Who are the greatest slugging shortstops of all-time?
Real old-timers from the Greatest Generation will tell you there’ve never again been the likes of Joe Cronin, Lou Boudreaux, Luke Appling, surely Vern Stephens, who had the most career home runs by an AL shortstop, 247, before the ninteen ninties. Below is the great Red Sox slugger, Joe Cronin.
Baby boomer old-timers fondly remember the exploits of greats like Ernie Banks, Dick McCauliffe, Rico Petrocelli, Jim Fregosi. Below is pictured another Rex Sox shortstop, Rico Petrocelli, who was the only AL shortstop to hit 40 home runs in a season before the steroid user , Alex Rodriguez, broke his record, the only other AL shortstop to do so.
Gen Xer’s say, “those guys ain’t nothing, we invented the slugging shortstop: Cal Ripkin , Robin Yount, Alan Trammel.”
Below is Robin Yount, who hit 251 career home runs.
Of course Cal Ripkin holds the AL record for most home runs by a shortstop, 431.
Generation Y knows all the others are all wet. “Ya’ll think yours are the best, but we know ours really ARE the best.” Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada. Oh yeah. Top that.
Yes, every generation loves to say that theirs alone were the good old days. They just don’t make em like they use to.
To that the Millenials say: “you’re right, they don’t make em like they use to. Because they’ve never been better than they are RIGHT NOW, 2018. When it comes to slugging shortstops, THESE are the good old days.”
Well, I don’t agree with Millenials very often, but this time they’re right. Yes, this is the golden age of the shortstop. Never before in baseball history, especially in the American League, to which I will limit this discussion, has there ever been such a plethora of five skill, power hitting, game changing superstars playing the left side (usually, in this age of the shift) of the middle infield.
This year in the American League there are seven shortstops with OPS’s over .800. If Elvis Andrus were not injured there would probably be eight. The most there have ever been in one year previously was five. This happened twice, in 1996 and 2000. In five other years between 1996-2006 there were as many as four in a season. Of course this period is known as the steroid era for a reason, and prominent among the top shortstops of the age are three known PED users, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada. All three have extremely inflated numbers which few take seriously today in hindsight.
Nonetheless, even during the steroid era there weren’t as many great shortstops in any given year as there are this year. Below are three charts, the first for the top ten shortstops of 1996, the second for 2000 and the other 2018. I chose 1996 because it is probably the most legitimate competitor to 2018, with only one known PED user, and being a kind of transitional year, Cal Ripkin still playing at a high level, and Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez just making their impact. I also include 2000, just in case you wanted to see what the full fledged steroid era shortstops looked like.
Granted the number one in 1996 and the top two in this list in 2000 beat the best of 2018, but look at the depth behind that in 2018. Seven guys over .800 OPS. Five of them on track to possibly hit 30 home runs or more.
Before the nineteen eighties (pre-Ripkin) only 10 different AL shortstops had hit more than 20 home runs in a season, and only two had more than 30, Vern Stephens and Rico Petrocelli. Shortstops in those days were for defense. Any hitting was a bonus. This year alone it looks like six AL shortstops could hit more than 20 homers.
In 51 of 98 seasons in the AL since 1920 by my careful count, no qualifying shortstop had an OPS as high as the .821 OPS of this year’s number seven, Didi Gregorius. This occurred in all decades except the 2000’s, and as recently as 2015. (Correa and Lindor did not qualify that year) If Gregorius were to maintain his OPS until the end of the season, he would have the 98th highest OPS for a shortstop in the history of the American League. (List here) Numbers 4 and 5 on the 2018 list ( Correa and Segura) would qualify as 61st all-time among shortstops. Lindor would be 32nd and Machado 16th.
By the way, 9 of the 16 names ahead of Machado are Rodriguez and Garciaparra. Most fans know something about the chemical enhancements used by these two. Take their names out of the list and Machado is 8th all-time among shortstops if his numbers sustain until the end of the year. Take Garciaparra, Rodriguez and another known juicer Miguel Tejada out of the lists and the most AL shortstops in any given year above .800 is only four, in 1996 alone.
Nomar Garciaparra before steroids:
Garciaparra after steroids:
So, even though this year’s crop of shortstops hasn’t produced the greatest single season shortstop of all time, it has produced far and away the largest number of great shortstops for any one season in history.
So let’s look at them. Which three should go to the All Star game? Below is a chart comparing key offensive and defensive statistics of the seven greats of 2018. Never in history has any one league had so many deserving candidates to choose from.
Shortstop stats, 2018 AL
If you think that WAR ratings (wins above replacement) are the final word in such determinations then the right answer is clearly Francisco Lindor. He is rated as the second best hitter (WRC+ 140) and second best defender, (dWAR 9 UZR/150 10.8) which together give him the highest WAR ratings by both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.
If you think that hitting should be a more important criterion than WAR ratings do then Manny Machado is the best hitter in this group, hitting 50% above league average (150 WRC+) And yet according to Fangraphs he is only the fourth highest WAR rated shortstop, and according to Baseball Reference he is rated last. This of course is due to high defensive negatives in dWAR and UZR.
Machado currently leads the fans’ voting for All Star. Should he even be chosen as a back up? The WAR ratings say no, that his defensive liabilities cost his team more than his offensive assets benefit it.
After Lindor there is almost no distinction to be made in the overall offensive contributions of Jean Segura, Andrelton Simmons, and Carlos Correa, with Xander Bogaerts just behind. Of course some might place more value on the power that Correa and Bogaerts bring to the position, Simmons and Segura profiling more like the old school high contact, low power type shortstop.
The best defender in the whole group according to the data is Andrelton Simmons, and the worst, after Machado, is Carlos Correa, even though he has only made two errors, and Lindor with the second best UZR has made ten. (FYI, It is speculated that the Astros’ extreme infield shifting confuses the UZR rating system, which also hurts Alex Bregman’s defensive ratings.)
If you average the WAR ratings this is the order of these seven worthy candidates for AL All Star shortstops:
- Francisco Lindor 3.8
- Andrelton Simmons 3.15
- Jean Segura 2.85
- Carlos Correa 2.6
- Didi Gregorius 2.2
- Manny Machado 2.1
- Xander Bogaerts 2.05
But does that really settle it? Is WAR infallible? Why are there different WAR ratings? Which one is better? Is WAR really completely void of subjective evaluations?
Does Carlos Correa, who would probably be a starting AL All Star shortstop almost any other year, have a place on this year’s roster?
Below are two polls. The first asks who should be the first choice for All Star shortstop. The second will ask if Carlos Correa should be on the All Star team.
Who should be the starting AL All Star shortstop?
This poll is closed
Correction: Nomar Garrciaparra was only alleged to have used steroids. These allegations have never been proven.