With the regular season over, it’s time to look at 2017 and beyond. For keeper formats, I’m looking at risers and fallers in our 2017 rankings, as well as highlighting where I differ from the rest of the Assembly team. There seem to be many positions with a strong youth core, and shortstop isn’t any different, going at least six deep.
Asdrubal Cabrera – He simply doesn’t get any respect. Last year he was ranked by only two of our six staffers. Then after he hit .280 with 23 HR in 2016, one person still decided he didn’t warrant a top-20 ranking (spoiler alter). Look, he’s not young anymore, but just because he’s now in his 30s, that doesn’t mean he’s not worthy of a keeper slot and a full-time starting role on a fantasy team.
Asdrubal put up a career best hard hit rate, along with a consistently respectable LD% and contact rate. Earlier in his career he had a higher ground ball tilt, but for the last several years he’s been much more neutral in his batted ball profile. More fly balls means more chances for his MLB average power to come into play. In fact, he may have fond a new approach to increase his homers output. He posted a career best HR/FB, and though it may not be fully sustainable, it’s not a complete glitch.
For starters, he hit more home runs at home, in spacious Citi Field, than he did on the road. His more pull-happy approach when he bats lefty is working. And his half-season splits for HR/FB over the last two seasons have been 5%, 13%, 12%, 16%. After a rocky beginning to 2015, he’s been above average in power. He may need a little luck for a full repeat, but even a .270, 20 HR season is going to be valuable for a player up the middle — and he won’t cost that much.
Jose Peraza – He got a chance to play due to Cozart’s injury and an uninspiring Reds outfield, and he didn’t look back. His stats look solid for the season: .324, 21 SB. He had his ups and downs, but that’s to be expected from a young hitter. The fact that he can play multiple positions (super-utility is the fad, after all) means he’ll stay in the lineup. His speed and better batting average may lead to him leading off soon — heck, his BA alone was better than Cozart’s and Hamilton’s OBP.
There are some reasons to be cautious, however. First, his approach is to make contact (86%) and run it out. A BABIP over .370 for the year (and near .400 in the second half) isn’t likely sustainable, so the average is going to come down some. Second, his line drive rate was pretty good all season, but he only had one month with a hard hit rate above average. If his line drives fall off to more groundres, and he continues making pretty weak contact, he wont’ be quite as appealing. That said, his speed is elite, and so his BA floor is decent. There are quite a few speedy ground ball hitters at the position, so he doesn’t stand out to me.
Tim Anderson – Speaking of speedy ground ball hitters, here’s Tim Anderson! Another shortstop with elite speed, and a .370 BABIP in 2016, and a poor walk rate. However, there are some apparent differences. First, Anderson’s contact was too low for my liking at 71% in 2016. He also hit fewer line drives than Peraza, with a very obvious ground ball tilt (54%). That’s one of the reasons his batting average floor isn’t as good as Peraza’s.
That said, his LD% wasn’t bad, at 21%. What’s more, he offers league average power, so even though his fly ball rate is low, he should continue to flirt with double-digit home runs each season. He did make contact gains from the first half (67%) to the second (73%), so there’s hope he can mature and maybe even learn to take a walk. The White Sox currently have no competition for Anderson, whereas Peraza could be stuck in a super-utility role. I ranked these guys back-to-back, but as I said, there seem to be a lot of shortstops with this hitter profile right now. I’m not going to go crazy for any of them until I see one take the next step.
Aledmys Diaz – Last year, Diaz didn’t profile as a high-rising prospect. However, Peralta went down, and so did Tejada, opening the door for the Cuban, and he took off. The only thing that stopped him was missing about a month and a half on the DL. Given that some pundits weren’t drooling over him before he hit the bigs, was 2016 a fluke, or can he keep this up?
There’s a lot to like in his small sample, and not much that worries me. I didn’t like his relatively low line drive rate, which went from okay in the first half (18%) to awful after the injury (5% in September). However, a closer inspection reveals he was just coming back from a thumb issue, and given his pretty consistent first four months, I’m willing to give him a mulligan there. A GB% spike after the injury also affected the progress he’d made in putting more loft into his hits. Maybe opposing teams will find a hole in his swing, but until they do, everything seems solid.
Above average contact, a solid walk rate, above average HR/FB, and a good hard hit rate before the injury give owners a lot to look forward to. I don’t even project his batting average to come down much, given the skill set he displayed in 2016. With a full healthy year in 2017, I’d expect .285, 20 HR to be his floor. Invest now before he gets even better.
Troy Tulowitzki – The mighty are falling left and right. Tulo has never stayed healthy for long, and despite improved AB totals the last two seasons, he’s well past being an elite force. The good news is that he still has his power stroke, with a career best FB% and a HR/FB in line with his career average. If he manages to stay on the field, he’ll keep producing 25 HR, no problem.
Unfortunately, that’s the only sure thing. His BABIP fell drastically in 2016, dragging down his average. At first you want to give him a pass for it because he’s been consistently above the major league average, but his metrics insist it’s a red flag. His line drive rate has dropped, as has his hard hit rate. Because of those two factors, a BABIP drop is entirely reasonable, and so a .260 baseline may be his new norm.
And of course, there still remains the issue of his injury risk. This year it was his quad and his thumb. He came near 500 AB for the second straight year, but he didn’t reach that mark, and he hasn’t for five years. Unless the Jays start using him at DH to spell him, you can’t expect him to magically get better. Power is great, but there’s enough of it going around the league right now that you don’t have to keep gambling on Tulo.
Jose Reyes – Another former elite player who’s now roster filler. I remember my early days of fantasy baseball, where the three R’s at shortstop (Reyes, Rollins, Ramirez) were the way to go. Reyes dealt with a suspension and a rib cage injury, and he ended up going back to the Mets, playing third base more than shortstop. He may have some value, but just how much is anyone’s guess.
Overall, he’s more risk than reward, unless you’re getting him in the final round. His speed is still decent, but he’s running less often. If they take away his green light, then I don’t want him. His contact rate dropped significantly to 81% (career 88%), and that’s never good for a hitter in his mid-30s. But perhaps you can argue he’s retooling his approach for more power — he raised his FB% to a career best, and his HR/FB was tied for second. His hard hit rate had been on a five-year slide before he got back to near league average in 2016.
He’s not reliable or consistent anymore, and I like to know what I’m getting into. He may find a way to hit 15 HR and steal 20 bases. He may go right back to his low-power, speedy profile and have a split of 8 HR, 25+ SB. Or he may not even net full playing time and continue to decline. If you want speed, you can get it elsewhere. You can get a mix of power and speed elsewhere too. That’s why I left him off my top-20 list for dynasty, and it’s why you should avoid him too unless you can get him for pennies on the dollar.
Wilmer Flores – I liked Flores going into the last two seasons, and he keeps teasing me. He hit 16 HR for two straight years, which isn’t bad for your shortstop slot. He slightly improved his average, and he learned to take a walk (7%). He hit more fly balls and had a better HR/FB, so those 16 homers this year came from fewer at bats. He plays all over the infield, though that’s because he’s not really good anwhere on defense. Entering his age 25 season, he’s still maturing and should net playing time.
However, he dealt with two different injuries this year. You have to stay on the field to accumulate at bats. The fact that he had some struggles, combined with his injury-sapped AB total, has him falling on the rankings sheets. I say go get him one more time. He has legit 20 HR power, and any improved plate discipline that carries over makes him a good bet to produce a profit. The Mets will play him if he’s healthy, and I like his future if that happens.
Ketel Marte – What happened to Marte? He was the darling of sleeper picks entering 2016, and even if he struggled a bit, that doesn’t make him useless, does it? As it turns out, that “ground ball and speed” profile from a lot of new names makes Marte a higher risk. He hits more than 50% grounders, but he doesn’t have the speed scores that Anderson, Peraza, and others have. A lot of grounders with average speed isn’t going to be a boon to his BABIP and batting average. He didn’t display any power at all — not that I expected him to, but Anderson has some, so why pick Marte? His walk rate fell from 10% in a small 2015 sample to just 4% in 2016, so even if he likes to run with average speed, he’s not getting on too often.
His saving grace is that he dealt with mono during the season, so there’s a good chance it sapped his energy and affected his overall game. You can give him a bit of a mulligan, sure, but even an optimistic projection before 2016 was only .280 and 25 SB. Despite the illness, you have to project much lower than that for next year, and the position is deep enough that you don’t have to take the risk unless you’re in AL-only formats.
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