So far this season, the position of shortstop has been a desolate fantasy wasteland. Many presumptive studs have taken nosedives and there are very few shortstops whom you can just set and forget.
When comparing two players, the important question to ask yourself is not “Who’s better?”. For fantasy, what’s already happened is in the past–it’s irrelevant for the future. The most important question to answer is “Who will be better from now on?”. After all, in a trade, you’re not trading the stats the players have already amassed, you’re trading for the stats you think they’ll collect in the future.
With that in mind, it’s time to rank the top 12 shortstops for the rest of the season, all of the players who are likely to be starters in a 12 team league.
1. Hanley Ramirez: Han-Ram is getting old and is oft injured, but he hits in a loaded lineup and 130 games from him is better than full seasons from nearly every of his competitors
2. Ian Desmond: Desmond counteracts a low AVG and OBP with a string of 20-20 seasons and high counting stats batting near the top of Washington’s lineup. His upside isn’t as high as Ramirez or the next couple of guys on this list, but he’s safe and reliable, and that’s important and valuable. For the rest of the year, I actually prefer Desmond over Ramirez because I know exactly what I’m getting with Desmond while Ramirez is no guarantee to do anything.
3. Jose Reyes: Reyes bats at the top of the best lineup in baseball, in front of three superstars, so he’s going to score a ton of runs with some stolen bases and a pretty good AVG. Of course, his rib injury from a few weeks ago is, according to him, going to linger all season, so there’s plenty of risk, but while he’s healthy, he’s very good.
4. Troy Tulowitzki: Last year Tulo was incredibly good when he was healthy, but due to a hip injury, only played 91 games. Because of that production, wishful thinkers drafted him early, dreaming of a full season from him. Well, so far, he has been healthy, but he just hasn’t been any good. Tulo is 30 and his injury history may be catching up with him but he’s still going to be better than where he is right now.
5. Jhonny Peralta: Peralta hits a lot of home runs for a shortstop–he’s averaged 19 per 162 games played during his career–and he gets plenty of RBI chances batting for a winning St. Louis team. He’s consistent and a worthy starting shortstop. If I could trade Tulowitzki for Peralta and another good player in the range of Starling Marte or Albert Pujols then I would do it in a heartbeat.
6. Alcides Escobar: I liked Escobar enough that before the year I was willing to not draft a second shortstop behind him for my team. I like him enough that I traded away Jose Reyes because I knew I could rely on Escobar instead. Speaking of Reyes, Escobar is pretty much Jose Reyes-lite. Looking at their stats from last year, they’re very similar players, but Escobar comes without the injury risk and with room for improvement with his move up to the leadoff spot in the Royals’ order.
7. Ben Zobrist: Zobrist’s value comes almost exclusively from his multi-positional eligibility, but he has a baseline of stats that you know you’re going to get. Also, if you happen to acquire a better shortstop, you can just shift Zobrist to another position instead.
8. Erick Aybar: Aybar is another veteran with whom you know exactly what you’re getting. His seasonal stats have recovered from a lousy start to the season and he’s moved up to the leadoff spot on the Angels, meaning that he now bats in front of Mike Trout, a boon for fantasy value.
9. Jimmy Rollins: I valued Rollins a lot more highly before last night when he was moved to seventh in the order from second. Rollins’ main value comes from his ability to both steal bases and hit home runs, but with fewer at bats, it’ll be harder for him to reach the stats he accrued last year when he batted atop the Phillies’ lineup.
10. Jung Ho Kang: I’ll readily admit that I was skeptical of Kang before the season. I doubted he’d be even mildly productive and that he’d be a drop candidate within a week. Luckily for his owners, that hasn’t been the case. He’s hitting for a high average and he bats in the heart of Pittsburgh’s order. My only quibbles are a lack of counting stats and his high strikeout rate, but at least the counting stats can be easily explained because he’s had only 114 at bats so far.
11. Alexei Ramirez: I liked Ramirez before the season, thinking that his poor rates would be manageable because of his top-notch power-speed combination. I was wrong. This whole season has just been one long slump for Ramirez. Still, there’s nowhere to go but up. He won’t put up seasonal stats close to those from last year, but they could still be viable as a starting shortstop.
12. Marcus Semien: Semien has been a reasonably good shortstop so far, with, like Zobrist, multi-positional eligibility. He has a few stolen bases, a few home runs, and a reasonable AVG and OBP. It’s not wise to count on him continuing at this level, especially as the Athletics may send him down due to his many errors, but he can still be an overall asset.
There are three notable omissions that I’d like to mention here. First, Starlin Castro, considered by many to be a top fantasy shortstop, has been horrendous with few stolen bases, meager power, and a sub .300 OBP. His counting stats are also lousy despite hitting behind Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, two on-base machines. If he doesn’t pick it up soon, Joe Maddon will move him out of the cleanup spot. I would never trade for him. Second, Wilmer Flores, despite his eight home runs, has been below-average in every other respect and even if he continues to hit for power, in the Mets offense, his other counting stats won’t keep pace. Last, Carlos Correa, a top prospect in the Astros farm system, has been very good in the minor leagues, but it’s foolish and ill-advised to rely on a rookie. After all, for every Kris Bryant or Joc Pederson there are five Dalton Pompeys.
Shortstop has been a thin and top-heavy position so far this year and it looks likely to stay that way. If you can get one of those top six shortstops, it’s worth it to overpay to gain safety and reliability at this brutal position. Even those six shortstops aren’t failsafes, with three big injury-risks among them.
With luck, you’ll be able to dodge these pitfalls and to manage these risks on your way to a championship. If not, well, see you next season.