In this installment of the Data Monster Positional Outliers series, I’ll be taking a look at the shortstop position. Shortstop has become one of the best positions in all of fantasy baseball. Long known as a defensive position, the last few seasons have seen a number of players become legitimate MVP candidates due to their offensive prowess. Now, for fantasy managers, we have a position filled with power speed threats. However, after the top 12 or so players the position certainly begins to fill with question marks. Let’s see how the Data Monster views the position.
Looking over the top hitters on the Whiff leaderboard the first SS eligible player to appear is David Fletcher. I already spoke about Fletcher in the second base piece so no need to rehash that argument. The first notable SS that appears is the Twins Jorge Polanco. Polanco has always excelled at making more contact than expected and for years, this allowed him to post solid AVG numbers. However, in 2020 that AVG cratered, and the power he showed in 2019 also disappeared. His 2019 batted ball numbers look to be an outlier and despite the high contact rate, I think he is unlikely to return to fantasy goodness especially with a now questionable role for the Twins.
In quite possibly the least shocking news ever, the opposite end of the Whiff spectrum is occupied by Javy Baez. The Cubs SS has always had issues making contact but in 2020 these issues seemed to become a bit worse. The biggest change for Baez actually seems to be where those contact issues become more prominent. While he still struggled in this area, Baez actually chased out of the zone less often than he has in the past. The big problem is, while Baez did a better job identifying pitches to swing at, his in-zone contact rate dropped. This is a concerning development for Baez’s prospects of a return to above-average fantasy production. This will be a big thing to watch for early in the season.
The player who had the highest swing rate over expected (IZ) in all of baseball in 2020 was Corey Seager. The Dodger SS had a massive bounce-back season after struggling with injuries over the last two seasons. While he has always swung a ton of pitches in the zone, his 2020 mark represents a career-high. Additionally, he posted a career-high SAE, my plate discipline metric. Seager is elite and choosing the right pitch to swing at and he does plenty of damage on those pitches when he does choose to swing.
The league’s most passive SS (non-David Fletcher division) was JP Crawford. Crawford started off the season hot, but in the end, he was still a below-average hitter. This passive approach seems to be a change from his previous plate discipline results and this could be a change he made in order to better pick pitches he could hit. Similar to what I mentioned with Dylan Moore this could be an organizational change the Mariners made.
The shortstop who was best at avoiding expanding the zone in 2020 was the new Blue Jay Marcus Semien. This is something Semien has always excelled at as he has consistently posted extremely strong plate discipline metrics. He is a decent bounceback bet for fantasy purposes hitting near the top of a loaded Toronto lineup. On the other end of the spectrum, we once again find Javy Baez. Despite the relative drop in his chase rates, Baez was still one of the worst in baseball. It appears that the drop in his chase rate may be due to the pitches he saw as his expected chase rate was the lowest of his career.
As the SS position has become more and more offensive in nature, more shortstops are finding themselves near the top of the In_wOBA leaderboard. in 2020, the SS that found himself on this list was Tim Anderson. Anderson has taken a big step forward over the last few seasons. Overall, Anderso’s batted ball metrics don’t look much different but his barrel rate increased. This suggests to me that he has been making more consistent contact and it helped lead to his huge 2020 season. If he returns to the 2019 version of himself expect to see a little less power, but he appears to be a real offensive force now and should be considered among the upper tier of shortstops.
The SS who packs the least punch when he makes contact is Jorge Polanco. As we already discussed Polanco makes a top of contact. This is not an ideal combination for a hitter and it’s one of the biggest reasons why Polanco struggled. However, before 2020, Polanco was always around league average to slightly above average by this metric. He does not appear to be any different than his pre-2019 self and this could mean we could get a return to the lower power high average numbers he posted in years prior. This would be a nice sight for the Twins but he would not have much fantasy relevancy if this were the case.
The shortstop who displayed the best Plate Discipline in 2020 was Paul DeJong. This was not really a name I expected to see leading this list. After posting average real-life offensive seasons with big power that made him a solid MI option, DeJong really struggled in 2020. His power disappeared and his K rate jumped. This coincided with a huge jump in PD skill according to SAE. I wonder if this more focused approach changed DeJong as a hitter and was a key to his struggles in 2020. The Cardinals should have a good offense so if he can return to the DeJong of old with a more aggressive overall approach, he could be a great buy at his current ADP.
The SS with the worst PD was Amed Rosario. The newest member of Cleveland, Rosario has long posted terrible SAE numbers. One interesting change for Rosario was a big jump in K-rate. This was not tied to an increase in whiffs, but instead, it was driven by a more passive in-zone approach. Any “success” Rosario had was tied to his hyper-aggressive approach and I think that he will need to return to that in 2021 for him to regain and fantasy value.