Fantasy Baseball 2021: Shortstop preview

·6 min read

I dare you to screw up at shortstop this year. I don’t think it’s possible. There’s too much fun stuff here. There are so many options.

If you peruse the Top 50 in current Yahoo Fantasy Baseball ADP, you’ll find 11 shortstops. Five of those players land in the Top 20. Fernando Tatis Jr. will go first overall in many leagues. Yahoo also throws you a bone with liberal position eligibility — Manny Machado, Alex Bregman, Ketel Marte and Dylan Moore, among others, hold shortstop eligibility in our game, but not in many other formats. As always, check your local rules.

The shortstop pool is also deeper than the second base group, so your middle infielder will likely be a shortstop — though that’s never a mandate. Take what the room gives you. Pound the draft. We’re just looking for the numbers.

Players I’ll draft proactively

— A few years ago, the name Tim Anderson would cause some to shake in fear, sweating the batting average risk. Oh no, he doesn’t walk. Meanwhile, he’s carrying a .281 career average, and he batted .322 and .335 the last two years. His career BABIP is .348 — and we’re deep enough into his career that he takes ownership of that. Last year’s Statcast data puts Anderson in the Top 10 for sprint speed and expected average. And I haven’t even mentioned category juice — Anderson has pop, and still wants to run.

The projection systems assume around 150 games and about 17 steals, but if you prorate his stats over the last three years, he swipes 22 bags per 150 games. The more eggheadish your league is, the more likely they’ve been giving you Anderson at a bargain ADP the last few years. No one ever went broke making money. His current Yahoo ADP (46) is a generous gift.

CHICAGO - SEPTEMBER 26:  Tim Anderson #7 of the Chicago White Sox bats against the Chicago Cubs on September 26, 2020 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
Tim Anderson offers plenty of category juice, so don't overlook him in your fantasy baseball draft. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)

Dansby Swanson keeps showing up on breakout lists; are we going to keep doing this forever? Hasn’t it already happened? I thought his first half of 2019 was the breakout, but then he got hurt and stunk in the second half. Last year would have been the breakout had the season run a full course; he improved all of his slash numbers and was easily on pace for career-best counting stats. He had better 5x5 stats than Anderson and Xander Bogaerts last year, and easily beat Francisco Lindor. And now comes the age-27 season.

You can get into trouble with the extrapolation game, but humor me — last year’s Swanson return over a full season comes out to 132 runs, 27 homers, 94 RBIs, 13.5 steals. Okay, he would have sat a few games as the dog days kicked in, I get it. But Swanson doesn’t have to be anything close to this good to justify his Yahoo ADP of 120, and heck, what if he is legitimately All-Star good? He was a Top 5 prospect in baseball just four years ago. This plane is still taking off. You tell me why Gleyber Torres is 53 picks better than Dansby Swanson.

— The draft price has come down on Marcus Semien, to the point that even if he settles in at his 2018 levels, you justify the pick. And if he’s anything close to 2019, that’s a major coup. I have no problem giving him a pass for two lousy months — and he was still likely to hit 20 home runs last year, along with a perfect stolen-base record. And now he trades a lousy park and spotty lineup for the buoyancy of Toronto’s lineup, wherever that team plays in 2021.

Note that Semien is going 22 picks earlier in the NFBC; he’s a Yahoo giveaway at 160. The crowding of the roster might concern some, but Toronto is paying Semien too much money to sit. And he’s a quality defender, too, which protects his playing time.

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Players I will likely fade

— Some of my industry friends have already countered my Carlos Correa suspicion, so if you disagree with me, you’re in good company. I’ve just grown tired of waiting for Correa to become the MVP contender he was projected to be. The last three years, he’s batted .264, .279, and .239. He shut down the running game four years ago. He’s never hit more than 24 home runs, and that was with a juicy ball.

To be fair, he’s also been hurt a fair amount, which has kept the counting stats down. He missed significant chunks of time in 2017, 2018, and 2019. But that’s a bug to me, not a feature. He was healthy all last year, but tell me how much a .264/.326/.383 line helped the Astros. (Funny how Francisco Lindor turned into the hitter Correa was supposed to be.)

On the plus side, Correa was a god in the 2020 playoffs (we don't factor in playoff performance as much as we should), and he’s still just 26, and there’s always been that pedigree. Maybe this is the year Correa takes a major leap forward. His ADP isn’t unreasonable, between 125-130 in all rooms. But at a position where I can find plenty of players I’m excited to draft, I’m not going to talk myself into someone. Unless the market changes on Correa, I’ll sit it out.

[Yahoo Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

— Panning Elvis Andrus might feel like low-hanging fruit, but he’s a whopping 184 picks more expensive in Yahoo ADP against NFBC ADP, so I think we need this discussion. Andrus hasn’t run much in two of the last three years, so I’m uncomfortable expecting a bag bonanza into an age-32 season. Oakland is obviously a bad place for offense. And Andrus has been a sneaky-mediocre batter for most of his career anyway; his OPS+ has been under 100 (the league average) in 10-of-12 seasons. How did Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill sign off on this move?

I should also mention his sprint speed has been in steady decline — what a drag it is getting old — and Andrus had a cratering batting average last year despite better judgment of the strike zone (less chasing, more in-zone swings; hat tip, Gene McCaffrey). That's what skills deterioration looks like.

— Jonathan Villar and Jake Croneworth are both carrying expectant Yahoo ADPs (148 and 187, respectively) despite no guarantee of playing time. Even if we assume Croneworth is a starter for now, that puts Jurickson Profar and Ha-Seong Kim on the bench. Both of those guys are going to play at least some of the time. Villar is the type of good-in-fantasy, mediocre-in-real-life option that I could step into if he were on a bad team that would leave him alone in the lineup (I’ve become something of a Kid Mondesi sympathizer). But the Mets think they can win the NL Pennant. Tell me who they bench for Villar’s trick-or-treat bat?

One good thing about position-flexible guys is their value is potentially boosted if any number of teammates get hurt or fall into slumps. But considering the depth and the aspirations of these two organizations, I’m concerned Villar and Croneworth also have several plausible paths to part-time work. I’d be shocked if either one started 140 games.