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2018 Shortstop Preview: Sleepers And Busts

Long considered a position with a dearth of talent and a precipitous drop afterward, shortstop is on the up and up. Beyond consensus Top-5 talent Trea Turner and young, but familiar studs Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor, lies a vast pool of draft day value. The value is so deep, in fact, that’s its allowed a few names to slip into sleepers territory.

Of course, in the interest of being fair, some of that vast pool has also been over-valued, so, you guessed it, we’ve got some bust potential as well. The symmetry of it is really beautiful if you think about it…

Shortstop Sleepers and Busts

Busts

Xander Bogaerts, SS, BOS (NFBC ADP: 82.3)

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The Fantasy Baseball industry is really split on Bogaerts and I really can’t blame them. Some see a player who sat inside the NFBC’s Top-30 in ADP last season and think major rebound opportunity. Some (myself included) aren’t quite as optimistic about a 2017 campaign where Bogaerts struggled to do much, if anything, at an elite level. Looking closer at the numbers and trends, its fair to wonder exactly what type of player Xander Bogaerts is because, honestly, Bogaerts himself does not yet appear to know.

Many in the pro-Bogaerts camp point to one specific event as an explanation for where it all went wrong: July 6 – Bogaerts takes a Jacob Faria fastball off the wrist causing him to eventually leave the game. The surface case is rather simple, as of July 5, over 341 plate appearances, the then 2424-year-old shortstop was batting .308. From July 6 on? He’s hitting an underwhelming .232. So, there it is. A healthy Xander Bogaerts is a .300 hitter, the sky is blue, tip your waitresses, and goodnight. Sadly, no, its not that easy.

Despite Bogaerts hitting to a decent average over the season’s first three months, its not as if he were doing it in addition to much else. The .308 average was a product of a suspect .367 BABIP – very prone for normalization considering a massive 18.8% infield fly ball rate. Bogaerts had registered a pretty pedestrian .147 ISO and 113 wRC+. Bogaerts hadn’t even hit his first home run of 2017 up until the 25th of May. Now, that’s a pretty fluky stat that goes hand-in-hand with a 7.2% HR/FB ratio by season’s end, yet, in terms of career rate, that’s a normal figure for Bogaerts.

The question, again, is one of skill set: where are you expecting Bogaerts to contribute? Sure, if he continues with the more ground ball oriented profile he’s had for most of the last three years, its justifiable to assume he’ll be somewhere in the neighbourhood of a .280 hitter, but who can even bank on that? His GB/FB ratio has fluctuated wildly throughout his career; his stolen bases have improved, yet never to the point of nearing elite status; his barrels per PA rate of 1.1% from 2017 puts him in the company of Dee Gordon, Ender Inciarte, and Billy Hamilton – players far from perfect, but players with a Fantasy identity.

In one sense, there is a buying window here and its undeniable that Xander Bogaerts has talent. On the other, I’d like to know what exactly I’m buying. Bogaerts might as well be labelled “MYSTERY BOX” on Yahoo! this year, if you’d like to take the risk, kudos to you. I’m steering clear.

Javier Baez, SS, CHC (NFBC ADP: 102.0)

Javier Baez, on the other end of the spectrum, knows exactly what he is and, clearly, he also isn’t very shy. Baez, just like the previously discussed Rougned Odor and Jonathan Schoop is the dictionary definition of “Boom or Bust.” Of the 145 players to take over 500 plate appearances last season, Baez ranked behind only Corey Dickerson in chase rate and Joey Gallo in swinging strike rate. In fact, at 19.3% and 19.2% respectively, Gallo and Baez were the only two players in baseball to have figures above even just 17%. Dream big, kids.

All this makes for a very volatile Fantasy profile. Really, it hasn’t been celebrated enough that considering his almost infinite level of possible outcomes, Baez has somehow managed to hit to identical .273 marks the past two years. He’s not supposed to be Mr. Consistent. Still, most players are flawed in some capacity and, for a lot of people, a player with a flaw skewing towards hyper-aggressive at the plate is more appreciated than hyper-passive. The problem specific to this case is that Baez’s own seemingly never-ending sea of outcomes isn’t the only red flag – its also Joe Maddon’s seemingly never-ending sea of possible lineups.

Let’s play America’s favorite new gameshow “How Many Chicago Cubs took 600 Plate Appearances Last Season?”. Its a mouthful, I know. The network’s work-shopping it as we speak. The correct answer to our titular question is only two: Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Baez actually was third on the team with his 508 – not near enough volume for me to be spending what is essentially a Top-100 pick. It also doesn’t seem like any of those numbers will be changing in 2018. Ian Happ is up for good. Kyle Schwarber apparently hit P90X like really, really hard this offseason. Ben Zobrist, Albert Almora, and Tommy La Stella all still have a pulse. Its a crowed 25-man roster and one that makes trusting Baez, especially in a weekly-lock league, exceedingly difficult.

There’s always a chance that this is the year a young phenom bucks the impatient trends of his first 1,200-plus plate appearances and develops into a fantasy star, I just think its more likely we all get annoyed at how often Javier Baez wastes his precious at-bats by swinging at a pitch two feet outside the opposite batter’s box. Proceed with caution.

 

Sleepers

Tim Beckham, SS, BAL (NFBC ADP: 262.7)

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Here’s the fun thing about Fantasy Baseball: you could almost take every negative thing I just said about Javier Baez (outside of team construct) and apply it to Tim Beckham. He’s an aggressive hitter with a low walk rate and a massive swinging strike rate. However, through the simple fact that he’s going 160 selections after Baez, all of a sudden he’s a value.

Beckham, the former #1 overall pick in 2008 MLB Draft, must be an old-fashioned kind of guy because he waited all the way until his age 27 season before breaking out. Up to 2017, Beckham was being viewed as a bust. So much so, at the first sign of significant value, Tampa Bay flipped him to Baltimore where Beckham would register a hit in 17 of his first 18 games with the Orioles – 12 of those 17 contests being of the multi-hit variety. Beckham cooled to finish out the season, posting an ugly .180 average with a 32.3% strikeout rate in the process, yet, I still can’t get myself to shake away his magical first-half.

When Beckham hits the ball, which, to be fair, is sometimes few and far between, he hits it really, really well. It’s not surprising that of all teams to trade for the somewhat disappointing former top prospect, it was the Baltimore Orioles – the spiritual home of players with Beckham’s offensive profile. An island of misfit toys for low-OBP, power-hitters, if you will.

Beckham had baseball’s eighth highest hard contact rate leading up to the All-Star Game at 45.1%. Now, by no means did that justify his .378 BABIP over that span, but this is more to speak of the type of hitter Beckham should be grouped with, alongside, of course, the already aforementioned Baez. Drafting for the back end of a tier usually speaks to ADP, not player archetype, however, its too easy to see the similarities between he, Trevor Story, and Paul DeJong. In fact, all three had near identical barrels per PA rates in 2017, Beckham leading the pack at a more than respectable 6.3%.

For some, comparing Beckham to two more obviously flawed players might not seem like a compliment, and, in a way, it might serve as a bigger deterrent to draft those players instead of propelling one to grab Beckham, but the point need not be for everyone. If you’re the type of person intrigued by the Baez, Story, DeJong tier of SS – just wait on Beckham. If he can carry over the contact success from last season and lock down the leadoff spot in Baltimore to top it all off, he’ll be past the sleeper stage when we talk again next year.

Ketel Marte, SS, ARZ (NFBC ADP: 342.4)

Its been an interesting month when it comes to Ketel Marte’s value in 2018. On the positive end of the spectrum, while Chris Owings and Nick Amhed are still in town, the trade of Brandon Drury to New York appears to have solidified some playing time for the former Mariner this season. On on flip side, though not a noted power-hitter by any means, the new humidor in Arizona is clearly not the ideal situation for fantasy prospects in regards to offense.

Projected playing time and an essentially free price tag aren’t the only reasons to get excited about Marte, though. He made great strides as a hitter in 2017. Treat the massive leap in walk rate as a small sample aberration if you must, but, all of a sudden, you don’t have to squint too hard to see the makings of a late-round batting average angel. Marte strikes out infrequently, his career swinging strike rate is only 7.7%, and you could argue his BABIP was low for his archetype at .290 last season – Steamer, for instance, has him penciled in .324 over 527 plate appearances in 2018, all equating out to a .289 average.

Marte stole 10 bases across two levels last year and should be a safe bet to get a low double-digit total once again, however, until a shift in batting order placement arrives, that’s probably the extent of his counting stat value. Marte, unfortunately, took the majority of his plate appearances from the lower third of the Diamondbacks order in 2017, but, did make eight starts in September batting out of the second spot in the lineup, if you’re looking for reasons to be an optimist. Really, if the walk rate sustains itself, it’s not that crazy a concept. Manager Torey Lovullo has already said that David Peralta and A.J. Pollock would garner most of the leadoff at-bats for Arizona out of the gate, yet neither is exactly a shining beacon of health. If an injury were to befall one of the two, why not move up the high-contact, speedy, on-base machine?

If it seems like a lot of Marte’s value heading into the season is speculative, you’re absolutely correct. Thus is the folly of loving a 24-year-old SS with fewer than 1,000 MLB plate appearances to his name. Still, past pick 300, we’re not looking for definite, we’re looking for believable narratives, and the story of Ketel Marte breaking out in 2018 is making me more and more gullible by the day.

Garion Thorne
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Garion Thorne

Garion Thorne grew up in Toronto in the mid-2000s as a Jays, Raptors, Dolphins fan, so you know the only championships he cares about are of the Fantasy persuasion. Garion was a Host/Senior Analyst at the FNTSY Sports Network, most of the time taking a specific focus on Fantasy Baseball and deep baseball analytics. You might have also stumbled across his work for the New York Daily News, the Associated Press, USA Today's HoopsHype, or NBA.com. Garion keeps a FanGraphs tab open in his browser at all times and he has never seen a bunt he agreed with.
Garion Thorne
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