Yesterday, the AL All-Star voting race was updated and Alcides Escobar widened his lead to nearly 3 million votes. The AL shortstop race is of particular interest because it’s a deep field featuring several players who have established above average careers or who have enjoyed recent success, but there’s no clear-cut star for fans to turn to, unlike during the tenure of Derek Jeter.
In the Fangraphs WAR leaderboards, 8 of the top 11 shortstops in baseball this season hail from the NL. If AL All-Star voters want to do more than just vote for their team’s shortstop or participate in the “Year of the Royals”, it could be tough to find a clear pick to carry the team that will play for World Series home field advantage. The question remains: what shortstop gives the AL the best chance to win the All-Star Game?
At the time of writing, slick-fielding Jose Iglesias leads all AL shortstops with 2.1 fWAR edging out Xander Bogaerts (1.7) and Brad Miller (1.4). Baseball-Reference.com’s WAR also sees Iglesias as the best shortstop in the AL this season, accumulating 2 WAR so far, and leading Bogaerts (1.7) and Miller (1.5). A .367 BABIP has carried Iglesias to a 125 wRC+. We’ve seen this before with Iglesias: he hit .330/.376/.409 in Boston in 2013 before being traded to Detroit where he slid back toward his true talent level, batting .259/.306/.348 the rest of the season. If Iglesias doesn’t inspire voters to vote against, Escobar, maybe looking at what AL shorstops have done recently will provide some answers.
Just looking at the past calendar year, Brad Miller emerges as the WAR leader. On the whole, Miller struggled at the plate last season, posting just an 86 wRC+, but he finished with a strong final 2 months, posting a wRC+ of 143 in August and 153 in post-August games. Defensive metrics liked his glove enough to give him a positive defensive contribution toward his WAR. Looking back one calendar year at this point is somewhat arbitrary as it omits the 51 and 29 wRC+ periods of April and May last season for Miller but includes part of his 146 wRC+ in June of 2014. If you looked at the leaderboard again right before the all-star game, the numbers might tell a different picture that tremendous June would fade away and the first qualified month for Miller (last July) saw him hit for just a 39 wRC+. That collapse caused the Mariners to call-up AAA shortstop Chris Taylor to compete with Miller for the shortstop job in Seattle.
If Miller’s inconsistencies cause concern to All-Star voters, maybe they should turn their attention to one of the most hyped shortstop prospects in recent seasons. While some pundits thought Xander Bogaerts’ size might eventually move him away from shortstop, the 22-year-old has handled the position well this season according to both dWAR and UZR. Bogaerts isn’t a threat at this point to hit a ball into the Ohio river, like veteran J.J. Hardy might, he doesn’t carry a slick-fielding reputation like Jose Iglesias, and he doesn’t terrorize the base paths like Jose Reyes or Erick Aybar could in their prime. Bogaerts has cut down on strikeouts this season, but the walk rate stats fans drool over in the minors hasn’t emerged yet and he hasn’t shown the power stroke that led Baseball America to name him the best power hitter in the Red Sox system following the 2012 season.
Maybe instead of voting for the latest phenom, voters should give the spot to a proven veteran? From 2012-14, Erick Ayber tied with Jose Reyes to lead all shortstops eligible for this year’s AL All-Star team with 9.5 fWAR. Reyes’ contributions in the field have trailed off in recent seasons as age and injuries catch up to him but he remains an excellent base-runner and stolen base threat. Reyes, who didn’t join the junior circuit until 2013, also leads the pack in OBP (.342). As a former star player with a major market team, Reyes may be more familiar to fans than Aybar. Aybar has established a stealthily consistent career in LA. By staying healthy and mixing a 100 wRC+ with above average defense, Aybar’s consistency allowed him to float to the top of the pack in this 3 year sample. Aybar also poses a base-stealing threat, though he stole only a little over half as many bases over the 3 year sample as Reyes. The light-hitting Aybar and Reyes just held off J.J. Hardy (9.1 WAR) who hit more home runs than any other short stop in the field (54) and accumulated more defensive value than any of his contemporaries but a low OBP led to an 89 wRC+. Adding in this season’s early returns widens Reyes and Aybar’s WAR lead to a full point (10.3 and 9.9 respectively) over Hardy (9.1), who has once again spent time on the DL and struggled to make enough contact to make use of his above average power.
Using more relevant seasons, (’13-’15) pushes Hardy to the top as Aybar’s offensive contributions slip and also introduces the currently injured Jed Lowrie (113 wRC+, 6.4 WAR) to the second place slot on the leaderboard. While Reyes has been an above average hitter since the start of the 2013 season (106 wRC+), his defense and lack of playing time thanks to injuries mean he’s hardly been the veteran star Jays fans hoped they’d acquired from Miami. Further reducing the sample to the start of last season pushes the oft-injured Hardy and Lowrie out of the picture, allowing Aybar to float back to the top (4.8 WAR) thanks to his continued outstanding glove work. Taking this long-view meritocracy approach makes it look like Aybar might be the most consistent bet to play shortstop in Cincinnati in July, but it’s easy to understand voters’ lack of enthusiasm for a shortstop hitting .255/.301/.301, offers few obvious advantages over Escobar, and who seems to be largely unknown away from the West Coast.
All of these scenarios ignore the elephant in the room: the best hitting “shortstop” currently playing in the AL is Hanley Ramirez, who hits well enough to fit in with left fielders but also played shortstop like a left fielder in recent seasons. In addition, the most valuable shortstop to spend time in the AL stretching back to 2013 is Jhonny Peralta, who currently has a shot at starting for the home team.
Maybe the best strategy for the AL shortstop position would be to ignore the ballot or recent performances altogether and look to the future? Carlos Correa has roared into the majors, batting .310/.333/.552 with 2 home runs in 7 games, good for a .241 ISO and a 150 wRC+. Correa may eventually fill out his 6’4” frame and end up at third base but, for now, he should be able to handle the rigors of playing shortstop. It would take one heck of a campaign to get Correa into the All-Star Game with online-only voting this season, there are certainly methods that could allow a lot of ballot stuffing between now and the closing date. Maybe Astros fans could couple an effort to write in enough votes for Correa with an effort to get Jose Altuve into the starting lineup instead of Omar Infante, the worst hitting 2nd baseman in the AL?Next post: Dee Gordon’s New Value Proposition
Previous post: Rookies Unrated – Tales of Vintage Prospects: Troy Neel