We continue our positional review for the NFBC mid-season leagues to be drafted at the All-Star break. This week, the shortstops are front and center.
Starlin Castro boasts MLB’s lowest walk rate at 1.9 percent. By that metric, the league’s most impatient player serves as an ironic cornerstone for Theo Epstein’s Chicago Cubs if there ever was one. Delmon Young’s lack of plate discipline is enough to make me cringe and his rate is 3.1 percent. Castro swings at 41percent of pitches outside the strike zone, fifth worst in the majors. It’s not surprising that his 3.5 pitches per plate appearance aren’t helping to escalate opposing starters pitch counts. His OBP of .317 doesn’t exactly lend itself to league leading run totals. So how on earth could I have Starlin Castro ranked as the top fantasy shortstop heading into mid-season drafts? Because of the words of wisdom from Hollywood sage Bill Murray, ‘It just doesn’t matter!’
Ok, that’s not totally true. Those stats do matter, but Castro has a number of trump cards in his hip pocket that puts him at the top of my list. I’ve been hearing for a long time now that Castro’s high BABIP is unsustainable and that as soon as his ‘luck’ runs out his batting average will fall along with his fantasy value. If it truly is luck driving his incredibly stable BABIP numbers for last 27 months (2010: .346/2011: .344/2012: .351) then the Cubs shortstop should head to Las Vegas during the All Star Break and clean out the casinos. Maybe Starlin Castro is simply a very skilled hitter? Good hitters can maintain high BAPIPs. Over 18 years Derek Jeter has compiled a career BABIP of .354 and 11 of those years he posted a BABIP of over .340. The Yankee captain has done this with a career 20.2 Line Drive rate (Castro’s career rate is 20.6). Let’s look at the career BABIPS of some of the elite hitters in the game: Joey Votto .358, Carlos Gonzalez .349, David Wright .344, Joe Mauer .343, Josh Hamilton .339.
Starlin Castro has a career BABIP of .346, and I hope in future drafts my competitors assume he just keeps getting lucky. I’m more focused on his increasing line drive rate (19.5/20.1/23.5), his steady batting average (.300/.307/.308), rising slugging percentage (.408/.432/.451), isolated power trend (.108/.125/.142), and rising home run per fly ball rate (2.6/5.5/8.3). He’s shaping up to be 15 HR 35 SB type of player with decent counting numbers and a batting average that’s better than you think. The fact that he isn’t taking walks make that average more impactful since he’ll rack up more official AB’s than others that are more patient at the dish. Plus he’s only 22 so the best is yet to come.
Hanley Ramirez deserves to be second even though he’s only hitting .258 and hasn’t sniffed .300 since 2010. He is still on target for a 25-25 season and has batting average upside if the old Hanley ever decides to show up again. He represents an interesting case because his career BABIP is .335, but last year his BABIP fell to .275 due to injuries and other issues. This year Marlins third baseman has only raised that number to .286. I am slightly concerned since he’s had two surgeries on the same shoulder. The BABIP should bounce back to his established career norms and his batting average along with it.
Jose Reyes always represents the most possible downside from the shortstop position on draft day. He’s an injury waiting to happen and even when he’s on the field you just don’t know what you’re going to get. Pass. Troy Tulowitzki is out at least eight weeks and could be shut down for the season with the Colorado Rockies out of the playoff race. Jimmy Rollins has righted the ship after a slow start slashing (.323/.363/.604) in June. With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard poised to return to the Phillies lineup the former MVP makes for an interesting choice in July drafts.
The prices for Rafael Furcal and Mike Aviles are likely to be sky high and I’m not sure I’d want to buy high with either of them given their injury histories. The market for Dee Gordon may have cooled significantly. There remains a ton of upside here. I’m surprised that his BABIP is only .282 given his tremendous speed, 20.8 percent line drive rate and 58.9 percent ground ball rate. There’s not enough of a track record here to know what’s going to happen, but he’ll have to raise his .274 OBP to generate the run and stolen base production his owners are expecting.
Another Judy to consider if you don’t like Gordon is Everth Cabrera who has 11 swipes in just 34 games. If he can hit enough to stay in the lineup (big if) he has the speed to lead all shortstops in steals in the second half. Jhonny Peralta will come mega cheap and remains part of a potentially lethal Detroit lineup. He has done nothing to inspire confidence in 2012 (.258/.336/.394) but we all know he is capable. He might be available as a flier if you ‘punt’ the position until the mid to late rounds.