The Positional Power Rankings series continues, because it would be weird if it didn’t. In here, we’re going to deal with shortstops on a team-by-team basis, wherein all the teams are ranked by projected WAR. The projected WARs, of course, will often end up different from the actual WARs, but these are basically our best estimates of positional true talent given what we know today, and the rankings are an excuse to write some commentary on everyone. I know it’s already linked up there, but here’s the series introduction, again, if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking at. It’s not that complicated! Except the projected-WAR part. That part is incredibly complicated. Here is a graph of everything:
There exists a belief that we’ve entered something of a golden age of shortstops. Relative to the league overall, shortstops just had their best offensive season on record. They also had their best collective WAR season in modern history. The belief begs for an explanation. One potential explanation would be that, no, there’s nothing here, and it’s all just random noise. That’s always one potential explanation for anything, and it’s never the fun one. Another potential explanation would be that, like so many things in baseball, it’s cyclical, and now we see shortstops on a temporary upswing.
My current preferred explanation is that teams now are more reluctant to move good players off shortstop. So many great players throughout baseball history used to be shortstops at some point. Players have been moved off because they got too big, or didn’t have enough mobility. Perhaps now teams don’t care so much about shortstop size. And it makes you wonder about the role of modern defensive shifting. It’s possible teams feel like new defensive alignments have reduced the need for extreme shortstop range. This is speculation on my part, but it’s where my mind is at the moment. Big players can stick, now more than ever. Let’s now talk about some big shortstops, and some littler shortstops. (There are still some little shortstops.) Off we go!
The place people care about most is first place, and here we have the Astros, which I’m sure will provoke something of a debate. I’ll note, though, that the only thing separating the Astros from the second-place team is the depth; the starters are projected to be virtually identical. I’ll say again, lots of teams have good shortstops. Lots of teams wouldn’t want to lose their own shortstops. The Astros are among those teams.
I get that Correa’s 2016 was arguably something of a letdown, given that he hit better the year before as a rookie. We all want predictable, linear progress toward stardom. Baseball doesn’t always work like that, but don’t lose sight of what the Astros actually have, here. Correa has had one single month in which he’s been a below-average hitter. He was excellent last year despite playing through a couple of injuries that seem to have sapped from his bat speed. And Correa, right now, is 22 years old. He’s younger than Andrew Benintendi. He’s younger than Dansby Swanson. He’s younger than Jeimer Candelario and Joey Gallo. Youth isn’t a skill, but it’s a heck of an indicator of upside, and dozens of excellent prospects Correa’s age are still somewhere in the minors. Correa’s present is fantastic. His upside is virtually limitless.
And, hey, as the Astros are concerned, it doesn’t hurt to have Alex Bregman as a potential backup in case something bad happens here. Has anyone mentioned yet that the Astros kind of have too many good players? That must be obnoxious for them.
As expected, Lindor couldn’t quite keep up his rookie-year power output, even with homers going up around the league. Correa wasn’t the only outstanding young shortstop to experience some sophomore batting regression. Yet Lindor was also just a six-win player, because while Correa looks more intimidating with a bat in his hands, Lindor plays defense like an eagle hunts for mice. He sees everything happening around him with arguably incomparable vision, and when there’s a ball he thinks he can get to, he locks on with explosive closing speed. In the field, Francisco Lindor is basically perfect. At the plate, in the most recent year, Lindor bumped his walks while reducing his strikeouts. The one thing he doesn’t do is hit towering homers, and everyone loves a towering homer, but ballplayers don’t get much better than this, nor do they get much more lovable. Football successfully fills the dead time between bursts of action with constant replays. Baseball could learn a lesson and fill its own ample dead time with looping footage of Francisco Lindor smiling.
Here we find the Dodgers in third place, and that might be controversial. The Fan projections put Correa at 6.1 WAR, Lindor at 6.5 WAR, and Seager at 6.7 WAR. Literally just last season, Seager was worth 7.5 WAR, so you could argue this projection is harsh. Look, I don’t care one way or another. I can’t pretend to believe the projections are perfect, or even all that precise. Let’s maybe just focus on the fact that one could reasonably think a 4.5-WAR projection for a 23-year-old shortstop is pessimistic.
If there’s one thing you could question, it’s how Seager’s defense rated. UZR put him at +11, while DRS put him at 0. The latter is closer to what I think many expected, so perhaps that’s a more accurate reflection of Seager’s actual talent. Just don’t worry too much about the glovework. The glovework is fine. The bat is outstanding. An easy thing to miss here: Over 800 big-league plate appearances, Seager has hit three infield flies. His infield-fly rate, therefore, is 1.8%. Joey Votto’s career infield-fly rate is 1.3%. You already know so many things Seager does well. Add this to the list. He barely ever makes bad contact, and, wouldn’t you know, but it turns out that’s a good way to become an excellent hitter. This game is easy!
Turner sort of ambushed the competition last year. In the upper minors, Turner was patient, swinging about 40% of the time. With the Nationals, he turned aggressive, swinging at almost half of the pitches he saw. I don’t know quite how to explain it, but, clearly, results suggest Turner wasn’t hurting himself. And so, while it would be easy to look at his numbers and criticize his walk rate, he’s shown the ability to draw walks in the past. That would be something to worry about if Turner were struggling. We have yet to see Trea Turner struggle.
I’m not entirely sure how well he’ll adjust back to playing short. It should be fine. Turner doesn’t seem to have explosive strength, so that presumably limits his power ceiling. What sets Turner apart from many of his peers is just how quickly he can motor from one place to the next. Turner is faster than almost anyone else in the bigs, and that makes him exciting. He just stole 33 bags in the equivalent of a half-year, and I can’t imagine Dusty Baker is going to throw up many stop signs. Maybe Turner doesn’t quite run like Billy Hamilton, I don’t know. But you know how we’ve all been waiting for Billy Hamilton to show that he can actually hit? Trea Turner can actually hit. And once he’s on, he doesn’t like to stay where he is.
To some extent, Russell might be misunderstood. Clearly, he is pretty great, and he turned only 23 in January. He just lopped six percentage points off his strikeout rate, which is notable for any player. I think a lot of people are waiting for the huge Addison Russell offensive breakout. I don’t know if that’s actually in there. Russell has been a below-average hitter for 1,121 plate appearances, while being nothing short of marvelous in the field. It seems like he should be appreciated for what he is — a glove-first quality infielder. Offensive contributions are like extra gravy.
It should go without saying that Russell could hit better than he has. That’s true for everyone. The issues here are twofold. One, his contact rate remains well below average. And two, while Russell does hit the ball with some lift, his exit velocities are unremarkable. Based on corrected exit velocities, Russell’s average mark last year was just three-tenths of a point higher than Jason Heyward’s. Over the last two years, he’s hit his average batted ball as hard as Ketel Marte. Again, Russell could improve, and he could improve fast. It’ll just require a big change somewhere. Without that change, Russell is still fantastically good. Pretty good spot to be in.
Well, this is convenient. Last year, Crawford and Russell posted basically identical swing and contact rates. They posted basically identical ground-ball rates. They both hit a few too many pop-ups. And they both looked like absolutely spectacular defensive shortstops by DRS and UZR. Russell is newly 23, while Crawford is newly 30. General trend lines would suggest that Russell is on the way up, while Crawford is on the way down. But Crawford’s also coming off a career-best WAR, and he might represent Russell’s more realistic upside. Addison Russell as the next Brandon Crawford? It works surprisingly well.
There’s not much here left to figure out. There’s no debating that Crawford remains an outstanding defender. He just un-did what had been a 2015 power spike, and that went along with a drop in exit velocities. But Crawford has hit 19 career homers in San Francisco, and 40 career homers elsewhere. He’s an underrated hitter, because of his home ballpark, which, in turn, means he’s an underrated player. I don’t know how the Giants still have underrated players after all those World Series, but, here we are.
Bogaerts is a shortstop who’s been worth a combined 9 WAR over the past two seasons, and we’ve still got the Red Sox in seventh place. There are a whole bunch of indicators out there of how MLB is currently shortstop-rich, and you can count this as one of them. Somehow, Bogaerts seems almost boring. He’s a shortstop! 9 WAR! 24 years old!
When Bogaerts broke out in 2015, people raised a few concerns. They pointed to his high BABIP, and they pointed to his high grounder rate and low walk rate. Last year, Bogaerts experienced a predictable BABIP drop, but he countered that by hitting more flies and drawing more walks. So he tripled his homers, while dramatically increasing his rate of pulled balls. In short, Bogaerts became more stable as a good hitter, consolidating things he’d done well before at different times. Bogaerts hasn’t flashed elite power or elite defense, so he’s unlikely to ever be the best shortstop in any given year. He also has a pop-up issue it would serve him well to conquer. But he’s just another good, young Red Sox position player. The best ones show they’re able to adjust, and Bogaerts is no stranger to successfully making big-league adjustments.
Remember when everyone on the Internet loved Andrelton Simmons? Back then, Simmons was a light-hitting batsman who did wizardly things on the infield dirt. Simmons remains more or less exactly the same player. He still has that unbelievable arm, and range that’s as much a factor of his anticipation as of his agility. But today Simmons gets lost in the mix, with so many other good shortstops around, shortstops who can hit the ball harder.
To Simmons’ credit, he’s raised his wRC+ by 10 points in two straight seasons. He hits basically everything, and somewhat improbably, Simmons last year had the same average exit velocity as Todd Frazier, who went deep 40 times. Simmons might have an offensive ability level in there higher than what we’ve seen. Even if he is what he is, however, he’s 27, and he’s averaged 3.6 WAR per 600 plate appearances. The Angels aren’t just Mike Trout and nobody else. Simmons deserves your affection as much as he ever has.
Here’s a great marker of the changing of the guard. When we’ve done these shortstop positional power rankings before, Tulowitzki used to run away with first place. Or, I should say, his team used to run away with first place. Here we get Tulo and the Blue Jays in ninth, and it’s not even weird. It’s not so much that Toronto is disappointed in its shortstop position. It’s just, well, Tulo’s 32 now, and there are some other skilled guys 10 years younger.
It’s absolutely true that Tulowitzki has constant trouble staying healthy. The injury-prone label is an unfortunate one, but Tulo hasn’t been able to shed it. That’s not the sort of thing that tends to get better as a player ages. It’s remarkable, then, that Tulowitzki remains an above-average defensive shortstop when he plays. And although his bat has slipped from its peak, there are still signs of thump. From last June through August, after Tulo came off the DL, he posted a 127 wRC+. Expect occasional flickers of that old greatness. Just enough to make you think that old Tulo is coming back for real. He’s probably not, but he’s still very good. That is, when his body lets him do what he does.
I love the Aledmys Diaz story for the absurdity of it all. I mean, we’re accustomed to the Cardinals making good players out of unremarkable raw material, but Diaz is different. In the middle of 2015, in the minors, Diaz wasn’t producing, so the Cardinals dropped him from their 40-man roster. At that point, the Cardinals showed a lack of faith in Diaz’s talent. He stuck around in the system, because no one else wanted to take on his salary, and then almost immediately, Diaz started hitting for power. He didn’t stop! Last season, Diaz wasn’t even supposed to be the Cardinals’ regular, but, out of 31 big-league shortstops who batted at least 400 times, Diaz out-hit all of them but Corey Seager. All of them but Corey Seager. Aledmys Diaz, the 25-year-old no one.
His defense isn’t very good. Let’s just say that. Diaz also isn’t that gifted of a runner. The 2016 Cardinals identified a general lack of athleticism as a team weakness, and Diaz is no classic athlete. What he is is a hitter with contact skills and power, and he showed the ability to adjust to adjustments. He doesn’t too often allow himself to chase. There are some far better shortstops out there, but considering where Diaz was a year and a half ago, his current circumstances are stunning. This is an underrated baseball miracle.
It’s hardly relevant, but, just because, I’d like to say that Greg Garcia batted 257 times and he ran a .393 OBP. I don’t even know. Cardinals, man.
Hey, look, another good young shortstop who exceeded expectations. You remember Story’s April. Everyone remembers Story’s April. He went deep 10 times and ran a 143 wRC+. Then, in May, Story posted an 84 wRC+, and it felt like the league had made its necessary adjustments. Well, between the start of June and the injury that prematurely ended Story’s year, he put up a 131 wRC+ with some modestly improved selectivity. Story’s numbers weren’t inflated by one good month. If anything, they were deflated by one *bad* month. It was a fantastic season, until the part where Story’s body hurt.
Story’s defense is fine, if unspectacular, so the question is going to be about contact, again. He did strike out in almost a third of his plate appearances. Yet he consistently hits the ball in the air, and he does so with oomph. He’s not all that different from, say, Chris Carter or Brandon Moss. Except that he’s an everyday shortstop. Just because he’s a weird one doesn’t mean he’s not a good one.
I don’t know if decent regulars get much more boring than Marcus Semien, so let me try to spice it up. Same walk rate as Victor Martinez! Same strikeout rate as Kris Bryant! Same exit velocity as Yasiel Puig! Same baserunning value as Yoenis Cespedes! That’s Marcus Semien — more or less a blend of Victor Martinez, Kris Bryant, Yasiel Puig, and Yoenis Cespedes.
Semien just knocked a fairly quiet 27 dingers. As a hitter, he’s perfectly fine, a testament to the value of putting the ball in the air, even if you aren’t blessed with upper-level strength. What’s most notable here might be Semien’s defensive progress. Two years ago, he made 35 errors, 18 of the throwing variety. Last year, he made 21 and eight, respectively. The numbers still don’t love his range, and they probably never will, but as long as Semien isn’t actively throwing runs away, he ought to keep himself playable. A team could do worse making up for trading Addison Russell.
When the Mariners traded for Jean Segura, we made a pretty big deal about the fact that they also traded for Mitch Haniger. What that might’ve done, kind of by accident, is make it look like Segura isn’t that interesting. Segura is actually extremely interesting. He was, last season, a five-win shortstop. Those players aren’t so easy to come by.
The projection is what it is because, the two years previous, Segura was a combined 0.3-win shortstop. This is important to recognize. Segura has had an unusual career path, where he was good, then bad, then bad, then good again. Of *course*, the projections are going to split the middle. But Segura just posted a career-low grounder rate. He improved his average exit velocity a couple of ticks. The hard-hit rate shot up 10 percentage points. There’s plenty here to be intrigued by, and, oh, Segura has also been a consistent plus on the bases. As a quick everyday shortstop coming off a power spike, Segura’s upside on this projection is considerable. It’s just, we can’t forget about what’s happened to him before. I don’t know if Segura and Semien could feel more different, despite their back-to-back rankings.
You might not think that you, literally you, could hit a baseball over a major-league fence, but consider that, last season, Didi Gregorius hit 20 of them. I’m not sure exactly where that came from, and it was unlikely to repeat even before Gregorius sustained the shoulder injury that’s costing him the start of the upcoming year. Realistically, Gregorius is not a power source. He’s a contact source, and a consistency source, and he’s adopted a more aggressive approach with age. His walk rate has become a third of what it once was, but Gregorius is good enough to keep from being an offensive black hole.
Interestingly, last year, Gregorius was one of the least productive hitters in baseball against fastballs. Yet he was among the most productive hitters in baseball against non-fastballs. Based on that, it seems pretty clear when Gregorius feels like he can pull the ball with authority.
Gleyber Torres is not going to open the season as Gregorius’ temporary replacement. Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect has already been ruled out. He’s going to report to Double-A, and he’ll be there a while, probably. As good as he is, his minor-league OPS is still .761. Torres is coming, and quickly at that, but he’s unlikely to make a major-league impact in 2017, barring a breakout of colossal proportion.
We’re in the middle of the pack, and we’re just now getting to Dansby Swanson, 2015’s first overall draft pick, a guy who hit .302 as a 22-year-old big-league rookie. Yeah, there are a lot of talented shortstops. I’m actively writing this right now, and I’ve thought about this whole crop of shortstops before, but this is still blowing my mind. 15th place. Dansby Swanson!
The good news here is that Swanson made such a successful debut, in his month-plus. He hit just one single infield pop-up, and he only infrequently chased out of the zone. Consensus seems to be that Swanson’s upside is fairly limited, as he doesn’t have game-breaking power or defense. Yet, for one thing, he’s at least something like average across the board. That raises his floor, so to speak. And for another thing, Swanson has simply not been a professional for very long. His performance record is short, so, who are we to say where his career might go? For now, he should already be considered a core piece of the present and future. The Braves wouldn’t be hopeless without Dave Stewart, but they would have a lot less hope.
Just one more indicator of how many talented shortstops there are — the Reds have been wide open to trading Zack Cozart, and they’ve so far been unable to do so. Granted, there have been some poorly-timed health issues, but Cozart has consistently rated as a quality defender, and two years back he started to hit for more power. Since the start of 2015, Cozart has played in 174 games, posting a WAR of 3.9. That’s a good and steady shortstop, but the market hasn’t cared, with vacancies pretty much belonging only to non-contending teams looking for something other than an infielder in his 30s.
It stands to reason that Cozart will be moved eventually, someplace. The Reds have young infielders they’d prefer to play and test, and Cozart doesn’t serve much of a purpose on the present roster. If Herrera can get and keep himself healthy, he could make himself into at least a semi-permanent solution. That’s not a bad fetch for Jay Bruce.
Two years ago, Duffy was a five-win third baseman. That’s the upside here, and a good reminder of how we’re actually quite bad at estimating a given player’s ceiling. Last year, Duffy’s overall performance fell off a cliff, but there’s reason to believe his offensive numbers were in large part a product of some lousy luck. The Rays took a chance on that, and they also took a chance on translating Duffy’s defense from third base to shortstop. Unfortunately, he quickly got hurt, so questions remain. And there’s still some discomfort in Duffy’s Achilles, so he’s going to start the year on the disabled list. It’s a bad way to kick off a bounceback campaign.
There is, at least, intriguing depth, beginning with Beckham, a hard-hitter with contact problems. Beckham was the first overall pick a decade ago and he’s never going to turn into the player of Tampa Bay’s dreams, but he’s coming off a league-average batting line, with improved exit velocities, and he trimmed his strikeouts as the season wore on. Beckham and Duffy might not be good enough to hold off Adames long-term, but Duffy’s absence toward 2017’s beginning shouldn’t cripple an underrated ballclub.
We spend so much time talking about players who post really strong average exit velocities. Compared to that, we spend relatively little time talking about the other side of things. Two years ago, out of the hundreds of players with at least 100 batted balls, Iglesias ranked 11th from the bottom in batted-ball speed. Last year, he ranked sixth from the bottom in batted-ball speed. Iglesias is, as a hitter, really quite weak, someone on the other side of the fly-ball-hitting threshold. There are certain hitters, I mean, who would benefit from putting the ball in the air more often. Iglesias isn’t one of those guys. A fly ball is just an out. He needs to survive as a singles machine.
He does have a career 85 wRC+. Andrelton Simmons also has a career 85 wRC+. At the plate, they’re awfully similar, right down to how they volley the ball back into play at almost every opportunity. The difference is that, where the numbers back up Simmons’ defensive reputation, Iglesias’ numbers aren’t quite so remarkable. The Tigers would tell you they love what Iglesias can do out there. He might even be better than he seems on the stat page. I’m just explaining how we’re here in 18th place. Statcast hasn’t figured out everything yet, at least not in time for this article to be published.
There are breakouts that just fly totally under the radar. Two years ago, Andrus stopped hitting so many ground balls, but his wRC+ remained bad. Then, last year, he maintained the same batted-ball profile, but his wRC+ shot up to a career-high 112. It was the first time he’d ever reached triple digits, coming with an ISO that was a little shy of double his previous career mark. His average exit velocity improved by more than two ticks, and he ended up tied with names like Jose Altuve and Mike Napoli.
I suspect Andrus isn’t quite as good as he just looked, but I do believe in the value of his adjusted profile, and there’s enough pop here he’s always something of a threat. Although it feels like he’s been around forever, he’s still just 28, and his defense should be better than last year’s dreadful UZR. Long story short, Andrus isn’t just a guy who always goes out and cheerily greets other Rangers who just scored important runs. That smiley son of a gun is also a perfectly adequate regular, and an important part of the greater Rangers formula.
Just in advance of this writing, the White Sox and Anderson agreed to a six-year contract worth $25 million. The deal also comes with a couple of club options, and as I think we’ve all gotten used to, the contract appears to come with big team-friendly upside. These early extensions tend to do that. Still, a couple things. One, Anderson won’t ever have to worry about money again, which has to be an unparalleled feeling for a 23-year-old with just a few months of big-league experience. And two, there are the red flags. Anderson, in the majors, had nine times as many strikeouts as walks. He ran a contact rate around 70%, and no regular or semi-regular in the game spent more time than Anderson behind in the count. Anderson’s approach is legitimately worrisome, even despite his 95 wRC+.
Since I try to see the best in people, that 95 wRC+ is still fine. And after Anderson drew just one walk in both June and July, he drew five in August and six in September. There’s pop in there, and Anderson also handled himself just peaches at a premium position. Odds are, the White Sox are going to have a significant surplus asset. It’s just, Anderson has work to do, and that work is going to be hard. That approach of his isn’t closely linked to big-league success.
It’s just the nature of this beast that you can be moving along, plugging away, and then before you know it you have to try to come up with something to say about Jordy Mercer. I don’t have anything good to say about Jordy Mercer. I don’t have anything bad to say about Jordy Mercer. I just don’t have anything to say about Jordy Mercer at all, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a strong opinion. Jordy Mercer has been a player in the major leagues for some time now, which requires skill and dedication. His full name is Jordy Joe Mercer, so I might start calling him Jordy Joe now. Did you know that, in his career, Jordy Mercer is 8-for-13 against Aroldis Chapman, with three home runs? No, you didn’t, because I just made that up.
If you want something to hold out hope for here, Cabrera batted 311 times through June, with a 95 wRC+. He batted 257 times from July 1 on, running a 147 wRC+, with an ISO that was almost twice as high as before. Now, the previous season, Cabrera showed a similarly extreme split, so maybe this is just one of his things, but, you know, for as long as Cabrera has been around, he’s not that old, nor is he that bad. He’s 31 and he’s coming off his highest WAR — 3.0 — since he was 25. His bat has rebounded from an unusual dip, and he’s been hitting fly balls since before Daniel Murphy made it cool. Cabrera is a bat-first shortstop with enough bat, for now, to make the whole package work. It’s the art of the balance.
His increasing pull rate makes it look like he could be approaching the end of the line. The Mets needn’t worry, because Amed Rosario is on the way. Between Rosario and Gleyber Torres, I don’t know who’s going to end up the best shortstop in New York, but I know it’s going to be a hotly-debated question, and likely for years. Just in case you’ve been feeling like there isn’t enough coverage of New York-area baseball.
Here we have a position that’s dependent on the fate of Brian Dozier. For as long as Dozier is around in Minnesota, it’s likely that Polanco will start at shortstop, with Escobar behind him. Should Dozier get moved, the expectation is that Polanco would move over to second, clearing Escobar’s path. That right there should tell you something about Polanco’s glovework, which is most charitably referred to as a work in progress, but at least the bat is of interest. In fact, maybe you can think of Polanco as a far, far younger Asdrubal Cabrera equivalent. Polanco makes contact with five-sixths of his swings, and he’s kind of an extreme fly-ball hitter without extreme power. That’s not such a common blend, yet Polanco’s turned it into a 106 wRC+ over some hundreds of opportunities. He’s been good at avoiding pop-ups, and considering he’s 23 as I write this, he’s a good player for the Twins to find out more about. It’s not like they should be in a rush.
Escobar is years older, but before an injury-plagued 2016, he’d looked like an average hitter with defensive versatility. He’s a player who could fit easily on a contending team’s roster, given the chance. He’s also a total delight.
I know I already mentioned that Didi Gregorius just hit 20 weird-ass home runs, but in the same vein, Freddy Galvis also just hit 20 weird-ass home runs. In doing so, Galvis made himself something like a league-average player, and that’s a positive development for him, but he probably shouldn’t get too comfortable, on account of Crawford. Galvis is his own man, with his own career, and he’s got his own goals, but the Phillies’ organizational goal is to see Crawford emerge as a big-league shortstop, and they want that this season, even if it means slashing Galvis’ playing time.
Eric just ranked Crawford as baseball’s No. 9 prospect. He’s already thought of as a core piece, even though he has yet to make it to the bigs. That comes with risks, and you can’t talk about Crawford without acknowledging that he hasn’t exactly lit the minor-league leaderboards on fire. He slugged just .318 in Triple-A. Yet he was doing so as a 21-year-old, and as a 21-year-old with excellent defense and an advanced approach. Despite the numbers, Crawford feels fairly safe. He could need time to adjust and get comfortable to the majors, but he should seldom play like a liability.
J.J. Hardy is kind of like half of a Hall-of-Famer. He’s been good for 29 career WAR, and outside of a miserable 2015, he’s been worth at least 2 WAR most seasons, topping out at 4.4. He just showed major improvement in his profile — he cut down on his strikeouts, he upped his walks, he boosted his exit velocity, and he hit fewer grounders. His hard-hit rate jumped up by literally 11 percentage points, which I guess is what happens when you see a guy go from a wRC+ of 50 to a wRC+ of 88.
But still, that’s a wRC+ of 88, for a guy who’s entered his mid-30s. Hardy has never been a runner, and while his defense has held up impossibly well, he feels like an older Zack Cozart. The good news is that, unlike the younger Zack Cozart, Hardy plays for a team that hopes to contend. That’s exciting, and Hardy can still put the bat on the ball as much as he ever has. If he can just repeat his 2016, the Orioles ought to be ecstatic. The memory of 2015 lingers. It’s a difficult memory to un-remember.
It’s not really Escobar’s fault. He just plays like he was instructed to play. He’s an old-school shortstop in a time of newer-school shortstops, and he would’ve been right at home as a big-leaguer going back a few decades. But now, players everywhere are expected to hit, and Escobar simply isn’t capable for more than a week or two at a time. His career wRC+ is 73. He’s never finished a year with triple digits. He seldom ever walks, and although he succeeds in putting the bat on the ball, that’s kind of what the pitchers want. Escobar has 31 career home runs, and 110 career pop-ups. Compared to his home-run rate, his pop-up rate is more than three times higher.
It’s never a good thing when a hard-hit rate is the same as a soft-hit rate. When Escobar’s running well, and when he lucks into a blooper or two, he’s a useful nuisance. Yet the steals have dropped, and the defense is marginal. Escobar has been a recognizable part of the Royals’ rise. He’s one of the players entering their contract seasons, and he’s the one they’d miss the least.
The best thing about Arcia’s 2016 was that he was a 21-year-old playing in the major leagues. Nothing about his actual performance was good. He struck out too often, and walked too little. He paired four home runs with six infield pop-ups. He was below-average in the field by both DRS and UZR, and he averaged the same exit velocity as Ben Revere. I suppose he did, at least, steal eight of eight bases, but you can’t easily sugarcoat a negative WAR. Nothing about the statistical profile is particularly encouraging. One should be encouraged more by Arcia’s youth, and by the learning experience.
I think people still largely expect Arcia to cut it as a big-league regular. He’s an important part of all the good things the Brewers presently have going on. You certainly shouldn’t expect Arcia to run another 64 wRC+, not given his skills, not after what he just went through. But this is a player who’s going to need patience. Arcia could make a big impact one day, but the path is long and winding.
I don’t know exactly what’s going on here. I’m not sure the Diamondbacks do, either. Ahmed could start, or he could get traded this month. Owings could start, or he could play more in the outfield. Marte doesn’t have a clear path, but he’s already got plenty of big-league experience, and I was just reading positive things about Vargas, who I hadn’t heard of before. This is a crowded area, in quantity, if not in proven performance. The positive is that they’re all young. The negative is what’s right there in the table.
If you want defense, Ahmed is your guy. UZR and DRS both love him, but then, his 2015 wRC+ plus his 2016 wRC+ equals 108. As a hitter, he’s been nothing short of dreadful, like a decent-hitting pitcher. Owings has more to offer at the plate, but then he’s been a defensive negative, when he’s had the chance. Vargas is an interesting guy, because although he’s 25, he’s already spent a little time in indy ball, and last year in the upper minors he had a .360 OBP with more walks than strikeouts. You never know where Marte might fit in. Odds are, I suppose, one of these players could and should emerge better in the season ahead. It’s on the Diamondbacks to identify that guy. Maybe, just maybe, there is a real in-house solution. Something to help them forget about the Dansby Swanson-shaped void.
Hechavarria is a year removed from what seemed like a modest breakout. Seriously, as recently as 2015, he rated as a three-win regular. Then last year he dropped about…oh, three wins or so, seemingly undoing his gains. What’s interesting is that he didn’t undo his gains. The story of 2015 was that Hechavarria finally got his defensive numbers to match his reputation. Last year, his defensive numbers stayed good, even relative to other shortstops. That’s great! The problem was that he went from hitting .281 to hitting .236, and since Hechavarria’s entire offensive profile is built around singles, such a decline was catastrophic.
His hard-hit rate went up! His pop-up rate went down! His strikeouts dropped and his walks improved! You’d think it was a pretty good year, but for those actual numbers. I have to think those numbers will get better, even if they won’t make Hechavarria seem productive. He’s a half-decent singles threat who can adequately field his premium position. The Marlins might like him a bit too much, but even skeptics should concede that 2016 was a pinch too lousy to sustain.
Through last season’s first two months, Erick Aybar was the worst player in major-league baseball. He had a WAR of almost -2, and over 163 trips to the plate, he had a wRC+ of 11. Then, from June onward, Aybar raised that wRC+ to 94, more closely resembling the player he used to be, when he was an effective and annoying regular with the Angels. The point here is that Aybar’s career isn’t officially dead. Nevertheless, for two straight seasons, he’s been a replacement-level infielder, and the Padres picked him up on a minor-league contract. He might still end up the starter, because that’s just their situation. Sardinas, at least, is young enough for one to imagine better days are ahead, but he’s been even worse than Aybar has. In complete honesty, when I look at the Padres’ roster, I see more upside than I expected. None of that is located here. Close this window now and move on with your life. You’ll be better for it.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.