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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.