MLB Fantasy Preview 2013: SS Value with Desmond/Escobar
We live in a world where Ian Desmond is statistically the number one fantasy shortstop available this season. This is not a test; this is real life.
Who do you think is better? Jose Reyes? Sorry, batting average and stolen bases aren't subject to Canada/U.S. conversion rates. Derek Jeter? 2008 called, they want their stats back (I agreed to give them the Black Eyed Peas and a draft pick to be named later). Hanley Ramirez? Even with the confusing dual 3B/SS position availability, he had the hitting eye of Stevie Wonder last season.
Yes, the Pride of Washington (unless you're counting Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, or roughly five other players) is the best shortstop available this year. Read and weep over the available options, brought to you courtesy of our MLB Draft Kit and average draft positions taken from FFToolbox.com.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before we get into the meat of the list, I asked Chief Analyst Keith Goldner to break down the rankings and exactly what you should know about these numbers.
1. What type of scoring is this list based on?
The rankings are based on a category 12-team league. Categories are 5x5: SB, HR, Runs, RBI, Avg and W, K, SV, ERA, WHIP.
2. What exactly does the nF score measure, and how does that help my fantasy team?
The numberFire score takes a player's contributions across all categories versus a replacement level player that you could find on free agents. After summing the total contribution, each player's rating is then adjusted for his position eligibility based on the value of each position throughout the league due to position scarcity. For example, a catcher and outfielder with the same numbers will rank the catcher as the higher player due to the fact that it is a weak position.
3. Position scarcity? But the top catcher is at No. 47 and the top shortstop at No. 35! Should I really wait that long to grab those positions?
Simply put, yes.
4. Where do the projections come from, and why should I trust them more than anyone else?
The projections come from the same place that all our projections come from. First, we evaluate all players and teams using our advanced metrics. Then, we find the most comparable players playing on the most comparable teams historically, weighting each comparison according to that similarity. We then take those comparable players' historical stat lines as the building blocks for the projections.
With that out of the way, let's get to the list.
Top Ten Shortstops for 2013
1. Ian Desmond - Washington Nationals
Stat to Know: Percentage of Fly Balls that go for Home Runs
Want to know how a guy who hit 18 combined home runs in his first two seasons goes for 25 in his third? It's all about a little extra pop on pop flies. In 2010, 5.9 percent of Desmond's fly balls flew all the way out of the ballpark for a home run; in 2011, that number decreased a bit to 4.5 percent. But like everything in D.C., the number got inflated the longer Desmond was in office: his home run percentage ballooned to 13.8 percent of fly balls in his third full season. From what we've seen, that type of increase is usually statistically sound; the chances of him regressing to 4.5 percent again are small the season directly after his big year.
When to Take Him: Fifth Round
Let's be frank: we're one of the only places that is high on Ian Desmond. Most average drafts have him as the sixth or seventh shortstop taken. ESPN has him sixth in their Draft Kit. He's a fourth-round value, but likely, you will be able to wait and take him later than his true value lies. Make sure to take advantage of the different between perception and reality.
2. Jose Reyes - Toronto Blue Jays
Stat to Know: Strikeout to Walk Ratio
Sure, his .287 batting average during his one season in Miami wasn't fan-girl-swooning levels like his previous .337 BA in New York, but in some respects, Reyes may have actually had a better eye last season than any previous year in his career. Reyes struck out on only 7.8 percent of his plate appearances - the second-lowest of his career - while walking on 8.8 percent of his plate appearances - the third-highest of his career. That resulted in a 0.89 strikeout to walk ratio, the top proportion of his career (yes, even better than the 0.95 during his breakout season) and only the second time (and second straight time) he had more walks than strikeouts in a season.
When to Take Him: Middle Fourth to Fifth Round
Since he's more sought after than Desmond, you'll likely need to take Reyes earlier to ensure that he's on your team. That doesn't mean that he's not worth it, though. At No. 40, we have his value pretty square with his average draft position, right in that range where he won't be counted on to be a top guy, but still gives you one of the best options at his position. If you like Reyes more than Desmond, I wouldn't argue either; their numberFire scores are within the margin of error away from one another.
3. Troy Tulowitzki - Colorado Rockies
Stat to Know: Strikeout Rate
Well, it's nice to see that people haven't forgotten how solid Tulowitzki was when not injured in 2010 and 2011. But if I were targeting him in a fantasy draft, the number that I would be most pumped about isn't his batting average or his potential home runs. It would be his strikeout rate. You see, in 47 games last season, Tulowitzki was on par with most of his numbers - his home run percentage was a bit lower, but his walks, extra-base hits, grounders/fly ball ratio, and batting average were within the margin of error.
Oh, but those (lack of) strikeouts were a thing of beauty: Tulowitzki K'd on only 9.4 percent of his plate appearances in limited time last year. That was the first time he had been under 13 percent in his career, and that number has now decreased for four consecutive seasons heading into this year.
When to Take Him: Middle Fourth to Fifth Round
So here's the deal: Tulowitzki will be gone by this point. That's not a bad thing. Even taking into account the relative dearth of hard-hitting shortstops, the statistical loss in going from, say, Josh Hamilton (22.15 ADP) to Tulowitzki is way too high. Positional scarcity can only take you so far, especially when he's really not going to be that far off from Desmond or Reyes. The injury concerns don't help either. I'd pass.
4. Derek Jeter - New York Yankees
Stat to Know: OPS (On-Base + Slugging)
What, concerned about his age? Until he gives you a statically-sound reason to be concerned, then I wouldn't think twice about any potential drop off in production. Especially because, looking at the numbers, both Jeter's on-base percentage and slugging have increased in each of the past three seasons. Even with a decreasing walk rate, Jeter has still gotten on base progressively more over the past three seasons, moving from .340 to .355 to .362 OBP. And he's doing it through extra-base hits; 6.4 percent of his plate appearances last year went for extra-bases, his highest proportion since 2007.
When to Take Him: Late Sixth to Seventh Round
In a perfect world where people actually made statistically sound decisions, the fifth round would contain a run on shortstops unlike any other. Fortunately for me as a stat-head, we don't live in that world; instead, everyone will pass on Jeter in favor of the younger, supposedly higher upside plays. But age is only a number, and the statistics say that Jeter should absolutely be a top five shortstop this season. I wouldn't wait later than the seventh, just in case he gets taken from under your nose.
5. Jimmy Rollins - Philadelphia Phillies
Stat to Know: Home Run Rate
The common misconception of Jimmy Rollins as a stiff has been ingrained into the national consciousness at this point, thanks to the Philly media for hating yet another of their guys. To be fair though, they had a point. Since his 2007 MVP season with home runs in 3.9 percent of his plate appearances, Rollins had not hit home runs over 3.0 percent again... until last year. Rollins has been progressively building his power back up, from 2.0 percent of appearances in 2010 to 2.5 percent in 2011 and 3.3 percent last season. Rather than just the stolen bases as a plus, J-Roll can add a bit of pop in his bat once again.
When to Take Him: Seventh to Eighth Round
Once again, we have a guy that should be valued higher than where he actually is; we have him as a fifth or early sixth round selection. That's where you can gain value, though, taking advantage of other's misplays. If stolen bases is a high priority (or if you're like me and just really don't like the Yankees), Rollins instead of Jeter in that seventh round range could be a smart play. Both are similarly-ranked players that have different strengths - Jeter provides the BA and OBP, while Rollins will provide the SB and a few more HR.
6. Hanley Ramirez - Los Angeles Dodgers
Stat to Know: On-Base Percentage
Is Hanley Ramirez regressing as a hitter? It sure seems that way. Last season represented a career-high 22.2 percent strikeout rate, an 8.1 percent walk rate that was his lowest since 2007, and grounding into double-plays in a career high 12 percent of potential situations last season. Add that to a diminishing batting average, and you have a guy that has seen his on-base percentage get worse for four straight seasons, from .410 in 2009 to .378 in 2010 to .333 in 2011 to .322 last year. L.A. didn't help matters either; his OBP was only .002 better than when he was in Miami last year.
When to Take Him: Middle Sixth to Seventh Round
Just like with Troy Tulowitzki, I say this with the full knowledge that he won't be around come seventh round of your fantasy draft. That's not a bad thing. If he magically does slip to you in this range, feel free to pull the trigger; he's adequately rated at that point. Anything higher, however, and you're missing out on potential value, such as Billy Butler or Ian Kinsler that are going around his range and are better hitters. Once again, positional value means a lot, but not everything.
7. Alcides Escobar - Kansas City Royals
Stat to Know: Stolen Base Percentage
Stolen bases are one of those statistics that you often have them or you don't. People hit 15 home runs with regularity and provide value that way; you have a chance for a home run every time you step up to the plate, technically. With stolen bases, though, you're not going to be sent unless you can really run. Thankfully, Escobar is one of those guys. His percentage of bases stolen has increased steadily in each of his three years as an every day player, from 71 to 74 to 88 percent. I don't see him getting much higher than his 2012 numbers, but I do see Kansas City sending him. A lot.
When to Take Him: Eighth Round
No, I haven't lost my mind; give me a stolen base guy who can hit over .280 any day of the week. Our algorithm doesn't see last year's .293 batting average or 35 stolen bases as flukes, meaning that Escobar has two distinct advantages for your fantasy team. Tell me, would you rather have, say, Asdrubal Cabrera's .270 BA, 16 HR, and 9 steals from last season? Not in the least.
8. Starlin Castro - Chicago Cubs
Stat to Know: Stolen Base Percentage
Ideally, Starlin Castro for fantasy purposes (ignoring his glove work) would be Alcides Escobar with a bit more pop: a quick guy who can give you 15-20 HR and 30 SB in a season. However, based off of his stolen base percentage in Chicago thus far, he isn't trending that way. Castro stole 22 bases in 31 attempts in 2011, a 71 percent rate that was barely worse than Escobar's 74 percent. While Escobar increased his rate last season, however, Castro fell to 25-for-38, a 66 percent stolen base rate. There isn't much evidence he's going to get better; that's why our projections keep him at only 22 stolen bases this season. Would this be a good time to mention as well that Escobar also had a higher BA and OBP last season as well? Yes? OK then.
When to Take Him: Eighth Round
This is essentially a polite way of saying, "Don't take him where everybody else is going to be taking him." Until there is a statistical basis to prove that Castro is about to take "The Leap", there is no choice but to assume he will keep roughly the same statistics. His walk rate, strikeout rate, and OBP have stayed fairly constant during his time in Chicago. And those numbers indicate a later round value than his current unbelievable fourth-round ADP.
9. Elvis Andrus - Texas Rangers
Stat to Know: Extra-Base Hit Percentage
Let's face it, you're not getting Elvis Andrus for the home runs. You're getting him for the solid batting average, a few steals, and a good number of runs at the top of that Texas Rangers lineup. What you may be surprised by, though, is the increased number of RBIs that Andrus has turned in over the past couple of seasons. After no more than 40 runs batted in during his first two Texas seasons, Andrus has topped 60 each of the past two years. That's due to his newly-found penchant for extra-base hits.
Andrus went for extra-bases in only 2.7 percent of his plate appearances in 2010. By 2011, however, that number had increased to 5.3 percent, and by 2012, he was all the way up to 6.1 percent. Our projections see him staying steady right around that five to six percent mark, which means that his RBIs aren't going away.
When to Take Him: Ninth Round
While Andrus doesn't have the stolen base ability of Escobar or the potential power of Castro, his high batting average and his potential runs and RBIs from that potent Rangers lineup makes him an intriguing play. Especially with a current ADP of 136.04, he's worth waiting on, filling up other more important positions, then coming back and snagging in the ninth or tenth for maximum value.
10. Erick Aybar - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Stat to Know: Stolen Base Percentage
Once again, as it usually does with later round selections, it comes back to a high-priority category that is not readily available anywhere else: stolen bases. Aybar has never played more than 143 games in a single season, but he does have solid stolen base numbers: 22, 30, and 20 in the last three seasons, respectively. So why am I so high on his stolen base potential? Because he got those numbers in very few attempts: Aybar's stolen base percentage was 83 percent in each of the past two seasons. He gets on base (.324 OBP last season, has increased each of past three years), and if the Angels give him the go ahead, he could be deadly on the basepaths.
When to Take Him: Eleventh to Twelfth Round
If you've waited this long to take a shortstop, then you really shouldn't mind waiting just a tiny bit longer. Aybar is on very few people's radar right now; an ADP of 226.99 is a solid indicator of what people think about him. If not for the steep drop off after Aybar (No. 11 SS Asdrubal Cabrera is our No. 124 overall player), I'd say to wait even longer. With steals at a premium, you will want speed however you can get it. Doing it at a position with very few other benefits is just a bonus.