Continuing with our review of MLB Network’s rankings at each position going into the new season, it’s time to look at shortstops. This is another position that places a high value on defense. We have to be careful, however, just how highly we value defense. If a guy is batting .230 with no power or on-base skills, but is a premium defender, that doesn’t mean he belongs at or near the top of the list. We’re talking about the best of the best. And, players ranked this high need to have a good balance to their game. Here is the “Shredder’s” list:
- Francisco Lindor (CLE)
- Troy Tulowitzki (TOR)
- Carlos Correa (HOU)
- Brandon Crawford (SF)
- Jhonny Peralta (STL)
- Xander Bogaerts (BOS)
- Addison Russell (CHC)
- Marcus Semien (OAK)
- Andrelton Simmons (LAA)
- Didi Gregorius (NYY)
My initial reaction to this list is that the Shredder is putting way too much stock in guys with less than a single full season at the major league level. Lindor, Correa and Russell are guys that I think will be stars. And, they may very well blossom this year into being among the best at their position. But, unless the position is generally a weak position (which I don’t believe SS is), I need more evidence that a player can make the adjustments necessary to be impactful long-term. Correa and Lindor played just 99 games each last year. Russell played closer to a full season (142), but it’s still just one season.
As with CF, I’ll be looking at the same offensive and defensive metrics to determine my own list – wRC+, OBP, SLG, BsR, DRS & UZR. I’m also using a category that is a bit more subjective – age. For example, I anticipate production to improve compared to a player’s age 23-24 seasons, and to decline from around the time he turns 31 or 32. This is unlikely to have a major impact on my rankings, but could be the difference maker when some players’ stats are close, and I have to make a call between 2 or 3 guys.
Let’s take a quick look at a couple guys that deserve honorable mention before looking at my top 10. Adeiny Hechavarria (MIA) is probably #11 on my list. He has very good defensive metrics, which was almost enough to propel him into the top 10. But, his baserunning skills are middle of the pack, and his offense is at or below average. Jose Iglesias (DET) is also just barely on the outside looking in – probably #12 or #13 for me. He has an excellent OBP over the last couple years (.347 – 3rd best among SS’s), but that’s really the only category he excels in. Slightly below-average offensive production, below-average baserunning, and only average defensive metrics.
- Troy Tulowitzki
- Brandon Crawford
- Francisco Lindor
- Carlos Correa
- Addison Russell
- Jhonny Peralta
- Eduardo Escobar (MIN)
- Didi Gregorius
- Xander Bogaerts
- Andrelton Simmons
You’ll notice that there’s only one new name – Escobar – which means only one name dropped off my list from the “Shredder’s”. And, that’s Semien. Semien belongs in probably the same area as Iglesias – #12-14. He doesn’t really excel in any area – average offensively, average baserunner, and slightly below-average defensively. There wasn’t really anything for me to sink my teeth into with Semien. Andrelton Simmons is possibly the most difficult guy to place. Hands down the best defensive shortstop – possibly the best defensive player in baseball – and, it’s not even close. But, offensively . . . yikes. His wRC+ is a 77 – which means his overall offensive production is about 23% lower than league average. His baserunning is also near the bottom at his position. If he played anywhere other than shortstop (where there are only 6 guys producing above-average offensively), he probably wouldn’t even make the list.
I’m also not sure I see what pushed Bogaerts so high up the Shredder’s list. His .327 OBP the last two years is 6th among SS’s, and he’s a top 5 or 6 baserunner at his position. But, his overall offensive production is below-average, and his defensive metrics are below-average. He belongs in the top 10, but I can’t justify him being any higher than 9th. Right behind Gregorius – who didn’t reach any higher than 10th on anyone’s list on MLB Network. While Gregorius’ offensive production lags behind Bogaerts, he’s middle-of-the-pack at his position, and only slightly below league average. Meanwhile Gregorius is an even better baserunner than Bogaerts, and he’s significantly better defensively.
I have no idea why Escobar didn’t appear on either the Shredder’s list or any of the analysts’ on the show. His offensive production is better than Bogaerts (a 35-point edge in OPS), his baserunning is average, and his defensive metrics are average. In fact, his UZR is very good (even better than Gregorius) – but, it seems that while he gets to a lot more balls than the average shortstop, he has some issues with throwing the ball away.
Peralta and Russell were neck and neck. Peralta is slightly above-average in offensive production, while Russell is slightly below-average. But, Russell has a significant edge in baserunning skills. And, Russell has the better UZR. What really impressed me about Russell is the fact that he has the same number of defensive runs saved as Peralta, but in 2,000 fewer innings. Throw in the added subjective nature of my age category (Russell is going into his age 22 season, while Peralta his age 34 season), and the edge, in my opinion, has to go to the up-and-coming youngster.
Lindor & Correa may very well be fighting it out for the #1 spot over the next 10 years. But, not this year. 99 games is enough to qualify you for ROY honors. But, even as good as their statistics were (Lindor has a significant edge defensively, while Correa only has a slight edge offensively – in case you were wondering why they’re ranked in the order they are), I can’t bring myself to rank them at the top “right now.” They’ve proven they are in the discussion. But, haven’t done it long enough to belong ahead of Tulo or Crawford.
Tulowitzki at the top is probably not a surprise. Brandon Crawford, however, doesn’t get near the credit he deserves. He’s a top-5 SS when it comes to offensive production, he’s an above-average baserunner, and he’s second only to Simmons defensively. He really is the whole package – and, is actually the only SS on my list to rank in the top 10 in every category. I gave brief consideration to ranking him #1, even ahead of Tulo (which Ripken actually did on the show!). But, Tulowitzki is very good defensively, and one of the best in all of baseball in offensive production.