Consider the Power Dip at Shortstop
At Crush or Flush, we don’t think of shortstops as an isolated position. One cannot evaluate, plan for, and draft shortstops without also considering the second base position. In many seasons, middle infield positions are considered weak or shallow. We remember the “Big Three” of Nomar, Jeter, and A-Rod, but part of what made those players so big was that the rest of the shortstops were, by and large, small.
So far in 2018, we are drafting 11 SS-eligible players in the Top 100, according to early ADPs. But the truth is that number has no context without considering the depth of the second base talent pool. Although the middle infield positions are vastly improved over most other seasons, I always try to have my SS, 2B and MI positions filled by the 150th pick in the draft or earlier, if possible.
Most owners will be able to land a 20-HR player at both MI positions, but it’s a bit more difficult this year than in 2017. Early picks are more likely to net an 80-plus RBI and/or a .300 hitter as well. Below is the middle infield breakdown, detailing how many players up the middle hit key offensive benchmarks:
*Min 200 plate appearances ^indicates six others hit in the .290s
Take note that in this era of increased power and elevated launch angles, we saw a pretty sharp decrease in 20-plus HR hitters last season, which makes those early MI studs more valuable. It will be important to know what the 2nd level shortstops bring to the table, especially compared to their second base counterparts, something we examine a bit in our second base Crush and Flush column. Identifying those players who are about to boost their output will be key. We hope we identify a few below.
Crush or Flush
Carlos Correa: An obvious Crush, but I wanted to discuss Correa’s transformation to clean-up hitter. Correa is a clear five-tool player, but as we see with young players with both speed and power, stolen bases took a back seat to power numbers. Correa, though, does not have the typical power profile. He walks as much as any shortstop, at about an 11 percent clip; his strikeouts actually came down last season (19.1 percent in 2017 compared to 21.1 percent in 2016). The other good power news is that Correa is (slightly) cutting his groundball percentage –to 47.9 last season from 50.1 percent in 2016. Correa owned a .352 BABIP last season, due in part to his speed and in part to the fact that he hits the ball so hard. The .315 average might dip to the .290 area, particularly if he focuses on more fly balls. There’s nothing not to like about his skill set, but the steals are pretty much a thing of the past already, and he might really be a .290 hitter. Boo hoo. CRUSH
Corey Seager: He’s one of the most intriguing names in Fantasy Baseball this year. Experts consensus rankings have him around number 30 overall, with one expert rating him as high as 18 and another as low as 89. He had elbow issues late in the season but avoided surgery and is slated to be 100 percent this spring. Obviously, you should watch for news on that front. If healthy, he should build on his 2016 rookie year. He hits the ball hard and he’s becoming more patient at the plate. Assuming health, I would flush him at 30 or earlier but would have a crush if he’s on the board at 40. I think he will be. There’s some risk but mark it as a CRUSH.
Brandon Crawford: Crawford’s 26 HRs over the last two seasons is only a few more than the 21 he hit in 2015. Combine that with the fact that his percentage of softly hit balls increased and his hard hit rate decreased, and you can pencil him in for only about a dozen long balls in 2018. Crawford owns a good understanding of the strike zone but is not a great contact hitter. He owns one of the highest shortstop Swinging Strike habits, annually about 13 percent. He’s only 30, so a rebound is possible. I wouldn’t bet on it, but look for more of the same: Say, .259, 13 HRs, 75 RBIs, 63 runs and 4 steals. Not terrible production from a MI, but I wouldn’t rely on any more than those numbers. FLUSH
Didi Gregorius: Pros: Great lineup, an increasing power profile, generally avoids strikeouts, and of course, the short porch in right field at home. Cons: Soft contact (24.4 percent) slightly more common than hard contact (23.1 percent), is a free swinger, and has medium contact skills. Because he increased his HR output (25 last year; 20 in 2016) in fewer plate appearances, the hype train will be chugging this spring. Be careful. He’ll compile decent numbers for sure, but I worry about his refusal to take a walk. His flyball percentage has risen from 34.1 percent in 2015 to 43.8 percent in 2017, which will help that power output, but will make the .287 batting average his ceiling. Let him come to you in the draft; don’t jump. Slight FLUSH.
Paul DeJong: DeJong exploded his way onto the MLB and Fantasy Baseball radars last year, with 25 HRs, 65 RBIs and a .285 average in 443 plate appearances. He is a free swinger with a low BB rate (about four percent), so his .285 should dip to about or below .270, but his power seems real. I’d bet on 30 HRs, 80 RBIs, and .265. Expert rankings have him about the 15th best shortstop, and I would place a hefty wager that he’s in the Top 10 by the end of the season. Plus, he is 2B and 3B eligible in many leagues also. In some way, he’s Alex Bregman with more HRs and fewer steals for a fraction of the cost. CRUSH
Addison Russell: Russell is intriguing to me. I think most of his value comes from the lineup he’s in. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice power source at shortstop but in reality, he is a terrible hitter. It would be a minor miracle if he batted .250. He’s a bad contact hitter, and, to me, he’s a piece that the Cubs can dangle in trade talks that would intrigue other teams. A player like Asdrubal Cabrera offers about the same “real baseball” value – he gets on base more and owns only a slightly lower power profile. Russell is still just 23 and there is plenty of time to learn better discipline, but shortstop is deep enough that I’m going to FLUSH.
Jonathan Villar: Two words: back injury. I’d throw away 2017, and while I wouldn’t draft his 2016 numbers, I’d draft numbers that were closer to 2016 than 2017. Just last season he was being drafted, on average, in the number 32 slot. This spring he’s about number 170 on experts’ consensus ranking lists. To me, that spells potential huge value (if healthy) and I think he’s worth the gamble for a bounce back season. Villar could be a forgotten man this spring, and I have a CRUSH.
Jorge Polanco: If you play in a keeper league, circle Polanco’s name and grab him a round or so early. Polanco improved his skills a great deal last year, evident in his solid second half. He owns 20-20 potential, though, I’m not sure it will happen this season. But keep an eye out for a rebound in batting average. Although he owns a fly ball tendency, he’s a very good contact hitter. His .278 BABIP contributed to his .256 batting average; in 2016 he hit .282 with a .328 BABIP, admittedly, in a smaller sample size. But a contact hitter with improving skills will hit the ball harder (and smarter). It’s early, but Polanco shows very good signs and if I can draft his as my second shortstop I’ll be thrilled. Entirely worth late draft consideration or a $1 bid. CRUSH
Freddy Galvis: Speaking of later round treats. While his HRs fell (20 to 12) and his steals dipped slightly, (14 from 17) his skills made him a better hitter. He walks more (6.8 percent to 4.0 percent in 2015) and strikes out less (16.7 percent to 21.8 percent). His power did dip, but he was a leading line drive hitter among shortstops. He became more selective and he has a change of scenery this season. I’d bet on 17 HRs, 17 steals, and a .265 average, making him a nice plug-in player. Don’t go crazy, but at age 28, he’s a definite late draft CRUSH.
Andrelton Simmons: The power and counting stat gains were real in his age 27 season but be aware Simmons is still a groundball hitter. His 49.5 percent groundball rate is down from 56.2 in 2015; he owns a good plate discipline. If you’re counting on continued power increases and have visions of 20 HRs, you have a crush and you’re probably typical. I think we’ll see a repeat season but minute gains if any. Because CRUSH/FLUSH is essentially a measure of conventional wisdom, I’ll crush on Simmons’s growth, but for 2018 expectations it’s gotta be a FLUSH.
Dansby Swanson: It’s a flush, but one I’ll be watching all season. At age 23, he already owns a 10.7 percent walk rate and a good command of the strike zone. He had an inconsistent season and the surrounding cast didn’t lift him up, so I don’t see him exploding this season. I anticipate growth, but we’ll need to see much more than a .232 average, 6 HRs and 51 RBIs. He owns enough speed to register double-digit steals, but I don’t believe it will come this year. But I’m watching. FLUSH
Marcus Semien: Players coming off injury-riddled seasons often present the best draft values because of both the caution of drafters and our obsession with the previous season’s statistics, no matter what the context. Semien suffered a wrist injury, so any of his stats upon his return are likely deflated from a skill set perspective. I see a good opportunity here for value. He’s become a smarter base stealer and given some health over a full season, I think he has 20-20 skills. His .250 average is about right, though, so don’t go crazy. CRUSH
Aledmys Diaz: 17-65-.300 in 404 at bats in 2016 became 7-20-.259 in 286 AB last year. The Cards gave up on him, but you shouldn’t. He doesn’t really have a power profile, so the 17 HRs might be his ceiling over a full season, but I have to believe his numbers will jump up a bit in 2018. A change of scenery and coaches can help, but he stopped taking as many walks and his exit velocity fell by about 4 mph. Something was going on – in his head or his body. He’s a bench player on draft day at best, but it’s too early to give up, even if the stats say to bail. It’s a gut feeling, so we’ll call it a gut CRUSH.
Elvis Andrus: How is Andrus ONLY 29 this season? His power output (20 HRs, up from eight in 2015) was a bit exaggerated. He’s a groundball hitter, at almost a 50 percent rate. He owns a stable skill set, so figure on 14-16 HRs and about the same in the counting numbers. You may not get him because someone is likely to like him a bit more than you should (home runs blind us, especially combined with over two dozen steals). I love his skill set, in particular his contact rates and plate discipline, and you should try to get him on your team because of his consistency, but I can’t sign up for another 20 HR season, so he’s likely being drafted a bit high. An unfortunate and very weak FLUSH.
Amed Rosario: The Mets phenom showed flashes of the skill set that made his rookie debut much anticipated. In Rosario, I see success much quicker than for someone like Dansby Swanson, but let’s remember that the skill sets of Andrus and Simmons took a while to develop. A 51/29 groundball to fly ball ratio makes him primarily a speed play in 2018; seven SBs in 165 AB suggests so also. He struck out 49 times in those 165 AB as well, so the learning curve is steep. He’ll provide very good defense for the Mets, so he’ll have every chance to fight through his struggles. He should be readily available in most drafts that don’t include Mets fans, so I say take a shot but be patient. CRUSH
Asdrubal Cabrera: Speaking of Mets shortstops. Cabrera will have eligibility at SS, 2B, and 3B this season, which adds some value. He’s a sneaky value, reliable for 15-18 HRs, and a .270 average. A couple of things cause me to pause when considering Cabrera: He’s taking more of a power hitter approach (more FB, fewer GB), and he may not have an every day job with the Mets depending on their offseason moves. If he does get in the lineup every day, will it be near the top or the bottom of the lineup. Also, he hit .340 in 263 plate appearances with no shift against him; In 109 appearances against a traditional shift he managed just .231. I give him a crush because he has positional flexibility, hits the ball hard and generally has a good plate approach, so he’s a more reliable option at an infield position late in your draft. Don’t go crazy, but you do know what you’re getting – and watch for those shifts against him. CRUSH
Jose Reyes: Concluding our Mets shortstop section of the column, I view Reyes as similar to Cabrera: He’s got something left in the tank (speed mostly) and positional flexibility. Reyes continues to steal bases, he had a strong finish to the 2017 season, and owns some power. He won’t likely have a starting position with the Mets but given his now-utility role (and it’s the Mets – starters will get hurt), he’s a late draft consideration with some gas in the tank. Not a bad bench/streaming option for the attentive owner who pays attention to pre-game lineups. CRUSH
Alex Bregman and Marwin Gonzalez – Just a reminder that these players are also SS eligible, so on most days you’ll want them slotted there. Their flexibility should serve as a tiebreaker or a reason to take them a round earlier than you would otherwise. We’ll profile them in other Crush and Flush columns this spring.
Stay tuned for the 2B version of Crush or Flush soon, followed by the corner infield positions.