FG on Fox: The Shortstop Youth Movement Is Back

On February 27th, 1997, the cover of the then newly-released March issue of Sports Illustrated featured two baby-faced baseball players — with the headline “Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez head up the finest group of shortstops since World War II.” The next season, Nomar Garciaparra had his breakout, and he joined the two in what was an embarrassment of riches at the position. Three years later, the trio was elected to the 2000 All-Star Game — a recognition of what was one of the finest multi-year periods by a group of three shortstops in the history of the game.

A historical convergence of that type of talent happens rarely in baseball, and it happens far more rarely at one position – and in just one league. During any particular season, there are usually only a certain number of players that are above a particular production level. Take, for example, the number of players that produced at least 6.0 Wins Above Replacement in 2015. We’ll focus on 6.0 WAR because above that level we consider production to be in the realm of a possible “MVP” performance.

In 2015, there were only ten players in all of baseball who had greater than 6.0 WAR. In 2014, there were only nine, and in 2013 there were also ten. Some years have more players and some years have fewer, but the point is that there are usually few players who are in this upper echelon of production. It’s also important to understand that shortstop is usually a less talented position than others on the field: the skill set to be successful both offensively and defensively at shortstop simply narrows the range of potential players down. Case in point: there hasn’t been a full-time shortstop with at least 6.0 WAR since Hanley Ramirez and Derek Jeter both topped that mark in 2009.

In 1998, Jeter, A-Rod, and Garciaparra all had over 6.0 WAR. They were all shortstops. They were all in the American League. The confluence of circumstances that came together for that to happen should be celebrated by its own holiday. In fairness, 1998 was a ridiculous year for great position players – there were 24 players with at least 6.0 WAR – the result of both great timing and, well, steroids. Still, there has rarely been a time when talent among American League shortstops – and shortstops in general – was more top-heavy than in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.

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Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

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troybrunomember
6 years ago

should we not include shortstops playing 3B (for now)?