Preseason Position Power Rankings: Couch Side’s top five shortstops for 2013

Editor’s note: Couch Side is very pleased to bring back its annual MLB preseason position power rankings. This year, we will offer two positions every Wednesday and Friday. Each blog ranks the top 10 players at each position and is written by some of Couch Side’s best bloggers. The following is part five of what will be a 12-part series. Enjoy!

BY BRANDON J. SMITH, senior blogger

Will another change of scenery make Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes the best player at his potion in 2013? Photo by: Paul Hadsall / Flickr

Will another change of scenery make Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes the best player at his potion in 2013? Photo by: Paul Hadsall / Flickr

Shortstop is a fun position to rank because of the defensive importance, as well as trying to figure out where an aging superstar like Jeter or a defensive wizard like Brendan Ryan would place.

I’m going to use the Bill James defensive spectrum in order to highlight the importance of the position from a defensive standpoint.

[ – – 1B – LF – RF – 3B – CF – 2B – SS – C – – ]

The furthest right you are on the spectrum determines the significance of the defensive contributions required. Shortstop is second to catcher according to this theory, where first basemen are appropriately listed on the opposite end. It’s not hard to stick a big guy with minimal athleticism over at first and let him hit his 30+ home runs (think Prince Fielder).

When it comes to evaluating right now, we have to consider all the usual factors: age, health, ballpark, peripherals, and occasionally shoddy defensive metrics. Derek Jeter has never been regarded in the saber metric community as a great defensive shortstop, but mainstream apologists and fans will insist that despite coming off an ankle surgery, and at 38, won’t be a complete liability. It remains to be seen if it will be or not, but its one component of evaluating shortstops that is a constant discussion amongst writers and fans.

Here are my 10-1 shortstops:

10. Erick Aybar (2012 stats .290/.324/.416, 8 HR, 45 RBI, 20-4 SB/CS, 4 WAR) – You have to respect Aybar for being potentially the most valuable shortstop last season via Wins Above Replacement.

9. Alcides Escobar (2012 stats .293/.331/.390, 5 HR, 52 RBI, 35-5 SB/CS, 3.2 WAR) – Escobar might be the rangiest SS in all of baseball, his stolen bases will add some nice fantasy value if he can hit for average.

8. Jimmy Rollins (2012 stats .250/.316/.427, 23 HR, 68 RBI, 30-5 SB/CS, 2.3 WAR) – The veteran Rollins can still hit for some pop and be a factor on the base paths.

7. Ian Desmond (2012 stats .292/.335/.511, 25 HR, 72 RBI, 21-6 SB/CS, 3.2 WAR) – He likely won’t slug .500 this year, but regression shouldn’t kill his stock completely.

6. Asdrubal Cabrera (2012 stats .270/.338/.423, 16 HR, 68 RBI, 9-4 SB/CS, 3 WAR) – The projection model ZiPS has Cabrera finishing with similar results to last season (17 HR, 72 RBI).

5. Andrelton Simmons (2012 stats .289/.335/.416, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 1-0 SB/CS, 2.8 WAR)

The sheer enormity of the potential defensive value makes me optimistic about Simmons as a top shortstop going forward. Is there risk in putting him this high? Sure, especially since I’m basing this off of 49 games played last year and rookie struggles are likely to occur. Taking these defensive metrics with a grain of salt, but Simmons was +19 according to Defensive Runs Saved and +10.4 in Ultimate Zone Rating. He looked like he had fantastic range and ability with the eye test as well. Hitting leadoff in the Braves lineup is going to be a decent experiment as well if he can keep up his .350 OBP ability that he showed in the minors. I’m betting high on Simmons regardless of the risk.

4. Starlin Castro (2012 stats .283/.323/.430, 14 HR, 78 RBI, 23-13 SB/CS, 3.5 WAR)

As high as the defensive stats are on Simmons, the opposite can be said of the young Cubs shortstop. Over his first three seasons he has accrued -11.9 in UZR and -11 in DRS, which could mean a number of things. His second base partner Darwin Barney was given massive value from his range (+28 DRS, +13.1 UZR in 2012), of course the difference between the two is that Castro can hit. He’ll be 23 when the season starts and his ability to hit for power should increase this season, various fangraphs projections him slugging around .450 and hitting .300, which gives Castro tons of value going forward. The downside to his youthful, erratic game is his stolen base results, 13 caught stealing led the NL last season and is 57 for 87 stolen bases so far, which is not a good ratio to have fantasy wise.

3. Elvis Andrus (2012 stats .286/.349/.378, 3 HR, 62 RBI, 21-10 SB/CS, 3.5 WAR)

Andrus is one of my favorite players in the game, and one of the more aesthetically appealing ones to watch on an everyday basis. He can hit for average, get on base at a good enough clip, hits behind the runner very well, and is a solid defensive player (+23 DRS, +28 UZR for his career) by all measurements. The one drawback is a stunning lack of power, which requires him to keep up a high average, because otherwise a prolonged slump will hurt his value. The Rangers are in a unique spot because with Andrus at short and Ian Kinsler at second, top prospect Jurickson Profar will be hard pressed to find at bats barring injury or a Ron Washington aneurysm. Arizona attempted to acquire Andrus for Justin Upton over the winter but GM Jon Daniels thought better of it.

2. Jose Reyes (2012 .287/.347/.433, 11 HR, 57 RBI, 40-11 SB/CS)

Reyes is lucky he didn’t take up Jeffery Loria’s offer on buying beachfront property in Miami, it would’ve been a wasted investment. Instead he can live in Toronto where Mark Buerhle’s pit bull will never set foot in (a moment of silence for those poor dogs). The speed element of Reyes’s game will not only help his pennant contending team immensely, but also his fantasy value. Roughly 40/50 stolen bases last year in what many considered to be a down year is not too shabby. His defense has never been the best part of his game with negative ratings in DRS and UZR last year, but his ability to wreak havoc on the base paths and hit for some power has proven to overcome those deficiencies.

1. Troy Tulowitski- (2012 .287/.360/.486, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 2-2 SB/CS, .3 WAR)

Tulowitski and Evan Longoria have a lot in common. Both players are in their late 20s, played together at Long Beach State, are top tier players at their positions, could easily win the MVP any given season, and are occasionally plagued by the injury bug. After a sports hernia injury sidelined his 2012 after May, Tulo will be poised to have another great season. Like Robinson Cano, he’s the most prolific power hitter at his position, and a middle of the order force to be reckoned with. He’s projected to be a 5-6 WAR player with his standard of hitting around .300 and slugging over .500 which will earn him an all-star selection, a potential gold glove, and plenty of MVP votes. However, he’ll be doing all this damage on a likely last place Rockies squad.

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