A few weeks ago ESPN's Buster Olney released his version of the Top 10 shortstops in MLB (insider protected). With reasonable arguments aside about the players we would push to the top spot, Olney lists 13 shortstops in total (his top 10 and three that received an honorable mention). Here they are in alphabetical order because, after all, it’s still behind a paywall:
- Elvis Andrus
- Erick Aybar
- Brandon Crawford
- Starlin Castro
- Ian Desmond
- Alcides Escobar
- J.J. Hardy
- Jhonny Peralta
- Alexei Ramirez
- Jose Reyes
- Jimmy Rollins
- Andrelton Simmons
- Troy Tulowitzki
After looking at the list I have to admit my first thought was, "Wow. I didn’t realize the position was so offensively deficient. When did that happen?"
That thought process could be the result of growing up in the Age of the Offensive Shortstop, the days of yore when Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, and to a lesser extent an aging Barry Larkin, all patrolled the left side of the infield and were slotted into the heart of their respective team’s lineups. But, looking at the crop listed above, it seems to me that Troy Tulowitzki is the one superstar bat in the group. I assumed that, relative to the league, this had to be one of the weaker offensive groups of shortstops in baseball for a long, long time. Boy was I wrong.
Using Baseball Reference’s Play Index, I searched for players since 1962 (the first year the schedule expanded to the full 162 games) that: (a) appeared in at least 100 games at shortstop and (b) posted an OPS+ of 100 or better. I recognize that OPS+ isn’t the best measuring stick, but it’s a reasonably strong league comparative statistic, and by using OPS+ I was able to take advantage of BR’s ability to filter by games at the position. Using the group of players from my search, I then determined the percentage of the league’s teams that had a player that met the criteria. I was sure to account for differences in the number of teams each season. The results were…surprising.
Note: Strike-shortened seasons occurred in 1972 (156 games), 1981 (111 games), 1994 (117 games), and 1995 (144). In these instances I used 61.7% of the season’s total games (i.e. 100/162).
In 2014, exactly 30% of the teams had an everyday shortstop perform at the league average mark or better. And that does not include Troy Tulowitzki, who hit .340/.432/.603 in another injury-shortened year, or Eduardo Escobar, who hit .275/.315/.406 with an 102 OPS+ in 98 games. The most amazing part: that percentage is tied for the fourth highest mark in the last 53 seasons.
This bears repeating: relative to the league average OPS, last year’s group is tied for the fourth highest percentage of starting shortstops since 1962. The nine players to tally an OPS+ of at least 100 (in at least 100 games) were Hanley Ramirez, who will be patrolling a spot in Fenway’s outfield next season, Jhonny Peralta, Starlin Castro, Brandon Crawford, Jose Reyes, Ian Desmond, Erick Aybar, Alexei Ramirez, and Jimmy Rollins. Certainly an interesting group. And here’s the kicker: only three of those nine – Ramirez, Peralta, and Castro – topped the mark by more than five percent.
So, it’s only logical to look at the top OPS+ from each season from the qualified players:
While the leader in OPS+ has been slowly trending downward since 2000, it has remained between the peaks and valleys of the early 1980s.
So despite what looked like a lackluster group of offensive shortstops, the 2014 group have been relatively strong with respect to the league average OPS. Something I definitely didn't expect.
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All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.