all regressed, you could tell that it was more of an aberration than a turnaround. So long as he was continuing his career, he was going to stay around the 12-15 homer range with a low-.250ish average and numbers closely associated with a guy batting towards the bottom of the order. Again, not killing you, but not doing anything to help. There’s not much upside other than hope, but the downside is already where you’re at.

Escobar is a slightly different story. From a numbers standpoint, you’re looking at slightly less power than Peralta but with a potentially better average and better on-base totals. He doesn’t strike out very often and usually has a slightly better-than-average walk rate to go along with his 10-12 home runs. He has decent contact rates, but he hits so many ground balls that there’s a fair amount of BABIP luck involved during years his numbers sit on the high-end for him. Not really someone you want to rely on, but someone the law of averages says you can live with. His low walk rate and aggravating penchant to swing outside the zone more last year led to what could be construed as the beginning of the end for him, but it does seem correctable. Not to the point of improvement to a career-year, but to the point where he was the year before — nothing special, but noting that will drag down your squad. Of course, there’s also the whole personality problem, but that’s a different story.

So if you need to pick a throw-away spot on your roster, shortstop seems likely to be the best place to start. You can get middling talent at bargain prices and hold steady until you start wheeling and dealing to make various improvements. You won’t be getting mammoth production from the spot, but you’re also not sitting there with a gaping hole in your lineup that causes you to make trades out of desperation. You’ll always be looking for an upgrade, but you’ll never be in a major rush to get it.