Bad or Bad Rap

If you followed along with our shortstop coverage here at Fantasy Assembly you’ve heard each one of us echo a similar sentiment; shortstop is thin. It is so thin that Will Emerson suggested Erick Aybar as a suitable player to roster (not as outlandish as it sounds).

Truth be told; while the position is thin, it is not without some hidden talent, and that talent is hidden in plain sight. All you have to do is dismiss your own prejudice and ignore the warnings you read from multiple fantasy publications about a couple of individuals who have been deemed players to avoid. Maybe avoid is a poor choice of words (for some), not everyone is saying you should ignore these players, but many do say they are low-end or mediocre options and that you can find better. I say they’re wrong.

So who are these two unheralded shortstops I am referring to? They are none other than Ben Zobrist and Jimmy Rollins. I know, I sense the bile creeping up in some of your throats and a few of you just threw up in your months a little, but hear me out. While each has been downplayed as a mediocre or bad option, both bring enough to the table to easily be top 10 options at the shortstop position. Let’s start things off simple with the 5 basic scoring categories used in fantasy.

Here are the top 10 shortstops for runs scored over the past 3 seasons.

2014 2013 2012
Player Runs Player Runs Player Runs
Jose Reyes 94  Elvis Andrus  91 Jimmy Rollins 102
Ben Zobrist 83  Jed Lowrie 80  Derek Jeter 99
Alexei Ramirez 83  Ben Zobrist 77  Ben Zobrist 88
Jimmy Rollins 78  Ian Desmond  77  Jose Reyes 86
Erick Aybar 77 Andrelton Simmons 76  Elvis Andrus 85
Alcides Escobar 74 Zack Cozart 74  J.J. Hardy 85
Asdrubal Cabrera 74  Jean Segura 74  Hanley Ramirez 79
Ian Desmond 73  Troy Tulowitzki 72  Starlin Castro 78
Elvis Andrus 72  Erick Aybar 68  Zack Cozart 72
Troy Tulowitzki 71  Alexei Ramirez 68  Ian Desmond 72

Jimmy Rollins was not a top 10 options in 2013; everyone has an off-year, but in three of the past 4 seasons Rollins has been a top 5 option for this category.  As for Ben Zobrist, for all the talk of his demise it is clear he can still score runs.  He has been a top 5 option for the runs category for 3 straight years.  The only other names that appear for all three years are Andrus and Desmond.  Now I’m not going to convince you of their worth with just runs so lets move on to runs batted in. 

Here are the top 12 shortstops for RBIs over the past 3 seasons.

 2014   2013   2012
Player  RBIs Player  RBIs Player  RBIs
Ian Desmond 91  Troy Tulowitzki  82  Hanley Ramirez 92 
Jhonny Peralta 75  Ian desmond 80  Starlin Castro 78 
Alexei Ramirez 74  J.J. Hardy 76  Ben Zobrist 74
Hanley Ramirez 71  Jed Lowrie 75  Ian Desmond 73 
Brandon Crawford 69  Ben Zobrist 71 Alexei Ramirez 73 
Erick Aybar 68  Elvis Andrus 67  Asdrubal Cabrera 68 
Starlin Castro 65  Stephen Drew 67  J.J. Hardy 68 
Asdrubal Cabrera 61  Asdrubal Cabrera 64  Jimmy Rollins 68 
Jordy Mercer 55  Zack Cozart 63  Jhonny Peralta 63 
Jimmy Rollins 55  Andrelton Simmons 59  Elvis Andrus 62 
Troy Tulowitzki 52 Hanley Ramirez 57 Mike Aviles 60
Ben Zobrist 52 Yunel Escobar 56 Derek Jeter 58

Just like with runs, Jimmy Rollins did not appear at the top of the list for 2013.  He was however a top 10 options in 3 of the past four seasons.  While he will never be a top option for RBIs, he is still a stable and consistent supplier to the category.  Zobrist does appear in all three years and is a top 5 option in two out of three; three out of four if you count 2011.  If I asked you before you saw this list who had more RBIs over the past three years between Zobrist and Tulowitzki, who would you have said?  Other than Zobrist, the only players to appear in the top 12 in all 3 years were Ian Desmond and Asdrubal Cabrera.  What about stolen bases?  Shortstop is known as the position you turn to for speed, right?

Here are the top 12 shortstops for stolen bases over the past 3 seasons.

2014  2013  2012  
Players  SB  Players  SB  Players  SB 
Alcides Escobar 31  Jean Segura 44  Everth Cabrera 44 
Jose Reyes 30  Elvis Andrus 42  Jose Reyes 40 
Jimmy Rollins 28  Everth Cabrera 37  Alcides Escobar 35 
Elvis Andrus 27  Alexei Ramirez 30  Dee Gordon 32 
Ian Desmond 24  Alcides Escobar 22  Jimmy Rollins 30 
Alexei Ramirez 21  Jimmy Rollins 22  Starlin Castro 25 
Danny Santana 20  Ian Desmond 21  Elvis Andrus 21 
Jean Segura 20  Jonathan Villar 18  Ian Desmond 21 
Everth Cabrera 18 Pedro Florimon 15 Hanley Ramirez 21
Jonathan Villar 17 Jose Reyes 15 Erick Aybar 20
Erick Aybar 16 Erick Aybar 12 Alexei Ramirez 20
Hanley Ramirez 14 Ben Zobrist 11 Aviles & Zobrist 14

Even with 2013 being an off-year, Rollins was still able to run the bases.  In fact, since 2001 Jimmy Rollins has been a top 5 option for steals in all but one year (he was tied for 8th in 2011).  Even if he were to lose a step in 2015, he should easily finish inside the top 10 for steals.  Zobrist on the other hand was and never will be a top option, but he has recorded double-digit steals for the past 6 seasons.  2014 was his worst season with 10 steals and odds are his 2015 total will not be any higher (but it shouldn’t be any lower either).  While he won’t provide you with elite steal totals, he will contribute to the category.  Moving on we have the home run category.

Here are the top 12 shortstops for home runs over the past 3 seasons.

2014   2013   2012  
Player  HR Player  HR  Player  HR 
Ian Desmond 24 J.J. Hardy 25  Ian Desmond  25 
Troy Tulowitzki 21  Troy Tulowitzki 25  Hanley Ramirez  24 
Jhonny Peralta 21  Hanley Ramirez 20  Jimmy Rollins  23 
Jimmy Rollins 17  Ian Desmond 20  J.J. Hardy  22 
Alexei Ramirez 15  Andrelton Simmons 17  Ben Zobrist  20 
Asdrubal Cabrera 14  Jed Lowrie 15  Alexei Ramirez  16 
Starlin Castro 14  Asdrubal Cabrera 14  Jed Lowrie  16 
Hanley Ramirez 13  Stephen Drew 13  Zack Kozart  15 
Xander Bogaerts 12 Jean Segura 12 Derek Jeter 15
Jordy Mercer 12 Zack Kozart 12 Starlin Castro 14
Brad Miller 10 Ben Zobrist 12 Mike Aviles 13
Ben Zobrist 10 Nick Franklin 12 Jhonny Peralta 13

Rollins missed the leaderboard in 2013, but just like with runs and RBIs he was a top 5 option for the category in three of the past four years.  Alexei Ramirez was 5th in the category with 15 home runs last season; that right there should tell you something about how rare power is at shortstop.  That makes those 10 home runs from Zobrist look pretty good in the grand scheme of things.  The days of Zobrist being a 20 home run guy are gone, but just like with steals he can put up double digits in the category and contribute more than most at the position.  Four down and one to go.

Here are the top 10 qualifying shortstops for batting average over the past 3 seasons.

2014  2013   2012  
Player  BA  Player  BA  Player  BA 
Starlin Castro  .292  Troy Tulowitzki .312 Derek Jeter .316
Jose Reyes .287 Jean Segura .294  Alcides Escobar .293
Alcides Escobar .285  Jed Lowrie .290  Ian Desmond .292
Hanley Ramirez .283 Alexei Ramirez .284  Erick Abar .290
Erick Aybar .278 Ian Desmond .280  Jose Reyes .287
Adeiny Hechavarria .276 Ben Zobrist .275 Elvis Andrus .286
Alexei Ramirez .273 Elvis Andrus .271 Starlin Castro .283
Ben Zobrist .272 Erick Aybar .271  Ben Zobrist .270 
J.J. Hardy .268 J.J. Hardy .263 Asdrubal Cabrera .270
Elvis Andrus .263 Yunel Escobar .256 Alexei Ramirez .265

You’re not going to find Jimmy Rollins’ name near the top any time soon; his time of being a contributor to this category are long gone.  Today, all you can expect is something in the .250 neighborhood.  Looking at the players listed 10th in each of the above years, that’s not far off nor half bad when you consider everything else he does.  Rollins is not going to help you here, but he won’t hurt much either.  Zobrist will though as he has been a top 10 for batting average for the past 3 seasons with consistency.  He’s not a batting average leader, but he is one of the best options after the top 5. 

Ben Zobrist is a top 10 player for batting average and runs scored and a top 12 for the other three categories.  Jimmy Rollins is a top 5 for runs and stolen bases, a top 10 for home runs and top 12 for RBIs.  How many other players can you name that are a top 10-12 player in at least 4 of the 5 basic scoring categories?  FantasyPros has Rollins & Zobrist ranked 8th and 9th, but when you click on the players and see the individual rankings there are a large number who don’t think they belong there. 

Both players are currently going off the board in round 14 (or there about).  This seems to be a theme as a number of underappreciated players are going around this spot that could provide more bang for their buck like Jonathan Papelbon, Shin-Soo Choo, Adam LaRoche, Matt Latos and Eric Hosmer – that’s a different story for another article.  This is their average draft range; some owners see the value of players like Zobrist and Rollins and take them a few rounds earlier while in other leagues they are falling even further.  Considering the lack of depth and instability at the shortstop position, this should not be happening.

The Rollins and Zobrist doubters will bring up a number of factors; age, declining underlying stats, loss of power or speed, the list goes on and on.  I too do this when analyzing players as it does help give you an idea of where a player’s career is headed.  But I also compare those players to the rest of the field at their position as I did above; when you do that, you see Rollins and Zobrist are not as bad as some people lead you to believe.  Sometimes you have to look past the underlying numbers and accept the fact that the numbers are the numbers.

Jered Weaver is a perfect example of this and someone I have referred to on a number of occasions.  Virtually every fantasy expert for years have been calling for his demise, yet every year he somehow manages to outperform what his underlying stats say he should be doing.  According to his xFIP, Weaver should have had an ERA over 4.00 the past 3 seasons.  Didn’t happen, did it?  Sure, Zobrist has lost some power and speed and isn’t the player he used to be, but his “mediocre” numbers have stabilized over the past two seasons to the point we know exactly what we are going to get.  Yes, Rollins isn’t getting any younger but he can still hit homers and steal bases like the best of them at his position.

When your draft rolls around; more specifically, when the middle portion of your draft rolls around and you don’t have your shortstop position filled, don’t look at Rollins or Zobrist thinking you can do better (or turn your nose up at them all together).  Put aside whatever personal bias you may have and give one of them a spot on your team.  You might get lucky with a later pick, but by grabbing one of these men you are getting a guaranteed top 10 option with little risk.
Feel free to come back and yell at me if it doesn’t turn out that way. 

Written by 

The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.

4 thoughts on “Bad or Bad Rap”

  1. Love this take Jim. People often look for new and sexy when old and reliable will win you just as many drafts. Zobrist also has the added benefit of position flexibility. If your 2B goes down but there’s an SS you like on the waiver wire, just slot reliable Ben in a new position and pick up the player you like.

  2. I settled on JRoll yesterday. All I’m looking for is 20 or mor bags and 15 hrs. The HRs are a stretch as he now plays out west but I agree he’s low risk if your getting him as late as I did.

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