Sunday, November 23, 2008

2008 Positional MVP Picks: Shortstops

For the final infield installment of my 2008 positional MVP picks, I’ll be evaluating big league shortstops. Like their double play partners at second base, shortstops need to be above-average fielders as well as solid hitters in order to be truly top notch at their position, but unlike at second base, the shortstop crop thinned out pretty quickly, making Installment #6: Shortstops the toughest piece for me to write so far.

The top three shortstops this year were easy picks. All three put up good-to-excellent numbers at the plate, and two of three were also very good defensively (the third was so good with his bat that he gets away with being mediocre with his glove). But after the top three, there are a whole lot of very one-dimensional and/or unspectacular shortstops.

Christian Guzman put up respectable numbers at the plate (OPS+ of 104, just over league average—though it’s worth noting that his lack of walks makes his OBP very dependent on BA) and was middle-of-the road in RF, ZR, and RZR, all of which make him a very valuable commodity at short. But he doesn’t really stand out in any one category, which keeps him out of the top five.

Yunel Escobar, on the other hand, was a standout defensive SS (2nd in the majors in RF, 4th in ZR, and 5th in RZR). But although Escobar got on base at a .366 clip, his SLG was terrible (.401) and he didn’t steal any bases (2 SB vs. 5 CS) to make up for his lack of power. So although, like Guzman, Escobar is a very good SS, he too misses out on the top five.

Jhonny Peralta is essentially the opposite of Escobar: he hits for power (.473 SLG) but doesn’t get on base enough (.331 OBP), and although his 4.56 RF was very good, his ZR and RZR were 2nd worst and 6th worst among qualified shortstops.

Rounding out the list of honorable mentions is Stephen Drew, whose 42.8 VORP was 4th among big league shortstops, but whose defensive numbers were so bad (last in ZR and RZR and second-to-last in RF) at such a crucial defensive position that I couldn’t justify putting him in the top five. Also working against Drew is his low OBP of .333, though admittedly his .502 SLG offsets this somewhat. But a 110 OPS+ shortstop with no defensive value to speak of shouldn’t crack the top five, at least not by my reckoning.

Of the five shortstops who did make the list, I am very confident with my picks for #1-#3. #4 and #5 are certainly arguable, though I don’t believe either should be replaced by anyone not already covered in my honorable mentions. I suspect that my pick for #5 is the pick that is most likely to cause disagreement, but in a weak field, I stand by an admittedly borderline call.

And now, on with the list:

5.) Mike Aviles is probably a surprise pick for number five due to his limited play in 2008 (only 102 games). But in a field of largely one-dimensional shortstops, Aviles put up excellent—albeit less statistically reliable—numbers both offensively and defensively. At the plate, Aviles compiled a line of .325/.354/.480 for an OPS of .834 (OPS+ 122) with 10 HR, a .288 EqA, 17 total win shares, and a VORP of 35.2.

In the field, Aviles was good for a 4.56 RF, 8.49 ZR, and 8.56 RZR, which would have been 5th, 4th, and 3rd among all big league shortstops had Aviles maintained his level of play for enough innings to qualify for qualitative (ie. averages) leaderboards.

The fact that Aviles only played in 102 games is the most obvious argument against his inclusion on this list. But because he played so well in those 102 games—he was 7th among shortstops in VORP, and 10th in total win shares with roughly 200 fewer at bats than the men higher (and, oftentimes, lower) on the leaderboards—and was good with both the bat and the glove, I gave him the nod at #5.

4.) J.J. Hardy proved that his 2007 season was no fluke, actually improving upon his numbers in 2008. Hardy’s line of .283/.343/.478 with 24 HR was good for an OPS of .821 (OPS+ 113), an EqA of .279, 20 total win shares, and a VORP of 40.4 (5th among shortstops).

Hardy was solid in the field, as well, as his 4.48 RF, .813 ZR (low, but not criminally so), and .826 RZR show. He won’t be winning any Gold Gloves soon (although Jeter did, so I suppose there is always a chance), but he is serviceable with the glove, which, coupled with his excellent offensive numbers, makes Hardy a very valuable shortstop.

3.) Jimmy Rollins regressed significantly from his 2007 numbers, particularly in power categories (most notably HR and SLG). That said, he was still a top-of-the-line shortstop and leadoff man in 2008, combining strong offensive numbers with excellent defense. Rollins hit .277/.349/.437 with 11 HR for an OPS of .786 (OPS+ 103), a .282 EqA, 24 total win shares, and a VORP of 44.4. His OPS may seem low, but unlike Hardy or Aviles, Rollins is an excellent baserunner and base stealer, swiping 47 bags against only 3 (!) CS for an astonishing .940 SB%. That’s about as efficient as base stealers get, and means that Rollins effectively turned a lot of singles into doubles (and doubles into triples) this year.

But Rollins was more than just a top-notch table setter; he was also a Gold Glover (not that Gold Gloves mean much) at short this year. His RF of 4.52 was sixth best among shortstops, and his .855 ZR and .849 RZR were second and fourth, respectively.

Rollins may not have been able to repeat his ridiculous 2007 power surge this year, but he remained one of the top shortstops in the game regardless. Although he is a better fielder than the next man on this list, my pick for #2 was much better offensively in ’08, and therefore got the nod. But Rollins has no real competition for the #3 slot, having drastically outperformed Hardy, Aviles, and the rest of the also-rans.

2.) Jose Reyes just keeps getting better and better each year. In 2008, he hit .297/.358/.475 with 16 HR for an OPS of .833 (OPS+ 118), a .294 EqA, 29 total win shares, and a VORP of 62.6 (second among shortstops and seventh among all position players). His solid OBP and high SB totals (56 against 15 CS for a SB% of .789—not nearly as good as Rollins, but high enough to legitimize giving Reyes the green light) once again made him a valuable leadoff man.

Reyes isn’t nearly as strong defensively as Rollins or the next man on this list, but he’s improved his glove work (though to far less fanfare than his improvements at the plate) in recent years, and in 2008 was a serviceable, if not great, defensive shortstop. His 4.07 RF was abysmal (fourth worst among qualified shortstops), as was his .812 ZR (also fourth worst). But his RZR, which takes into account Reyes’s ability to get to balls well outside his fielding “zone,” was a much more impressive .835 (good for 9th among shortstops).

I’m certainly not going to claim that Reyes is a particularly good defensive shortstop; he clearly isn’t. But he’s not bad enough to offset the runs he contributes at the plate. If Rollins had repeated (or come close to) his 2007 numbers, there’s no way Reyes would top him on this list. But Jimmy missed 20+ games and had a couple rotten months in 2008, and Reyes ended up with a more impressive resumé this season.

1.) Hanley Ramirez was the complete package in 2008. He got on base, he hit for power, he was a threat on the basepaths, and he played solid defense at short. His offensive numbers were downright ridiculous for a shortstop: .301/.400/.540 with 33 HR, a .940 OPS (OPS+ 146), .320 EqA, 32 total win shares, and a 79.4 VORP (second only to Albert Pujols among position players). His baserunning numbers were much lower than in his previous two full seasons (35 SB vs. 12 CS for a .745 SB%, down from consecutive 51 steal seasons), but Ramirez took 92 free passes in 2008, easily a career high and a very, very good sign that he is going to continue to be an excellent hitter for the foreseeable future.

In the field, Ramirez was very good. His RF of 4.40 was middle-of-the-road among qualified shortstops, but his .834 ZR and .840 RZR were fifth and sixth, respectively. Frankly, Hanley Ramirez is not a stud because of his glove; but the fact that he can play good defense at arguably the most important defensive position other than catcher is the icing on the proverbial cake. No other shortstop combined offensive and defensive production the way Ramirez did in 2008, leaving him all alone at the top of the heap (and the top of this list).


  1. I would say that #3 and #4 are closer than #2 and #3. Hardy leads Rollins in WARP1 by 0.5.

    Nice to see a Brewer on the list. Our only other chance is LF.

    "he’s improved his glove work (though to far less fanfare than his improvements at the plate) in recent years, and in 2008 was a serviceable, if not great, defensive shortstop"

    "I’m certainly not going to claim that Reyes is a particularly good defensive shortstop"

    Dave vs. Dave

  2. Whoops! I meant to write "particularly great" that second time around.

    Plus side: I totally kicked that Dave guy's ass.