Leandre: Top 10 Shortstops Ahead of 2022

Leandre: Top 10 Shortstops Ahead of 2022

by March 10, 2022 0 comments

The shortstop position always receives backlash. Weirdly, it’s a good thing; the position is as deep as it has ever been. There are multiple multi-time All-Stars in the back-half of the top 10. Some of them as recent as 2020. Lockout aside, it’s a wonderful time to be a baseball fan. There are so many stars everywhere, but especially at the infield’s most important position. Ranking them is near impossible.

Where does one rank Wander Franco after just 70 big-league games? Is he the only prospect worth including in the top 10? In projecting, how much stock should Brandon Crawford‘s 2021 hold? All of those questions are important and will be answered shortly. So who are the 10-best shortstops in the major leagues right now?

Check out the previous rankings: CatchersFirst Base, Second Base

10. Tim Anderson – Chicago White Sox

No. 10 makes sense for him from this standpoint alone: his ceiling. What is it, exactly? Old-school baseball fans love him for hitting .309 or better each of the past three seasons. But in his best (and full) season to date, his career-high in WAR is 4.3 on FanGraphs and 4.8 on Baseball-Reference. It was 2021, but there are players ahead of him on this list with much higher ceilings.

Turning 29 in June, Anderson’s prime is getting closer to the end than the beginning. His best offensive season was 2019, but that accompanied a .319 xwOBA –– 14th among qualifying shortstops. Last season was his best defensive season since 2018, but it was only three DRS –– tied for 11th among qualifying shortstops. He’s one of the most electrifying players in the sport, especially when the power stroke is working. However, it will be worth watching if we’ve already seen his peak, therefore he’s 10th here.

9. Trevor Story – Free Agent

Trevor Story at No. 9? You must be crazy! Trevor Story is still an exceptional defensive shortstop, racking up nine DRS in 2021. However, his bat left a lot on the table. His .333 xwOBA is in line with what it was the previous two years –– 118 and 122 wRC+, respectively, but his wRC+ dropped to an even 100.

Story is great defensively, where he hasn’t lost his touch at all. But it’s fair to ask how he will fare away from Coors Field with the stick. Does he see an uptick in production? Do his power numbers decline? There are a lot of unknowns surrounding the 29-year-old free agent. Big fan, but there are too many players ascending at the position right now to keep him higher on pedigree.

8. Xander Bogaerts – Boston Red Sox

One of the more popular takes on baseball Twitter this winter is ‘Xander Bogaerts is not a top 10 shortstop.’ Respectfully, I think that’s a vast underrating. There’s no denying that Bogaerts is one of the worst defensive shortstops in the league –– 19th out of 19 with -26 DRS since 2018 –– but he more than makes up for it offensively. During that same time frame, the only qualifying shortstop with a higher wRC+ is Fernando Tatis Jr. If you increase the sample size to only include shortstops with at least 1,500 plate appearances during that stretch, his 135 wRC+ has an eight-point lead on second place.

To keep Bogaerts out of your top 10 list means you are vastly overrating defensive impact. If Bogaerts truly wasn’t a top 10 shortstop, why was fifth in fWAR last season? Fourth since 2020? Second since 2019, ’18 and ’17? It takes going back to 2006 just to get him out of the top five, and he debuted in 2013. He is a top 10 player at the position. Putting him eighth because of his defense might even be laying it on a little too thick, but he belongs in the top 10, comfortably.

7. Bo Bichette – Toronto Blue Jays

Bichette was masterful in 2021, slashing .298/.343/.484 with a 122 wRC+ and 29 home runs. He also posted 5.9 rWAR last season at just 23 years old. He’s quite an impressive player. Defensively, he still has some room to grow  (only two DRS last season) but he is already one of the best two-way shortstops in baseball. What positions him over someone like Bogaerts is the fact that he, at worst, is an average defensive shortstop. It ultimately came down to whether I value the 130 wRC+ more than a 122 with a net positive on defense. I decided that the latter was better, especially since Bichette, 24, has more room to grow than Bogaerts, 29.

Last season, he was sixth in fWAR at shortstop, sixth in wRC+, and sixth in xwOBA. Yes, he’s at seventh, mainly because of the two areas he needs to improve in. Those being in plate discipline and defense, as he was 24th in swing rate on pitches outside the zone, and 14th in DRS. He’s impressive and should be expected to further improve in these rankings as early as this season. However, for right now, he’s seventh.

6. Francisco Lindor – New York Mets

There’s hope that Lindor returns to the player he was in 2018, with a 132 wRC+ and elite defense. Heck, even his 2019 version would be enough to keep him sixth. It’s pedigree at this point for Lindor. Last year was not a good season for him. He got hurt, battled through inconsistent play, and finally settled at a 103 wRC+ and .344 xwOBA. The level at which his true talent is remains to be seen.

That .344 xwOBA was tied for seventh among shortstops in 2022, but his 103 wRC+ was 13th, trailing Nicky Lopez and his 57.8 percent career ground ball rate. Defensively, he can still hang with the best of them. Even with the oblique injury, he was still top nine in DRS. It’s all about whether his bat returns to somewhere between 2018 and 2019. For right now, the conservative ranking for him is sixth.

5. Corey Seager – Texas Rangers

Seager can torment the baseball. The only problem for him is he cannot keep himself on the field. Since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2016, he’s a coin flip on north of 130 or south of 100 games played, excluding the 2020 season. With that in mind, he still can rake. Since the start of 2020, Seager is second among shortstops ( minimum 500 plate appearances) with a 148 wRC+. On top of that, he’s a doubles machine and a career .367 on-base percentage hitter. He leaves some to be desired defensively, but he certainly can work his way around the batter’s box. How he does with the Rangers, with whom he signed a massive contract, should be fun to watch for the foreseeable future.

4. Trea Turner – Los Angeles Dodgers

Coming in at No. 4 is Seager’s former, albeit brief teammate in Trea Turner. He truly blossomed with power in 2020, where he popped 12 home runs in 59 games. When the league announced the baseball would be deadened, not only did his power stick, but he also challenged a 30/30 season with 28 homers and 32 stolen bases. Since 2020, he’s the leader in fWAR for the position, on top of being third  (minimum 500 plate appearances) in wRC+. He’s arrived, and he’s here to stay for at least the next few seasons.

Turner’s career defensive metrics at shortstop are bogged down by a -5 showing in 2020, but he’s still an average defensive shortstop at worst in a full season. The Dodgers hit a home run in acquiring him alongside Max Scherzer, despite the latter going to Queens this offseason. Having him allowed them to have a contingency plan if and when Seager left, and now they’re set without wondering who will play shortstop.

3. Wander Franco – Tampa Bay Rays

This is not an overrating of his 70-game season. Wander Franco is a top-three shortstop in the league already. He posted 3.5 rWAR after hitting to the tune of a 78 wRC+ through 27 games. From July 30 onward, he slashed .331/.388/.535 with a .393 wOBA and a 157 wRC+. His batted ball profile isn’t the sexiest, nor is he elite at drawing walks, but the way he adjusted to the big-league level when many other top prospects started down and stayed down, is a sight to behold.

It’s a testament to his maturity, on top of his sheer freakishly athletic ability. This is without saying that he’s an elite defensive player, as his DRS output was at an 11 per-1,000 innings pace. He also was the Rays’ best player during their ALDS matchup with the Red Sox, where his wRC+ was 216. Unphased. He’s going to blossom in the next few years.

2. Carlos Correa – Free Agent

The hottest ticket on the free-agent market right now is Carlos Correa. This is without fault, as he is one of the truly elite Shortstops in the game. The only thing holding the former No. 1 overall pick back was his health. Since 2016, he’s had more seasons with 110 or fewer games played than 111 or more. The talent has always been there, he just has to stay on the field to do it. In 2021, he was the best shortstop in the league –– factoring in Tatis Jr.’s injuries and time spent in the outfield. In 148 games, Correa slashed .279/.366/.485 with a .373 xwOBA and a wRC+ of 134.

Correa also won the Platinum Glove and made his second All-Star team. Lastly, his 7.2 rWAR was a career-high, though he played a 9.2-win pace in 109 games back in 2017. He’s one of the league’s most hated players for his response to the Astros’ cheating scandal, let alone his own personal –– though hard to prove –– benefit from the sign-stealing. He has embraced being a villain and became one of the best players in the sport, much less just shortstop. He’s got a hot market for a reason.

1. Fernando Tatis Jr. – San Diego Padres

I mean, duh, right? He’s not the best defensively, and many will point to his errors and say he should convert to the outfield. To that, he needs to pick his spots when being ultra-aggressive. After all, 69 percent of his errors are throwing. He rates fairly well in the outs above average department, recording nine OAA since 2020 after being a -16 OAA guy in 2019. On the flip side, he mashes the cover off of the baseball. In 2021, he held a 14-point lead on second place in wRC+, a 33-point lead in xwOBA, a 75-point lead in slugging percentage, and a 99-point lead in isolated power. There is nothing left to say.

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