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Top 20 MLB Fantasy Shortstops for 2011

| by Hardball Times

Other 2011 fantasy rankings by position: Catcher || First Base || Second Base

Welcome back. I want to remind everyone that these rankings are based on position eligibility. Players who are eligible at multiple positions will be ranked in comparison with others at each relevant position. You will also note asterisks next to the sames of certain players. These indicate health risks in my eyes. Health concerns have been taken into consideration in the rankings, which colmbine expected talent with expected playing time to yield expected production.

Position eligibility and evaluation criteria for the purposes of these rankings are explained here.

Rank      Name              Team         Oliver Slash (2011)
1         Hanley Ramirez    Marlins      .307/.383/.518
2         Troy Tulowitzki   Rockies      .275/.354/.488
3         Jose Reyes*       Mets         .278/.330/.426
4         Derek Jeter       Yankees      .278/.344/.376
5         Alexei Ramirez    White Sox    .272/.311/.399
6         Jimmy Rollins*    Phillies     .239/.301/.377
7         Stephen Drew      Diamondbacks .261/.324/.427
8         Asdrubal Cabrera  Indians      .281/.339/.390
9         Starlin Castro    Cubs         .303/.342/.420
10        Rafael Furcal*    Dodgers      .275/.344/.399
11        Elvis Andrus      Rangers      .277/.344/.352
12        Ian Desmond       Nationals    .261/.312/.399
13        Jason Bartlett    Rays         .281/.344/.390
14        Erick Aybar       Angels       .267/.314/.358
15        Miguel Tejada     Giants       .268/.302/.378
16        Cliff Pennington  Athletics    .237/.322/.328
17        Alcides Escobar   Brewers      .267/.310/.357
18        J.J. Hardy        Orioles      .251/.313/.395
19        Everth Cabrera*   Padres       .239/.318/.326
20        Jed Lowrie        Red Sox      .234/.319/.382

*Assuming health

As you can tell from the above list of players and Oliver projections, shortstop is, as always, more shallow than a kiddie pool. Note the extreme drop-offs in talent as you progress down the list. While most other positions have tiers of players, the shortstop rankings for 2011 largely represent tiers-by-player. Once Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitski are off the board, the pickings start getting really thin really fast.

Jimmy Rollins is the last player on this list that I expect to reach both the 15-homer and the 15-steals plateau, though Asdrubal Cabrera may flirt with it. Once you get past him on this list, the remainder are largely two-dimensional (or in the case of Everth Cabrera and Jed Lowrie, borderline one-dimensional) . The farther down the list you go, the more players start hurting you in categories (AVG, RBI, HR) that they do not help in.

Some may question why I am ranking Derek Jeter so high. After a sub-mediocre 2010 (.270/.340/.370) that represented his worst career season at age 36 with signs of decline bookending 2009, why would he be the fourth best fantasy shortstop? Answer: shortstop is just that thin a position. Jeter's .320 wOBA last season was still the seventh best among all shortstops and second only to Alexei Ramirez in the AL.

While modern day Jeter is no longer vintage Jeter, he is still a productive fantasy player whose poor defense at short is a non-factor. Considering that Jeter's second worst batting average in any season is .291, I am not concerned about Jeter's average in 2010. Oliver projects a .278/.344/.376 line, but Jeter's expected batting average (xAVG) based on his 2010 xBABIP (.342) is a robust .299. Accordingly, I expect Jeter to bounce back some in 2011 and probably be underrated. My less scientific than Oliver projection is a .295 average with 14 homers, 20 steals and more than 100 runs. Those are numbers worth owning, particularly at shortstop.

The rest of this list is a parade of horrible. I like Asdrubal Cabrera, Elvis Andrus and Starlin Castro, but I feel Castro will be overvalued by some, that Andrus needs to steal bases more efficiently, and that Asdrubal Cabrera, while solid, is underwhelming and offers limited upside. Cabrera could be a solid play if he produces a .290 average with double digit homer-steal totals, but the fact that I am "salivating" at such production shows you why it is better to sink your money in a Hanley/Tulo bidding war (or pay a premium for Reyes/Jeter) than aggressively acquire Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera (or even Roy Halladay). A top five shortstop plus the 15th best first-baseman is infinitely more productive than a top five first baseman plus Miguel Tejada.

It is important to note that it is no longer 2006/2007. The economy sucks, Khalil Greene is out of baseball and reliable shortstops are scarce. This, along with second base, is where you spend your money. Unlike catcher, your shortstop, unless you draft Rafael Furcal, will likely play 130+ games. He will likely play 150+ games, as shortstops are heading back toward the athletic/defense mold of baseball (more durable and rangy, less productive with the bat).

I spent $45 on Hanley Ramirez in my league last year, while Pujols went for $41. Sure, Pujols did and always will outproduce Hanley, but as I note above, fantasy baseball is about what you create en toto. It is not about who has the best player, but who has the best overall team. You should finance your team accordingly. Perhaps economizing is not the best strategy when you are playing stars-and-scrubs (as I was last season), but I can guarantee you I will gamble on a first basemen a thousand times more often than I will gamble on my shortstop or second baseman.

I ranked Stephen Drew No. 7 overall but offer a word of caution: While Drew has double digit home run-stolen base production and a strong likelihood of racking up plentiful runs, he tends to alternate good batting average/wOBA seasons with bad ones. Here are his career averages, 2006-2010: .316, .238, .291, .261, .278.

He'll get you 10-15 homers with eight to 10 or more steals and 70-plus runs, but the batting average will be the linchpin of his fantasy value. He's a medium risk/moderate reward shortstop, which is not the kind of risk I like to take in fantasy. Hence, do not take my ranking as a stamp of approval. It is just a realization of what I think he will more likely than not do, not a reflection of his downside, which is quite plausible.

The final five or six names on my rankings are largely "leftovers" who could have valuable seasons if the BABIP gods smile upon them in 2011.

Everth Cabrera has good speed and walks a good clip, but strikes out way too much to float a good average, If he streaks an Austin Jackson-like BABIP in 2011, however, he could do big things. Similar story with Cliff Pennington, who I expect to post a higher average, despite bring less prone to run. Those two might be the highest reward names among the dregs of this list and if you just absolutely forget to buy a shortstop on draft day, you might as well target them.

Hardy's and Tejada's best days and power surges are seemingly behind them, but Hardy's young enough that he might rekindle his old power stroke, while Tejada might start doing steroids again or something. They will not likely be particularly useful in standard formats for anything other than day-off streams.

Alcides Escobar is touted as a good-speed, average-capable hitter who showed no signs of being able to do either in 2011. Until he shows some ability to survive major league pitching, I will view him skeptically. Likewise, Lowrie has never been productive or healthy for an extended enough period of time to think of him as a sleeper. He's got double-digit home run power, but strikes out way too much (18 percent in the minors) for a guy with limited power (though he does walk quite a bit: 13.3 percent in the minors).

As always, leave the love/hate in the comments.

Jeffrey Gross is a 23-year old law student (and Cubs fan) who currently resides in Madison, WI. In addition to writing for The Hardball Times, he currently writes baseball analysis for the Game Of Inches blog under the pseudonym David "MVP" Eckstein and has previously worked for The Daily Illini and Northern Star newspapers as a film critic and sportswriter (respectively). You can reach him by email at [email protected] or by comment at

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