“BORING” INTO THE SHORTSTOP FIELD

Ugh. That’s the first word that came to mind as I looked at the 2015 fantasy baseball shortstop field and pondered what to write about for shortstop week here at Fantasy Assembly.  I mean Tommy Landseadel already gave you a pretty solid plan for drafting a SS, and Michael Zakhar broke down, well, part of why the word “ugh” entered my head as I prepared to write this. What stands out? What is exciting at shortstop for 2015? There are a few possible breakout candidates, I suppose, but generally nothing about this year’s full-time shortstops really revs my engine. Revs my engine? What am I even saying? Do ya see? Do ya see what these shortstops are doing to me?! So, what should one do when there’s not much excitement to be found? Go boring, of course. Pretty sure that is not a saying at all, but how about you pretend it is for the purposes of this post? Thanks, I really appreciate you doing that for me. Where were we? Oh, right, boring.

Boring may have more of a negative connotation than it really should in this instance. Boring is not always bad. For fantasy baseball you’re going to field a team of at least 23 players. Twenty-three and, let’s be honest, probably more than that to field a fantasy baseball team. They’re not all going to be sexy and exciting, folks. In fact, when it comes to shortstop in 2015, the odds of you landing sexy and exciting are not super high. But haven’t you heard? At shortstop, boring and safe is the new sexy and exciting (or at least it darned well should be in 2015) and it doesn’t get much more safe and boring at shortstop, than Erick Aybar.

Like I said, I don’t mean to put any sort of negative connotation on “safe and boring” here and this cannot be stressed enough, because Erick Aybar is a perfectly acceptable option to fill your SS slot. In fact, did you know Aybar was a top ten shortstop in 2014 in most leagues? Hmm, did ya? Be honest. How about, did you know over the past four seasons Aybar is tenth in weighted runs created (wRC+) by a shortstop? Granted that is not a stat used in fantasy baseball scoring, but I like to think it helps create a base for his offensive value. Plus, the top of the list for that particular statistic adds some weight to that number. Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Jhonny Peralta and Ian Desmond are atop the list in that category over that four-year span, so the statistic has some value, no? It’s not the end-all be-all but it certainly is significant enough to mention. Since most people (myself included) do not really fully understand how wRC+ translates to fantasy goodness, let’s get to some data that is a far easier to translate.

The thing that makes Aybar boring, but also safe, is consistency. Just take a look at his numbers in each of the past four seasons:

Year AVG OBP SLG HR RBI Runs SB
2011 0.279 0.322 0.421 10 59 71 30
2012 0.290 0.324 0.416 8 45 67 20
2013 0.271 0.301 0.382 6 54 68 12
2014 0.278 0.321 0.379 7 68 77 16

Other than the drop in slugging and that somewhat higher stolen base total in 2011, Aybar has been pretty consistent. Look at last year’s slash line, for instance, .278/.321/.379. Boring, sure, but also…say it with me, safe. Aybar’s career slash line is .277/.318/.385. That is pretty darned closed to his 2014 numbers. Numbers that I may have mentioned were good enough to be a top ten fantasy shortstop. Now, I can’t say that a repeat of those numbers will guarantee a spot in the top ten this time around but, if you were reading closely, you may have noticed earlier in this piece, someone mentioning how the big breakouts guys seem to be few and far between at the shortstop position.

Some (including yours truly) like the upsides of Xander Bogaerts, Jung Ho Kang and Wilmer Flores and that is perfectly fine. I am most assuredly not going to steer you away from those fellas or tout Aybar as a better fantasy player than them in 2015. Aybar’s current ADP is in the 230’s and of the three aforementioned shortstops only Bogaerts is going earlier, down in the 180’s. Think of where that is in your draft. In 12 teams leagues the 230s are the 20th round. Twentieth! You should be well stocked with plenty of players you are excited about by that point in your draft, I would think. Of course, these later rounds are where most generally want to gamble a bit more, but knowing Aybar is sitting there allows you to maybe focus on the studs at deeper positions (read: pretty much every other position) and gamble there? Heck, maybe waiting for Aybar allows you to take a minor gamble on one of the big name shortstops at the top of the draft?

I think we can agree that Tulo, Hanley and Desmond are the top three at the position, but all three have a question mark or two that comes with them, as well. It looks like, for the most part, Tulo is going early in the second round and, on occasion late in the first round. Like the old saying goes and I am paraphrasing here, you may not necessarily win your league in the first couple of rounds, but you can certainly lose your league in the first couple of rounds. The only reason some are down on drafting Tulo that high, is because of the injury history. There is very little question that a full season of a healthy Troy Tulowitzki would be the bee’s knees, however that hasn’t happened much, lately.

But remember, even with injuries, Tulo is only two seasons removed from a 512 plate appearance season. Not quite a full season, but let’s take those 126 games two years ago and say that is what you get from him in 2015. You most likely have the best fantasy shortstop for 126 games and then 30 or so of Erick Aybar…that happens to be coming off a year in which he was a top ten shortstop. With Tulo’s numbers, based on Steamer projections, over 126 games translate loosely into 23-24 homers, 78 RBIs, 72 runs with let’s say his career slash line of .299/.373/.517. Now let’s say you combine that with the average projected production of Erick Aybar over, say, 30 games.

Based on current projections, over 30 games, you could expect about 1-2 homers from Aybar which, if combined, with the Tulo numbers, is 24-26 homers. How many shortstops do we project to do that in 2015? Answer, one. A healthy Troy Tulowitzki. Now, for runs and RBIs. When we use the same simplistic formula to extrapolate the prorated, projected numbers for Aybar, we get 13-14 runs and 12 RBI’s. Add that to the Tulo numbers and here are the numbers over a full season 24-26 homers, 90 or so runs and 84 RBIs, with a rough slash line of .290/.355/.480. Not many steals will really occur, but you can live with the rest of those numbers, for sure. Okay, but hold on, it’s not that simple. Obviously, I realize that there are several flaws, in this plan. The biggest one being that, baseball is not played in a vacuum and, while this will play fine for rotisserie and points standings leagues, we can’t just go in all willy-nilly thinking this can translate as well to head-to-head leagues.

The problem for tête-à-tête leagues is that you can’t assume the same average production week to week. Even if you knew the final numbers, they could come in bunches and if Tulo does go down, when he goes down would be a huge factor. If Tulo goes down in, I dunno, August, you are now missing big power, that poor little, boring and safe Erick Aybar won’t be able to provide. So maybe this particular strategy is more for non head-to-head leagues, but if I am in a roto league, I would definitely consider that strategy and, to a lesser degree, in head-to-head. Of course, there is the other strategy, which is load up on power bats everywhere else on your make-believe roster, and land a shortstop who is, no, not sexy and exciting, but rather, boring and safe. As late as Aybar is going right now, I’m okay grabbing him and maybe a Jung Ho Kang late in my draft. Kang could tear up major league pitching in 2015, but no one is going to gamble a big price on it, so why not have a nice little safety net, so you can roll the dice with the South Korean import?

I think the biggest point I am trying to make is, well aside from the fact Erick Aybar is boring is safe, is that knowing you could conceivably land a potential top ten shortstop around the 20th round, opens up some more plays for you earlier in the draft. Why not just back and clean up at other positions, as shortstops you don’t like and or trust get plucked from the player pool? Aybar is hardly elite in any category, but you know what you’re getting and he won’t really break you in any category. So, remember, at shortstop in 2015, boring and safe is the new exciting and sexy!

Will Emerson

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Affectionately know by close friends as Willie Moe, Will is back living in Boston after brief, 11 year stint, in upstate New York. Will loves numbers and baseball, so it is no surprise that he has been addicted to fantasy baseball for over two decades. That’s right, Will was playing fantasy baseball since before the internet was providing up to the minute stats and standings, and you had to get your hands inky checking box scores in the newspaper.