Guarantee every player plays 162 games in baseball, 16 games in football, and Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are all first-round picks every year. This isn't new information; the injury risks all four carry are built into their projections and their draft positions, and the reasons those guys are so beloved are obvious.
Gronkowski might still be a first-rounder this fall in football drafts, and Tulowitzki the same in baseball. Graham and Ramirez won't be too far behind. And the rationale here, too, is pretty obvious - they aren't guaranteed to get hurt, and even if they do, the production you get while they're healthy is so good that it's worth the risk.
And there's another problem, too, common to both shortstops and tight ends. Position depth. If - if - Tulo or Gronk or what-have-you can stay healthy for a full season, well, shut it down, you're on your way to at least the playoffs and maybe a title. The gap between the uber-good guys and even the next tiers - Martellus Bennett, Jose Reyes - is potentially enormous, and your risk could pay off with a huge reward.
(If it's cool with you - and it should be - I'm going to stop including tight ends here, since, you know, baseball site. Just know most of what I say shortstop-wise is also particularly tight end-y.)
The danger, of course, is that you could draft Tulowitzki, he could get hurt April 20, and then you're stuck with, I don't know, Asdrubal Cabrera as your shortstop for the season.
At this point, I think it'll be clearer if I discuss the shortstops in terms of tiers, instead of individual guys. It makes my point a little better. If you'll indulge me, I have, based on our consensus rankings, broken our top 25 shortstops down into tiers. You might quibble with the exact gaps, but they're based on where obvious gaps arose in our consensus points, and whatever, it's for making a point, not for scien-damn-tific accuracy.
Tier 1: Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Ian Desmond
Tier 2: Jose Reyes, Starlin Castro
Tier 3: Alexei Ramirez, Jhonny Peralta
Tier 4: Jimmy Rollins, Xander Bogaerts, Elvis Andrus, Ben Zobrist, Erick Aybar, J.J. Hardy, Alcides Escobar
Tier 5: Javier Baez, Chris Owings, Jean Segura, Danny Santana
Tier 6: Jed Lowrie, Andrelton Simmons, Asdrubal Cabrera, Marcus Semien, Jung-Ho Kang, Brandon Crawford, Brad Miller
Put in other words:
I've ranked the first five shortstops and that's where I want to stop.— Alex Kantecki (@rotodealer) February 13, 2015
What's the argument for drafting a Tulowitzki or a Ramirez super high? Well, you imagine what you have available if and when they get hurt. Tulowitzki played through mid-July last year, meaning that when he was lost for the year, you had to find a replacement. That replacement had to be a readily available option, which means someone in the lower tiers; that's tier six.
In other words, your shortstop for 2014 was either JOSE REYES, or it was JHONNY PERALTA, or it was TULO-plus-someone or something, yeah? Well, if you look at points-league totals for last year (your league could well have different settings, this isn't 100 percent perfect, yada yada yada), Reyes was the single leading shortstop, at 448.5. Desmond had 422.5. Peralta, 396. There were a whole mess of guys between the mid-300s and the mid-400s.
Meanwhile, Tulowitzki on his own put up 340.5 (roughly the same as Castro in 43 fewer games). If you had stumbled into Asdrubal Cabrera when he got hurt, well, that's 467 points, better than Reyes' position-leading numbers. Lowrie, Simmons, all those guys would have yielded similar totals. The same is more-or-less true of Hanley Ramirez, though he actually played most of the year last year, so it isn't perfect.
The point of all this is that drafting one of the big guys, even if they get injured, is a head start. A full season of success out of Tulowitzki would be great, but it's unrealistic. Even a half-season, a little more, promises a huge chunk of production, so much better than most of his position-mates that a waiver-wire fill-in won't really drag you down that far.
There are arguments for a handful of shortstops as your starter. If you get Reyes, hey, that isn't bad, and you used your first-rounder on, I don't know, Clayton Kershaw or something. But your league has, what, 10 owners? 12? There aren't 10, 12 shortstops I'd be excited about owning, as Kantecki oh-so-eloquently explained. Your leaguemates probably have the same "Hey, I can end up with Jose Reyes" thoughts you have. Only one of you gets him.
So I'm still taking Tulowitzki pretty high. Not top two, top three, sure. But top six? Top seven? I'll gladly take the gamble on most of a season of super-duper-star production with a waiver fill-in against the risk of his injury coming in May, if the alternative is a full season of Chris freakin' Owings.
Fantasy is all about calculated risk. At shortstop, the calculated risk is you draft the oft-injured guys and hope for health. Or you draft one and burn a late pick on a qualified backup.
Or, you know, you draft Ian Desmond. But there's only one of him.