Want to Gamble?

Throughout your draft, you will be faced with difficult decisions on whether to take the risky player with upside, or the safer but less spectacular option. With most positions, there are relatively safe options at or near the top of the draft board. With shortstops, however, the “safe” picks don’t come until the middle rounds. When you draft one of the players with elite upside at this position you are quite literally rolling the dice. This piece will highlight the pros and cons of 4 potentially elite SS options so that owners can decide which might be worth the gamble.

Troy Tulowitzki

Pros: Tulo will most likely be the first SS on most draft boards, and it is easy to see why. He is one of the best overall hitters in baseball and will likely be selected near the end of round 1 in most 2014 drafts. If he is able to stay healthy, a full season’s line might look something like this:

.300, 95 Runs, 30 HR, and 105 RBI

Based on per game stats, Tulo was the 16th ranked everyday hitter in 2013. He is not really a threat to steal bases anymore, but those type of overall numbers from a scarce SS position should lend more to a top 5 overall selection. He would be in the conversation at pick # 3 overall alongside fellow MI Robinson Cano if owners could count on him to approach 162 games.

Cons: There is a reason that we use per game stats when discussing Troy Tulowitzki. A full season from Tulo is very much a hypothetical case. You might be more likely to spot a unicorn on your drive home from work than you would be to get 160 games from Tulo.

Tulo played a career high of 155 games back in 2009. He has only reached 150 games on one other occasion. He has missed 35 or more games in 4 out of his 7 full major league seasons, so we are not talking about a couple minimum DL stints here.

Conclusions: The combination of power and average from the SS position are a welcome addition to any fantasy roster, but make sure you have a back-up plan ready when the inevitable DL trip occurs. Personally, I would draft Tulo near the beginning of the second round. I would not take him in the first simply because I want a more reliable player to anchor my offense.

Players I would definitely draft before Tulo: Andrew McCutchen, Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto, Chris Davis, Carlos Gonzalez (super risky too, I know)

Players I would consider drafting before Tulo: Adam Jones, Clayton Kershaw, Edwin Encarnacion, Ryan Braun, Adrian Beltre, Hanley Ramirez?

note: These draft lists are geared towards annual leagues. In a keeper format, they would include a few more young phenoms.

Hanley Ramirez

Pros: While Tulo’s upside is impressive, Hanley’s is stratospheric. Here are his numbers from 2007 through 2010:

2007- .332, 125 Runs, 29 HR, 81 RBI, 51 SB
2008- .301, 125 Runs, 33 HR, 67 RBI, 35 SB
2009- .342, 101 Runs, 24 HR, 106 RBI, 27 SB
2010- .300, 92 Runs, 21 HR, 76 RBI, 32 SB

This all seems like a distant memory. Hanley will not approach 50 SBs again, nor will he score 125 runs but production similar to 2010 seems realistic. When we look at what Hanley was able to accomplish over just 86 games this past year, there is a lot of reason for optimism. Here are the numbers:

.345, 62 Runs, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 10 SB

Considering that he logged just 303 ABs, this is a lot closer to super-elite Hanley Ramirez than what we saw in 2011 and 2012. On a per game basis, only Miguel Cabrera had a more productive fantasy season than Hanley in 2013. A full season for a healthy and motivated Ramirez batting in the middle of the Dodgers’ talented line-up could look like this:

.315, 100 Runs, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 20 SB

What would you pay for that type of production from the SS position?

Cons: The upside here is greater than Tulo’s, but so is the downside risk. Hanley has produced disappointing results over the past 3 seasons due both to injury and general malaise. In 2013, the issue was the injury bug. He suffered a torn thumb ligament during the World Baseball Classic costing him most of the season’s first 2 months. He then injured his hamstring shortly after returning from the DL. Bruised ribs again shelved Hanley for a couple games during the NLCS. The end result was a total of 86 regular season games played and more questions than ever.

The injury bug also bit in 2011 as Hanley only played 92 games. Even in seasons where he has been able to avoid the DL, minor tweaks and bumps have cost him games. Hanley has gone over 154 games once in his 8 seasons as a full time player.

If injuries were the only risk factor here, owners would probably still be willing to pay top dollar. There have also been doubts about Hanley’s focus and desire to play over the past 3 seasons. His numbers from both 2011 and 2012 were subpar for a player of Hanley’s calibur. He was even benched a couple times because of lack of hustle before being traded to LA.

While it might be easy to forgive Hanley for not being excited about playing for Jeffrey Loria’s franchise, his mental state is yet another risk factor potential owners need to weigh before selecting him. You just never know for sure where he is. Maybe Ramirez loses interest in 2014 if the team goes through unexpected struggles. It could be a tiff with a teammate or a coach that sets him off. Maybe he gets distressed when his favorite cast member on Dancing With the Stars gets sent home early. You just don’t know.

Will the stars align to allow Hanley Ramirez to produce to his full potential? How much are you willing to pay to find out?

Conclusions: Hanley Ramirez is the ultimate risk/reward player in fantasy baseball right now. If he hits, he could be the most valuable player to own. If he misses, like he has the last 3 years, owners will be tremendously disappointed given the likely price tag. Although I would have a difficult time drafting Hanley in the first round, he should be selected right around the same time as Tulo.

Players I would definitely draft before Hanley: Andrew McCutchen, Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto, Chris Davis, Carlos Gonzalez, Adam Jones

Players I would consider drafting before Hanley: Clayton Kershaw, Edwin Encarnacion, Ryan Braun, Adrian Beltre, Troy Tulowitzki?

Jose Reyes

Pros: Reyes is still one of the best lead-off hitters in baseball today. He will hit for average (between .280 and .300) and he is still a top base stealing threat. Thirty to forty SBs would be a reasonable projection for 2014. Once you add in the 10-15 HR power and the increased RBI potential that the move to the AL provides, it is easy to see why Reyes is a highly sought after fantasy asset.

Based on per game stats, Reyes was the third ranked SS in 2013. Here is what owners might expect from a healthy Reyes in 2014:

.290, 105 Runs, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 35 SB

Cons: Like his SS peers, Reyes has been bitten by the injury bug in the past few years. He has appeared in more than 133 games only once since 2008. He missed 36 games in 2012 and 69 in 2013. Much was made of the potential impact that the turf at Skydome would have on Reyes’ tight hamstrings, but instead it was a severe ankle sprain that did him in this year.

Conclusions: My personal preference is to use my premium picks to invest in hitters whose primary asset is something other than speed, so I would not be investing in Reyes at his likely price tag anyway. The injury risk pretty much clinches things for me. Unless he falls to the 5th round or so, I won’t be owning Jose Reyes.

Players I would definitely draft before Reyes: Eric Hosmer, Allan Craig, Albert Pujols, Ryan Zimmerman, Carlos Gomez, Hunter Pence, Bryce Harper, many SPs

Players I would consider drafting before Reyes: Jason Heyward, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Alex Rios, Matt Carpenter, Jason Werth, Ian Desmond

Jean Segura

Pros: Jean Segura was the top rated SS in 5×5 leagues based on his whole season performance in 2013. The end of season stat line looks like this:

.294, 74 Runs, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 44 SB

Not too shabby for his first full season. It would be really easy to look at that stat line and project greater run production numbers for 2014 along with similar HR and SB totals. The return of Ryan Braun can’t hurt Segura’s value. He should be locked in to either the lead-off spot or the two hole for the Brew crew next season. Hitting in front of Braun is prime real estate for any player, let alone one with the offensive tools that Segura possesses. Owners expecting a similar stat line in 2014 will look to pluck the 24 year old somewhere between rounds 3 and 4.

Cons: The downside for Segura has little to do with injury risk, although he did miss some time in September and finished 2013 with 146 games played. More alarming was the complete evaporation of the power stroke that he displayed before the all-star break. Here are his numbers both before and after the break:

Before – 92 Games, .325, 54 Runs, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 27 SB, .487 SLG
After- 54 Games, .241, 20 Runs, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 17 SB, .315 SLG

Optimists will point to the elite first half and suggest that the fall fade was due to Segura hitting the rookie wall. Doubters will say that pitchers began to figure Segura out over the course of the season and that the first half numbers were the aberration. The truth is likely somewhere in between.

Segura could be a 20 HR guy at some point, but his minor league track record does not suggest that will be anytime soon. Somewhere between 8-12 long balls is a fair projection for 2014. One thing that is undeniable is his speed. Segura is a great bet to steal 40, with an upside of 50+.

Detractors will say that pitchers caught up to Segura because of his poor plate discipline. He chases a lot of pitches outside the zone. His strong contact skills still allow him to make contact, but he will have a hard time hitting for power consistently until he shows more patience at the dish. Minor league stats demonstrate Segura’s ability to hit .300, but perhaps a projection between .270 and .280 is more realistic for next season, given his second half slide in 2013.

The following stat line would be a good middle of the road projection for Segura:

.275, 90 Runs, 10 HR, 55 RBI, 45 SB

Conclusions: These numbers are strong, but they look more like an Elvis Andrus line than prime Jose Reyes. I value Segura and Reyes very similarly for 2014 re-draft leagues. There will likely be a believer in most leagues, so I doubt I will end up landing him anywhere. Segura is simply too unlikely to fall to the point where I would select him, although he will make a good asset for somebody.

Players I would definitely draft before Segura: Eric Hosmer, Allan Craig, Albert Pujols, Ryan Zimmerman, Carlos Gomez, Hunter Pence, Bryce Harper, many SPs

Players I would consider drafting before Segura: Jason Heyward, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Alex Rios, Matt Carpenter, Jason Werth, Ian Desmond

Summary

There is no such thing as a risk free asset in fantasy baseball. Every player carries some risk, but some are certainly riskier than others. How owners manage risk vs. potential reward for each player that they draft goes a long way toward determining that owner’s success.

None of the elite SS options are for the faint of heart this year. If you plan to invest an early pick on this position, it could literally make or break your season. There are much safer options available in mid to late rounds, but risk lovers could really hit the jackpot by hitting on one of these players. Who do you like?

Tommy Landseadel

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Tommy is also known as tlance on the CBS and Sports Hoopla message boards. He has been playing fantasy baseball for 16 years in many different format types and looks forward to helping you with your fantasy baseball questions! You can now follow me on Twitter @tlandseadel

6 thoughts on “Want to Gamble?”

  1. Bogaerts just might be the safest after all 😀
    Scary position really!
    Nice piece Tommy. I just grabbed Reyes in our mock before everyone you mentioned not to besides Desmond. So much risk!! But ohhhhh how tempting they are with the upside 🙂

  2. Call me crazy, but I think I would feel best about taking Hanley. His upside is off the charts. Judging by our mock though, I doubt I will get the chance to own him next year. I bet he will he a top 10 pick on most sites if healthy in March.

    1. I really didn’t think Tulo or Hanley would be 1st rd guys. But yep, there they are, both grabbed in top 10.
      Too much risk for me, I won’t do it. Even at 12/13. I want security early. Maybe I’m just old (fashioned) ha

  3. I don’t know if you were aware of this, but the hamstring Segura had a problems with at the end of this year was the same one he tore in the minors and missed 2/3 of a season for in 2011. He also had some pulls in the same hamstring in 2009.

    Granted he made it through most of this season without a problem, but it’s still something to keep in mind if he has issues with it next year. Considering he’s more speed than power, something like this could sink his value if it becomes a reoccuring issue.

  4. Good point Jim. I tend to give young players the benefit of the doubt when it comes to injury risk, but hamstring injuries are no joking matter for players who derive most of their value from their ability to run. That is especially troubling when it is a potentially chronic issue like this.

    1. on a positive note it seems to only occur on odd years so he should be good to go for 2014 *knock on wood*

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