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“Seventh Nevin” 2017 Shortstop Busts/Bargains

With the sound of spring training’s first pitches snapping worn leather catcher’s mitts nearly upon us, it’s time to take a quick look back at the 2017 Draft Results. Like my fellow writer “The Mad Professor,” I only participated in auction drafts in 2017, so the overall ADP is not directly applicable to my 2017 gaming experiences. That said, the correlation between the ADP and the price paid for some of these players is still relevant, and applicable.

My opening assignment is shortstops and there were quite a few from each of the Bust and Bargain bins from 2017 Fantasy Drafts. Some more notable than others. Let’s dive right in, clearing out the clutter in our Bust Bin:

#3 Bust – Trevor Story, Rockies had a sensational rookie campaign (if you ignore the 31.3% strikeout percentage) and was on his way to challenging Corey Seager for NL ROY (potentially!) before having his season cut short by a hand injury.  Subsequently, surgery ended his 2016 season at 27 HR in only 97 games (on pace for 45, which would have set an NL rookie record). Rookie cards skyrocketed in price, autographed balls were suddenly triple-figures (even without  COAs), and Fantasy GMs everywhere plotted their strategies to tell their Story in 2017.

And indeed they did, drafting Trevor at an ADP of 35.5 and the 8th overall shortstop. Story makes my list because, while playing the entire season, his performance significantly declined. Whether it was the proverbial “sophomore slump,” his recovering from hand surgery, or constantly looking over his shoulder (the Rox are loaded at infield at the top levels of their farm system), he produced at 1.6 fWAR less in 2017 than in his rookie campaign, in 48 more games played no less. Story led the NL in strikeouts (191), which equated to an eye-popping 34.4% of his plate appearances.

He still hit 24 HR with 82 RBIs, so he did positively affect some counting categories, but overall, after watching a fellow GM dump $31 on his starting shortstop, you would have to hope for a greater return at that price point than just the 21st ranked shortstop at season’s end. Especially one with no additional positional flexibility.

#2 Bust – Dansby Swanson, Braves was touted as the next generation shortstop. It started with his trade from Arizona to Atlanta in a deal for Shelby Miller (where the Diamondbacks where absolutely fleeced, but I digress) and continued when Swanson debuted on August 17, 2016. Finishing 2016 with rookie eligibility intact and a sparkling 0.302 average (among other high quality peripherals), all were excited about what 2017 had in store.

So much so, that Fantasy GMs were shelling out early ($13) and often (173.8 ADP), making Swanson the 18th overall shortstop selected. Unfortunately, Dansby’s 2017 was a bumpy ride that even included a brief demotion back to Gwinnett (AAA, IL) . Statistically speaking, the time in Gwinnett did not much help as Swanson’s rookie campaign will largely be one that we’d like to forget. Finishing at replacement level (0.1 fWAR) and 61st overall on my shortstop list, he’s the #2 Bust only because expectations were not nearly as high as they were for our #1 Bust.

#1 Bust – Jonathan Villar, Brewers was on average the 7th shortstop selected with an ADP of 32.3. (He makes this list by virtue of primarily playing 2016 at shortstop [108 of his 156 games] and therefore being drafted as such in 2017 despite ending up not playing a game there.

In 2016, Villar was simply amazing, coupling a slash line of 0.285/ 0.369/ 0.457/ 0.826 with 19 home runs, 62 stolen bases (77.5% success rate), a polished 3.1 fWAR, and multi-position flexibility (SS, 3B, 2B). Maybe the beginning of the end for him in 2017 was when he broke camp on the other side of  the keystone. (Villar only played 11 games there in 2016 and was being moved there full-time to start 2017, allowing for rookie phenom Orlando Arcia playing time at SS.)

Villar started 2017 slowly, barely crawling out of April above the Mendoza line, and never really recovered. A decent August and September left Villar’s end-of-season performance to barely sub-replacement level with a -0.5 fWAR. This performance has him coming in #32 on the season-ending shortstop list. Not the type of results you need from a top pick and on one that a GM spent $35. And if you spent big counting on that positional flexibility, you were doubly snakebit.

That was a tough trip down memory lane, watching dollars spent and seeing a limited (or no) return on those decisions. Fortunately, where there are distasteful results, we are usually lucky enough to find a collection of favorable ones as well. Before we look at these extreme bargains from 2017, it is important to give an honorable mention shout out to Marwin Gonzalez, Astros for his 2017 performance. An ADP of almost 400, he was eligible for 5 positions (1B, 2B, 3B, SS, LF) and his statistics placed him #6 on the shortstop list. I omitted him from consideration because he only played 35 of his 134 games at SS. He had an amazing year, but less than a third of his games at the position excluded him from consideration. Let’s have a look at these draft-day steals.

#3 Bargain – Didi Gregorius, Yankees missed the first month of the season. A friend of mine was so confident in Gregorius we bet (before opening day) that Gregorius would hit 25 HR. I said not a chance. My friend said absolutely. When Gregorius got hurt in the World Baseball Classic my buddy stuck with the bet – I just knew he was crazy. Drafted for only $1 … that’s right, $1, and being selected as the 26th shortstop (260.8 ADP), no one else believed in Didi either. Entering his 3rd year post-Jeter, big things were expected in New York (but not in the Fantasy realm).

Finally touching the infield grass on April 28 in Yankee Stadium, Gregorius got his 2017 campaign underway. He did not post other-worldly numbers … all he did was provide a consistent, steadying, middle-of-the-order bat (76% of his 132 games) for a resurgent Yankees ball club that ultimately advanced to its first ALCS in 5 years (which is years ahead of their re-load timetable).

Gregorius finished as the 13th ranked shortstop with an fWAR of 3.9 and yes, he hit his 25th home run on September 20 and my buddy clinched the bet. What a great performance for only a buck!

#2 Bargain – Zack Cosart, Reds entered 2017 considered, at best, an average shortstop. Over 6 seasons, his combined fWAR was 9.9. Perhaps an unfair comparison, but the best player in our generation (Mr. Mike Trout) has surpassed that number twice – in a single season! – and come close on two other occasions. Suffice it to say, if you were drafting Cozart at all, it was to back up someone else. A $2 flyer (because someone else needed a backup and stole your $1 nomination), and the 30th drafted shortstop was yours (number 352.3 ADP).

Did you stop at the Mini-Mart for that scratch-off lottery ticket as well? Talk about paying off … Cozart flew out of the gates, collecting 58 hits in April and May, on his way to opening eyes across the baseball landscape (and certainly filling your inbox with trade offers). Pitching caught up to Zack for the remainder of the year, but that hot start help him finish with a 0.297/ 0.385/ 0.548/ 0.933 slash line, his first All-Star appearance, and ultimately a one-way ticket to Disneyland to play 3B for Mr. Trout’s Angels for 3-years for $38M. Cozart certainly cashed in big on his breakout season, and stunned the masses by finishing #8 in the shortstop rankings.

#1 Bargain – Elvis Andrus, Rangers signed an 8-year/ $118M contract in 2015. Andrus had been an AL ROY and a 2-time All-Star prior to the extension, but hadn’t really “broken out,” certainly not enough to be “deserving” of $14.75M/ year. That changed in a hurry though in 2017 and the year of Elvis was on. Now, some might say negative is negative, but I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, so what I see here is that Elvis had an absolutely forgetful defensive year in 2016 (-15.6 UZR). 2017 saw a marked improvement as his UZR rating was -2.6, an improvement of 13.0, which is amazing when coupled the development of his power stroke.

Andrus flirted with 0.300 for most of the season, ultimately settling in at 0.297, but it was the career highs in home runs (20, with 68 total extra base hits) and runs batted in (88) that propelled Elvis to the #1 shortstop ranking in 2017. Not a bad result for a $3 wager for the shortstop drafted 16th overall (156.5 ADP).

Now there’s chatter about re-negotiating that existing contract (at least there was prior to the Hot Stove Freeze) to which I’d caution, “Whoa Nellie!” (God, I miss Keith Jackson, may he rest in peace.) Let’s see Andrus repeat the performance of defensive and offensive consistency before dropping a 6-year/ $150M contract on the 29-year-old. I mean, he is still under contract through 2022 (with a vesting option for 2023). And while I doubt that Andrus can repeat the result of claiming the top spot of the shortstop rankings (especially with Machado joining the mix this season), I can tell you it’s going to be a great ride to watch all them perform.

This trip back in time has been a hoot. As I quickly review the Busts and Bargains the one thing that was patently clear was that all the busts were one-year wonders who had a breakout campaign  lacking previous support , and that we were all caught riding too high on the wave that ultimately crashed on the rocks, shattering our surfboards. That hurt.

Pitchers and catchers report in just seven short days. I cannot wait for baseball season to begin. How about you?

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Major League Fantasy Baseball Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and John Gozzi live on Sunday February 11th, 2018 from [7:30]-9pm EST for episode #97 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This is our kick off show for the new 2018 fantasy baseball season. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.

Our guest this week is Joe IannoneJoe is a tenured writer with majorleaguefantasysports.com. Click on his name to see his portfolio of writing. His main focus is in the pitching arena.

A business analyst by day, pursuing all things baseball by night. My favorite day of the year is opening day and my favorite sound is the crack of the bat ... the great contact-type, not that flubbed, squishy foul ball-type. In my free time I still collect some baseball cards (though not quite like I did when I was 12), join my colleagues here writing for Major League Fantasy Sports and manage a recently-founded Dynasty League.

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