B/R MLB 300: Ranking the Top 25 Shortstops of 2016
As with first base and second base, the list ahead features the names of 25 shortstops. The scoring system for them reflects how shortstop is an extremely important defensive position with low offensive standards:
- Hitting: 25 points
- Power: 25 points
- Baserunning: 20 points
- Defense: 30 points
Before we move on, here's a reminder that this year's B/R MLB 300 is different from past versions in a key way. Rather than use the events of 2016 to project for 2017, the focus is strictly on 2016. Think of these rankings as year-end report cards.
For more on how the scoring and ranking work, read ahead.
How They're Ranked
It takes a minimum of 50 games in the majors to qualify for this list, and most of the shortstops listed here have also played at least 50 percent of their games at the position.
The scoring is based mostly on statistics—current through Saturday, September 24—from Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Savant and MLBfarm.com. The numbers at these sites leave few blind spots when looking at each player's performance, allowing for analytical scouting reports that cover the following:
Hitting: We know the average shortstop is hitting a solid .262 but with only a .317 on-base percentage. We want to know how each shortstop is living up to that standard and assorted MLB norms with his patience, discipline, and ability to make contact and make good contact, as well as, ideally, use the whole field.
Power: The average shortstop is slugging just .407, and the position's 477 home runs are the fewest of any non-pitcher position. This is a cue to look at not only raw power but also how well each hitter gets the ball in the air and how else (i.e., a steady pull habit) he maximizes his power potential.
Baserunning: This neck of the woods features more gray areas, so we'll keep it simple with a few questions for each player. Can he steal bases? Can he take more than one base at a time when the opportunity arises? Does he avoid running into outs?
Defense: This is where it's most necessary to do video scouting, but there are also helpful analytics to consult. Defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating are helpful guiding stars. Ditto for Inside Edge fielding data and the fielding plots available on each player's FanGraphs page.
The individual scores are meant to mimic the 20-80 scouting scale while also taking sample sizes into account. Perfect scores are reserved for players who have excelled throughout the entire season, with extra points possible under extraordinary circumstances. Anything else is a judgment call.
Last but not least: If any two (or more) players end up with the same score, we'll make another judgment call on the player (or players) we'd rather have.
25. Greg Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals
G: 95 PA: 244 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .272/.393/.371 HR: 3 SB: 1
Who is Greg Garcia, and how does he have an OBP near .400? Well, the Cardinals have helped by keeping him away from left-handed pitching. But he's also helped himself. Garcia has shown an extremely disciplined approach and made more contact (86.7 Contact%) than his 18.9 strikeout percentage lets on. He's also sprayed the ball all around with a line-drive swing. His one weakness has been making hard contact. With 85.7 mph exit velocity, his is generally weak.
On that last note, power isn't Garcia's thing. Even when he gets under the ball and hits line drives and fly balls, he only averages 89.3 exit velo. The MLB average is 92.3 mph. And he doesn't get under the ball that often, posting just a 7.3-degree launch angle. That's well under the MLB norm of 11.5. These habits plus his all-fields approach leave little wiggle room for power to squeeze through.
Garcia's speed is only in the solid-average realm, and there's not a ton of production hiding underneath his 1-for-2 showing in stolen bases. He's taken the extra base on hits 41 percent of the time, but even that includes zero first-to-thirds in 12 chances. He's also taken just seven bases on non-hits.
Garcia has also played second and third base but has mostly played shortstop in 2016. Although his smooth actions allow him to play these three positions, he's not a good fit for the left side of the infield. He doesn't have soft hands or a strong arm, and these things have played a part in his poor success rates on routine plays. He has some range to help make up for that but not enough.
Garcia has little power and speed, and has been less than flawless on defense, so it's a good thing he has an excellent on-base talent.
24. Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox
G: 91 PA: 395 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .277/.301/.405 HR: 7 SB: 10
Tim Anderson was a .301 career hitter in the minors, but it was an open secret that he was an aggressive swinger with a whiff problem. These issues have held him back in the majors. He's swung at a lot and whiffed at a lot, posting just a 70.3 Contact%. The only way to make up for that is with good contact. To that end, his 87.9 mph exit velocity fails to impress but it masks a solid 31.5 Hard%. Until he gets his approach squared away, this will do as a redeeming quality.
Anderson teased some solid power with five homers in his first 32 games, but it's since tapered off. Fact is, he's not geared for power. With an average launch angle of just 7.7 degrees, he's not great at getting under the ball. Hence why 56.0 percent of his batted balls are on the ground. And with 90.9 mph exit velo on fly balls and line drives, he doesn't display impressive pop when he does get airborne.
As evidence for the notion that Anderson is fast, I present his 49 steals at Double-A in 2015. That speed has produced 10 steals in 12 attempts in the majors. He's also run aggressively on hits, taking the extra base 48 percent of the time. Albeit in a little over half a season, he's been productive.
Better get used to seeing Anderson in defensive highlights. His athleticism and arm strength give him the necessary tools to be a regular, and he's already proved that these things play in the majors. However, the knock on him in the past has been with his technique. That's still a valid criticism. He's made 13 errors in the majors, in part because he tries to do too much with his physical gifts. That can be fixed, but for now, it's still holding him back.
In his first taste of the big leagues, Anderson has been as advertised. He packs a solid bat and some impressive athleticism, but his technique needs fine-tuning on both sides of the ball.
23. Jordy Mercer, Pittsburgh Pirates
G: 145 PA: 571 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .258/.330/.379 HR: 11 SB: 1
Jordy Mercer has responded well to a down year in 2015. He's still the same hitter at heart, basing everything off good discipline and a strong contact habit. With an 85.9 Contact%, the latter is better than ever. And while he's still not making a lot of hard contact with just 87.0 mph exit velocity, he's making up for that with improved bat control. He's pulling fewer balls and using the opposite field more than ever. When you can't hit it through 'em, hit it where they ain't.
Mercer's power production is another improvement over 2015. Not pulling as many balls isn't making things any easier, but his launch angle has ticked up from 9.5 degrees to 9.9 degrees. And while his exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is stuck at 89.8 mph, his average of 399 feet on his home runs reflects how capable he is of putting a charge into the ball.
Although Mercer's not a base stealer, he's become a pretty good baserunner. He moves OK for a 6'3", 205-pounder. After taking advantage of that with a rate of 53 percent extra bases taken on hits in 2015, he's stayed steady at 45 percent while running into just one out all season.
The rate at which the Pirates shift on defense makes it hard to judge Mercer from traditional viewpoints. But generally speaking, he offers little to complain about as a defender. He's technically sound, getting good reads on balls and displaying a good internal clock, and he has good hands and a solid arm. The one element he lacks is explosive athleticism, so his various qualities serve to make him a reliable defender rather than a highlight-reel defender.
Mercer might as well be called "Anonymous Shortstop No. 10." But just because he's not a star doesn't mean he's not useful. He has a solid bat and can make the routine plays on defense.
22. Adeiny Hechavarria, Miami Marlins
G: 150 PA: 529 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .236/.283/.312 HR: 3 SB: 1
So ends the upward trajectory of Adeiny Hechavarria's offense. But it's a tad misleading. He's actually made more contact and hit the ball better this year, upping his exit velocity from 87.8 mph to 88.6 mph. In the meantime, he's maintained his remarkably even distribution of his batted balls to all fields. And while he's continued to be an aggressive swinger, he hasn't been more aggressive than usual. With all this going on, I'll wager he deserves better than the numbers he has.
Hechavarria's power, on the other hand, is still virtually nonexistent. Between his improved exit velocity and higher launch angle, he's actually put himself in position to hit for even more power. But even a more powerful Hechavarria isn't that powerful. That shows in his average of 90.0 mph on fly balls and line drives. That won't get it done, particularly not if your main power alley is center field.
Hechavarria may play a position known for speed, but he's more of a good athlete than a good runner. And after mixed success stealing bags between 2013 and 2015, it's fine that he's only attempted one steal all season. He's better with aggressiveness, taking the extra base 47 percent of the time on hits.
Hechavarria has always had the range, hands and arm strength to be a highlight-reel defender. This is still the case, as he's covered a wide swath of ground and continued to make dazzling plays. The struggle for him in the past was the routine play. He occasionally struggled to slow the game down and also had bouts with throwing inaccuracy. This hasn't been the case this year, as he's actually been among the most reliable shortstops with a 98.6 success rate on routine plays.
Hechavarria's main draw is still a glove that makes him one of the best defensive shortstops in the league. But even a bat that's arguably undersold by its surface numbers still isn't very good.
21. Brad Miller, Tampa Bay Rays
G: 145 PA: 573 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .250/.309/.498 HR: 30 SB: 6
It's not because of his consistency that Brad Miller has begun to loom large on the shortstop radar. He's not really built for it. His approach is fine, but his 75.6 Contact% represents just the latest step down. By now, it's no longer a secret that anything hard above the knees can get a whiff. Meanwhile, he's aimed for more power with a higher launch angle and more emphasis on his pull side. The one thing that's notably better this year is his exit velocity, but that means more below than here.
OK, this is the good stuff. And most of it has come recently, as Miller has hit 20 of his 30 homers since July. His launch angle, pull rate and exit velocity likely made a surge of some kind inevitable, but Miller also deserves credit for owning his power-hitting style. He's now using a classic power hitter leg kick and has gone hunting for bad pitches on the inner part of the zone. He's hit a few fence-scrapers that have inflated his production, but he sure is operating like a power hitter.
As Miller ups his power, he seems to be coming to grips with the fact he's not a fast runner. He's 6-for-10 stealing bases after going 13-for-17 last year. His rate of extra bases taken is stuck at 37 percent on hits with only 11 added on non-hits.
The Mariners knew this, and now the Rays are figuring it out: Miller shouldn't be playing shortstop. The Rays did what they could to hide his iffy athleticism, hands and arm with frequent shifts, but these things made even the routine plays difficult for Miller. He couldn't make up for that by making tough plays. Whether he can be a good first baseman is anyone's guess, but it's at least a spot where he'll do less damage.
There's no question Miller has excellent power by shortstop standards. But with an inconsistent bat and a glove that's no longer playable at shortstop, it's only worth so much.
20. Jose Iglesias, Detroit Tigers
G: 130 PA: 492 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .248/.299/.326 HR: 4 SB: 7
After hitting .300 in 2013 and 2015, Jose Iglesias' 2016 season is a better reflection of his true self. He has his qualities, namely an elite 91.1 Contact% and an ability to hit the ball to all fields. But on the flip side, he's among the softest hitters in the league with just 83.7 mph exit velo. He has impressive bat speed but little physical strength. And as long as he's swinging at so many pitches outside the strike zone, his contact habit will be a mixed blessing. Balls are tougher to hit well than strikes.
That Iglesias has even four homers is a minor miracle. In addition to his very low exit velocity, he also has a low launch angle at just 8.5 degrees. He can only hit fence-scrapers when he does get into one, and whatever doubles power he has is mostly concentrated on balls down the left field line.
Iglesias has enough speed to be a quality base stealer, but his on-base limitations and issues getting good jumps hold him back. Hence why he's only 7-for-10 stealing bases. He does often go more than one base at a time, though, taking the extra base 46 percent of the time on hits with an extra 16 added on non-hits.
Even if Iglesias didn't have any other qualities, he'd be worth watching on defense because of his hands. They're at once soft and lightning-fast, allowing him to pick anything and get rid of the ball in a flash. It's largely thanks to these things that he's continuing a tradition of being money on routine plays with a 98.7 success rate. And after showing surprisingly mediocre range last year in his return from shin splint problems, he's shown better range in 2016.
After hitting over .300 in 2013 and 2015, Iglesias has become what he was always supposed to be in 2016: a guy who can field the ball like crazy, but who isn't actually that good at hitting it.
19. Freddy Galvis, Philadelphia Phillies
G: 152 PA: 604 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .242/.275/.404 HR: 20 SB: 14
Consistency-wise, Freddy Galvis is the same terrible hitter he's always been. He's an aggressive swinger, hacking at half the pitches he sees and often expanding the zone. He has a decent 81.2 Contact% despite this, but that does as much harm as good. Much of his contact comes outside the zone, which doesn't result in hard contact. However, he has adjusted to try to drive the ball more. It's a more recent implementation, but it's helped up his exit velocity from 85.7 mph to 87.7 mph.
Galvis has always been capable of getting the ball in the air. But the extra loud contact has helped, upping his exit velocity on fly balls and line drives to 90.4 mph. He's also pulled the ball more after trying to be an all-fields hitter the last two seasons. His 20 homers overstate how much power he has, but he does at least have better power than he did before.
Galvis isn't a burner, but he seems to have gained an extra step after getting in better shape over the winter. That plus playing time equals his career-high 14 steals. He has been caught six times, however, and has made six other outs on the basepaths. He also hasn't been aggressive outside of stolen bases. He's taken the extra base on hits just 33 percent of the time.
Galvis comes with a reputation as a defensive wizard. He struggled to live up to it in 2015, but that's changed in 2016. With a success rate on routine plays that's gone from 97.8 to a shortstop-high 99.1, he's doing what he should be doing with his smooth actions and soft hands. And while he doesn't have the best speed or the best arm, his quick reactions and quick release allow him to make rangey plays.
Anybody could have predicted Galvis getting it done on defense this season. It's the power that's been a pleasant surprise, and it's helped make up for a bat that's not at all built for consistency.
18. Marcus Semien, Oakland A's
G: 151 PA: 591 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .231/.295/.428 HR: 26 SB: 9
Marcus Semien wasn't terribly consistent to begin with, but consistency has eluded him even more in 2016. That comes with the territory of operating like a power hitter. That involves two good things for consistency: his disciplined approach and batted ball speed, the latter of which is up slightly to 87.9 mph. But he also swings and misses too much and has a steady pull habit that has led to struggles with the shift. Some bad luck is involved with the latter, but it's bad luck he's asking for.
On the bright side, more power is a good way to make up for less consistency. Semien has a more lofty swing than many shortstops, and it's producing an even higher launch angle (15.1 degrees) in 2016 than it did last year. He also boasts good exit velocity on fly balls and line drives at 92.8 mph. These qualities and his pull habit result in a steady stream of souvenirs to left field, and with few cheapies to boot.
Semien was a power/speed guy as he was coming up through the minors. Although he's played up the power part of his game in the majors, some of the speed element remains. His nine steals have come in 11 tries. And while he hasn't been very active on non-hits, he's taken the extra base on hits 48 percent of the time.
The 35 errors Semien made last year came from a perfect storm of problems. The chips are stacked against him to begin with, as he lacks ideal hands and arm strength for shortstop. And after a while, he had a case of the yips, according to Buster Olney of ESPN The Magazine. Not much has changed in 2016. Semien has made "only" 21 errors, but he remains among the least reliable shortstops to make even the routine plays. And while he does get good range from his athleticism, it results in seemingly as many missed plays as made plays.
Semien's defense remains a major drain on his overall value, but his excellent power (by shortstop standards) goes a long way toward making up for that.
17. J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles
G: 108 PA: 411 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .274/.315/.416 HR: 9 SB: 0
A foot injury took J.J. Hardy off the field for a while, but he's done everything possible to put a rotten 2015 behind him. He was selective before, and now he's one of the most selective hitters in the majors with a 36.6 Swing% and 23.2 O-Swing%. He's also still making a ton of contact with an 86.0 Contact%, and this year it's really good contact. His exit velocity is at 91.3 mph. He still pulls the ball more than he should, but otherwise he's hit better than his numbers suggest.
Hardy has hit nine homers after hitting eight all of last season. Improved exit velocity is certainly a factor, and he's further helped himself by getting under more balls. His launch angle has improved from 9.6 degrees to 12.8 degrees. That equals more balls in the air, and he's crushed what he has put in the air at an average of 92.8 mph. Albeit in a limited sample, this is legit power.
Nobody's ever accused Hardy of being a fast runner, and now he's 33 years old with a crowded injury history. His last stolen base attempt was in 2013, and it may stay that way. He's also mostly a station-to-station runner, taking the extra base 32 percent of the time on hits.
The defensive metrics can be inconsistent, but Hardy's defense has rated well every year since 2005. His sheer reliability is a factor there. He's a technically sound shortstop, with good footwork, good hands and a strong, accurate arm. This is why he so rarely screws up routine plays. He also has good range for an older shortstop, in part because he's a good bet to finish off whatever he gets to.
Injury aside, Hardy has bounced back nicely from a rough 2015. In addition to his usual good defense, he's provided some more pop at the plate.
16. Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals
G: 149 PA: 574 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .213/.310/.384 HR: 23 SB: 9
There are good reasons why Espinosa's average is so low. He still swings and misses too much, particularly on the slow stuff. And with a higher launch angle and an even more extreme pull rate, it's clear what he has in mind when he goes to the plate. On the bright side, his approach is nowhere near as Pablo Sandoval-esque as it was a couple of years ago. And while all his hard swinging isn't good for consistency, at least it's producing loud contact with 91.0 mph exit velo.
And now for the big payoff of all that loud contact. The bulk of Espinosa's power did come in a red-hot stretch in the middle of the summer, but 23 homers are still 23 homers. This is the inevitable result of a swing built to (1) hit the ball hard as well as (2) in the air and (3) to the pull side. To boot, Espinosa has made it work from both the left and right side of the plate. The weird part is the all-or-nothing nature of this kind of approach. Espinosa has collected only 15 doubles and no triples.
Espinosa's 20-steal days are over, but his 9-for-10 showing in steals this year reflects how he still has good speed and good instincts to go with it. He's also taken the extra base on hits 38 percent of the time. That's not his best, but it's solid.
Espinosa didn't play much shortstop in the last couple of years, so there's an "Oh yeah, huh?" factor to his strong defense at short this year. He has everything you could ask for: good actions, good hands, strong arm and good instincts too. His vice, oddly enough, has been the routine play. He has one of the lowest success rates on those out of all shortstops. This is the penalty for what plagues more than a few talented shortstops: trying to do too much and/or trying to make things look too easy.
Espinosa is a good argument against the idea of using batting average alone to judge hitters. Between his power, baserunning and defense, he has value beyond his poor average.
15. Didi Gregorius, New York Yankees
G: 146 PA: 571 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .276/.306/.444 HR: 18 SB: 7
Turns out Didi Gregorius' strong finish to 2015 was the real deal. He still swings at virtually everything thrown his way, rocking a 55.1 Swing% and 39.9 O-Swing%. But it's no longer as easy to fool him with off-speed, which has helped an already-strong contact habit. And while he's still not an exit velocity king, his average of 86.5 mph is an improvement over last year's 85.4 mph. Meanwhile, he's continued to use the whole field. If nothing else, he's earned his strong batting average.
This is where Gregorius has really made strides. His power surge has less to do with Yankee Stadium's short porch and more to do with how he's swinging. His launch angle is up to 13.1 degrees, and his exit velocity gain is even more prevalent on what he puts in the air. His average of 88.7 mph on fly balls and line drives isn't great relative to the MLB average, but it is better than the 87.8 mph he averaged last year.
Gregorius isn't a speed demon, but he does his part to get around the bases. He's stolen those seven bases in eight attempts. Meanwhile, his rate of extra bases taken is right where it usually is at 45 percent. As a bonus, he's run into only three outs after running into eight last year.
Gregorius' best defensive asset is his arm. If it's not the strongest shortstop arm, it's one of the strongest. And with it, he can finish off anything he gets to. He doesn't get to as much as you'd like to see, however, as he's not as quick on his feet as some of the other better shortstops in the game. And while his arm is strong, its accuracy has been an occasional issue this season. That's part of his modest 97.2 success rate on routine plays.
Gregorius had been a player with solid tools in search of a defining feature in his first couple of years. He's finally found one in his increased power.
14. Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
G: 121 PA: 508 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .252/.308/.425 HR: 16 SB: 4
It turns out Zack Cozart's step toward offensive respectability last year was the real deal. In a disciplined approach and a good contact habit, he's always had a good baseline for production. He just needed to hit the ball harder. He made strides in that department in 2015—and more in 2016 before knee trouble shut him down early. His 86.6 mph in exit velocity wasn't great, but it was an improvement over last year's 85.5 mph. His 31.2 Hard%, meanwhile, is by far his best ever.
More so than consistency, power was the real benefit of Cozart's adjustment last year. Same goes for 2016. Having more hard-hit balls was obviously a factor. Ditto the fact that Cozart is a pull hitter. But he also gets more balls in the air than he used to. His GB/FB ratios in the last two years have been the lowest of his career. These habits play not just at Great American Ball Park, but elsewhere too.
Fun fact: Cozart once stole 30 bases in a season as a minor leaguer. But that was a while ago. Now he's 31 with banged up legs. The Reds should be thankful he even stole four bases in 2016. Meanwhile, his normally high rate of extra bases taken on hits was just 27 percent.
No matter what Cozart is doing at the plate in any given year, the Reds have always been able to rely on his glove. So it went in 2016. He's valuable simply to the extent that he's about as sure a thing to make routine plays as there is at the position. That's a reflection of his actions, his steady hands and his strong, accurate arm. But he also has solid range for a guy who's not especially quick on his feet. From the eye test, that seems to be because he dives for everything.
Cozart is still the reliable defensive shortstop he's always been. The real key has been him adding more offense to his game simply by making better contact.
13. Asdrubal Cabrera, New York Mets
G: 134 PA: 537 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .280/.335/.477 HR: 22 SB: 5
Asdrubal Cabrera has taken last year's uptick in production even further in 2016. Seeing fewer fastballs has made it more difficult for him to make contact, but he's limited the damage by cutting down on his aggression. Meanwhile, he's getting the barrel to the ball better than he did in 2015. He's upped his exit velocity from 88.5 mph to 89.7 mph and is also rocking a career-best 37.0 Hard%. His big weakness is a pull habit that's invited more shifts than ever.
Cabrera's peak of 25 home runs shall remain untouched, but he's enjoying his most productive power season in years regardless. He's not actually getting under as many balls in 2016, dropping his average launch angle from 15.7 degrees to 13.6 degrees. But that's still better than the average hitter, and he's further helped himself with 92.8 mph exit velocity on fly balls and line drives. These things plus his extreme pull habit make for a strong recipe for power.
Cabrera is certainly slower now than he was in his mid-20s, when he was good for 10 to 15 steals per year. That shows not only in his stolen bases, but his aggressiveness as well. He's taking the extra base just 33 percent of the time on hits and has added just 13 on non-hits. He hasn't gone full station-to-station yet, but he's beginning to run more like a power-oriented hitter.
One thing we can praise Cabrera for on defense is his ability to make the routine play. Even the best shortstops can struggle with that, but he's been one of the best at it with a 98.0 success rate. But the tough plays? Not as much anymore. Even when he was in his prime, Cabrera wasn't as quick or as strong-armed as the top shortstops. His arm hasn't gotten any stronger, and now he's even less quick. His range is limited.
Cabrera is a lesser athlete than he used to be, which limits him on the bases and on defense. But he's once again packing a potent bat that specializes in loud contact.
12. Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angels
G: 117 PA: 460 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .279/.320/.365 HR: 4 SB: 10
The latest incarnation of Andrelton Simmons is the closest one yet to being a good hitter. He goes fishing at bad pitches less frequently with a 28.0 O-Swing%. He still has an outstanding contact habit with an 88.4 Contact%. He still spreads the ball around. But for the life of him, Simmons just can't make good contact. His exit velocity is nothing special at 86.9 mph, and his Hard% can't escape the mid-20s. Until he fixes this, there's a limit to how good he can be.
Remember that time Simmons hit 17 homers in a season? Those days are over. The thumb injury he suffered earlier this year didn't help his power, but there wasn't much power to help anyway. He's owned his issues with hard contact, lowering his launch angle to one of the lowest in baseball at 3.9 degrees. He also doesn't crush what he does put in the air, averaging just 89.1 mph.
With 10 steals in 11 tries, we're finally seeing Simmons make something of his athleticism. He's also been active on hits, taking the extra base 50 percent of the time. The downside: He's also run into eight outs for a second year in a row.
You know the deal here. Simmons looms just as large in the eye test as he does with the defensive metrics, which rate him as the best defensive shortstop in MLB since 2012. His combination of instincts, quickness, hands and arm strength is unparalleled, and it's continued to allow him to specialize in the tough plays. And while he's had a problem with throwing errors (7) this year, some of that has to do with the absence of Freddie Freeman at first base.
Simmons remains arguably the best defensive shortstop in the entire league. The difference this year is that he's also found ways to be more consistent at the plate.
11. Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
G: 142 PA: 550 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .299/.359/.438 HR: 8 SB: 24
How is Elvis Andrus having his best season in years? Not getting away from his approach helps. As always, he's showing plenty of discipline and making plenty of contact. And while his contact hasn't been any harder at 87.6 mph, a higher launch angle has allowed him to become more of a line-drive hitter. He still pulls the ball more than he should, but his pull rate doesn't quite capture how solid he is at using the whole field.
Andrus' improved launch angle is also helping his power. His GB/FB ratio used to be laughably high but has since come down to earth at a solid 1.7. His raw power remains relatively unimpressive, however. That shows in how he's averaging 90.5 mph on his fly balls and line drives. What he has is mostly gap power, with only balls down the left field line having a chance to get out.
Andrus isn't more powerful than ever, but he's definitely slower than he used to be. His stolen base prowess hit a snag in 2014, and his 24-for-32 showing this year is no better than what he did in 2015. And while he's still actively taking extra bases with a 57 percent success rate on hits and 19 extra bags added on non-hits, he's also run into 10 outs.
Andrus still has some of the things that once made him an elite defensive shortstop. His actions are still smooth, and his hands haven't gotten any less soft nor his arm any less strong. But he was never a technically flawless shortstop, and he's still not. His 95.7 success rate on routine plays is one of the lowest. That makes it harder to ignore how he doesn't make tough plays like he used to.
At his peak, Andrus was a consistent hitter who could wreak havoc on the bases and play a mean shortstop. Now he's pretty much just a consistent hitter, but that's still a lot better than nothing.
10. Troy Tulowitzki, Toronto Blue Jays
G: 123 PA: 511 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .251/.315/.442 HR: 24 SB: 1
This is not the same Troy Tulowitzki who hit .340 a couple of years ago. He's been swinging more aggressively the last two seasons and soaking up the extra whiffs that tend to accompany an approach like that. And while we don't have exit velocity data for 2014, his 34.4 hard-hit rate confirms he's not crushing the ball as often. But now for the good news: Tulo isn't doing any of these things as well as his '14 self, but he's still doing all of them well relative to other hitters.
The Blue Jays aren't responsible for Tulowitzki's power, but he's sure operating like a Blue Jays power hitter. They specialize in high arcing shots to left field. Lo and behold, Tulo has the pull habit and the launch angle, which is up from 10.3 degrees to 13.3 degrees, to fit right in. And on balls in the air, he's averaging 94.1 mph. The catch: like Danny Espinosa, he only hits homers.
Tulowitzki once ran well for a big shortstop (6'3", 205 lbs). But now he's a big shortstop who's 31 years old and with a history of leg injuries. His one and only stolen base happened in his one and only attempt, and his 28 percent rate of extra bases taken on hits is on track to be one of the lowest of his career.
The step Tulo has lost on the basepaths has also been lost in the field. He used to move quicker than a 6'3" shortstop had any business moving. And yet, he still plays a good shortstop mainly because he knows what he has in his arm. It's one of the best arms in the business, and he can use it to make strong throws from any angle. Anything he can get to is likely to be an out, and his instincts and long reach allow him to get to plenty.
Tulowitzki isn't the superstar he once was. However, he still offers a thunderous bat and a reliable glove at the toughest position on the infield.
9. Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis Cardinals
G: 105 PA: 435 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .301/.370/.510 HR: 16 SB: 4
Aledmys Diaz can rake. He's a big dude by shortstop standards at 6'1" and 195 pounds, and he puts his size into averaging 90.5 mph on his batted balls. It also helps that he chooses his swings carefully and makes plenty of contact with an 83.4 Contact%, allowing him to make the most of the oomph in his swing. And while he's primarily a pull hitter, he's just as likely to hit a fly ball as a ground ball. That could be why teams haven't bothered shifting on him...yet.
Hitting prowess is good on its own and better with power. To go with his pull rate and his fondness for hard contact, Diaz is also flashing a solid launch angle of 13.1 degrees. That's good for a 1.2 GB/FB ratio. The only nit to pick is that his power is limited to smashing the ball over the left fielder's head, as he's done little to the right of center field. But, again, it's a nit.
Diaz tries to run but needs to tone it down. He has four caught-stealings to go with his four successes, and he's also balancing out his 52 percent success rate by taking the extra base on hits with seven outs. He doesn't need to be a station-to-station guy, but he doesn't have enough speed to be this aggressive.
It's no secret how much Diaz's defense at shortstop has been maligned. He's committed 16 errors and also boasts a painfully low 94.2 success rate on routine plays. This is reflective of various shortcomings in his defensive game. His lack of quick-twitch athleticism means he needs to save face with good actions, hands and arm strength. All three are suspect.
With poor baserunning and defense weighing him down, Diaz's value is tied up in what he can do at the plate. And if he can do one thing, it's hit the ball hard.
8. Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
G: 97 PA: 415 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .272/.341/.567 HR: 27 SB: 8
So much for a never-ending season for Trevor Story. A thumb injury saw to that. As with most Rockies hitters, the catch with his big numbers is how much he padded them at Coors Field. The truth is that Story is a flawed hitter. He was disciplined enough, but that doesn't count for much when you have as many holes as he does. His game was centered on trying to clobber the ball. He mostly did that with 91.5 mph exit velo. But he also relied on his pull side and hit too many balls in the air.
Thin air, shmin air. Hitting 27 dingers in only 97 games is damn impressive. Story's swing was efficient at getting balls airborne, posting an average launch angle of 16.2 degrees and leading to the lowest GB/FB ratio outside of Brandon Belt and Brandon Moss. This allowed him to frequently tap into his raw power, which was good for an average of 95.1 mph on fly balls and line drives.
Story's power got him to the majors and made him a star, but he can run a bit too. That's not so much because of his speed, which is only average. He's more about instincts. His five caught-stealings may indicate otherwise, but his eight successes featured some terrific jumps. He also took the extra base 58 percent of the time he had the chance.
At 6'1" and 180 pounds, Story qualifies as a big shortstop. He often looked the part, showing less-than-explosive athleticism and modest range as a result. What stood out more was his arm strength. Baseball America claimed Story had "enough arm" for shortstop. He often showed he had more than enough, though, allowing him to finish whichever plays his legs let him get to. Between that and good actions, it's no wonder he was reliable making routine plays.
With a powerful bat and a surprisingly good glove, Story came out of nowhere to become one of 2016's best feel-good stories narratives.
7. Jonathan Villar, Milwaukee Brewers
G: 149 PA: 646 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .280/.366/.437 HR: 16 SB: 59
Jonathan Villar hit a solid .284 last year, so perhaps we should have seen this coming. The one flaw in his game is his 25.9 strikeout rate, which is much too high for a top-of-the-order speed guy. But even that's overstated a bit. Villar is a disciplined hitter who doesn't swing and miss that much. His swing is good for line drives and ground balls and spreading the ball around, all things that suit a hitter of his skill set. As a bonus, he also makes good contact with 90.6 mph exit velo.
Villar's swing has next to no loft in it. His 4.8-degree launch angle confirms that. And yet, 16 homers and a .437 slugging percentage is good stuff for a speed guy. That has to do with how anything he hits in space is a danger to result in extra bases. But he also shows some good raw pop when he does get the ball airborne, averaging 94.3 mph on fly balls and line drives.
Villar has stolen 59 bases. He's also taken the extra base 55 percent of the time on hits. Point is, he's fast and knows it. But he's also guilty of being a little overconfident in his speed. He's been caught stealing a league-high 18 times and has run into 16 other outs on the bases.
Villar has moved to third base to accommodate Orlando Arcia, but he's played too much shortstop to be counted as a third baseman. As for his defense at short, it was a mixed bag. His athleticism gave him good range and allowed him to make some tough plays. But Villar lacks qualities outside his athleticism. His hands are particularly suspect, and his arm strength and accuracy aren't great—hence his struggles making even routine plays.
Sometimes all a guy needs is a chance to play. Villar has gotten his. And between his quality bat and amazing baserunning, he's proved to be a valuable offensive player.
6. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
G: 150 PA: 688 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .293/.353/.440 HR: 20 SB: 13
When you hit .320 one year, you don't have to change much the next. Xander Bogaerts hasn't for the most part. He's become slightly more disciplined and has made the same amount of contact. If there's a big change, it's been better contact. After averaging 88.3 mph on his batted balls, this year he's averaging 89.8 mph. The one not-so-good change is less use of the opposite field, which has been especially prevalent in the second half—much to his chagrin.
Power is something Bogaerts didn't feature in 2015, as he hit only seven home runs. His power surge in 2016 is no accident. He's upped his launch angle from 6.3 degrees to 9.3 degrees. And when he's gotten the ball in the air, he's averaged a solid 92.4 mph. Power is also where his increased pull habit has paid off. Left field has been his one and only home run target.
This is the part of Bogaerts' game that doesn't get enough attention. It's good enough that he's stolen 13 bags in 17 tries. What's just as important is how he's taken the extra base on hits 62 percent of the time, adding another 16 bases on non-hits. It's not that he has blazing speed; he just knows how to make the most of what speed he has.
Bogaerts is an odd case study for shortstop defense. He doesn't have a single standout tool, but his athleticism, hands and arm are all good enough for the position. And for the most part, he gets the job done. But he tends to play like a guy who's focused on not making mistakes rather than trying to make plays, tentatively fielding the ball and taking an extra beat to make his throws. This helps explain why he doesn't make many tough plays and why some routine plays go unfinished.
Bogaerts' mediocre defense is holding him back from being a superstar. But it's impossible to ignore his quality bat, and he deserves more attention for his baserunning.
5. Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants
G: 148 PA: 592 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .268/.334/.424 HR: 12 SB: 6
After going for more power in 2015, Brandon Crawford has gone for more consistency in 2016. He's cut down his aggressiveness outside the strike zone with a 30.2 O-Swing%, transferring more of his swings to pitches in the zone. This has not only helped him cut down on strikeouts but also make better contact than his 89.8 mph exit velo lets on. It may be down, but his hard-hit rate is up. That's good for the ol' BABIP, especially when the shift is on.
Based on appearances, Crawford's power should be up in 2016. His launch angle is at 12.9 degrees, leading to a much lower GB/FB ratio than the one he had while hitting 21 homers in 2015. But despite his gain in hard-hit rate, his fly balls and line drives have gone from averaging 95.5 mph to 93.5 mph. A decline like that would be felt anywhere. At a place like AT&T Park, it's going to really be felt.
With only average speed, Crawford's baserunning is more about being smart than fast. His six steals in six tries bode well in that respect. So does the fact he's taken the extra base 41 percent of the time on hits, which includes a career-high-tying seven first-to-thirds.
Crawford is having some kind of year on defense. He has just about the perfect balance of actions, hands and arm strength for shortstop. He can get to any ball and make any play. His instincts also help out. He always seems to know exactly how much time he has to gather himself and make a throw whenever he makes a rangy play. In the past, his vice has been occasionally trying to do too much. That hasn't been an issue this year, in which he's had little trouble with routine plays.
Last year, Crawford made the leap from glove-only shortstop to legit two-way star. It's been more of the same this year, and this is probably the best his defense has ever been.
4. Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs
G: 144 PA: 573 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .244/.323/.426 HR: 21 SB: 5
Addison Russell has taken an unusual route to more consistency. Some things haven't changed for the better, such as his tendency to swing a lot and to often miss what he's swinging at. But he has a solid eye for the zone despite his hacking tendency, and this year he's been more aggressive (73.1 Z-Swing%) inside the zone. That's a good change, and it's partially responsible for his increase in exit velocity from 87.0 mph to 88.2 mph.
Power seems to be what Russell is really going for with his approach. One thing that hasn't changed this year is his launch angle, which was high enough in 2015 at 16.0 degrees. The real difference is how well he's hitting the ball. His exit velocity on fly balls and line drives is up from a subpar 90.8 mph to a solid 92.4 mph. The sweetener in this deal is his pull habit, which explains all the red to deep left in his spray chart.
Russell is more of an above-average runner than a speedster, so he has to pick his spots when he steals bases. With only one caught-stealing to his name, he's done that well in 2016. And while he's taken the extra base just 31 percent of the time on hits, he's quietly added 19 bags on non-hits.
As good as Russell is at the plate, he's arguably better in the field. He has the kind of quick-twitch athleticism you want at the position, reacting quickly and getting after balls with a good first step. He also has some hands capable of making some nifty picks. His arm isn't one of the best at the position, but his quick release of the ball compensates for that. He's good at making the routine plays, the tough plays and everything in between.
Russell often feels like the forgotten man in Chicago's stable of great young players. But now that he's adding some offense to go with his stupendous defense, that may not last.
3. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
G: 147 PA: 636 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .271/.362/.454 HR: 20 SB: 13
Carlos Correa is as good as he is in part because he hits the ball so darn hard. He made plenty of loud contact in 2015, and now both his exit velocity and his hard-hit rate are up in 2016. Such is life when you're 6'4" and 215 pounds. But there's more than just strength going on here. Correa is selective not just in the sense of his good eye for the strike zone but also in what he swings at. He goes hunting for pitches on the inner half. When he connects, that's when fun happens.
Despite playing in many more games, Correa may not match last year's 22 homers. But truth is, maybe last year was the fluke. He didn't have a high launch angle to begin with, and it hasn't budged this year at 6.7 degrees. His power is more about efficiency, a la crushing the ball when he does get under it. With an average of 95.0 mph on fly balls and line drives, he's got that covered.
Correa also hasn't made good on the promise of his rookie season (14 steals in 99 games) in this department. But this has little to do with his speed and more to do with how he chooses his spots. He's been caught stealing only three times. Elsewhere, he's taken the extra base 47 percent of the time on hits and run into only two outs.
Because the Astros shift more than any other team, there's arguably less pressure on Correa to have good range than there is on other shortstops. Which is good, because his size makes it difficult for him to move in a hurry. But lest anyone be in a hurry to move him to the hot corner, Correa's length at least gives him good reach. And with his rocket arm, anything he gets to is as good as an out. That's allowing him to downplay his modest 96.7 success rate on routine plays.
If it feels like Correa has had a disappointing sophomore season, think again. He's continued to be an excellent offensive shortstop while holding his own on defense.
2. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
G: 153 PA: 663 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .302/.354/.431 HR: 14 SB: 19
It turns out Francisco Lindor is legit after all. He does have qualities you like to see in a high-average guy, such as an excellent contact habit and a line-drive swing packaged with good bat control. He's the type of hitter who can spray base hits in every direction. And this year, he's gotten more selective. The one thing he still doesn't do is make loud contact. But with exit velocity in the 89-90 mph range, his contact isn't quiet either. In short, dude can hit.
Lindor's 14 homers make his power look good. But on closer inspection...meh. It's not that he's incapable of giving the ball a ride. He can. He's just not built to do so. Despite an increase in his launch angle from 4.4 degrees to 9.3 degrees, his GB/FB ratio has actually climbed closer to 2.0. And when he does get the ball in the air, he's averaging an unspectacular 90.6 mph in exit velo. He's more of a gap power guy who occasionally runs into one.
Lindor is a plus runner, but teams have been keeping closer tabs on him this year, which explains his five caught-stealings to go with his 19 successes. The good news is that he's continued to take the extra base on hits about half the time at 48 percent. And after running into seven outs in 2015, he's run into only four this year.
Lindor cemented his place among the best defensive shortstops in baseball last season. Nothing has changed in 2016. He still has great hands, a great arm and smooth actions, and none of these things abandons him when he has to make the routine play. Meanwhile, he has as much (or more) range as any other shortstop. He reacts quickly at the crack of the bat and covers ground in a flash. As such, there aren't many parts of the infield he doesn't cover.
Lindor may not be the best shortstop in the game, but he is the most well-rounded. He can hit, run and definitely defend.
1. Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
G: 151 PA: 663 AVG/OBP/SLUG: .310/.370/.514 HR: 25 SB: 3
Corey Seager is a walking instructional video on hitting. He has a direct swing that's good for line drives, and he can use the whole field. Between his size and his feel for the barrel, we shouldn't be surprised at his 91.5 mph exit velo. Maybe the one thing to take issue with is his lack of elite strike-zone discipline. But he's not a wild swinger either, and he doesn't give pitchers a safe space within the zone. No other shortstop has been as good or as consistent, so bonus points are in order here.
Seager doesn't go to bat looking to drive the ball, as his average launch angle is a less-than-eye-popping 11.4 degrees. But he fits the description of a classic "good hitter with power" in the sense that anything he does drive is truly driven. His exit velo on fly balls and line drives is 94.8 mph. Not even Dodger Stadium has held him back.
Seager (6'4", 215 lbs) is roughly the same size as Carlos Correa. But he doesn't run nearly as well or pick his spots as well. His three successful steals come with three failures. Seager is not a station-to-station runner, though. He's taken the extra base 40 percent of the time on hits and has added 23 bases on non-hits. He's also run into just three outs all year.
With his size, Seager probably will need to move to third base somewhere down the line. He's not the kind of shortstop who can cover a wide swath of ground. But what he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in technique and actions. Seager has a good pair of hands and a good sense of timing, and his plus arm strength allows him to finish whatever he can get to. He's not a great shortstop, but he's reliable.
Seager has been the best offensive shortstop in the league by a good distance in his rookie season and has played a solid shortstop to boot. Although not as well-rounded as Francisco Lindor, the fact is a bat like Seager's at a position like shortstop is simply too valuable to ignore.