Best of the Decade: Shortstop

Click here to read Best of the Decade: Catcher
Click here to read Best of the Decade: First Base
Click here to read Best of the Decade: Second Base
Click here to read Best of the Decade: Third Base

To read any of the previous installations of Best of the Decade, click any of the links above. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the best shortstops.

Fangraphs Top 30 by WAR (2010-2019)

Baseball Reference Top 30 by WAR (2010-2019)

If you want an explanation of any of the more advanced metrics in the tables, click here or navigate to the top of the page and click on the post titled “Best of the Decade: Catchers.”

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Top ‘Stops

What makes picking the top shortstop of the past decade so difficult is that there isn’t even a WAR consensus between the two websites; Baseball Reference has Andrelton Simmons as the top shortstop of the 2010s but Fangraphs hands Troy Tulowitzki that honor. I actually think that neither of the above was the top shortstop of the decade—it was Francisco Lindor—and I’ll expand more on that below. The top tier of shortstops also has five members which is more than any other position over the last decade: Simmons, Tulo, Lindor, Elvis Andrus, and Xander Bogaerts. WAR doesn’t quite tell the whole story for all of these guys.

Perhaps there is a little bit of recency bias with Lindor as the pick, but it’s undeniable that he has been the best shortstop in all of baseball since his 2015 debut. Originally thought of as a speed and defense prospect who wouldn’t hit for a ton of power, Lindor has blossomed into one of the best all-around players in all of baseball. Since the start of the 2015 season, Frankie has the seventh-most fWAR among all position players in baseball (he is obviously first among shortstops). He’s first among shortstops in runs and home runs and second in strikeout to walk ratio. He gets on base at a good clip (career .347 on-base percentage) and plays great defense up the middle. The elite play that he has brought to Cleveland in the half decade that he has been there is worth more, in my opinion, than the play of any other player despite having played hundreds fewer games than some other great shortstops of the past decade.

Tulowitzki is similar to Lindor in that he has played considerably fewer games than most other elite shortstops of the past decade but his play was so good when he was on the field that it makes up for the missed games. I always say the best availability is availability, but Tulo’s play in the first half of the decade is simply too good to pass on for a shortstop. From 2010-2014, Tulo triple-slashed .312/.387/.553 with 111 home runs. He also played really good defense. The trouble was that he was always injured; from 2010-2014, Tulo played in just 529 of 810 team games (65.3%) but, again, his play when he was on the field gave us a glimpse into what could have been a Hall of Fame career had he not always been injured.

Elvis Andrus is the polar opposite of Troy Tulowitzki. Whereas Tulo played in just 65.3% of his team’s games from 2010-2014, Andrus played in 94.9%. And he has continued to be an ironman for the Rangers, playing in 147+ games in all seasons but one in the second half of the decade. Andrus, unlike Tulo and Lindor, has never really put up video game numbers but rather has slowly accumulated very respectable totals for a decade’s worth of play: 67 home runs, 269 steals, 281 doubles, and a .276/.331/.373 triple-slash. He hit 20 home runs and stole 25 bags in 2017, his best offensive season, and has been an above average defender for most of his career. Slow and steady isn’t sexy but something has to be said for the guy who shows up on the diamond day in and day out with above-average production.

Andrelton Simmons might belong in a category of his own due to his elite defensive play; no player in the history of baseball has accrued more defensive WAR in his first eight seasons than Andrelton Simmons, not even The Wizard of Oz, Ozzie Smith. For his career, Simmons is a below-average offensive player—though he did have two solid seasons in 2017 and 2018—but any offensive production is gravy on top of what is essentially a vacuum cleaner at shortstop. Forget about the Jeter jump throw, Simmons makes every play at short look routine and he doesn’t even need to jump throw. I could gush about Simmons’ defense for probably an entire post but I’ll spare you and just leave you with this video compilation of Simmons’ defense.

The last shortstop in this category is Xander Bogaerts who is kind of an in-between of Elvis Andrus and Francisco Lindor. Bogaerts was a highly-touted prospect who never really figured it out until his second full season in the big leagues in which he slashed .320/.355/.421. He hit just seven home runs that season but the power has developed nicely; the Aruban has launched 66 home runs over the past three seasons combined. He’s been roughly league-average defensively at the most defensively demanding position aside from catcher so that performance, coupled with his offense, puts him squarely in the top five shortstops since 2010.

Shortstop Tier Two

Another interesting part of the shortstop WAR leaderboard of the 2010s is the closeness of the shortstops. According to Fangraphs, the #9 and #30 shortstops are separated by just seven wins, which isn’t a whole lot over the course of ten seasons. Here are the folks in tier two:

Carlos Correa, another one-time top prospect, has somehow earned the label of injury prone despite the fact that most of his injuries have seemingly been freak things: a broken bone from sliding improperly, a broken toe from a foul ball, and a torn ligament in his thumb that he sustained during a swing. He had one back issue in 2018 that was a soft-tissue injury, but I would hardly call Correa “injury prone” based on a few seemingly random injuries.

Correa, when he’s been on the field, has been a delight to watch. He’ll play the 2020 season as a 25-year-old which is incredible considering that he is a five-year veteran already. He accrued the 10th-most fWAR (and 6th-most rWAR) of any shortstop in the 2010s despite playing in 546 games, which is a little over one-third of the possible games in the 2010s (1620). That’s downright incredible. Plus, Correa’s career .277/.356/.489 triple-slash and 102 home runs are nothing to sneeze at. It’s too early to be writing Correa into Cooperstown, but he probably has as good a shot as any active SS to end up with a plaque in the museum when all is said and done.

Brandon Crawford is another Andrus type shortstop: durable and consistent. Beginning with his first full season in 2012, Crawford has never played fewer than 143 games in a season and has suited up over 150 times on three separate occasions. His .249/.316/.389 triple-slash over the last nine seasons is rather modest but considering his stellar defense, he doesn’t need to do a ton with the bat to bring surplus value to the Giants.

Starlin Castro is quietly on the path to 3000 hits; he has 1617 through ten seasons. He’s entering his age-30 season in 2020 and while the shortened season may set him back, if he continues to play nearly every game, he should reach the milestone at some point about ten years from now. Castro, like Crawford, is consistently on the field; he’s led the league in games played two times and led the league in at-bats on three separate occasions. In 2011, his first full season, he led all of baseball in hits. He’s never really been excellent at any one thing, but he’s solid in every area and that plays.

It’s pretty wild that Corey Seager has been able to accrue as much WAR (15.7 rWAR) as he has in the time he’s played because he essentially missed the entirety of the 2018 season due to a torn UCL. He’s averaging just below 5.0 rWAR per full season which is no small feat. It’s mostly thanks to his excellent bat; Seager has the best batting average among qualified shortstops over the past decade. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Dodger is able to do in the 2020s on the heels of a 2019 campaign that saw him set career-highs in doubles (44, which led MLB) and RBI (87).

Jean Segura is another steady presence at shortstop. He plays above average defense with roughly league-average offense which can be said of many of the shortstops in this article. Segura is a one-time hits king and has played 140+ games in all but one of his full seasons. He also hit .300 or better in three straight seasons (2016-2018) which isn’t all that impressive until you consider that shortstop has historically been a light-hitting position. The only outstanding thing about Segura might be his stolen base total: 181 since his 2012 debut. Go Jean.

Didi Gregorius was known as a defensive-minded shortstop until he went to the Yankees and was gifted with their sandbox of a ballpark. After hitting 13 home runs in the first three seasons of his career, he has averaged nearly 20 home runs a season in pinstripes, including a ridiculous first half in 2018 in which he hit 19 home runs alone. He’s gotten MVP votes twice but, shockingly, never made an all-star team, which is strange. A fun fact about him: Didi is short for Mariekson, and he goes by Didi because some of his teammates couldn’t pronounce his given first name.

Marcus Semien has had one of the most impressive turnarounds in baseball over the past few seasons. Semien led baseball in 2015 with 35 errors but has posted a positive defensive WAR according to baseball reference each year since then. Additionally, he’s tapped into some previously-unknown power with 85 home runs over the past four seasons. The .256 career batting average doesn’t inspire confidence, but solid defense and solid offense produces a solid baseball player.

Trevor Story entered the big leagues with thunder, smashing seven home runs in his first six career games, which is a big-league record. In just four seasons, Story has hit 123 home runs and he leads all shortstops in slugging percentage over the past ten years. He also strikes out an obscene amount, but given the fact that he destroys the ball when he makes contact, I don’t hold his strikeouts against him.

Oldies Quick Hits

I think people would get offended if I wrote an article about shortstops in the 2010s and didn’t include Derek Jeter because he technically played in the 2010s. His best years were far behind him, but he still played. So yeah, Derek Jeter. Here’s a jump throw of his. Moving on.

Jose Reyes won a batting title for the Mets in 2011 and then got suspended for domestic violence in 2016. His best years were before the 2010s, so I’ll leave it at that.

The only proof I have that Jed Lowrie still actually exists is that he hit a home run in a playoff game for the Brooklyn Cyclones last year. The Mets signed him to a two-year, $20 million deal prior to the 2019 season and he has zero hits in eight plate appearances for the team. Once upon a time he was a solid utility infielder, but that time has passed.

Jhonny Peralta was never really stellar but he had a lot of power for a shortstop at the time he played, which was cool. I always liked his name.

Hanley Ramirez played more games at other positions than at shortstop in the 2010s and definitely peaked before 2010. He had a renaissance in 2013 where he hit .345/.402/.638 with 20 home runs in just 86 games, but hasn’t really made a ton of noise since then.

Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter are in the same boat here: they both played in the 2010s but their best years were behind them. If you go to Rollins’ Baseball Reference page, there’s a lot of black ink (you get black ink if you led the league in a category) but it’s all before 2010. Oh well.

In 2011, J.J. Hardy hit 30 home runs, which I never knew he was even capable of. I knew he could hit for power, but 30 home runs for an excellent defensive shortstop is downright impressive.

I was going to attach a video of SportsCenter announcers yelling “Alexei!” because that’s what they used to do whenever Alexei Ramirez made a highlight-reel play, but I guess you’ll just have to settle for me telling you about it: whenever Alexei Ramirez made a highlight-reel play, the SportsCenter announcers would yell “Alexei!”

Ian Desmond doesn’t play shortstop anymore but he spent the majority of the 2010s there. He was never a great defensive shortstop but he could always hit; Dez had the most homers and RBI among all shortstops in the 2010s. He won’t be playing in 2020 due to COVID-19, though.

Asdrubal Cabrera also doesn’t really play shortstop anymore but he could also rake; his 165 home runs in the 2010s are second among shortstops.

Newbies Quick Hits

Trea Turner and Paul DeJong have made a career out of absolutely destroying the Mets, so I don’t like either of them. Turner always seems to be injured but when he isn’t, he is great; the National has 159 career steals in just 482 games and a career triple-slash of .291/.348/.467, which is excellent for a shortstop who plays league-average defense.

Paul DeJong has triple-slashed .361/.393/.807 with nine home runs in 20 games against the Mets. That’s just stupid, especially considering his career batting average is .251. He does have 74 home runs in three seasons, which I suppose is impressive. But I still don’t like him.

Javier Baez strikes out a ton and hits the ball really hard when he makes contact. He finished second in MVP voting in 2018 thanks to his 34 homers, NL-high 111 RBI, and .290/.326/.554 triple-slash. I think what’s most amazing to me about that season is the fact that he struck out almost 26% of the time and still hit .290. 160 strikeouts and a .290 average has only been done 13 times in history. Baez is also an elite tagger, which is something I didn’t know you could be elite at until I watched Baez. Here’s video proof.

Ketel Marte doesn’t play shortstop anymore either, logging just 39 games there over the past two seasons. The move has helped him immensely; he has slashed .296/.361/.518 with 46 home runs over the past two seasons (including 32 alone in 2019) and finished in the top five in MVP voting last year.

Yankees fans, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Gleyber Torres is very good at swinging the bat. He sucks at defense, but if you’re hitting 38 homers as a 22-year-old, you can be the worst defensive shortstop of all-time and I’d still probably trot you out there every day. Good thing Torres is better offensively than the worst defensive SS of all-time was.

Tim Anderson is making baseball fun again. Here is a four-and-a-half minute video of him hitting a monster home run and throwing his bat in celebration. And as if that weren’t cool enough, he batflipped in his next at-bat when Brad Keller hit him because he didn’t like the first bat flip. My take: if you don’t like the batflip, don’t give up the home run.

Also, Anderson hit .335 last year, which led all of baseball. Pretty good stuff brewing on the South Side of Chicago.

Up-And-Comers

Bo Bichette and Fernando Tatis Jr. both took the league by storm last year in their abbreviated stints (they played 46 and 84 games, respectively). Bichette slashed .311/.358/.571 with 27 extra-base hits in just 46 games, which is otherworldly. Him, Vladito, and Cavan Biggio are going to be a ferocious 1-2-3 punch atop the Blue Jays lineup for years to come.

I think that if Tatis Jr. hadn’t gotten hurt, he might have beaten out Pete Alonso for NL Rookie of the Year. At the time of his injury, Tatis was slashing .317/.379/.590 with 22 home runs and 16 steals. He struck out a ton but the plate discipline will come with age—remember: he is just 21 years old. I’d be pretty excited for the next few seasons if I were a Padres fan.

The top two prospects in baseball right now are both shortstops. What makes shortstop prospects so fun to review is that the best prospects in the game usually start as shortstops and, if they can’t kick it at shortstop, move somewhere else. Wander Franco seems like he is going to stick at short, though. Franco has an absolutely stupid career .336/.405/.523 triple-slash through 175 games, most of which were at single-A and high-A. He has 83 career walks and just 54 career strikeouts and just rakes every time he steps up to the dish. Given that he’s just 19, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him grow into a little more over-the-fence power. The Rays have a good one on their hands.

Gavin Lux played second base exclusively last season in his 22-game cup of coffee, but spent his entire minor league career as a shortstop, so I thought it right to include him in this article. I think the odds are good that he ends up moving over to second because of Corey Seager’s presence at short, but his bat will play anywhere. Lux slashed .347/.421/.607 with 26 homers in 111 games across AA and AAA in 2019 prior to his MLB debut, so look for him to pick up where he left off in 2020.

Stanford standout Nico Hoerner impressed with the Cubs in a short stint last season, slashing .282/.305/.436 and playing three positions in 20 games. He’ll likely suit up at second for the Cubs because Javier Baez will be healthy once again.

Royce Lewis (Twins), CJ Abrams (Padres), and Bobby Witt Jr. (Royals) are all former top-ten picks—Lewis was #1 in 2017, Abrams #6 in 2019, Witt #2 in 2019—who I don’t think we would have seen in 2020 had it not been for COVID-19. Because of the expansion to a 60-player pool, each of Lewis, Abrams, and Witt Jr. might see time in 2020 given the fact that they are each in the 60-player pool for their given squads.

Click here to continue reading best of the decade (left fielders).

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