The 2021 Replacement-Level Killers: Shortstop and Third Base

For the full introduction to the Replacement-Level Killers series, follow the link above. While still focusing upon teams that meet the loose definition of contenders (a .500 record or Playoff Odds of at least 10%), and that have gotten about 0.6 WAR or less thus far — which prorates to 1.0 WAR over a full season — this year I have incorporated our Depth Charts’ rest-of-season WAR projections into the equation for an additional perspective. Sometimes that may suggest that the team will clear the bar by a significant margin, but even so, I’ve included them here because the team’s performance at that spot is worth a closer look.

As noted previously, some of these situations are more dire than others, particularly when taken in the context of the rest of their roster. I don’t expect every team to go out and track down an upgrade before the July 30 deadline, but particularly for these two positions — where pending free agents Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, and Trevor Story rate among the best players available and are toiling for teams who can’t be considered contenders — I’d be surprised if there isn’t some movement, even beyond the teams that make the cut for these lists. As with previous entries in this series, won-loss records and Playoff Odds are through yesterday (July 20, in this case), but statistics through the day before (July 19).

2021 Replacement Level Killers: Shortstops
Athletics .230 .272 .319 65 -15.8 1.7 -1.6 0.1 0.7 0.8
Reds .226 .299 .371 80 -9.7 0.0 -1.9 0.5 0.8 1.3
Statistics through July 19. ROS = Rest-of-season WAR, via our Depth Charts.

Athletics (55-42, 2nd in AL West, 53.0% odds of making playoffs)

After letting Marcus Semien depart via free agency, the A’s traded for Elvis Andrus, who was absolutely dreadful in 2020 (.194/.252/.330, -0.3 WAR) and missed roughly half of the season due to a strained ligament in his lower back that sent him to the injured list twice. He’s been durable enough to play in 93 of Oakland’s first 96 games this year, and both his bat and glove have improved relative to last year, but even so, his .231/.271/.314 (64 wRC+) line is pretty lousy. While his .272 xBA and .383 xSLG suggest he’s hitting the ball harder than his slash line indicates, his anemic 2.6% barrel rate places him in the 7th percentile, and it’s not like he’s suddenly developed Tony Kemp’s plate discipline. Meanwhile, DRS is pretty down on Andrus’ defense (-5 runs), though other metrics are more favorable.

On June 1, I noted that given that most contenders are set at shortstop, Oakland stuck out as perhaps the best fit for Story, but a month later, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the team is unlikely to pursue him, instead prioritizing an outfield bat. Given that, it’s difficult to imagine the team going after Báez instead, but the A’s do retain the capacity to surprise us, and so a smaller-scale upgrade — the Orioles’ Freddy Galvis, or maybe the Twins’ Andrelton Simmons if he ever breaks out of his current slump — wouldn’t be a shock.

Reds (49-46, 2nd in NL Central, 12.5%)

Speaking of Galvis, the Reds let him walk last year after a pretty representative performance (.220/.308/.404, 90 wRC+, 0.5 WAR). He signed with the Orioles for all of $1.5 million in late January as Cincinnati, fresh off its first postseason appearance in seven years, went even cheaper by moving Eugenio Suárez from third base to shortstop, a position he last played regularly in 2015. That plan didn’t last long; when Mike Moustakas, who had taken over third base, suffered a right heel contusion in mid-May, Suárez returned to the hot corner, with Kyle Farmer taking over shortstop.

To add insult to injury, shortly after Moustakas went down, the Brewers traded for Willy Adames, whom the Reds briefly explored acquiring last winter. As The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal noted, the trade may have already swung the division race in Milwaukee’s favor. The Brewers, 21-22 at the time, have gone 35-18 since, with Adames providing 2.5 WAR along the way, and while the Reds have picked up as well, going 30-23 in that span, the missed opportunity to shore up their shortstop situation looms large.

What’s more, the ongoing shuffle seems to have broken Suárez, who after a mediocre 2020 has hit .170/.254/.360 for a 64 wRC+ overall. His offense was actually better at shortstop (72 wRC+) than third (62 wRC+) but his defense, nope: -2.7 UZR and -7 DRS in just 265.1 innings there, 0.0 UZR and -2 DRS in 510 innings at third. Farmer has been both a better hitter (.229/.300/.348, 76 wRC+) and fielder (0.9 UZR, -1 DRS in 498 innings), but that’s not saying a whole lot when the yield is 0.2 WAR.

Galvis, who hit .249/.306/.414 (97 wRC+) en route to 1.5 WAR before straining his right quad in late June, makes both Suárez and Farmer look like prime Barry Larkin by comparison. He’s on a rehab assignment and should be available to return in early August; doing so in a Reds uniform would make sense if the team isn’t aggressive enough to land an even stronger upgrade (Story?). A more immediate alternative would be to promote Jose Barrero (formerly known as Jose Garcia), the team’s top prospect and No. 49 on our Top 100 list. After jumping from High-A in 2019 to Cincinnati last August, the Cuban-born 23-year-old has gotten his feet wet in Double-A (40 games) and Triple-A (16 games) this year, hitting a combined .300/.382/.498 with 10 homers and 10 steals.

2021 Replacement Level Killers: Third Base
Reds .185 .272 .356 70 -15.2 -0.5 0.7 -0.1 0.9 0.8
Phillies .246 .302 .362 81 -9.0 -2.9 0.4 0.2 1.0 1.2
Statistics through July 19. ROS = Rest-of-season WAR, via our Depth Charts.

Reds (again)

While he’s played adequate defense at the hot corner, Suárez has hit for just a 62 wRC+ in 243 PA since returning to his main position and been 0.3 wins below replacement level. What happened? Since clubbing 49 homers and hitting for a 133 wRC+ in 2019, his age-27 season, Suarez has stopped hitting fastballs of both the four- and two-seam variety. Where in 2019 he hit .314 and slugged .665 against heaters, he slipped to .224/.512 last year and .172/.370 this year; by Statcast’s run values, his -11 runs against sinkers is the majors’ lowest. Meanwhile, against sliders, he’s gone from .228/.488 to .167/.417 and then .167/.367. It’s not clear whether the right shoulder injury he suffered in January 2020 (he tore cartilage and needed surgery after a swimming pool accident) is a factor; his barrel rates and maximum exit velocities for the past two seasons haven’t changed much, but his overall average exit velo has slipped to 87.5 mph, down 1.8 from two years ago. This Alex Chamberlain investigation suggests that his swing path has changed for the worse, with too much uppercut.

The good news for the Reds is that Moustakas should offer an alternative to Suárez once he returns from his heel injury. He’s been taking grounders and is likely to go on a rehab assignment soon.

Phillies (49-46, 2nd in NL East, 22.9%)

After debuting last August, Alex Bohm hit .338/.400/.481 in 180 PA and finished in a tie for second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. He hasn’t come close to replicating that performance this year, even while his average exit velocity has increased from 90.2 mph to 92.5, because his groundball/flyball ratio has risen as well, from 2.09 to 2.74. Bohm is barreling the ball less frequently, his strikeout rate has spiked from 20% to 26.1%, and against four-seam fastballs, he’s dipped from .244 AVG/.415 SLG to .200/.298; his -9 runs against the pitch puts him in the second percentile. His defense has been nothing to write home about either (0.4 UZR, -10 DRS, -3 OAA). What’s more, he’s missed six games after testing positive for COVID-19 — reportedly, the unvaccinated 24-year-old was asymptomatic — and while he’s been medically cleared to return, he hasn’t been activated yet.

While it’s too early to give up on Bohm entirely, his struggles against righties (.217/.268/.290, 54 wRC+) suggest a platoon could help. Lefty-swinging super-utilityman Brad Miller has hit .247/.333/.451 (110 wRC+) overall and .261/.361/.470 against righties; his 123 wRC+ in that capacity is actually his lowest mark of the past three seasons. Absent Bryant or Josh Donaldson falling into Philadelphia’s lap, that would at least provide some improvement.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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2 years ago

Can any Phillies fan explain to me why Miller doesn’t start more? Riding out Bohm’s surprising struggles was one thing, but the more recent favoring of Ronald Torreyes is another. Thanks.

2 years ago
Reply to  g4

The majority of Torreyes’ starts have come at short, where Miller hasn’t played on a regular basis since 2016. He does have eight starts at third, where Miller would seem to make more sense. There’s a perception that Girardi has an irrational attachment to Torreyes, having coached him before in New York, though to be fair to him, Torreyes’ 98 wRC+ this year isn’t far behind Miller’s 105, so it hasn’t worked out terribly.