Shortstop Central

The American League Central is pretty weak. Of all the teams in the division, only Cleveland has a positive run differential as of today, and that’s by only one run. A number of factors probably contribute to the divisional weakness: lower average budgets than some of the coastal divisions, poor decision making, and perhaps some bad luck. The division, however, is surprisingly strong this season in one area: shortstops. Can any other division compare?

According to the current WAR rankings, the AL Central has three of the six most valuable shortstops so far in 2011. It all starts with Alexei Ramirez, whose combination of a decent bat, good baserunning, and great fielding has enabled him to quietly become perhaps the American League’s best shortstop, as bloggers have noted. But a couple of surprises have really pushed the Central’s shortstops to the fore. UZR may not like Asdrubal Cabrera‘s fielding as much as DRS or the scouts (and I’m not taking a position on which is correct), but even so, his power spike this season has given him excellent offense for a shortstop this season. Even more surprising has been Detroit’s Jhonny Peralta. Originally brought in as a stopgap, his fielding has been better than expected and he’s hitting well enough to show that his 2005 wasn’t a total fluke. The Royals’ Alcides Escobar is no great shakes, but his glove is good enough to make up for his dreadful bat — not bad for the fourth best shortstop in the division. The only team in the Central with a bad shortstop situation is the Twins, where Alexi Casilla couldn’t stick (although he’s been surprisingly decent at second), and Tsuyoshi Nishioka has been awful. But that’s just one team: the Royals have basically have an average shortstop, and the division also has one great shortstop and two that are at least “good.” Generally speaking, are there any other divisions in baseball with overall shortstop talent this strong?

The National League Central is out. Chicago’s Starlin Castro is a good young talent, but he isn’t a superstar (at least not yet). The rest of the division is pretty sad (Yuniesky Betancourt, enough said), although Clint Barmes has been decent for Houston in limited playing time and Ryan Theriot has managed to be bad enough to avoid Tony LaRussa‘s (jealous?) fury. On the other end of the budgetary scale, the American League East is surprisingly weak. Toronto’s Yunel Escobar is right up there with Alexei Ramirez as one of the best overall shortstops in the league (although I’m sure the Jays miss Tim Collins), and J.J. Hardy has had a nice comeback year. Strangely, it is the top teams in the strongest division that are holding the East back. The Rays have a bit of a mess at shortstop, Marco Scutaro has been decent but nothing more for Boston, and Derek Jeter (a bargain at twice the price!) is currently tied with Alcides Escobar at 1.7 WAR.

The American League West has at least one good young shortstop in Elvis Andrus; Erick Aybar is a good player; and Brendan Ryan is showing the “genius” of LaRussa in Seattle. But none are are currently as good as Alexei Ramirez, and neither Aybar nor Ryan are players to over take Cabrera, and maybe not Peralta. We’ll leave poor Cliff Pennington alone in hopes he can recover.

The National League West might be a potential contender. Troy Tulowitzki is currently rated the most valuable shortstop in baseball for 2011, and given his excellence with both the bat and glove, few would dispute that. Is that enough to carry the division? Stephen Drew is a good player who was having a okay year before his surgery, but it was nothing that one would rank over Peralta or Asdrubal Cabrera. Jamie Carroll (we’ll pass over Rafael Furcal in respectful silence) and Jason Bartlett show that maybe average-ish shortstops aren’t as hard to find as some might think, but that’s hardly impressive. The less said about the Giants’ shortstop situation, the better. Tulo may be the best shortstop in baseball by hgimself, but I still think the Central has overall better shortstop talent.

The real contender, I think, is the National League East. There is a lack of balance here: Washington’s Ian Desmond looks like the a poor man’s Alcides Escobar (that isn’t a compliment to Desmond), and Alex Gonzalez has shown that the Braves must have really hated Yunel Escobar’s guts. But there is serious talent on top. Jimmy Rollins is having a really nice comeback season in Philadelphia. Jose Reyes is the real booster for this division, having a current 2011 WAR second only to Tulo so far. Reyes’ hamstring problems are a bit of a concern, but he’s a monster player, no doubt. The real question mark for placing the East is Hanley Ramirez. One one hand, prior to this season, he was one of the best shortstops in baseball, and arguable the best offensive player at his position. On the other hand, he’s had a horrible year at the plate this season, and questions about his ability to stick at shortstop have returned. It makes him tough to evaluate for this sort of thing.

I would rank Tulowitzki as the best overall shortstop in baseball, but the rest of NL West is rather lacking. The NL East has serious top-end talent, but there are too many question marks around Ramirez. It’s a tough call, but in terms of current talent, I would take the American League Centrals shortstops as a group over any other division’s. Hey, the AL Central has to be good at something.

Print This Post

Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

48 Responses to “Shortstop Central”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Stubbs says:

    Actually, I’m pretty sure the Jays don’t miss Tim Collins. You know, because they got Yunel Escobar?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. KKC says:

    Not buying into WAR claiming Ramirez as the better shortstop than Cabrera…

    -7 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Eric R says:

      “Not buying into WAR claiming Ramirez as the better shortstop than Cabrera…”

      Technically, I’d say that WAR doesn’t claim that. And not in the sense that WAR is a formula and formulas cannot make claims, but that it has them with a gap of 0.2 WAR — and using that to say one is better than the other is pretty close to saying a guy with a .900 OPS is better than a guy with an .890 OPS. When things get that close, it is essentially a tie.

      +15 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • KKC says:

        While that logic’s true, even saying that they’re tied is far-fetched to me..

        -7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • KDL says:

        Okay KKC…this is the part where you make a case. Because at the end of the day no one cares what your opinion is. But someone might care about that opinion is you explain it. How is Cabrera incomparabel to Ramierez?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • bigDog says:

      thats because your an idiot

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • It’s because of their defensive differences. Alexei is far superior to Astrudbal defensively. He may be less flashy, but watch him on every play, and his range is absolutely insane. Cabrera gets the Sports Center high lights, and that’s why people think he’s better. But Alexei is really in a different category all together in terms of defense.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • MikeS says:

        Ramirez also gets fewer Sportscenter highlights this year playing next to Morel. He can go hard to his right and make a huge throw to nail a runner but he doesn’t have to do it as oftne as he did when Teahan and Vizquel were getting most of the time at 3B.

        Also, great arm. Always strong and more accurate this year than ever. I often think he’s thrown it in the dirt on the release but it always gets there chest high. He just doesn’t need to put as much arc on the ball as most guys because he is so strong. I don’t know much about Cabrera. Is his as good?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Jason says:

    Yankee fans are happy to report that Jeter looks like Jeter again. He’s been scorching line drives all over the field again. Even his outs have been loud lately. I hope he keeps it up.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. siggian says:

    It seems kind of strange to talk about a division leading other divisions because divisions don’t play the game against each other. The teams do.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. gareth says:

    No way is alexi ramirez better than asdrubal. the guy has been amazing this year in all aspects of the game.

    -8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Yeah, that -7 UZR and career negative UZR for Astrudbal agrees with you.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • CircleChange11 says:

        Okay, I admit that when I watch Azdrubal Cabrera play SS, I cannot believe he is -7 UZR.

        I also look at UZR and see that Carlos Lee is the 2nd most valuable fielding LF in baseball at +7 FRuns. Is anyone going to say that CLee is the 2nd best defender in LF? Is anyone going to claim that CLee should even have a positive UZR?

        UZR, IMO, is too damn fluctuating from year to year. I find it difficult to believe that defensive performance is that volatile.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Yinka Double Dare says:

        If Cabrera’s numbers were just like that this year that’s one thing, but this is three consecutive seasons UZR grades him out as a clearly below average shortstop. The other systems seem to grade him out as average to below average as well.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • CircleChange11 says:

        Looking at cabrer’as 3-year UZR should have been my first move.

        This is a GOOD year to be a Carlos in the OF …

        Player Name (UZR 2009, 2010, 2011)
        Carlos Lee (-10, -15, +7)
        Carlos Quentin (-15, -25, +3)

        Now, the reason why I bring this up and ask is because this significantly affects WAR, which we use for anything and everything.

        UZR is a 2 WAR difference for these guys. That’s HUGE!

        I understand, from experience, how BABIP can fluctuate a lot. What is difficult for me to understand or visualize from an experience standpoint is how a -15 UZR OF can be +5 the following year … even if 1-year UZR correlates with 50g of offense (in terms of reliability), since defense (at least to me) seems so much more skill than BABIP.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mr. wOBAto says:

        CC are you trying to tell me that the system that ranked Carlos Gonzalez as a +20 CF in OAK-2008 and has consistently been rated as a below average corner OF in COL since is too prone to fluctuation?

        That a system that rated Gonzalez’s arm as below average for a LF, the same arm that was voted by players and managers this year as the best OF arm in the NL may have some adjustment problems?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • RC says:

        “UZR, IMO, is too damn fluctuating from year to year. I find it difficult to believe that defensive performance is that volatile.”

        Why? A -7 UZR to a +7 UZR is significantly less fluctuation than a lot of hitters have year to year.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Tim says:

      Alexei, although only around for a few years, has had a better career and is pretty even with Cabrera this year.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Bronnt says:

    Yes, the Braves really hated Yunel Escobar. Yes, the Jays capitalized on this to extend Yunel Escobar long term at a below-market value deal. Yes, there are Braves fans that still feel that somehow, getting Tyler Pastornicky justifies the whole trade. Meanwhile, the Braves have already forfeited 4 WAR in the deal.

    Oh, and the things that people got mad at Yunel for doing (not always running out pop-ups and groundballs and occasionally show-boating when he does good things)? Turns out Alex Gonzalez does some of those also.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Deadpool says:

      I know this was done to death, but why are people so quick to hate on the Braves. Yunel sucked for almost a quarter of his tenure with the team. Combine that with a mediocre MiLB track record and it doesn’t seem that far fetched to cut bait on a 28 year old to get into playoff contention. (and Alex Gonzalez was better for the Braves then Yunel had been, looking at Yunel’s numbers after the trade is pure hindsight).

      Not saying it was a good idea, but the logic is there.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • B says:

        Pure hindsight? Bullshit. Everyone who is not a Braves fan knew that was a dumb trade.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Deadpool says:

        Dumb to trade a guy who’d hit just above the Mendoza line with 0 HRs and like 2 2b over a season? A guy who had never cracked the bigs till he was 25 and relied entirely on a batting average above .290 to be an effective offensive player? Ok.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • razor says:

        Do you even have a clue why Yunel didn’t debut until he did? Plus, he didn’t reach MLB at 25, he was 24 in 2007.

        Also, saying he sucked for a 1/4 of his tenure? He was good in 2007, 2008, 2009. For a half season in 2010 he wasn’t very good. So basically, for 261 at bats in 2010 he was below par and for 1,361 at bats (2007-2009 total) he was pretty good. Above average for sure.

        Hindsight? How hard is this for ya?…And this has nothing to do with hating on the Braves. Class org for years. They missed on this one is all and will pay for a few more years as well. Pretty simple.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • razor says:

        While I’m on a Yunel rant…mediocre MiLB track record? What the hell are you looking for?

        A shortstop prospect with a very good defensive rep who hits just under .300 and gets on base 37% of the time in the minor leagues is mediocre? His MLB career numbers are almost identical to his MiLB numbers as well.

        Anyone who can get on base 37% of the time is definitely not mediocre, especially at a premium defensive position where he also happens to wield a better than average glove. Hell, even at the time of the trade Yunel had a higher on base % than Gonzalez did, and Yunel was hitting something like 60-70 points under his career average at the time.

        He may not be Tulo or anything, but mediocre? You’ve clearly been watching Alex Gonzalez a little too long already.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Joe Bob says:

        Yunel was a very good SS for the Braves. Gonzalez has not been one, and anything he brought to the table last year has been completely wiped away after this year’s performance. I was a little leery of the deal, but I also understood that it had to be done (at some point).

        Yunel Escobar wasn’t just shipped off because he didn’t run run out a few grounders or because he showboated. He was a cancer to the team. The Braves, since the start of their run in 1991, have run their clubhouse a particular way. There is a reason that every player who has come through has spoken very highly of not only Cox, but the organization and how they go about their business.

        Escobar wasn’t just not hustling on some plays; as somebody else pointed out, Gonzalez has, at times, shown the same tendencies. But Escobar was actually creating turmoil and conflict (including at least 2 physical altercations that I know of) in the locker room. Gonzalez, while not a very good option at SS, is well liked by his teammates.

        IMO, there reaches a point where clubhouse chemistry and disruptions can be detrimental to the team. The Braves decided, rightly or wrongly, that last year was boiling point and made a move.

        Given Escobar’s body of work in the bigs, I think they could have gotten more for him (although at the time, Gonzalez was one of the top HR hitters in the AL among middle IF).

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • JT Grace says:

      I get so tired of Blue Jays fans bashing the Braves EVERY SINGLE time that Yunel Escobar’s name is mentioned. You guys have no idea how awful he was in Atlanta. He refused to talk to the media, cursed at the scorekeeper, took a day off every time he had a little ache or pain, and never seemed to care too much about playing hard. I can’t tell you how many times he alligator-armed a throw from the catcher to 2B, letting the ball go into CF. There is no doubt the guy is a king size talent. Unfortunately he has a pea sized brain to go along with it. The manager and the entire team hated him. Alex Gonzalez got a standing ovation when he joined the club.

      Atlanta did not make this trade based on talent alone. They got tired of Yunel’s constant antics. It has been said by many players that Yunel was the ONLY player to have never gotten along with Bobby Cox in the 25 years that Bobby was with the Braves. Honestly, I can’t stand Alex Gonzalez but at least there isn’t the constant drama with him.

      For some reason Blue Jay fans love to bash Tyler Pastornicky just as much as they bash the Braves. He is projected to be a solid every day shortstop for the Braves, maybe not a superstar, but neither is Yunel. If he can one day hit 2nd behind Michael Bourn then the Braves will have speed at the top of the order like they have never had before. My hope is that he gets a call up when the rosters expand next month. I think he is better than Julio Lugo right now.

      This trade was a win for BOTH sides. The Braves got rid of a player that obviously didn’t want to be in Atlanta – who is the shortstop for the present and for the future for the Jays. The Braves received a present day defense only shortstop who should be replaced next season by their shortstop of the future, Tyler Pastornicky.

      I’m truly glad that Yunel is doing well for the Jays. He was one of my favorite players while he was in Atlanta. But, even as a Yunel fan, I could see that he wasn’t going to make it on a team that takes a business like approach to playing. I would think that Blue Jays fans would want the same success for their former farmhand too.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • ddriver80 says:

        Pastornicky is projected to be a fringe major leaguer. Don’t homer.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • CircleChange11 says:

        The FG community, and perhaps the sabermetric community as a whole, has a generally tilt toward player vlaue and WAR, often ignoring anything else, or hand-waving it off if it cannot be quantified and applied to the WAR formula.

        We see this repeatedly, most recently with the demotion of LoMo as if performing at league average at age 23yo is a green light to do whatever you want and dismiss your boss’s suggestions/demands/etc.

        I understand the tendency to look at WAR and ignore anything else, because ultimately on-field performance matters the most … but I’m doubtful that we’re as willing to do the same thing at our jobs, where we have to “work next to” the jagbag every single day and put up with his crap. We’re much more demanding, logical, rationale, etc when it involves other people and their employees/co-workers.

        We’re also early in the situation. Rasmus and Escobar were highly popular in their first cities intially as well. Then the luster wore off, and the performance decreased to a level where the atititude was no longer “worth it” (in terms of frustration, etc).

        This scenaqrio could play out a few different ways, and with young players, it’s even more volatile.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Notrotographs says:

    Small sample alert, but Alcides has been hitting much better after his abysmal start to the year (.700ish OPS over the last 3 months or so).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Frugalscott says:

    Here we go again with the ‘of course WE won the Escobar trade’ argument. Given that there were indeed other players involved and given also that Escobar is kind of the John Kerry of baseball players (he was good before he was bad- before he was good again), maybe we should wait a bit and see what Escobar does for another season or so and maybe even get a look at Pastornicky over that period as well.

    Escobar had an almost identical season in 2009 to what he is having now and then his offense went into the tank. Let’s see if that happens again.

    I have to agree with the skepticism on UZR. The wild swings from season to season simply do not pass the smell test. When we are basing our valuation systemks on WAR and, by extension, basing much of WAR on defensive rankings it seems imperative to either find a more accurate system to value defense or scrap the defensive aspect of WAR altogether as having no system is better than having one that seems to have significant flaws.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. CircleChange11 says:

    A discussion at Tango’s blog suggested that the best thing to do was regress a single season’s WAR.

    Since a full season of UZR is comparable to 50 games of offense, we’re essentiy prorating a small sample and making important conclusions from that.

    Even using weighted regression, the worst case scenario is an aging fielder gets rated slightly over his true performance.

    Both Lee and TCQ are getting to more balls in their zone than they have in years past. So it is possible that their UZR accurately describes their on field contribution using that metric. But given how we use WAR, even using it with decimal places, it’s like taking 2 moth’s worth of BABIP and extending it for the season. The issue isn’t so much with UZR incorrectly recording what happens, but issues with small sample and stringer differences. Simply put in a single season there’s not enough chances for it to “even out” like BABIP and HR/FB often do. In cases like TCQ we’re seeing UZR account for a 3-WAR swing in consecutive seasons.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Yinka Double Dare says:

      I like to remove the current season’s WAR and use a 3-year average including the current season instead, if at all possible (don’t like using someone’s past UZR if there’s been a position switch). Makes more sense than just using this year’s alone seeing as everyone says the 3 year average of UZR is a more accurate indicator of defense/one year is too small of a sample and has too much noise.

      However, I will note that it’s actually fairly reasonable that Quentin looks considerably better than previous years by UZR (although I don’t buy that he’s any better than average out there), as he’s had leg issues the last couple of years that he doesn’t have this year (so far, knock on wood, etc.). Not surprising his range would be better this year as a result.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. ddriver80 says:

    UZR is awful.

    I mean 2.2 UZR for Escobar. DRS puts him at 8. And everyone knows Escobar is one of the best SS’s defensively.

    DRS is more accurate.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. gareth harris says:

    All those defensive metrics have value but theres nothing like seeing a player day in and day out. Ok, Asdrubal Cabrera may have a relatively high number of errors this year (14).

    Say Jhonny Peralta was still with the tribe and was involved in those 14 plays instead of asdubal. His errors would be less. Why? Is he a better defensive shortstop? Uh no. Peralta’s limited range would make him unable to make some of those plays, so he would stand there like a statue and watch the ball go for a single. Asdubal would have athletically dived, and have the ball kick off his glove for an error.

    Sometimes fielding stats are very subjectively dubious.

    Also – How the heck does Alexei Ramirez even hit a home run? The guy looks like a sick and hungry Praying Mantis. He must wear ankle weights to make sure he isn’t blown away in the Windy City.

    Summary – Asdrubal Cabrera is awesome. Where’s the love people!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. gareth harris says:

    Asdrubal and Alexei may be pretty close defensively this year but Offensively it is a no contest. Look at the stats:

    PLAYER 1: AVG .291, Runs 75, RBI 73, HR 20, SB 16, OBP 349, SLG 487.

    PLAYER 2: AVG .266, Runs 68, RBI 51, HR 13, SB 7, OBP 331, SLG 410.

    Hint – Player 1 wears Chief Wahoo on his sleeve.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. gareth harris says:

    Oh and just for kicks, Here’s Jhonny’s!

    AVG .311, Runs 52, RBI 64, HR 17, SB 0, OBP 356, SLG 505.

    Amazing Rebound stats for Peralta, but Cabrera still comes out on top in everything but slg and avg. Peralta’s lack of speed goes against him too, which hurts when when added to Detriot’s legendary speedsters such as Carlos Guillen, Victor Martinez, Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera. These guys love nothing more than clogging up the bases on a nightly basis.

    Scoring from first? Anyone? Well ok then.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>