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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ranking the AL Shortstops

It's no secret over the past few seasons the best shortstops have been in the National League. Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, and Troy Tulowitzki are the names people tend to throw out first when talking about the best shortstops in baseball.  Long gone are the glory days of Jeter (age 37), ARod (35 and now a third baseman), Miguel Tejada (37 and mostly plays 3B), and Nomar Garciaparra (retired). Who then are the best shortstops in the American League?  After evaluating all fourteen A.L. starting shortstops, I've managed to rank them in different groups Bill Simmons style.

Derek, that's the same face I made when I saw your batting average

Better Find a Replacement in the Offseason Divison
14. Alexi Casilla .254/.325/.338 0 HR, 7-10 SB; -28 runs saved: Doesn't hit for average, has no power, and is completely miscast defensively as a shortstop. He's a significant part of the Twins' problems this year.

He Can't be This Bad All Year Division
13. Reid Brignac, Tampa .167/.202/.175 0, 0-0; +15: Sure his defense has been great, but you don't deserve to suck up any plate appearances if you're only going to hit .167. Still, his performance over previous seasons leads me to believe he'll snap out of it.
12. Derek Jeter, New York .261/.329/.327 2, 5-7; -2: Jeter's production declined significantly last season but that didn't stop the Yankees from signing him to an extension. Now he's fallen off a cliff. Never a strong defensive player, the organization is probably scrambling for a backup plan if he gets off to a bad start next year.
11. Alcides Esocbar, Kansas City .205/.240/.239 0, 5-9; +18: In just his second year in the majors, Alcides is probably the smoothest fielding shortstop in the big leagues. He's not being counted on to be a table setter and still has plenty of time to prove himself, but that .240 OBP is starting to get worrisome. 

OK for Now but We Need a Long Term Solution Division
10. Brendan Ryan, Seattle .262/.332/.323 0, 1-2; +3: So far he's played as well as expected. The real issue here is he was just supposed to be a stopgap for a rebuilding team. With the Mariners in contention, a trade may be made later this year moving Ryan to the bench.
9. Cliff Pennington, Oakland .262/.317/.350 3, 5-10; -1: A decent defensive player with no pop. His .317 OBP epitomizes the offensive struggles for Oakland this year.
8. Jed Lowrie, Boston .293/.342/.431 3, 0-1; -15: Having a breakout offensively, but his defense has been a problem. In an era where offense continues to tumble towards levels from the 1980's, defense is becoming increasingly important. Boston will probably give him next season hoping that this year's defensive numbers are just a blip.

We're Set for the Next Several Years Division
7. JJ Hardy, Baltimore .272/.345.447 4, 0-0; +3 : Hardy enjoyed a couple of successful seasons in 2007 and 2008 with Milwaukee but really fell off after. His defense has always been excellent and now it appears he's regained his stroke. Though it's possible his power hitting days are a thing of the past, a team could do a lot worse than Hardy.
6. Jhonny Peralta, Detroit .320/.383/.534 8, 0-2; -17: The American League's best offensive shortstop has been their worst defensively. Detroit really needs to move him to another position and hope he continues to hit.
5. Erick Aybar, Los Angeles .305/.345/.428 3, 14-16; +6: Aybar is an excellent basestealer and a slightly above average defensive shortstop. However, his offensive value is almost completely reliant upon batting average which can fluctuate wildly. With very little power he'll need to maintain his speed to remain an asset.
4. Yunel Escobar, Toronto .292/.374/.439 6, 1-2; +10: After getting shipped out of Atlanta due to attitude problems (while coincidentally having the worst season of his career), Escobar is back on track in Toronto. Regarded as an excellent defensive player with a plus plus arm, Escobar also has a nice level swing which generates a lot of line drives. Still only 28, he could have a season or two which allows him to start an All-Star game.

Potential Superstar Division
3. Elvis Andrus, Texas .278/.321/.350 2, 19-19; +23: A lot of people believed this 22 year old would be a superstar when he was 17. Blessed with blazing speed, Andrus should win several stolen base crowns. That speed translates to the defensive side where he demonstrates extraordinary range to go along with his plus arm. Andrus still has a lot of refining to do to his game such as improving his walk rate, but if he puts it all together what you'll see is a perennial MVP candidate.

We Can Win a World Series with Him Right Now Division
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland .306/.357/.539 3, 7-7; -12: Cabrera is another shortstop enjoying a breakout season in 2011.  He's already set a career high in homers while stealing seven bases without being caught.  If he continues hitting for power he'll garner some MVP consideration. One concern is how long he'll be able to remain at short.
1. Alexei Ramirez, Chicago .300/.360/.452 6, 2-4; +16: The Cuban Missile has gotten better each season he's been in the majors. As a rookie he was a mediocre second baseman with some pop who never walked. Now he's arguably the best defensive shortstop in the American League with pop while walking occasionally. That is extremely valuable and if the White Sox weren't under performing this year Ramirez would be on a lot of MVP ballots.

Perennial MVP Candidate Division

So there you have it. Alexei is the best shortstop in the American League right now and should continue to be one of the two or three best for the next few years. Thank goodness he wears Black.
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