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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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 pull rate to boot, he had a strong foundation for power that should continue to serve him well.

    Elsewhere, it was often hard to tell that DeJong spent most of his time in the minors at third base. Albeit without the smoothest actions or pinpoint throwing accuracy, he displayed good footwork and a knack for how to play balls. Not to be overlooked is that he also provided some solid defense at second base.

14. Trea Turner, Washington Nationals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 98 G, 447 PA, .284/.338/.451, 102 OPS+, 11 HR, 46 SB, -2 DRS

    WAR: 2.6

             

    2017 Player Report

    One obvious caveat is that Trea Turner missed much of 2017 with injuries. Another is the fact that he couldn't maintain the superstar form of his 2016 season.

    Much was made in '16 of how he was a speedy guy who aimed to hit for power. With a lower launch angle and a more selective approach, he resembled more of a typical top-of-the-lineup hitter as a sophomore.

    Still, this was good for his K% (17.9) and BB% (6.7) and, by extension, his OBP. And when he was on base, Turner definitely put his elite speed to good use. Getting to 46 steals in only 98 games is a heck of a feat. Altogether, few players provided more baserunning value.

    Turner also played passable defense. There are better pairs of hands and better arms at the position, but his quickness allows him to cover about as much ground as you'd expect.

13. Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 145 G, 555 PA, .239/.308/.457, 86 OPS+, 24 HR, 7 SB, 11 DRS

    WAR: 2.6

                 

    2017 Player Report

    Here's a predictable tale: Trevor Story was unable to maintain the torrid pace of his rookie season.

    "Controlled aggression" remained an apt descriptor for his approach, but his high launch angle and pull preference offered easy holes to attack. Pitchers exploited them plenty in saddling him with a 31.3 K% in 2016 and upped the ante with an up-and-away pattern that led to a 34.4 K% this season.

    But give Story some credit. He flattened his launch angle from 21.9 degrees in the first half to 15.9 degrees in the second half. The quality of his contact improved and he finished strongly with an .834 OPS.

    He didn't need to course-correct other aspects of his game. He's a faster and more productive baserunner than many might realize, and he put that quickness and his arm strength to use on defense making more difficult plays than he did in 2016.

12. Orlando Arcia, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    Key Stats: 153 G, 548 PA, .277/.324/.407, 90 OPS+, 15 HR, 14 SB, 6 DRS

    WAR: 2.6

              

    2017 Player Report

    Orlando Arcia was a durable everyday shortstop who generally making good on the glowing reviews that his defense garnered when he was a prospect.

    With smooth actions, keen instincts and a strong arm, Arcia looks the part. While one could point to his 20 errors as a major negative from his season, the necessary context is that his deep positioning and range allowed him to get to more balls. Errors happened but weren't the whole story.

    Arcia's offense, on the other hand, remains a work in progress.

    He has the ability to hit the ball to all fields, and the 18.2 K% he put up in 2017 reflects a solid bat-to-ball skill. But since it's clear he doesn't have enough oomph to generate exit velocity, his swing-at-everything approach must be corrected for him to become a tougher out.

11. Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Key Stats: 144 G, 570 PA, .253/.305/.403, 87 OPS+, 14 HR, 3 SB, 9 DRS

    WAR: 2.0

              

    2017 Player Report

    Death, taxes and Brandon Crawford's spectacular defense at shortstop.

    Although he can still get himself in trouble trying to do too much, he isn't losing what makes him such a special gloveman. He's quick at the crack of the bat and can hoover up pretty much anything with his soft hands and make pretty much any throw with his strong, accurate arm. Go, treat yourself to his highlights.

    Where things went bad for Crawford was at the plate. He's at his best when he's staying within his approach and spraying line drives all around. He didn't do that for the most part.

    However, that hitter did re-emerge after the All-Star break. Crawford sharpened his approach and reinvigorated his line-drive habit, resulting in a that's-more-like-it spray chart and a respectable .789 second-half OPS.

10. Tim Beckham, Baltimore Orioles

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Key Stats: 137 G, 575 PA, .278/.328/.454, 111 OPS+, 22 HR, 6 SB, -1 DRS

    WAR: 3.3

                            

    2017 Player Report

    Tim Beckham spent 2017 as a mediocre player with the Tampa Bay Rays and then as a great player with the Baltimore Orioles.

    He became pickier with his swings (see before and after) and dropped his strikeout percentage from 31.9 to 24.8. And while his exit velocity stayed the same (87.7 mph to 87.9 mph), he benefited from spreading his hits around. The result was an .871 OPS in 50 games with Baltimore.

    Beckham's next revolution must be on defense. He has the range and arm for shortstop, but his ultra-low 95.7 percent success rate on routine plays underscores how his focus and actions can get better.

    Still, steps forward are steps forward. Beckham took a small one with the Rays and then a big one with the Orioles. For the first time in a while, his future is looking bright.

9. Jean Segura, Seattle Mariners

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Key Stats: 125 G, 566 PA, .300/.349/.427, 110 OPS+, 11 HR, 22 SB, -3 DRS

    WAR: 3.1

               

    2017 Player Report

    No thanks to a couple of DL stints, Jean Segura wasn't quite able to recapture the magic of his 2016 breakout in 2017. But he did come admirably close.

    He didn't stray from his '16 improvements in '17, as he continued to choose his swings carefully and kept his launch angle about where it had been. He generated 87.5 mph exit velocity and sprayed his hits around.

    Although he didn't register as one of MLB's faster shortstops with an average sprint of 27.4 feet per second, Segura kept the baserunning value coming with both his steals and his aggression.

    Defense remains Segura's biggest bugaboo. He played deeper than in years past, but it's no surprise that didn't lead to any noticeable (or measurable) improvements. Without soft hands or a strong arm, he's an iffy fit at shortstop regardless of where he's standing.

8. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Key Stats: 145 G, 508 PA, .273/.317/.480, 103 OPS+, 23 HR, 10 SB, 1 DRS

    WAR: 2.9

             

    2017 Player Report

    The times when Javier Baez looks like the best baseball player in the world remain elusive, but they did come a little more frequently in 2017.

    Although he also worked wonders at second base, Addison Russell's injuries opened the door for Baez to show his wares at shortstop. The 11 errors he made in only 573.1 innings are a sore spot, but his quick actions, magician's hands and rocket arm generated enough highlights to break even.

    It still appears there's no curing Baez of his free-swinging ways, but he at least cooled it with his tendency to try to pull everything and began teeing off on the good pitches he swung at. He went into the All-Star break slugging .555 against in-zone pitches for his career and finished slugging .679 against said pitches.

    Lastly, Baez put his terrific speed to use stealing bases and being aggressive. The result was solid baserunning value.

7. Didi Gregorius, New York Yankees

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Key Stats: 136 G, 570 PA, .287/.318/.478, 106 OPS+, 25 HR, 3 SB, 1 DRS

    WAR: 3.7

              

    2017 Player Report

    This is the year that Didi Gregorius made the leap from "interesting hitter" to "good hitter."

    He doesn't fit the Joey Votto mold, as he remained unable to ditch his habits of swinging and chasing too often. But it's not easy to mix increasingly consistent contact with increasingly dangerous power like he is.

    He's boosting his power by upping his launch angle and his pull rate. He typically didn't clear the fence by much, but it's some comfort that he didn't rely solely on Yankee Stadium's short porch for his homers. His home/road splits were about even.

    The metrics continue to give mixed signals on Gregorius' defense. That doesn't match up with the eye test, wherein one can get entranced by his smooth actions and cannon arm. However, he doesn't quite have the quickness to justify playing as close to home as he does.

6. Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    Key Stats: 122 G, 507 PA, .297/.385/.548, 141 OPS+, 24 HR, 3 SB, 2 DRS

    WAR: 4.9

                  

    2017 Player Report

    The most frustrating aspect of Zack Cozart's 2017 season is that he again had trouble staying healthy. He hasn't had a steady presence since 2013 and 2014.

    Otherwise, there isn't much to gripe about.

    This year saw Cozart perfect an offensive approach he's been working on for years. He first sought to become more of a pull hitter in 2014 and then less of a ground-ball hitter in 2015. Increased selectivity was his new trick for 2017, as he dropped both his swing and chase rates. This is how walk and power spikes happen.

    On the other side of the ball, Cozart has never been one to play highlight-reel defense. Among other things, he doesn't have the range for it. His strengths—e.g. his internal clock and sound fundamentals—are more subtle and make him more reliable than flashy. So it went in 2017.

5. Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers

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    Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

    Age: 29

    Key Stats: 158 G, 689 PA, .397/.337/.471, 108 OPS+, 20 HR, 25 SB, 4 DRS

    WAR: 4.7

                

    2017 Player Report

    Before 2017, Elvis Andrus was averaging four homers per year. To go from there to 20 is quite the leap.

    It was in 2015 that he shifted from a ground-ball-oriented, all-fields hitter to a dead-pull hitter with an emphasis on keeping the ball off the ground. That's a power approach, and two things helped it take off in 2017: applying it more often with more swings and, to be perfectly frank, the juiced ball.

    Andrus is slowing down as he powers up, as his sprint speed is down 0.7 feet-per-second from where he was in 2015. Yet he remained as aggressive as ever on the bases and was highly productive.

    His speed loss is hurting him more on defense, where his range has declined since 2015. But he at least clamped down on routine plays while maintaining the instincts and actions necessary to make more than just the gimmes.

4. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Key Stats: 109 G, 481 PA, .315/.391/.550, 158 OPS+, 24 HR, 2 SB, 4 DRS

    WAR: 6.3

             

    2017 Player Report

    A thumb injury sidelined Carlos Correa for six weeks. Otherwise, 2017 would have been his most fruitful season yet.

    He was already equipped with good selectivity and as much raw power as any shortstop. But this year he did a better job of applying the latter with a higher launch angle and more liberal use of the whole field. In the end, he worked an 11.0 BB%, a 19.1 K% and rocketed balls in all directions.

    Correa's DRS is likely generous, but playing a step deeper than where he started has been for the best. He has the arm for it, and having more time to react has helped make him more reliable on routine plays.

    The one area of Correa's game that went backward in 2017 was his baserunning. But next to his elite hitting and consistent defense, that's an acceptable sacrifice.

3. Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Key Stats: 145 G, 613 PA, .295/.375/.479, 125 OPS+, 22 HR, 4 SB, 10 DRS

    WAR: 5.6

               

    2017 Player Report

    Not that Corey Seager needed to get better after winning the NL Rookie of the Year and contending for the NL MVP in 2016, but it's to his credit that he didn't get worse.

    Improved discipline helped him boost his BB% from 7.9 to 10.9, and what was already an excellent feel for the barrel got even better. He had a higher launch angle, about the same exit velocity and, lo and behold, a higher hard-hit rate than everyone except Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo.

    What Seager lacks in sprint speed he continued to make up for with smarts. Not counting caught-stealings, he ran into just two outs all year. There's value in that kind of risk-aversion.

    Defensively, it's counterintuitive that a big guy with a strong arm would be playing closer to home plate every year. But his long strides and long reach do give him more range than expected, and it's not hurting him on routine plays

2. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Key Stats: 159 G, 723 PA, .273/.337/.505, 116 OPS+, 33 HR, 15 SB, 5 DRS

    WAR: 5.5

             

    2017 Player Report

    Having already defied low expectations for his offense in his first two MLB seasons, Francisco Lindor blew them away in 2017.

    He was the same hitter to the extents that he was fairly choosy with his swings and good at making contact. His power output was the difference, and in a way that was typical of 2017: By upping his launch angle, thereby driving his ground-ball rate south. 

    Lindor also clocked as a faster runner. He went from an average sprint of 27.4 feet per second in 2016 to 28.2 feet per second in 2017. That plus his keen instincts kept his value coming.

    Alas, there is something to the notion that Lindor wasn't the same Gold Glove-caliber defender. Regardless of difficulty, he just didn't make as many plays. But since he covered a huge territory and, to the naked eye, had all the same defensive tools, his defensive demise seems exaggerated.

1. Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angels

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Key Stats: 158 G, 647 PA, .278/.331/.421, 103 OPS+, 14 HR, 19 SB, 32 DRS

    WAR: 7.1

                 

    2017 Player Report

    Andrelton Simmons' best talent is still his defense.

    Save for deeper positioning, nothing changed for him in 2017. There were shortstops who covered more ground, but he covered plenty and continued to set himself apart by finishing anything he started. If he could get to a ball, his soft hands and strong, accurate arm did the rest.

    But while his glove remained as impressive as ever, Simmons is No. 1 because his offense got better.

    He had no trouble putting the ball in play before 2017, but his poor numbers proved how that talent on its own is only worth so much. What he did this year was keep that talent while pulling more balls and hitting with more loft. His bat became a source of consistent contact and solid power.

    Elsewhere, the explanation for Simmons' improved baserunning is as simple as can be: Rather than go with Father Time's flow, he's getting faster with age.

    All told, a great year for a great shortstop.