What Happened to the AL Shortstops?

We are now more than 10 years past the height of the shortstop renaissance. In 1999, it seemed like shortstops ruled the American League. Two of them, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter, finished among the top 5 in the AL in wOBA, with .436 and .428 marks. Alex Rodriguez was right behind at .397, and even Omar Vizquel broke out the hitting shoes that year and produced a .379 wOBA. Royce Clayton was the fifth best-hitting AL shortstop that year with a .344 wOBA.

In 2000, we saw the trend continue. A-Rod produced a .433 wOBA and Garciaparra trailed him by a single point. Jeter remained near the top, at .399. That year six AL shortstops finished with a .340 wOBA or better, including Jose Valentin, Miguel Tejada, and again Vizquel. But in 2001 that changed a bit. While five AL shortstops finished with a .340 or better wOBA, only one, A-Rod, finished above .400. Jeter was the next closest at .379. The same held true in 2002 and 2003, with only A-Rod topping .400. But after he moved to third in 2004, no AL shortstop reached a .400 wOBA (though Jeter and Carlos Guillen both came close, each at .399 at one point.)

Even without the top-heaviness, AL shortstops remained a productive bunch. In most years they have five or six with wOBAs above .340. In 2007 that was the case, as five hit the .340 mark. The difference was that the leader, Jeter, produced a .369 wOBA, far down from the top end of years past. In 2008, AL shortstop was even further down. In 2009, it recovered a bit, mainly because of superb season from Jeter and Jason Bartlett, but in 2010 it is down again. It is, in fact, lower than it has been in more than two decades.

Here’s a chart showing the flow of wOBA for AL shortstops from 2005 through 2010:

You can see the top end tumble precipitously from 2006 through 2008, with a quick spike in 2009 and then back to the normal decline. Chances are we’re not going to see a significant uptick any time soon. The guys who topped this list either don’t play the position any more (Michael Young, Guillen, Jhonny Peralta), are aging (Jeter), or both (Tejada). Since there doesn’t seem to be any upcoming AL shortstops with big-time power potential, and since teams have placed an emphasis on defense, chances are we’ve seen the era of the shortstop come to a close, though maybe it’s more like a temporary halt.

Thankfully, shortstops need not hit like right fielders to provide value to their teams. Defense plays a big part in evaluating a shortstop. The quirk in this is that while AL shortstops are producing at a lower offensive level, they also seem to be producing a bit less in terms of UZR defense. That is the topic for another article, though.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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Joel
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Joel
5 years 10 months ago

Yuniesky Betancourt is a league-average SS bat this season. You could’ve made the entire article that sentence and it would have been just as effective.

Brendan
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Brendan
5 years 10 months ago

Could it be as simple as a much greater emphasis is placed on defensive ability at SS, instead of offense? WIthout doing any research, I feel like 2B has improved a lot over these same years, in terms of offensive production..were a lot of these guys drafted as SS but were moved over?

Dan
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Dan
5 years 10 months ago

I have a question about this point:

“The quirk in this is that while AL shortstops are producing at a lower offensive level, they also seem to be producing a bit less in terms of UZR defense. That is the topic for another article, though.”

Isn’t UZR relative to other short stops? Shouldn’t the total UZR for the league be zero? Is that last comment meant to say that the top AL SS’s are producing a bit less in terms of UZR?

DavidCEisen
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DavidCEisen
5 years 10 months ago

NL shortstops.

mettle
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mettle
5 years 10 months ago

A more complete analysis should also show how much of this reflects the decline in just the top 3 or 4 guys and how this decline compares to the general overall MLB-wide decline in wOBA.
That is, is this simply a reflection of Jeter/Garciaparra and ARod aging + game-wide decline in offense or is it something more?

tdotsports1
Member
5 years 10 months ago

I hate to be the guy and this argument is tiresome I know, but could this also reflect the “cleaning” up of the game? I mean, shortstops have traditionally been light hitting but great fielding players on the squad, but with the pumped up version during the steroid era and the hugely inflated stats (especially compared to a light hitting position) vs. the old traditional numbers of shortstops of the past era’s.

I would compare it to the internet stock bubble in the late 1990s, when you look at those ridiculous past charts, what a HUGE blip on the chart/radar as some of those stocks were fairly new to the game with no established volume or “history” (in baseball, sample size) so the gains and rise in stock price was that much more magnified.

Just a (rambling) thought.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 10 months ago

That’s what I was going to say. [1] Aging and [2] off PEDs.

Tejada is widely considered to be a PED user, Nomar brought reasonable suspicion.

Aging, injuries, and possibly not using PEDs. That combination will take down statistics reasonably well.

#6org
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#6org
5 years 10 months ago

Tulo, Hanley… they’re still 400 SS kicking they just in the NL

Eric B
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Eric B
5 years 10 months ago

Starlin.

Noah
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Noah
5 years 10 months ago

I think you also have a situation where in the ’90s a lot of the freaskishly talented guys were brought up as shortstops through high school and college, and now those guys are brought up as catchers: Mauer, Posey, Santana, etc. I’d presume all three of those could have been good enough defensive shortstops to stick at the position.

Temo
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Temo
5 years 10 months ago

You think Joe Mauer would have been a good defensive shortstop?

Erik
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5 years 10 months ago

Why not? The guy is an all-world athlete.

Temo
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Temo
5 years 10 months ago

He doesn’t seem like he’s quick enough to play SS.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 10 months ago

Catcher is the PERFECT position for SS who have the arm, feet, hands, and agility to play SS … but not the speed or range. Yadi Molina is a great example. Strong arm, quick feet, wonderful hands (okay, that sounds weird), quick reflexes … but no range and no speed. I’ve talked about this a lot, but my guess is A LOT of catchers coem from playing SS as a prep, but realize once they get to NCAA or MiLB that they don’t have the range to play SS at the pro level, but they can make a decent catcher, and that’s the fastest route to MLB.

But, not the other way around. Are you kidding me. Joe Mauer at SS? I don’t care how “athletic” he is, he’s slow as hell as compared to the average ML shortstop. I have little doubt he could play a corner IF position, but we’re talking about ML SS.

I think folks DRASTICALLY underestimate the skill and ability of a ML shortstop … even the worst fielding one.

Erik
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5 years 10 months ago

Wait, what makes Mauer ‘slow as hell?’ His lack of stolen base attempts and success?

Mauer is a ‘hell of a lot’ faster than you, or most people give him credit for. Is he ever going to steal 30 bases a year? No…but to say he is “slow as hell” when compared to an average ML shortstop is short sighted…especially when basing it on nothing substantial.

Temo
Member
Temo
5 years 10 months ago

There’s no evidence to suggest Mauer is quick enough to play SS. Present evidence to the contrary.

Erik
Guest
5 years 10 months ago

Can’t the same be said on the flip side? You, nor I, know where he is quick enough or not to play SS.

But saying he is ‘slow as hell’ when compared to the league average SS is a bit absurd…given it is based on nothing.

CircleChange11
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CircleChange11
5 years 10 months ago

In the context of this discussion, “slow as hell” does not refer to baserunning speed, but range at shortstop. IMO, he does not have the quickness, nor overall range, to compete for a SS position.

Given the awesome quickness and range of a ML shortstop, that is NO slight on Mauer. I’ve seen outstanding college shortstops go undrafted. I’ve also played with guys that did become professional shortstops, and their range and quickness, and ease of fielding is mind-blowing.

Jeff in So. Indiana
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Jeff in So. Indiana
5 years 10 months ago

I would say that:

AROD and Tejada look like definite roid users.

The shirtless Nomar Sports Illustrated cover speaks for itself on his steroid status. Shortstops will soon be shrinking back into Vizquel/Ozzie Smith body types.

Perhaps you should do the article on any position and find the same result, perhaps with the exception of 2B and C?

DavidCEisen
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DavidCEisen
5 years 10 months ago

Even if Arod and Tejada were on steroids (and they were), that doesn’t prove that shortstops can’t be great hitters. There still are a number of great hitters (such as Tulo and Hanley). Steroids don’t help great hitters play defense.

Jeff in So. Indiana
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Jeff in So. Indiana
5 years 10 months ago

Good point, but they can help a skinny athletic kid add power through some muscle mass.

I think Hanley’s a bad example as he shouldn’t be a SS anymore and should be moved to 2B, 3B or LF. His defense is now a -8.0 UZR. Watching him in the hole is interesting.

Tulo’s a better example but his power isn’t overwwhleming. He’s on pace for maybe a 20-HR season which doesn’t seem out of line with the top power shortstops of non-roid eras.

Maybe Alexei Ramirez would look like Tejeda and have an MVP year if it was 1994?

tdotsports1
Member
5 years 10 months ago

One season with a negative UZR is not enough to be moving him to another position, he has made huge strides over the past 3 seasons in terms of defense and the team will likely keep him there as long as they can. There are definitely worse overall defensive SS than Hanley, IMO.

biondino
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biondino
5 years 10 months ago

Tulo was out for 40 games with a broken wrist and readily admits he can’t hit for power as much as he could before the injury.

BN
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BN
5 years 10 months ago

@ Tdot

You do realize Hanley is a -37 drs & -37.1 over his career. At his best drs/uzr have him at completely mediocre, and at his worst they have him at terrible. This is hardly a result of small sample size.

He’s just not a good short stop.

Scott
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5 years 10 months ago

Even Vizquel had a couple suspect years. Look at his ISO in 2002.

.143 vs .081 career.

Tomas
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Tomas
5 years 10 months ago

Elvis Andrus is a good shortstop in the AL. He may not have power but he has everything else.

Wrighteous
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Wrighteous
5 years 10 months ago

elephant in the room

Cal Ripken
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Cal Ripken
5 years 10 months ago

I guess I was too slow to play shortstop in the majors.

It should be noted that Mauer in high school was the top rated quarterback prospect in the nation. The definition of “athletic” enough is hard to quantify.

skippyballer486
Member
skippyballer486
5 years 10 months ago

Peyton Manning is not fast enough to be a major league shortstop either.

Unknown For Now
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Unknown For Now
5 years 10 months ago

My first thought was that ML teams are less patient at letting SS work out their growing pains. Its anecdotal at best, but from what I have seen, many High School studs are still playing SS. Look at even Jeter (not arguing his true defensive talent) and his early career errors in MiLB. I watched both Upton boys struggle mightily with simple plays in HS, and watched BJ throw enough balls away with Durham when they came to play the Tides. I think (just brain storming really), tht if either of them came up in the mid to late 90’s, they may have been givin more of a chance to figure out the position before being put in the OF.

JRoth
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JRoth
5 years 10 months ago

IMO the SS bubble of the late 90s/early 00s was always a fluke driven primarily by a handful of guys (however they got that way), and was always unlikely to last. If there were a ready supply of adequately-defending, hard-hitting SSs in the world, baseball would have discovered them in the first 130 years of its professional existence.

The frustrating thing is that it led to a decade of treating as nobodies guys who, in every other historical era, would have been top tier SSs, because they “only” wOBAd .300.

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