Due to an unfortunate data error, the numbers in this story did not include park factors upon publication. We have updated the data to include the park factors, and the data you see below is now correct. We apologize for the mistake.
What’s all this, then? For an explanation of this series, please read the introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position.
A note on what you’re going to see below. Below, in accordance with the series, you’ll see all the teams ranked 1 through 30, based on projected shortstop WAR. The team ranked #1 will be in a much better position than the team ranked #30. That’s how rankings work. However, how much separation is there? Between #1 and #30, a lot. Between #1 and #2, a lot. Between #2 and…well here’s a chart I made:
In terms of projected shortstop WAR in 2013, the gap between #1 and #2 is bigger than the gap between #2 and #15. This isn’t, of course, great science, even if it is science. This isn’t, of course, how things are actually going to work out. But this gives you a sense of the spread, and it gives you a sense you shouldn’t care about the ranking as much as you care about the WAR. This, as you might realize, is one of the issues with prospect lists — the slope is never perfectly linear. As long as you know that going in, you won’t misinterpret what you see. Let’s get on now with the actual list, so you can see who’s #1, and who isn’t.
This is, probably, not going to be a very special year for the Colorado Rockies. If this is to be a special year for the Colorado Rockies, however, it’ll have to do in large part with this position. Last year, due to injury, Tulowitzki got into just 47 games. This year, recovered in spring, he’s experienced no setbacks, and over the course of his career this is a guy who’s averaged nearly 5 WAR per 600 plate appearances. Since 2009, he’s averaged nearly 6 WAR per 600 plate appearances. Tulo is amazing, and he gives the Rockies something no other team has. There are questions about the depth behind him, but there are questions about the depth behind every starting shortstop, and if the Rockies are lucky, they won’t need to call on this depth that much.
#2 Blue Jays
Jose Reyes just played in 160 games. Historically, he hasn’t been quite that durable, but Izturis is a hell of a substitute, and of course when Reyes is healthy and playing, there aren’t a lot of things he can’t do. He just tripled a dozen times while drawing more walks than he had strikeouts. The Blue Jays are being talked about as a potential American League East favorite, and the trade with the Marlins is a big reason why, because Reyes is a big-time player at a big-time position. Having R.A. Dickey doesn’t hurt, and having all the other talent doesn’t hurt either, but there aren’t many shortstops like Reyes, and the Blue Jays are banking on that.
Desmond was just a 5.4-WAR player, in only 130 games. That is outstanding! He also doubled his power output and struck out nearly four times for every unintentional walk. So the forecasts are seeing a step back, even though they still think Desmond is a hell of a player. Of note is that his swing rate jumped from 45% to 54%. There was a change in approach, behind Desmond’s change in performance, and that might lead one to think it’s more sustainable. If it is, the Nationals will be even better. If Desmond regresses, the Nationals’ shortstop situation will be only quite good.
There’s not much question about Cabrera’s offensive level. However, shortstops don’t only play offense, and Cabrera’s defending is a little more of a mystery. According to UZR, for his career, he’s been about 34 runs below average. According to DRS, for his career, he’s been about one run above average. What you’re seeing here is a negative defensive projection, but depending on your belief, you might think he should be more negative or more positive. So this 4th ranking comes with error bars, but what’s most important is that, for the Indians, shortstop isn’t a problem. Cabrera swings a solid bat, and that establishes a high baseline.
Castro seldom walks, he’s prone to lapses in the field, and he isn’t much of an effective stolen-base threat. It is beyond easy to focus on the things that Starlin Castro doesn’t do well. But he’s a contact hitter with increasing power who plays a fine shortstop and who’s days away from turning just 23 years old. Last season he played in every game, and the season before he very nearly did the same. Castro might be one of those guys who frustrates because he doesn’t perform at his perceived ceiling, but his actual performance level is great, even if he doesn’t improve. And there’s reason to believe he’s improving.
The Rangers project very well at shortstop, and their top prospect — one of the very top prospects in baseball — is a shortstop, and the prospect isn’t far off. The Rangers, in this way, are fortunate ones. Andrus owns a career major-league OPS of .695. He owns a career minor-league OPS of .704. There exists some possibility that his offense has already more or less topped out. But he’s still just 24, so there could be more power, and even with things as is, Andrus isn’t a guy to complain about. Andrus, rather, is a competitive advantage, and a core part of a solid team.
We know that Escobar is durable, and we know that Escobar is well above average in the field. Those are the certainties, but Escobar’s offense has been all over the map and of course there’s the rest of the package to take into consideration. If you figure that, at the plate, Escobar splits the middle, he’ll be fine, and the Rays won’t have to worry about their shortstop performance. They’ll have to worry about their shortstop’s other things, but here we’re not projecting attitude. Here we care about numbers, and the Rays care about numbers, and the Rays acquired Escobar on purpose. There are far worse shortstops, probably.
At issue here is how much Hanley Ramirez actually plays at shortstop, given the Dodgers’ third-base situation. Behind Ramirez, Gordon is a player people have loved who doesn’t project well at all, because he hasn’t performed well at all. Punto is adequate defensively and versatile and can’t hit for any beans. Ramirez is clearly a bat-first player who isn’t going to slug in the .500s anymore, but as someone who can post a well above-average wRC+, he works as an offense-first shortstop. And there might be something to his playing better away from the Marlins, in a more competitive setting.
What we have here is a contact-hitting starting shortstop with some power and terrific defense. Rollins was just a five-win player, and before that he was a four-win player. One concern is that his strikeout rate just jumped. A bigger concern is that he’s 34 years old, which is the oldest he’s ever been. You can’t predict when an aging middle infielder is going to start going downhill in a hurry. But most recently Rollins was great, and what matters the most is what happened most recently. Rollins could realistically be better than this, which would help propel the Phillies into legitimate contention.
This is a somewhat lofty standing for a team whose starting shortstop just posted a .282 OBP. But the first time Hardy posted a wRC+ in the 70s, he came back with a wRC+ of 103. The next time Hardy posted a wRC+ in the 70s, he came back with a wRC+ of 94. His career level is 95, he’s not old, and his profile isn’t different. Hardy’s a good defensive shortstop with power, and that gives the Orioles an above-average position player at a critical position. Even without walks, even without a good BABIP, Hardy makes it work. And he just played in 158 games, easing some concerns about his durability.
On one hand, this is tricky — Nakajima is a fresh import, and we don’t know what he’s going to do as an everyday player. At present, his stock in spring training is sinking, but it’s just spring training, and Ichiro didn’t impress in his first spring training, either. So Nakajima might be perfectly fine. If he isn’t, that would be bad news, but the A’s have Lowrie as positional insurance. If Nakajima is a disaster, the A’s won’t play that much Nakajima at shortstop, helping to mitigate their downside. Not that Lowrie has historically been the most durable, reliable player, and after him things get messy, but this isn’t an awful setup. And Nakajima could hit, and/or field.
Here’s a case with a lot of upside, because just last season Simmons was worth 2.2 WAR in fewer than 200 plate appearances. He didn’t hit a lot in the minors, and the projections foresee an offensive decline from last year’s level, but offense also isn’t Simmons’ calling card. This defensive projection is likely modest, as Simmons might be the best defensive shortstop in baseball. Right now, he might be a defensive +15, raising him another win. And if he actually hits a little, suddenly he’s a borderline star player at a young age. This is one of the reasons why the Braves might be able to keep up with the Nationals.
Aybar’s not a mystery. He’s going to make contact with almost everything, he’s going to put balls in play on the ground, and he’s going to run. He’s going to field his position with competence, and he’s going to play most of the time, which is good, given the lack of ability behind him. That Aybar doesn’t walk is offset by the fact that Aybar doesn’t really strike out, and his modest power/speed combo makes him acceptably solid. Aybar is a very classically Angels player, and, classically, the Angels were good.
The Tigers spent some of the offseason searching for a shortstop upgrade, but ultimately they settled on keeping the guy they already had. The guy they already had is perfectly adequate, and though there are questions about his defense, he has reportedly worked himself into better shape at a reduced weight. There’s nothing outstanding about Jhonny Peralta, but there’s also nothing disastrous, so an upgrade wasn’t necessary for a team that plans to contend. Peralta ought to be a player who doesn’t hold the Tigers back.
Cozart is projected to be just about identical to what he was last season, when he was worth 2.7 WAR in 600 plate appearances. There’s not a lot of discipline here — Cozart finished with 113 strikeouts and 31 walks — and that’s reflected in his low projected OBP, but Cozart does make above-average contact and he helps himself and the team in the field. We’re at the section of these rankings where the players are fine without being super helpful or super troublesome. That describes Cozart, and thus that describes the Reds’ shortstop situation. If Cozart gets injured, look out. If just about any starting shortstop in the league gets injured, look out.
#16 White Sox
There was a time that Ramirez was a legitimate star, even if nobody knew about it. Dave Cameron once wrote about how Ramirez might’ve been the best shortstop in the American League. But last year, though Ramirez was healthy, he lost almost all of his walks and he additionally lost a chunk of his power without making any gains. Now he’s more into his 30s and we may simply be observing the decline of a quality player. The projections see a bit of an offensive bounceback, which the White Sox would appreciate, but Ramirez probably isn’t the player he was. Eventually, they never are. Ramirez is simply fine enough.
Cabrera isn’t a great defender, he doesn’t make a ton of contact, and he doesn’t hit for power since he puts almost everything on the ground. He’s not all that young, and he’s saved by the fact that he can walk and that he gets a park adjustment from Petco. He’s also saved by the fact that he doesn’t have a quality backup, as Forsythe isn’t a shortstop for a good team. Cabrera has averaged 1.4 WAR per 600 plate appearances over his modest career, and I think that gets the right point across. If you don’t know a lot about Everth Cabrera, you probably won’t need to.
Young shortstop, contact, limited power, defensive adequacy. I’m getting tired of writing about this although in fairness I’ve been sitting in one spot in a hotel lobby for hours and I might be in need of a break. (Ed. note: upon updating this post, the ranking order shifted, so the caption order shifted, so that explains why this caption began as it did. I have chosen to include this note instead of just changing the caption into something else.) Last season Tejada doubled his career home-run total, by hitting one. He had some injury problems but it remains to be seen whether he’ll be fragile or not down the road. He is patient, so he has the ability to draw a walk, but pitchers don’t have many reasons to walk him. Tejada’s a startable player who’s also an upgrade-able player.
Last year, Segura was legitimately above average in double-A at 22. But he was in double-A, and his major-league experience was far from particularly impressive. He put two-thirds of his balls in play on the ground, and he doesn’t have much power or extraordinary defensive ability. Segura is something of a low-ceiling shortstop, made more remarkable by his age and historical prospect hype. That he makes contact keeps him from being an offensive nightmare but this year, at shortstop, the Brewers are striving for adequacy.
One year Clint Barmes posted a .342 wOBA. The next year he knocked 23 dingers. Barmes isn’t on the Rockies anymore, and now he’s 34 years old. His last three years look like Brendan Ryan’s last three years, and you’ll notice you haven’t yet seen Brendan Ryan and the Mariners on this list. Barmes is gifted in the field, and that’s the reason he stays in the lineup, but you wonder how much more he might’ve been able to accomplish had he not elected to play all the time with a partially broken bat. You can use another bat, Clint Barmes. Some bats aren’t broken and terrible. For the record, this is a substantial projected wOBA bounceback. Last year was really bad.
Young shortstop, contact, groundballs, defensive adequacy. We’ve already talked about this sort of player, and it’s a safe sort of player without wild, lofty upside. Escobar should be steady for the Royals, and he should stay on the field, but he’ll be as good as his batting average and his career mark is .266. Considered a part of the Royals’ young core, Escobar isn’t about to make or break what the Royals hope will be a competitive season. He’s a guy at a critical spot, but he’s not a critical player.
Young shortstop, limited power, below-average contact offset by above-average defense. Crawford is a defensive specialist who isn’t a complete offensive black hole, thanks to his ability to draw the occasional walk and drill the occasional extra-base hit. Crawford did get better at the plate in the second half, jumping from a .271 wOBA to a .300 wOBA. That wasn’t a BABIP thing, so Crawford might have a little life. But his strengths and his weaknesses are very well known. This is not the guy who’s going to carry the Giants’ lineup, nor would anyone ever make that accusation.
It’s Derek Jeter! Now 38 years old and recovering from injury. He’s still projected to be a decent bat, but he’s projected to be a worse bat, and his defense isn’t improving. Note the playing time, as well — Jeter might see significant time at designated hitter, with Eduardo Nunez filling in. There’s life in Nunez’s bat but there isn’t a lot else to his overall skillset. Nix is a guy who might be on the team at some point. If Jeter comes back and looks something like his old self it’ll be laughable that they once ranked #23 on this list, but he is old and he was just hurt, and he’s Derek Jeter in the field. This probably isn’t a team strength.
#24 Red Sox
One time, Drew slugged .502. One other time, Drew was worth 5.1 WAR. One of those times was 2008, and the other of those times was 2010. The forecasts haven’t completely forgotten about Drew’s performance upside, but it’s been a while, and Drew also doesn’t have durability on his side. Behind Drew, Ciriaco doesn’t have much of anything on his side, and as much as the Red Sox love Iglesias’ defense, that’s how much nobody likes Iglesias’ bat. You could say this is a volatile position for Boston, but this spot in the rankings seems just about appropriate. Other teams have far better situations, even if Boston’s isn’t the worst.
A big deal was made about the Diamondbacks trading for Gregorius, but right now he’s not going to be their starter. He’s also presumably not ready to be their starter, which makes it a good thing they have Pennington around. Pennington just slugged .311, which is awful, and he had Brendan Ryan’s wRC+, but that was basically all BABIP so Pennington should bounce back some. He stands to be an uninteresting part of a very interesting team, but at least he shouldn’t be a black hole. Willie Bloomquist is now 35 years old. He just got caught stealing ten times in 17 attempts. Now you know those things about Willie Bloomquist.
As it was with Clint Barmes, so it is with Brendan Ryan. Ryan is a fantastic defensive shortstop, even at his age, but he offers nothing at the plate aside from his occasional ability to coax a walk. There will be stretches where he looks productive because he hits for a decent average, but his average will be empty, and unless tweaks to his swing make a real difference, he’s going to hit a maddening amount of pop-ups. The Mariners like Andino some and he’ll get time if and when Eric Wedge finds Ryan obnoxious, but if the Mariners could tolerate Ryan’s bat before because of his defense, then he’ll find time with something of a bounceback. Half of the time, Ryan is a real treat to watch. Half of the time, Ryan’s when you get up to use the restroom or make a phone call.
The original blurb here talked about a brewing competition between Marwin Gonzalez and Tyler Greene. Since then, the Astros have grabbed Cedeno, and it looks like Greene won’t make the roster. Cedeno was dropped by the Cardinals, who prefer Pete Kozma. So that says a lot about Ronny Cedeno. Gonzalez is pretty much exactly what you think he is, and he might end up getting a lot of time. Whatever happens, shortstop isn’t going to be a strength for the Astros, because the Astros aren’t going to have strengths. They’ll have relative strengths, to the rest of the positions on the Astros. So there’s that going for them.
Hechavarria’s young and he’s been a decent prospect, but his triple-A numbers are inflated by the ballpark environment and his approach is going to limit his offensive upside. He posted a .637 OPS in double-A, and a .509 OPS in single-A, and he just put up a .645 OPS in a big-league cup of coffee. As always, there’s upside for Hechavarria to be a half-decent non-power hitter, but without incredible defense he looks like he could be fringey, so, basically, hey, the Marlins are near the bottom at another position. Stop the internet presses. Additionally, move minor-league teams away from Las Vegas.
The Cardinals insist they’re happy with Kozma for the time being, what with Rafael Furcal now unavailable. Kozma is coming off an impressive cup of coffee. Something I didn’t know is that Kozma is a former first-round pick, having been selected 18th in 2007, but something I did know is that Kozma posted a .610 OPS in triple-A over nearly a thousand trips to the plate. He’s at .652 in his minor-league career, with decent power but not much else. He’s not a whiz, laterally or with the glove, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Cardinals shortly re-enter the shortstop trade market. They could potentially be stubborn, or Kozma could potentially impress, because what we’re thinking about are averages and half the time the average is beat. But Kozma’s short-term track record doesn’t match up with his long-term track record, and it’s the long-term track records that are most meaningful. The Cardinals intend to be good, and shortstop could easily be a real problem for them.
Florimon was once a waiver grab, and he’s a 26-year-old with a .675 minor league OPS. He didn’t hit in the majors, but he did field a bit and the Twins don’t have superior options so here’s Florimon again, standing to get a ton of playing time. He’s coming off one home run and 58% groundballs, which tells you plenty. To his credit, he’s not a hacker, and he is good with the glove, but this is another low-OBP, low-slugging middle infielder who’s going to look okay during the stretches when he’s hitting .275. Try not to think about when he isn’t in one of those stretches.
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