It is shortstop edition time of “Year to Date.” One of the top shortstops, who is also a huge headache to own due to his fragility, Troy Tulowitzki, is not off to a great start but he is hitting near .300 so he’s not quite a super disappointment and I am sure he will get it going soon as long as he can stay on the field. But there are some other big busts so far at the shortstop position, as well as some unlikely names finding themselves in the current top 5 of the shortstop rankings. Let’s take a look.
Surprises: Adeiny Hechavarria, Zack Cozart, Marcus Semien
Hechavarria of the Marlins seems like just about the most unlikely of pre-season shortstop starters to find himself as the #2 ranked shortstop on Yahoo behind the great Hanley Ramirez. Hechavarria is hitting .315 with 2 HR, 17 RBI, 18 R, and 1 SB through 29 games while hitting 8th for the Marlins. This fast start now has him 76% owned in Yahoo leagues, which is 4% more than Jean Segura. Hechavarria as the #8 hitter on the Marlins has no business being higher owned than Segura who is hitting 1st/2nd for the Brewers and is actually bouncing back pretty well from his nightmare 2014 performance that was plagued with tragedy. Hechavarria is a light hitter with not as much speed as you would expect and nearly everything in his batter profile suggests that he is going to tail off and be waiver wire fodder. His walk rate is down and his strikeout rate is up. His line drive rate is down to a mostly unimpressive 18.4% while his infield fly ball rate is high at 14.8%. Also, his infield hit rate is down to 4.5%, which is a couple points below his career mark. So the fact that he has a very high .372 BABIP when all these trends would suggest otherwise, it is quite confusing. At best Hechavarria is a .270/5 HR/10 SB guy.
Zack Cozart of the Reds is making some noise after a month of play, and while it is a surprise to see him as the #3 ranked shortstop on Yahoo, at least he has more of a Minor League track record to back up what he is doing. In the Minors, Cozart had a decent power/speed blend for a shortstop, but when he reached the Majors as a full-time starter in 2012, he did not live up to expectations as he hit just .246 with 15 HR and 4 SB. The following year it was more of the same as he hit .254 with 12 HR and failed to record a stolen base in 151 games. The Reds showed patience with him and they stuck him out there full-time again in 2014, but the .221 AVG with 4 HR and 7 SB was another major disappointment. Currently for the 2015 season, Cozart is hitting .304 with 5 HR, 13 RBI, 12 R, and 2 SB and this could be a turning point for him in his age 29 season. The batting average is supported by an increase in line drives and harder overall contact, and the BABIP is not out of control at .319. It is unlikely that Cozart will sustain top 5 production at shortstop, but I could see him finishing the year hitting .275-.280 with 15 HR and 10 SB.
Semien is the starting shortstop for the A’s this year and I’ve already shown my approval of him in the second baseman post and by declaring him to be the best pre-season candidate for “This Year’s Brian Dozier.”
Disappointments: Ian Desmond, Alexei Ramirez
Some fantasy baseball outlets suggested in the pre-season that Ian Desmond could be the first shortstop taken off the board in drafts. Even with the injury risks that Ramirez and Tulowitzki are, I would never in my right mind have taken Desmond before either of those guys. This is what I said about Desmond in the pre-season: “Hard to say no to a 20/20 guy at shortstop, but his strikeout rate jumped all the way to 28.2% last year, which ultimately led to a big drop in his AVG to .255. That right there may make him just as risky as Hanley or Tulo.” Now we are a little more than a month into the season and Desmond is hitting just .237 with 2 HR, 7 RBI, 16 R, and 0 SB. While his strikeout rate this year is down closer to his career rate, he just isn’t hitting the ball well at all. Desmond had a career high line drive rate of 22.5% in 2013, which coincidentally produced a career high .336 BABIP. However, that was an outlier as in all his other seasons played he never surpassed a line drive rate of 18.0%. Yet somehow he managed to consistently have BABIP marks above .315. To have such a mediocre line drive rate but significantly better than average BABIP marks is a bit peculiar. With his line drive rate suffering a lot this year, he finds his BABIP down to .298, but I think he is fortunate that it is even that high. Desmond surely needs to make some corrections and he should be capable of turning things around, but it is looking unlikely that he will log his 4th straight 20/20 season.
Through 25 games played, Alexei Ramirez is without a home run and has just stolen one base while hitting an unsightly .202. As far as his batting average goes, an increase in strikeout rate appears to be the main culprit, but other than that there’s not a whole lot to suggest that he cannot turn it around. Currently, he is actually posting the highest hard hit percentage of his career, so he may just be getting unlucky with a .240 BABIP. He does have an inflated infield fly ball rate, but he does not hit fly balls a whole lot anyway, so that should not really skew his batting average to a large degree. Talking about his power though, his HR total dropped below double digits in 2012 and 2013 before making a rebound to 15 HR in 2014. I don’t think that he cracks the double digit mark again this year though. The lack of stolen bases this year is probably correlated to just lack of opportunity due to barely being on base. If he starts getting his batting average back up like he should then he should be able to chip in 15 SB or so the rest of the way.
Injuries: Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Ben Zobrist, Jed Lowrie
Hanley was off to a scorching start knocking 10 HR and driving in 22 runs while hitting .283 for his new team. However, he suffered a left shoulder injury while attempting to make a play on a fly ball in the very limited left field foul territory at Fenway Park, slamming into the wall. The Red Sox are optimistic that he can avoid a DL stint, but he is going to miss some games and we will have to monitor how his swing looks when he does return. Hopefully the injury does not hamper his power in any way.
I supposed it was only a matter of time till Jose Reyes gets injured as he now has landed on the DL in 5 of the last 6 seasons. His current injury is a cracked rib, which I suppose is better than any injury to his lower body since speed is a big part of his game. It is unclear how long he will remain sidelined but when he does come back, there will always be the worry of his fragile body suffering another injury.
Jed Lowrie was off to a very nice start with a .300 AVG and 4 HR through 18 games before tearing a ligament in his thumb sliding into home plate. The injury is expected to keep him sidelined through the All-Star break. Barring a promotion of Astros super prospect Carlos Correa, Lowrie’s job should still be there for him when he is ready to return.
I talked about Zobrist and his injury in the second baseman post.
Keep an eye on: Carlos Correa, Jung Ho Kang
Going back to Correa, the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, he is absolutely demolishing AA right now after missing the second half of 2014 with an injury. His current AA stat line is .390/.467/.743 with 7 HR and 14 SB in 26 games. He will soon receive a promotion to AAA and if the Astros continue to be one of the better teams in baseball as we get into the summer, then the Astros are going to have to give real consideration to giving him a shot in the Majors. If he does get summer promotion, then that could push Jed Lowrie and Luis Valbuena into a platoon at third base, if the Astros are comfortable with Lowrie at that position. It makes sense though, as the switch-hitting Lowrie traditionally hits better from the right side of the plate facing lefties, while the left-handed hitting Valbuena struggles a lot versus lefties but mashes on righties. A Correa promotion could be the best situation for the Astros to make a post-season run this year, and the baseball gods only know that they need it.
Jung Ho Kang was signed by the Pirates in the off-season after he posted video game numbers in Korea. Obviously the likelihood of those numbers translating over to his play in Major League Baseball is very small, but his tremendous performance in Korea cannot be completely ignored. Kang lost out to Jordy Mercer in the battle for the starting shortstop gig in Spring Training, but Mercer is extremely struggling right now and that could provide Kang with an opportunity for more playing time and a chance to steal the job away. If Kang does usurp the role, I would not expect a whole lot out of him, but he would certainly be worth a flier.