The position of shortstop is one in which you can’t afford to have a guy that’s below average defensively, even if his bat is worth having in your lineup. You can get away with that at any other position in the infield, but not at shortstop. Your shortstop needs range, agility, and a good arm. And, since shortstops aren’t your plodding catchers or first basemen, they’re usually some of the better base stealers as well. But, over the last 20 years, or so, the shortstop position has seen a bit of a transition into a do-it-all kind of player. Even if your shortstop is excellent defensively, no one wants him to bat 8th in the lineup and hit .230. So, offense isn’t to be ignored here. Let’s get started by looking at MLB Network’s top 10 right now:
1. Troy Tulowitzki (.302, 30 HR, 105 RBI, .916 OPS)
2. Jose Reyes (.337, 16 3B, 39 SB, .877 OPS)
3. Yunel Escobar (.290, 11 HR, 48 RBI, .782 OPS)
4. Asdrubal Cabrera (.273, 25 HR, 92 RBI, 17 SB, .792 OPS)
5. Alexei Ramirez (.269, 15 HR, 70 RBI, .727 OPS)
6. Stephen Drew (.278, 15 HR, 61 RBI, .810 OPS – 2010 stats)
7. Jhonny Peralta (.299, 21 HR, 86 RBI, .824 OPS)
8. J.J. Hardy (.269, 30 HR, 80 RBI, .801 OPS)
9. Erick Aybar (.279, 10 HR, 59 RBI, 30 SB, .743 OPS)
10. Derek Jeter (.297, 6 HR, 61 RBI, 16 SB, .743 OPS)
So, as I begin to analyze the position of shortstop, I can’t help but notice the wide range of hitters there are. Some guys bat at the top of the lineup, and are stealing a lot of bases. Some guys are batting in the middle, so they can drive in runs. That makes it difficult to find an apples-to-apples comparison. So, like I did with second base, I’m going to take out RBI, and replace it with SB. Everything else will remain the same (6 offensive categories, 2 defensive, and overall WAR). And, I may use total errors as a tie-breaker if needed.
1. Troy Tulowitzki – some want to chalk his success up to playing in Colorado, but if you look at his splits, his home production isn’t much higher than on the road. He only has 22 more hits at home than on the road over the last two seasons, and only 7 more home runs. He leads all SS’s in 4 offensive categories, has the highest overall WAR the last two years (12.7 – no one else is in double digits), and he’s a fantastic fielder (just 16 errors in two seasons) – the only category he doesn’t rank in the top-5 in is stolen bases, of which he still has 20 in the last two years. AND, he’ll be just 28 come October.
2. Jose Reyes – doesn’t turn 29 until June; is in the top 3 in 4 offensive categories; third highest WAR at 9.1 over the last two years. This kind of player is exactly why I like the wRC+ stat: he’s only hit 18 home runs over the last 2 seasons, and has just 98 RBI (less than many will have in a single year), but he’s second only to Tulowitzki in wRC+ at 126 – which means he’s producing runs for his team at a rate of 26% above the major league average. The guy’s a phenomenal leadoff man, and average fielder, who could continue to get better.
3. J.J. Hardy – I honestly have no idea why MLBN ranked him so low. If he was on a better team, maybe more would know how great he is. He’s in the top 5 in five categories (no one left on the list can claim that), and adds one more top-10 with his #9 ranked DRS. He’s an above-average fielder (just 17 errors the last two years), and is just 29 years old.
4. Jhonny Peralta – I was shocked at how highly he ranked in so many categories. Top 10 in 8 categories, and the only one he doesn’t rank highly in – stolen bases, with just 1 in the last two years! But, SB’s aside, he’s an offensive force to be reckoned with, and is a very good fielder as well (just 10 errors in two years!).
5. Alexei Ramirez – another guy that seems to get no recognition, in spite of some stellar stats. Ranks in the top-10 in seven categories (including the 2nd best overall WAR at SS the last two years), and is 12th and 14th in the other two. The only reason I have him behind Hardy & Peralta is because of age (he’s already 30), and errors (36 in the last two seasons).
6. Stephen Drew – if he stays healthy, his numbers will stack up well with just about any other shortstop. And, even after missing half of the 2011 season, he still ranks in the top 10 in 4 offensive categories the last two seasons, and has the 5th highest WAR. Add to that his above-average fielding (just 17 errors), and you’ve got a very nice player.
7. Asdrubal Cabrera – I wanted to rank him higher, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. He ranks in the top 10 in 5 offensive categories, but only one top-5 ranking. And, as flashy and amazing as some of his plays are at shortstop, his defensive statistics aren’t exactly overwhelming. His TZL rating the last two years is well below average, and his DRS is middle of the pack. He’s only committed 27 errors the last two years, so it’s not like he’s terrible. But, this 26-year-old still has some growing to do.
8. Jimmy Rollins – I almost put Rollins ahead of Cabrera, and if he hadn’t missed half of 2010 with injury, I might would have done it. But, Rollins is already 33, and on the downward slope of his career. That being said, he’s still one of the best defensive shortstops in the game (just 13 errors the last two years, and the second best TZL in the game), and he still ranks in the top 10 in HR, SB, and wRC+ despite missing significant time.
9. Elvis Andrus – has the highest WAR among all remaining candidates, and yet he’ll be turning just 24 in August! He’s a very good fielder who just needs to cut back on the typical youngster mistakes (41 errors in two years). He also has as many SB’s as Reyes the last two years. Just four top-10 rankings, but I put him here because he’s going to continue to get better and better with age.
10. Yunel Escobar – it was very hard to choose the last spot (see below), but I went with Escobar mainly because of his age – just 29. He has 5 top-10 rankings, and most of that is a result of his excellent defense. But, he’s no slouch with the bat – above average OPS and wRC+ are a nice bonus. However, I can’t for the life of me figure out why MLBN has him ranked so high.
Honorable mention goes to Marco Scutaro and Alex Gonzalez – two veterans who have proven year after year that they know what they’re doing on the baseball diamond. They also are the only two left to choose from that ranked in the top 10 in at least four categories. I honestly was surprised at how my list turned out. What about you?