Ladies and gentlemen, baseball is back!
With the MLB and MLB Players Association agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement, the lockout is officially past us, and we are going to have a 162-game season! Suddenly, we have gone from a period of tremendous sadness to a time of extreme excitement. Now, we get to see a free-agent frenzy while also getting ready for the season; chaos is upon us!
With that in mind, there has never been a better time to completely dive into fantasy baseball prep. Now that the season is set to start on April 7th, fantasy baseball drafts are in full swing, and we’ll have to make last-minute adjustments to the prep that was done during the lockout. With players changing teams and new reports coming in, expect there to be a lot of change in average draft position (ADP) heading up to the season- those who can make adjustments on the fly will be at an advantage.
We’ll be going position-by-position to assist in preparation, looking for the good, the bad, and the breakout. In other words, one optimal target, a player you should avoid, and a player going past pick #300 in NFBC drafts that can be a true sleeper this year. Today, we’ll be focusing on the shortstop position. This is a position filled with athleticism, with some of the game’s top players. Who should you be targeting, and who should you avoid? Let us dive right into it!
Stats via Baseball Savant and Fangraphs
ADP via NFBC Drafts Since February 1st
The “Good”: Francisco Lindor, NYM
2021 Stats (524 PA): .230/.322/.412, 20 HR, 73 R, 63 RBI, 10 SB
ADP: 50.98 (SS8)
Oftentimes, targeting players with an established resume coming off of poor years can be a great way to find undervalued players. After all, recency bias may be the most powerful tool the universe has bestowed against us. If you just got “burned” by a player, do you really want to draft them again?
Francisco Lindor was a second-round pick in the NFBC Main Event last season (according to rotoholic.com), which led to high expectations from the fantasy community. However, the expectations he was worried about were the ones placed on him when the Mets signed him to a record-setting ten-year, $341 extension. In a big market, there is going to be immense pressure on you when you sign a contract like that, especially for a new team.
Clearly, it took some time for Lindor to get into gear. Over the first two months of the season, Lindor posted a 70 weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+), along with just a .109 isolated power (ISO). At that point, the fanbase started to turn on him, and fantasy managers had a right to be concerned. However, that’s where Lindor started to make changes.
From July on, Lindor posted a 132 wRC+, 10.4% barrel rate, and a .241 ISO. What shouldn’t go under-the-radar, though, is an increase to his swinging-strike rate (12.2%) and his strikeout rate (20.7%). See, sometimes, making too much contact can actually not be a good thing; it can lead to inferior quality of contact. It seems as though the 28-year-old realized that as the season went on:
You’d be worried about more strikeouts hurting Lindor’s batting average, but, at 20.7%, it’s not something to be overly concerned about. Last season, his batting average was hurt mightily by a career-low 21.9% line-drive rate, in addition to a .248 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). That should lead to a .260+ batting average, in addition to 25-30 home runs. Meanwhile, he should be hitting near the top of a very productive lineup should be good for his runs and RBI.
Even though Lindor was limited to 524 plate appearances, he had established himself as a very durable player who would rank near the top of the league in plate appearances. We can’t let one season completely throw us off a player who has accomplished so much. The top tier of shortstops require an early-round pick, but of the next tier, Lindor is a very appealing target in the fifth round in 12-team drafts. Expect much more of “Mr. Smiles” this season!
The “Bad”: Jazz Chisholm, MIA
2021 Stats (507 PA): .248/.303/.425, 18 HR, 70 R, 53 RBI, 23 SB
ADP: 78.32 (SS12)
Honorable Mention(s): N/A
Ah, this is a sad one to write about. Then again, this section is sadly not meant for glowing positivity. Simply put, Jazz Chisholm is one of the most fun players to watch in the MLB. The electricity and joy that he plays with are contagious, even from the television. Unfortunately, we don’t get style points in fantasy baseball.
When Chisholm first came onto the scene, he came out scorching hot. Over the first month, he posted a 159 wRC+, in addition to a .270 ISO and .311/.388/.581 slash line. From that point on, though, he clearly was not the same:
For the rest of the season, Chisholm’s statistics aren’t particularly enticing:
.236/.282/.395, .159 ISO, 86 wRC+
Even with a .319 BABIP, the 24-year-old still only mustered a .248 batting average. With a 31.1% called-strike-whiff rate (CSW%) last season, there’s a decent chance his 28.6% strikeout rate increases, as the projections believe it will, especially given his strikeout issues in the past. If so, he’s at risk of becoming a batting average liability, especially considering how much his power fell off – his barrel rate was just 7.5% over the rest of the season.
Plus, with limited on-base ability and a lineup that isn’t projected to be great, Chisholm’s counting stats, particularly his runs scored, could be lower than expected, and he’s not likely to have many RBI as a likely leadoff hitter. The stolen bases are his selling point, but you have to compensate for his lack of production in other areas.
We’ve seen players come up and have a spurt of excellence, which causes expectations to be set too high. That might be what is happening to Chisholm right now. Based on how fun he is as a player and how electric his start of the season is, there may be some positive bias being placed with our evaluation of him. Through an objective lens, there are clears flaws to his profile that may mitigate his strengths. In other words, I’m not sure the proverbial ceiling is worth the risk here.
The “Breakout”: Paul DeJong, STL
2021 Stats (507 PA): .197/.284/.390, 19 HR, 44 R, 45 RBI, 4 SB
ADP: 453.74 (SS40)
Honorable Mention(s): Didi Gregorius (PHI)
Speaking of players who came onto the MLB on fire, Paul DeJong had as productive of an MLB debut as one could have. In 443 plate appearances in his rookie year in 2017, he posted a 123 wRC+, along with a .247 ISO. Add in his strong defense at shortstop, and it made sense for the Cardinals to immediately sign him to a six-year extension, along with two club options attached after that. As long as DeJong developed into the player they believed he’d become, it would be a bargain.
By combining for 7.5 wins above replacement (WAR), per Fangraphs, DeJong was living up to that extension. Even then, though, it was carried more by his superb defense than his offense; he was slightly above league-average as a hitter, per wRC+.
At the same time, you could count on DeJong for some power. Since 2020, though, things haven’t been the same. He’s posted just a .213/.295/.378 slash line, with an ISO (.165) much lower than you’d come to expect from him. Although his .194 ISO in 2021 was about where you’d expect it, his batting average took a major hit, leading to the Cardinals not giving him everyday playing time down the stretch.
However, there are still reasons to be optimistic. For starters, DeJong’s 10.6% barrel rate was a career-high mark for him and portends a potentially higher ISO, especially with his pull tendencies (41.6%) and high frequency of fly balls (34.5%). Meanwhile, even if his BABIP wouldn’t be super high due to his fly-ball tendencies, it almost certainly will be higher than .216, especially if his 19.6% line-drive rate regresses positively. All told, the power should be there, while the batting average shouldn’t be as much of a liability this year.
Plus, there’s some added upside here. Per Derrick Gould of the St.Louis Post Dispatch, DeJong is working with a new hitting coach this offseason:
#stlcards SS Paul DeJong reached out to teammates, reached out to rivals, and reached out to hire a private hitting coach in his quest to revive his swing, rethink his prep/approach, data use during the ongoing lockout.
Compare/contrast reader reaction: https://t.co/UD18Zt8i36
— Derrick S. Goold (@dgoold) February 23, 2022
This happens to be the same hitting coach who reworked the swings of JD Martinez, Mookie Betts, Willy Adames, and many more. Sure, this may not result in anything, but DeJong is certainly in need of some adjustments. Any change should be seen as a positive, as it adds an extra layer of intrigue to his profile.
We have to remember that DeJong has a very high playing time floor based on the defense he provides. He’ll get the first crack at the starting shortstop job over Edmundo Sosa, and as long as he can remain a league-average hitter, as he should do, the job should be his. Thus, in deeper drafts, you could be getting a starting shortstop going well past pick #400, which is hard to find. Simply from a volume play, he’s an easy candidate to exceed his overall value, and there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about a bounce-back here. Don’t fret now, Cardinals fans; your starting shortstop is still in the building.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)