Hot buys at shortstop

If you’ve been reading the site lately, you no doubt have a good idea of who to stay away from or outright avoid in your fantasy drafts coming up. Let’s complete the gap in your fantasy baseball knowledge (because this is clearly the only place you need to go for fantasy news and analysis) by giving a few hot buys at shortstop.

The nature of fantasy is not always just picking the best guy, but spending the right amount to maximize return. I could just give you a list of the five best shortstops in my opinion. However, I think the consequences of that are short-reaching and negligible. Instead, we’ll look at what guys have lower stock than they deserve — whether it be from a down year, a hot year that people have overstated the regression, or simply players we’ve been sleeping on. So enough with the pleasantries, here’s my list.

Xander Bogaerts

Not exactly a hot take here, but there is decent speculation around what the future holds for the former top prospect. He’s had a couple of All-Star caliber years, and then in 2017 he fell to just “above average.” His wRC+ went from 111, to 115, to 96 this past year, helped in part to a 21-point decrease in batting average without any power benefits (ISO dropped 22 points). There is warranted concern about his ability to get and keep the ball in the air — something that’s going to limit his power going forward unless he can fix it.

Bogaerts is still just 25 years old, and it’s important to remember how much age can affect noise. Bogaerts’ cohorts in age and performance have shown to have bounce back years, which is why he’s projected to have a wRC+ around 110 this season. He can hit 20 homers as we’ve seen, and with a few subtle tweaks to his swing plane, he should be back around that mark in 2018.

Brandon Crawford

A similar situation to Bogaerts, Crawford is coming off a down year, although at 31 years old, it’s time to wonder how much a bad year can be related to bad luck, and how much of it is a trend. Fortunately for Crawford, his past three seasons before 2017 saw him as an above-average hitter (and even better for shortstop specific ranks), and he hasn’t really changed much in his hitting profile to suggest there’s something looming causing the deterioration.

Crawford’s power in 2017 was nearly the same as 2016 (.156 ISO to .151), but it was the contact that hurt him. A 22-point drop in batting average drove the decrease in wRC+, but he still is getting good hard contact rates and going the other way plenty. Crawford saw his BABIP dip, which is an expected reason for his season given the normal peripherals otherwise. With some regression back to the mean on that, Crawford should be back to being an above-average pick at short. Unlike my colleague Kenny, I like Crawford.

Tim Beckham

Oh, the stories of Tim Beckham. Picked first overall instead of Buster Posey, suspended for drug use in his extended minor league progression, struggling with his team who kept him based off of his draft value, until finally getting traded to a division rival. And just as always seem to happen with those trades, Beckham started lighting it up with the Orioles. He went from a 45 wRC+ in July with the Rays to a 183 mark in August with the Orioles, finishing his second half with them at a 120 wRC+.

Beckham actually decreased his hard contact marks, but he went the other way much more often. Beckham’s loss of hard contact is almost welcome, because he had been swinging out of his shoes to sell out for power. Bringing it down and going opposite more frequently calmed him down offensively to be able to have the success we’ve seen.

Jorge Polanco

The Twins were pleasantly surprised with Polanco’s slightly above average 69-game stint in 2016, and it was almost expected for him to come falling back down in 2017 from a 101 wRC+ to an 89 mark. Polanco seems like he might be fading back into the obscurity from whence he came, yet there’s enough peripheral numbers to look at to give him an extended look.

Polanco saw his BABIP crash completely from .328 to .278, a heavy 50-point drop. While his first number is high and perhaps unsustainable, his second number is even more of an outlier. Polanco makes hard contact with good batted ball profiles (increased his fly ball rate in 2017 to almost 40%), so we should expect to see his BABIP increase. He’s also increased his ISO from .143 to .154, thanks to more fly balls, and as he continues to put on muscle and adjust to pitchers, this number could climb up to above average territory — a rarity for shortstops. In addition, he has exceptional discipline at the plate, striking out just 14.3% of the time. His walk rate remains average and has yet to catch up, but by simply putting the ball in play as much as he does, with the increase in contact, we can expect Polanco’s 2018 will be looking bright.

 

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James Krueger

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James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.

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