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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fantasy Baseball Prep: Shortstop

Shortstop is an interesting position this year. Last year was the first time that I could ever remember three shortstops being hands-down 1st round picks, including the A-Rod, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra days of yesteryear. The three aforementioned shortstops, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, and Jimmy Rollins are still projected as early picks, but Jimmy Rollins’ “welcome back to Earth” 2008 has knocked him out of the 1st and, probably, second rounds of most fantasy drafts.

Before taking off, remember to take a look at my introductory post for a chart of the breakdown of points in this league. From there you can find links to my previous 2009 looks at catcher, first base, second base, and third base.

Taking a look at our points-per-opportunity statistic as an indicator of Fantasy Baseball Slugging-Percentage, we find our “average” shortstop to be Rafael Furcal (2.21 pts/opp.). Though in 2008, Furcal started off like a man possessed, a back injury (originally diagnosed as a trip to the 15-day DL) cost him a majority of his season. I’m not surprised to see Furcal sitting in this spot when looking at his declining home run and stolen base totals. Combine that with his injury history and new, unmotivating, fat contract and I’m ready to put Raffy on my “Buyer Beware” list in 2009.

Flanking Furcal as “average” slugging shortstops are Troy Tulowitzki (2.26) and Bobby Crosby (2.17). Tulowitzki is an interesting case for a couple reasons. Last year, as we all know, Tulo’s quad and lacerations forced him out for a majority of the first half of the season. He was hyped to be the next 25 HR shortstop and delivered nothing but mediocrity when he DID play. However, let’s look beyond the sour taste Tulo left in our mouths in 2008 and look back to much happier times in 2007. Anyone who selected the Rockies then-rookie in the later rounds of the draft noticed the youngster’s rather slow start. After the All-Star break, however, something changed in Tulo, as he played more like a cagey vet than a bumbling rookie.

Fast-forward to 2008, and we saw the same approach from Tulowitzki, a slow start once he received regular playing time. I’m not going to go ahead and crown this guy the next Eric Chavez, but I think he’s slow start may be more to blame for his less-than-desirable numbers once he became healthy in 2008.

Now, enough about Tulo and Slugging-%, let’s move on to points-per-plate-appearance, where Maicer Izturis’ .73 pts/pa marks the middle-ground. This is awesome for fantasy owners for a few reasons: (1) this is an indication of the large number of “above-average” shortstops in 2009, (2) shortstop is a position you can sit on, and (3) the difference between the highest pts/pa (Hanley Ramirez’s .98) and the average can be easily made up with another position (say, drafting a more productive OF over a SS early in the draft, thereby ignoring the position scarcity approach).

Topping our list are the Big-Three (or big two-and-a-half) of Hanley Ramirez (.98), Jose Reyes (.90), and Jimmy Rollins (.85), but there’s a name placing in the Top-5 that sticks out like a sore thumb… and no it’s not Troy Tulowitzki (.80).

Though I didn’t mention it before, the Angels’ Brandon Wood is as close as one can get to putting Richie Sexson circa 2003 at shortstop. He’s big, strong, and strikes out a ton. He topped the list of shortstops in the pts/opp. category and places 4th on the pts/pa statistic.

So what does this all mean?

It means that Wood, despite his lack of playing time, could be a deep sleeper for 2009. The Angels have a few players blocking the way for Wood with Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis, and Erick Aybar. Last year, the injury bug took a severe bite out of the left-side of the Halo’s infield and forced the call-up of players like Brandon Wood.

Bill James doesn’t project anything astronomical (23 HRs, 26 doubles, 10 SBs), but he does project these numbers in about 200 fewer at-bats than a guy like JJ Hardy, who offers a similar output.

Now, I’m not saying to definitely draft a guy like Brandon Wood… but I am giving you an early warning: pay close attention to the Angels’ third base and shortstop situations going into spring training. Remember, this is a team that lost out on Mark Teixeira during the off-season… they’re going to need to do something to replace that offensive output. I have a feeling that, in this instance, “something” is going to be giving players like Brandon Wood and Mike Napoli a lot more ABs than they’re typically accustomed to.

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