Last Minute Pickups: Shortstops
Ah, shortstop. Perhaps the most important real-life baseball position, yet honestly not all that important in fantasy. Sure, having Tulo’s 120 healthy games a year is awesome for those lucky enough to have overpaid for his services, but the reality is you can absolutely compete for a fantasy baseball title with a league-average shortstop (or worse). The standard for offensive production just isn’t that high, and when you add in the number of guys with otherwise-underwhelming numbers that can provide outlying fantasy value with stolen bases (hi there, Alcides Escobar!) it’s all the more punt-able a position. But for the purposes of this exercise, that means that shortstop is actually quite an interesting position. Shortstop value is often overlooked because the bar is low, yet the bar being so low means it’s that much easier to find good-enough-to-win talent on your waiver wire at the end of the season if you have the space to keep an extra guy. Make sense? Good, let’s look at some shortstops who may just be available in your league and who are absolutely worth an under-the-gun waiver claim before the season ends.
Stephen Drew (26% Yahoo, 38% ESPN)
After showing as a peak ~.800 OPS shortstop in his 2010 Age 27 year, Drew suffered a horrible ankle fracture after a soft start to his 2011 campaign and was largely written off heading into this season despite the move to a great home park and lineup in Boston. And he responded for those who did invest in him as a bounceback candidate with an extremely underwhelming first half, posting a .233/.313/.409 line before the All-Star break. But he’s been sneaky good since the calendar flipped to August, and his second half line of .271/.357/.474 over ~220 PA’s is absolutely worth noting for those with an eye on 2014. Drew is an interesting case in that his career contact data suggests a player who, pre-injury, struggled to find an appropriate balance between patience and selling out for power gains. His O-Swing and SwStr% numbers fluctuated pretty significantly through 2010. But the second-half 2013 version of Drew appears, at least in its small sample size, to have realized that balance. Despite seeing an outlying percentage of first-pitch strikes, he’s held his chasing ways in check, and he’s continued an important post-injury trend of squaring more balls up. His LD% before the injury sat around 20%, while it’s ballooned to over 26% since he came back. That, coupled with a notable spike in his BB%, points to a much better hitter with the wisdom of maturity. While there is notable uncertainty as to the park and lineup this free agent calls home in 2014, he nonetheless makes for an intriguing and cheap veteran option for owners looking to bank a good bet for league-average fantasy production at a thin position next season.
While quite dissimilar players in terms of skill set, I’m lumping these two together for our purposes here because they are the shortstop Biogenesis Boys. Each of these guys was enjoying a fantastic season in his own right before losing the remainder of the year to suspension. Cabrera is really the one to highlight here, as his dynamic speed and developing contact ability had him looking like one of the premier breakout players of 2013 before he got caught under the bridge downtown. Always a player with decent discipline and correspondingly solid walk rates, Cabrera made huge strides this year in cutting his SwStr% and increasing both his O- and Z-Contact %’s. The result was a 30 point OBP boost despite a flat BABIP, a most welcome development for a player with Cabrera’s ability to thief bases at an alarming rate of success. In fact, I’m not going to waste any more internet ink on him here. I suspect his ownership levels are much higher than what’s listed above in dynasty leagues, but if by chance an owner in “go for it” mode shed Cabrera in your league you should pounce immediately. His elite, in-its-prime speed and on-base abilities make him a potential top-five SS candidate for 2014 and an excellent grab in all keeper formats at this late hour.
Jhonny Peralta was similarly in the process of posting an excellent season, leading a weak crop of AL shortstops with an outstanding .305/.361/.461 line through his 436 pre-suspension PA’s. Now, caution is quite due in this particular case, much more so than with Cabrera. A career .268 hitter, Peralta’s .305 average this season was driven by a ludicrous and unsustainable .379 BABIP – a mark over 60 points better than his career average. He’s not going to be as good next year as he was in the process of being this year, it’s just not likely. He won’t be back in Detroit, and he’s going to regress. But he is nevertheless a guy who’s got a pretty long track record at this point of 15-20 homerun potential at a position of scant offense, and you could certainly do worse than grabbing and holding a guy with a .755 career OPS at such a thin position. Dynasty league success is, after all, in large part a function of minimizing risk, and the Peralta’s of the world offer great value as relatively high-floor safety valves to that end.
Brad Miller (9% Yahoo, 9% ESPN)
You didn’t think I was going to make it all the way through this article without highlighting any shiny new toys, did you? Miller’s been one of my favorite prospects for several years now, and he’s finally made it to the Show with some encouraging (if less-than-spectacular) results. He’s never rated particularly highly on any prospect lists aside from John Sickels’, in large part due to unconventional swing mechanics and questionable defense/positional projection. But all he’s done, from college through every stop in the minor leagues, is rake. Over 999 career minor league plate appearances across 4 levels he’s compiled a .334/.409/.516 line with decent-enough stolen base ability to go with it (30 steals at a 73% success rate). While he’ll never be a plus power or speed option he profiles as a potent contact bat with strong on-base abilities, like a young Marco Scutaro. While that may seem like the most boring player comp in the history of player comps, there is tremendous value in having a guy like that on your roster. Miller should possess dual 2B/SS eligibility in most leagues next year, making him one of the better utility infield options around for fantasy benches in 2014 and beyond.