MLB Position Power Rankings: B/R's Final Top 25 Shortstops of 2017

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 11, 2017

MLB Position Power Rankings: B/R's Final Top 25 Shortstops of 2017

0 of 26

    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    With the top second basemen of the 2017 Major League Baseball season in the bag, Bleacher Report's final positional power rankings now move to the other side of second base for a look at the top shortstops.

    Because of down years on the part of some big-name players, shortstop was a top-heavy position in 2017. There are nonetheless 25 players worth discussing.

    Here are the ground rules: 

    • Players must have logged the majority of their games at shortstop.
    • Players were ranked both on the quantity and the quality of their work.
    • Offense, defense and baserunning fell under the "quality" umbrella.
    • Shortstop has become more offense-oriented in recent years, but it's still an important defensive position and home to some fast runners. The best shortstops can handle all three of these things.

    The rankings were a simple judgment call. Baseball Reference's version of wins above replacement was useful in this respect but was treated more as a guideline than the word of the baseball gods.

    Lastly, this was neither a far-reaching retrospective nor a gaze into the future. Only what happened in 2017 counted.

A Few Statistics to Know

1 of 26

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    In the year 2017, it's ill-advised and arguably irresponsible to talk about players in detail without using statistics to contextualize their talents and shortcomings.

    So, be warned: There are indeed statistics in these rankings.

    Many stats will simply be alluded to via links that go to relevant data at Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball and Baseball Prospectus. But a few to know are...


    Wins Above Replacement (WAR): As a stat that puts a number on a player's hitting, baserunning and fielding contributions, WAR is a good go-to in any circumstance.

    On-Base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+): This takes a player's OPS, adjusts it for league and ballpark factors and puts it on a scale where 100 represents average. It shows how well a hitter performed relative to his peers.

    Defensive Runs Saved (DRS): It sounds like a measurement of a player's defensive quality, and that's what it is. It's the main defense component for Baseball Reference's version of WAR. Some play multiple positions, but the DRS listed for them here is that of their primary position.

    Launch Angle: This Statcast specialty measures the angle of the ball off a hitter's bat. It provides a snapshot of the shape of a hitter's swing—i.e., whether it's flat and tailored for ground balls and line drives or lofty and tailored for fly balls. The MLB average in 2017 was 11.1 degrees.

    Exit Velocity: Another Statcast specialty that measures the speed of the ball off a hitter's bat. As you'd expect, there's a strong correlation between high speeds and hitting success. The MLB average in 2017 was 86.6 miles per hour.

    Plate Discipline: Although they'll rarely be mentioned explicitly, Swing% (percentage of swings at all pitches), Z-Swing% (in-zone swing percentage) and O-Swing% (out-of-zone swing percentage) paint a picture of a hitter's approach. These figures are found at FanGraphs.

    Pull Percentage (Pull%): Also from FanGraphs, this shows the rate at which hitters pull the ball—to left field for righties and to right field for lefties. Pulling the ball is a double-edged sword: It can make a hitter vulnerable to shifts but is also by far the best avenue to power.

25. Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks

2 of 26

    Joe Mahoney/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    Key Stats: 73 G, 225 PA, .260/.345/.395, 86 OPS+, 5 HR, 3 SB, 4 DRS

    WAR: 1.1


    2017 Player Report

    There's no shortage of candidates for the bottom spot on this list, but Ketel Marte at least has the distinction of coming out of 2017 as an improved player.

    There's an obvious small sample-size caveat at play, but he was raking in the minors before getting called up in June and enjoying a couple of hot stretches in the majors. He didn't change much with his approach. Rather, he adjusted his swing for a higher launch angle and added exit velocity for good measure.

    Thus did Marte become a modern success story: He drove his ground-ball rate way down and drastically increased his power output.

    Defensively, Marte still has an athletic profile—a weak arm in particular—that's not an ideal fit for shortstop. But his quickness is an asset, and his defensive improvement stemmed largely from focusing on making more routine plays. He ultimately did just that.


    Honorable Mentions: Marcus Semien (OAK), Adeiny Hechavarria (TBR), Chris Owings (ARI), Jose Reyes (NYM), Alcides Escobar (KCR)

24. Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves

3 of 26

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Key Stats: 144 G, 551 PA, .232/.312/.324, 69 OPS+, 6 HR, 3 SB, -7 DRS

    WAR: -0.3


    2017 Player Report

    It's impossible to take Dansby Swanson's 2017 and dress it up as a season that was actually good.

    However, he at least accumulated a hefty sample size and finished the year stronger than he started it.

    He hit .268 with a .707 OPS after returning from a stint in the minors in August, when he got back to working pitchers and hitting line drives. He still has kinks to iron out—a guy with his modest raw power shouldn't be pulling so many balls—but he's on the right track.

    There's also a mix of good news and bad news with Swanson's defense. The bad news is he occasionally lost focus and botched routine plays. The good news is that his range, smooth actions and arm strength occasionally made him look like a Gold Glover.

23. Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox

4 of 26

    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 146 G, 606 PA, .257/.276/.402, 80 OPS+, 17 HR, 15 SB, -8 DRS

    WAR: 0.9


    2017 Player Report

    If 2016 was a glimpse of Tim Anderson's upside, 2017 was a glimpse at his downside. 

    His hitting was held back by a wild, free-swinging approach that produced 149 more strikeouts (162) than walks (13). He also struggled on defense, notably leading all shortstops with 28 errors. This was a taste of his bad old days as a prospect, as inconsistent focus made him an error machine in the minors.

    On the plus side, he played every day and occasionally flashed his upside.

    Anderson's range and arm strength made him a regular in defensive highlights, and playing slightly deeper toward the end of the year helped quell his error problem. He was also one of 2017's fastest shortstops and rode a higher launch angle to decent power.

22. Jordy Mercer, Pittsburgh Pirates

5 of 26

    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    Key Stats: 145 G, 558 PA, .255/.326/.406, 92 OPS+, 14 HR, 0 SB, -2 DRS

    WAR: 1.2


    2017 Player Report

    If anyone ever needs an example of a "serviceable" major league starter, Jordy Mercer is a good guy to cite.

    Simply playing shortstop on an everyday basis gives him value. He's also a reliable presence on both sides of the ball. At the plate, he uses a selective approach and a short swing to work counts and knock hits. In the field, he uses his solid tools and instincts to consistently make routine plays.

    Mercer's only sin, really, is that he doesn't offer any flashy skills.

    He's not one of the better athletes playing shortstop today, and thus is limited with what he can do on defense. And while he did boost his power this year, his static launch angle and exit velocity suggest it's the juiced ball that deserves the credit for that.

21. Freddy Galvis, Philadelphia Phillies

6 of 26

    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    Key Stats: 162 G, 663 PA, .255/.309/.382, 83 OPS+, 12 HR, 14 SB, -5 DRS

    WAR: 1.3


    2017 Player Report

    Defensive runs saved overstates how bad Freddy Glavis' defense was.

    There's value in the fact that he converted 98.9 percent of routine plays, particularly in a full 162-game sample. And while he may have made other plays look more difficult than they actually were, outs are outs. And in covering a fairly wide swath of ground, he made plenty of of those.

    Galvis' other strength was his baserunning. He's not one of the faster shortstops in MLB, but he picked his spots with stolen bases (going 14-for-19) and took as many extra bases as he could.

    It was never likely that Galvis would reproduce his 20-homer campaign from 2016, but his effort to do so wasn't a total loss. Although his 85.1 mph exit velocity doomed his launch-angle gain, his strides to sharpen his approach helped drop his K% to 16.7 while bumping his BB% to 6.8. His OBP benefited.

20. Wilmer Difo, Washington Nationals

7 of 26

    John Amis/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    Key Stats: 124 G, 365 PA, .271/.319/.370, 78 OPS+, 5 HR, 10 SB, 14 DRS

    WAR: 1.9


    2017 Player Report

    Yes, that many defensive runs saved in such a small sample size must be taken with a Buick-sized grain of salt.

    There is nonetheless truth to the notion that Wilmer Difo played fine defense. He's about as fast as teammate Trea Turner and channeled both that speed and his arm strength into good range in the field.

    Naturally, his speed was also handy on the bases. He went 10-for-11 stealing bases and took extra bases on hits more often than not. That's how elite baserunning value gets made.

    The 82.7 mph exit velocity generated by Difo's bat qualified it as one of the least dangerous in MLB. There also wasn't much he didn't like to swing at. But in posting a below-average 20.3 K% while keeping his soft contact out of the air, he did enough to earn a "pesky hitter" label.

19. Jose Iglesias, Detroit Tigers

8 of 26

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Key Stats: 130 G, 489 PA, .255/.288/.369, 73 OPS+, 6 HR, 7 SB, 4 DRS

    WAR: 1.4


    2017 Player Report

    Defensive runs saved may not be too impressed, but ultimate zone rating has the right idea about Jose Iglesias being one of the better defensive shortstops of the last two seasons.

    One could argue for either "smooth" or "quick" as the best word to describe Iglesias in the field. For while his actions are indeed smooth, it's his lightning-quick feet and hands that elevate his defense. He will botch the occasional routine play, but the extent of his range is a fair trade-off for that.

    Hitting is another matter. Iglesias' 82.4 mph exit velocity made him one of MLB's softest hitters. Pitchers were unafraid to challenge him, as only seven hitters saw a higher rate of pitches in the strike zone.

    But if you're not going to hit the ball hard, you might as well hit if often. Iglesias did the trick with a well-below-average 13.3 K%. His contact habit was also his ticket to show off his baserunning skills.

18. Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs

9 of 26

    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Key Stats: 110 G, 385 PA, .239/.304/.418, 85 OPS+, 12 HR, 2 SB, 15 DRS

    WAR: 2.4


    2017 Player Report

    Even without the looming specter of domestic violence allegations, it would be hard to discuss Addison Russell's 2017 in glowing terms.

    Evidently aware of the danger he poses against hard stuff, pitchers fed him fewer fastballs. He stayed within his approach despite that and even did a good job getting under the extra junk. But it was weak contact. Whereas the average hitter managed 84.9 mph exit velocity against off-speed, Russell did just 83.7 mph.

    Where he didn't suffer any regression, however, is on defense.

    He didn't get any better at converting routine plays but continued to do the things that made him a Gold Glove-caliber defender in 2016. Namely: Using his quick feet and soft hands to flag down anything and everything, and his strong arm to finish whatever he started.

17. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

10 of 26

    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 148 G, 635 PA, .273/.343/.403, 95 OPS+, 10 HR, 15 SB, -11 DRS

    WAR: 2.2


    2017 Player Report

    This year was a tale of two seasons for Xander Bogaerts.

    He was plunked on his right hand shortly before the All-Star break and wasn't the same hitter afterward. His OPS fell from .806 before the break to .671 after the break. Although his exit velocity was better after than it was before, the death of his hard-hit rate tells the truth of his contact quality.

    Why Bogaerts never got any DL time is a mystery, as he's not worth keeping on the field for his defense. He's a good athlete, but experience isn't making his actions any smoother. Even routine plays give him trouble.

    The one quality that did survive 2017 unscathed is Bogaerts' elite baserunning talent. He's a fast runner who also comes equipped with excellent instincts. As always, he picked good spots with stolen bases (15-for-16) and rounded the bases aggressively.

16. Jorge Polanco, Minnesota Twins

11 of 26

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 133 G, 544 PA, .256/.313/.410, 93 OPS+, 13 HR, 13 SB, -1 DRS

    WAR: 2.1


    2017 Player Report

    Jorge Polanco wouldn't be pictured here without his second-half surge. But thanks to that, his first full season was largely a success.

    The biggest question he answered was whether his glove was good enough for everyday shortstop duty. While it did produce 18 errors and a low success rate on routine plays, his quickness and talent for improvisation produced enough highlights to save par.

    Offensively, Polanco had a power hitter's approach in that he was selective with his swings with a penchant for launch angle and using his pull side. But he seemed to accept that his low exit velocity made him a poor fit for slugging. In the second half, he became more about hitting line drives and spreading hits around.

    Polanco mostly made good use of his excellent speed when he did get on. In all, he has the makings of an exciting offensive player.

15. Paul DeJong, St. Louis Cardinals

12 of 26

    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 108 G, 443 PA, .285/.325/.532, 118 OPS+, 25 HR, 1 SB, 0 DRS

    WAR: 2.7


    2017 Player Report

    There was a point during Paul DeJong's rookie year when he had 20 homers in only 70 games.

    Then pitchers adjusted and started pitching him high and low instead of in and out. He struggled to adjust back, posting a relatively modest .732 OPS and hitting only five homers in 38 games down the stretch.

    Still, DeJong's power display can't be downplayed too much. With one of MLB's highest launch angles and a big