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Underrated Shortstops: Marte and Crawford

There has been a lot of talk in the early fantasy baseball prep that shortstop is a much-improved position. While that may be the case with youngsters like Corey Seager, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor, if you miss out on their high price tag there is a steep drop in talent. Here are two players I will be targeting at the position if I wait at the position in drafts.

Ketel Marte

When the Diamondbacks and Mariners swapped shortstops over the winter, much of the talk centered on Jean Segura. Given what he accomplished last season, that’s little surprise and also deserved. However, Ketel Marte deserves more attention and should be valued more highly than the 21st shortstop off the board.

Marte’s carrying fantasy skill is his ability to steal bases. In 656 at bats though his first two seasons in the big leagues, he has averaged a stolen base attempt every 17.87 at bats and has a total of 19 steals in 28 attempts. This season, there is potential for both his attempts and efficiency to improve. First, he should have a chance to secure the leadoff spot in the Diamondbacks order, and If he can, that will be a better situation for him to run than last year when he was used predominantly as the ninth hitter in the Mariners lineup.

Even if he cannot secure the leadoff role, his chance for steals should improve based on team context. The Diamondbacks have been fourth and first respectively in stolen base attempts the past two seasons. Meanwhile, the Mariners were 15th last season and 24th in 2015. The one note of caution to these stats is that the Diamondbacks have a new manager in Torey Luvullo, who could affect the frequency at which the team runs on the base paths.

Finally, the hitting environment is more friendly in Arizona than Seattle by nearly any site’s park factor. As evidence for what that environment can do for a batter, one need not look further than Jean Segura last season. Segura recorded a .326, .275, and .298 BABIP respectively in his three full seasons with the Brewers, and in his one season with Arizona that number jumped to .353. Marte had .341 and .313 BABIPs in Seattle even with a career IFFB rate of 12.6%, which makes it hard to predict that there is much room for growth in that regard. Still, the shift in parks does leave some upside for Marte to get on base and steal bags. If he is able to do so, the potential for a jump in runs scored could also be expected given the strong batters behind him, including A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt.

After factoring all of these things into a projection, it should be safe to pencil in Marte for 20 steals, 70 runs, and an average that won’t kill your fantasy team. He is worth taking earlier than his current ADP, however, based on the potential for 30+ steals, a .300 average, and 80+ runs. The ingredients are there, and for that reason he is a great pick to prop up your stolen base numbers late in drafts.




Brandon Crawford

Crawford is more valuable than his ADP because of the safe floor he provides, as opposed to Marte who provides more upside but also plenty of risk. While there was some fluctuation in Crawford’s numbers, he has now been relatively stable in fantasy value for the past two years.

Crawford will be on the field nearly every day due to his strong defensive ability and because he can hit both left and right-handed pitching. Penciling him in for 145 games is realistic and should give him enough at-bats to compile enough counting stats to be a viable fantasy asset.

Last year, Crawford’s HR/FB% fell back to his career rate after a career-best in 2015. Expecting his rate to jump back up given his home park and career track record would be unrealistic, making his 2015 percentage of 16.2 look more and more like an outlier. That said, 10-12 home runs seems like a reasonable expectation.

While AT&T Park may not be a home run haven, it’s spacious grounds do present opportunities for extra base-hits. Crawford took advantage of that last year as he recorded 39 combined doubles and triples, keeping his slugging percentage and RBI total in line with his 2015 numbers. He also saw a nice increase in both his average and on-base percentage with his batting average jumping from .256 in 2015 to .275 in 2016 and on-base percentage from .321 and .342. If he can maintain his ability to both hit for extra bases and get on base, his RBI total in the 80s from the past two seasons should be safe and would have some potential to climb closer to 100.

Finally, although positional scarcity has lost its appeal in the fantasy community, there is a large drop-off in talent after the elites of the position are taken. Many of the players taken directly before Crawford at the position,  Aledmys Diaz, Elvis Andrus, Troy Tulowitzki, Brad Miller, Tim Anderson, Dansby Swanson, and Marcus Semien, have question marks due to playing time or health, or will only contribute in one or two category. Crawford provides a bit of everything, even a handful of stolen bases, and is a safe bet for playing time. That gives him a nice floor, so if you miss out on the elite shortstops, Crawford will be a player worth targeting and is a viable bottom-end starter in 12 team mixed leagues.

 

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Dan Marcus
Dan recently moved to Columbus, Ohio but is a lifelong Pittsburgh sports fan. Fantasy baseball was and always will be his favorite fantasy sport, but he also enjoys football and basketball as well.

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