A Specific Kind of Golden Age for Shortstops

With three home runs in his past five games, Freddy Galvis is in the midst of a power surge that has made him the most prolific home-run-hitting shortstop in the league over the past 30 days. Go back just a tiny bit further and you’ll find that Galvis has 10 home runs and a corresponding .899 OPS since August 9th. Freddy Galvis. You know, the glove-first shortstop with a career 73wRC+. He entered the 2016 season with 20 career home runs in 1,153 plate appearances and has now nearly doubled that career total thanks to 19 homers this year in just 568 trips to the plate. It’s a mind-boggling surge on its own, but Galvis’ story is just one of many strikingly similar tales.

Across the league, there are established major-league shortstops with unimpressive career power totals soaring beyond their prior home-run paces.

Newly Slugging Shortstops
Name PrePA PreHR 16PA 16HR
Brad Miller 1243 29 542 28
Marcus Semien 927 23 558 25
Xander Bogaerts 1298 20 654 19
Freddy Galvis 1153 20 568 19
Didi Gregorius 1302 22 539 18
Jonathan Villar 658 10 616 16
PrePA & PreHR = career PA & HR prior to 2016 season
16PA & 16HR = PA & HR this season

These newfound sluggers have all joined a plethora of other shortstops across the league in the 15-plus home-run club. All total there have been 15 shortstops to hit 15 or more homers this season.

2016 Shortstops with 15+ HR
# Player Tm HR
1 Brad Miller TB 28
2 Trevor Story COL 27
3 Corey Seager LAD 25
4 Marcus Semien OAK 25
5 Troy Tulowitzki TOR 23
6 Danny Espinosa WAS 21
7 Addison Russell CHC 20
8 Freddy Galvis PHI 19
9 Xander Bogaerts BOS 19
10 Asdrubal Cabrera NYM 19
11 Carlos Correa HOU 19
12 Didi Gregorius NYY 18
13 Jonathan Villar MIL 16
14 Zack Cozart CIN 16
15 Aledmys Diaz STL 15
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

According to Baseball-Reference, prior to this year there had never been more than 10 shortstops to hit 10 or more homers in a season — a record set in 2003 and tied in 2007. (As an aside, the only shortstops to make the list in both of those seasons were Miguel Tejada and Alex Gonzalez… not that Alex Gonzalez, the other one.) This year’s crop of 15-plus-homer shortstops is already half again as large as the previous record holder and it’s conceivable that the size of this year’s group could further extend its new record as Francisco Lindor is currently just one homer away at 14 on the season and Brandon Crawford, with a slightly larger mountain to climb, currently has 12 round-trippers on the year. In summary, shortstops be hittin’ lotsa long balls this year.

Naturally, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given that home-run rates have soared across all of major-league baseball this season. As of right now, the league home-run rate is tied with the 2000 season for the highest rate in major-league history. With league rates up overall, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t also go up for shortstops. However, as the unprecedented quantity of shortstops with elevated home-run totals suggests, the power jump for shortstops has been even more extreme than for the rest of the league.

There are two different ways we calculate league positional splits at FanGraphs. The first way groups together the total stats of everyone who qualifies for a position by playing 25% of their games at it — as it applies to our discussion of shortstops, we’ll refer to this split as “grouped shortstops” or “grSS”. The second way is to consider the stats compiled only when players are actually in the lineup at the specified position — we’ll call this “at shortstop” or “atSS”. I took a look at the total home runs hit in the league each year and the total home runs hit by our two subgroups — grSS and atSS — and calculated the percentage each contributed. Here are the top seasons by percentage of league home runs contributed by shortstops. (Note: atSS data only goes back to 2002.)

Seasons With Highest HR% Contributed by SS
Season Total HR grSS HR grSS HR% Season Total HR atSS HR atSS HR%
2016 5097 523 10.26% 2016 5097 447 8.77%
2007 4957 452 9.12% 2007 4957 415 8.37%
2002 5059 451 8.91% 2002 5059 423 8.36%
2014 4186 364 8.70% 2003 5207 422 8.10%
2001 5458 474 8.68% 2014 4186 322 7.69%
grSS since 1969
atSS since 2002

One of the biggest reasons the grSS% is so much higher is that it pulls in all 35 of Manny Machado’s home runs this year whereas atSS counts just his 11 home runs produced while playing shortstop. But no matter which calculation you prefer, shortstops have provided a larger chunk of home runs than ever before. Yes, power is up all across the league, but even in that context, what shortstops have done this year stands out.

It will never be easy to claim any future or current era is the golden era for shortstops. What we saw in the late 90s with Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez were three Hall of Fame-level talents all playing in their prime at the same time. It was extraordinary and should rightfully give us pause from capriciously elevating anything close to that status. Is it possible, however, that some combination of Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, etc., force that conversation someday? Sure. But we’re not there yet. What we do have, however, is a broader distribution of power at the shortstop position than we have ever seen before. If quantity of power threats over truly elite quality at the position is your kind of thing, maybe this is your idea of a golden age at the position. Regardless, when guys like Galvis, Semien, Miller, and Gregorius turn into legitimate power threats, it’s an outstanding reminder that times they are a-changin’.





Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and MLB.com's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.

newest oldest most voted
Tom Dooley
Member
Tom Dooley

You’re not wrong about the era of ARod, Jeter, and Nomar; but right now there is a different kind of golden era at shortstop.

There are currently 7 shortstops on pace to produce 4+ WAR (two of them should break 7+). Other than Brandon Crawford, who is an old man at 29, these are their ages:

22
24
22
21
22
23

The young talent in baseball right now is incredible, but specifically at shortstop there is an embarrassment of riches. Unbelievably, at this point it’s not even that unlikely that we see a year that surpasses the ARod-Jeter-Nomar peak. It’s possible we could have four or even five instead of “just” three.

Gfuzz
Member
Gfuzz

Does Trea Turner make the cut for this? He’s been remarkable. EDIT: Whoops he hasn’t been playing SS.

Johnston
Member
Johnston

I have been watching baseball a while, and this is the best crop of young shortstops I have ever seen. It’s great.

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

You like young shortstops better than established ones? I don’t. I like good players regardless of age.

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

This is essentially peak steroid-era which I am sure helps a lot.

Lanidrac
Member
Lanidrac

Don’t forget that Aledmys Diaz would also have a shot at 4 WAR had he not missed over a month with a broken hand.