Ranking MLB's Top 20 Shortstops of the 1990s, Including Young Derek Jeter, A-Rod

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJune 27, 2020

Ranking MLB's Top 20 Shortstops of the 1990s, Including Young Derek Jeter, A-Rod

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    Ron Vesely/Getty Images

    In the weeks to come, we'll be taking a position-by-position look at the best MLB players of the 1990s. Who's ready for some nostalgia?

    Up next, the shortstop position, which featured a passing of the torch from 1980 stars like Cal Ripken Jr. and Ozzie Smith to the next wave of superstars led by Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra.

    A player's peak performance, his full statistical body of work during the 1990s and his postseason production were all taken into account when determining the final rankings.

    While no single stat was the end-all, be-all in this conversation, OPS+ and WAR/500 are two important ones to know.

    OPS+ is simply a hitter's on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted to take into account the ballparks in which he is hitting. An OPS+ of 100 is league-average, while each number above 100 represents one percentage point better than the league average.

    WAR/500 is a stat of my own creation. It's simply a hitter's WAR total divided by his total plate appearances and then multiplied by 500, thus giving us his WAR per 500 plate appearances. The idea is to make it easier to contextualize WAR totals across different sample sizes.

    Let's kick things off with some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

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    Shawon Dunston
    Shawon DunstonFocus On Sport/Getty Images

    These players received serious consideration for the final list but came up short:

    • Shawon Dunston
    • Alex Gonzalez
    • Craig Grebeck
    • Mark Grudzielanek
    • Jose Hernandez
    • Spike Owen
    • Edgar Renteria
    • Rey Sanchez

20. Ozzie Guillen

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    Ron Vesely/Getty Images

    Stats: 4,093 PA, .265/.290/.344 (69 OPS+), 20 HR, 383 RBI, 6.2 WAR

    Postseason: 45 PA, .273/.273/.295, 0 HR, 4 RBI

    WAR/500: 0.76

    Ozzie Guillen was an All-Star in 1990 and 1991 thanks to his slick glovework and elite contact skills.

    He hit .276 during that two-year span with a 3.3 percent walk rate and a 6.7 percent strikeout rate, meaning he put the ball in play in a staggering 90 percent of his plate appearances.

    He continued on as the Chicago White Sox starting shortstop through his age-33 season in 1997 before spending the final three years of his career serving as a veteran leader off the bench, reaching the World Series with the Atlanta Braves in 1999.

19. Gary Disarcina

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    Ken Levine/Getty Images

    Stats: 3,990 PA, .257/.291/.339 (65 OPS+), 27 HR, 344 RBI, 10.6 WAR

    Postseason: N/A

    WAR/500: 1.33

    Gary Disarcina was a staple at the shortstop position for the California Angels from 1992 through the team's move to Anaheim and the conclusion of the decade.

    He was the prototypical '90s shortstop, with a game built around strong defense and contact ability.

    In 1995, he hit .307/.344/.459 for a 108 OPS+ with 39 extra-base hits in 394 plate appearances to earn his lone All-Star selection and finish 19th in AL MVP voting. 

    His 12.6 defensive WAR during the 1990s ranked sixth among all shortstops, yet he never won a Gold Glove Award.

18. Walt Weiss

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Stats: 4,486 PA, .258/.358/.325 (77 OPS+), 19 HR, 307 RBI, 11.6 WAR

    Postseason: 103 PA, .191/.294/.213, 0 HR, 2 RBI

    WAR/500: 1.29

    The 1988 AL Rookie of the Year, Walt Weiss burst onto the scene for the Oakland Athletics teams that reached the World Series in back-to-back seasons in 1988 and 1989.

    They returned for a third straight AL pennant in 1990, and he served as Oakland's starting shortstop for the first three years of the decade before he was traded to the Florida Marlins ahead of their inaugural season.

    After one year with the Marlins, he was signed by the Colorado Rockies and spent four seasons there before closing out the decade with the Atlanta Braves.

    He was voted to start the All-Star Game during his age-34 season in 1998 when he hit .280/.386/.343 over 424 plate appearances in a 2.8-WAR season. It was his lone trip to the Midsummer Classic.

17. Jose Offerman

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    Jose Offerman
    Jose OffermanTom Hauck/Getty Images

    Stats: 4,815 PA, .280/.366/.377 (98 OPS+), 30 HR, 381 RBI, 14.5 WAR

    Postseason: 50 PA, .429/.520/.571, 1 HR, 8 RBI

    WAR/500: 1.51

    Jose Offerman took over as the Los Angeles Dodgers starting shortstop in 1992 and earned his first All-Star selection in 1995 when he hit .287/.389/.375 with more walks (69) than strikeouts (67) in a 2.6-WAR season.

    He was traded to the Royals on the heels of that breakout offensive season and enjoyed the best run of his career during his three years in Kansas City, hitting .306/.385/.419 for a 108 OPS+ while racking up 9.7 WAR.

    He shifted to second base during the 1997 season and closed out the decade as the starting second baseman for the Boston Red Sox, earning his second All-Star selection in 1999. He hit .294/.391/.435 for a 108 OPS+ with 37 doubles, 11 triples and eight home runs, and the Red Sox reached the ALCS.

16. Jose Valentin

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    Jeff Carlick/Getty Images

    Stats: 2,768 PA, .240/.323/.421 (89 OPS+), 90 HR, 343 RBI, 11.4 WAR

    Postseason: N/A

    WAR/500: 2.06

    Jose Valentin followed in the footsteps of flopped AL Rookie of the Year winner Pat Listach, replacing him as the Milwaukee Brewers starting shortstop in 1994.

    A rare power threat at the position during the 1990s, he hit double-digit home runs in each of his six full seasons during the decade, peaking in 1996 with a 24-homer, 95-RBI campaign.

    He joined the Chicago White Sox in free agency following the 1999 season and went on to average 27 home runs and 76 RBI in his five seasons on the South Side, so his best production actually came during the 2000s.

    Still, his impressive pop was enough to earn him a spot on the 1990s list as well.

15. Greg Gagne

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    Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images

    Stats: 3,855 PA, .256/.307/.374 (82 OPS+), 64 HR, 388 RBI, 15.5 WAR

    Postseason: 54 PA, .212/.241/.308, 1 HR, 4 RBI, One-time WS winner

    WAR/500: 2.01

    Greg Gagne stepped into the starting shortstop role for the Minnesota Twins during the 1985 season, and he held down the fort until he left in free agency following the 1992 campaign.

    That means he was part of a pair of World Series champions in 1987 and 1991, and he hit .265/.310/.395 with 34 extra-base hits and 11 steals in a 2.5-WAR season during the 1991 campaign, capping things off with a home run in Game 1 of the Fall Classic.

    He rejoined longtime teammate Gary Gaetti in Kansas City in 1993, earning some down ballot MVP support in his first season with the Royals when he hit .280/.319/.406 with 32 doubles and 10 home runs in a 3.2-WAR season.

    After three years with the Royals and two years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he retired following the 1997 season after serving as an everyday shortstop for 13 straight seasons.

14. Royce Clayton

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    Stats: 4,244 PA, .260/.313/.368 (81 OPS+), 56 HR, 385 RBI, 17.8 WAR

    Postseason: 49 PA, .244/.306/.244, 0 HR, 1 RBI

    WAR/500: 2.10

    The No. 15 overall pick in the 1988 draft and a top prospect throughout his time in the San Francisco Giants' farm system, Royce Clayton joined a loaded infield of Will Clark, Robby Thompson and Matt Williams during the 1992 season.

    He hit .282/.331/.372 and tallied 2.4 WAR in his first full season in 1993, and he quickly developed into a solid two-way player. The Giants traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals in a five-player deal prior to the 1996 season, and he replaced a 41-year-old Ozzie Smith as the team's starting shortstop. He then made his lone All-Star appearance in 1997.

    Clayton was traded again at the 1998 deadline, going to the Texas Rangers in the deal that brought Fernando Tatis to St. Louis, and he hit .288/.346/.445 with a career-high 14 home runs in 1999.

    His 161 steals during the 1990s trailed only Barry Larkin (266) and Omar Vizquel (237) among shortstops.  

13. Mike Bordick

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    HEATHER HALL/Getty Images

    Stats: 4,791 PA, .258/.322/.347 (80 OPS+), 51 HR, 426 RBI, 19.3 WAR

    Postseason: 54 PA, .167/.245/.208, 0 HR, 6 RBI

    WAR/500: 2.01

    Mike Bordick served as Walt Weiss' double-play partner during the 1992 season before shifting from second base to shortstop when Weiss departed in free agency.

    He was Oakland's starting shortstop from 1993 to 1996, tallying a respectable 5.6 WAR over that four-year span before joining the Baltimore Orioles in free agency.

    The 31-year-old was given the tall order of replacing Cal Ripken Jr. at shortstop in Baltimore when Ripken was shifted to third base in 1997. He proved up to the task, closing out the decade with a 3.3 WAR season in 1998 and a career-high 4.7 WAR campaign in 1999.

    The Orioles later flipped him to the New York Mets in a deal that netted them a young Melvin Mora.    

12. Alan Trammell

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Stats: 2,398 PA, .283/.347/.410 (103 OPS+), 47 HR, 282 RBI, 15.0 WAR

    Postseason: N/A

    WAR/500: 3.13

    Arguably the No. 1 shortstop of the 1980s, Alan Trammell was 32 years old with 13 MLB seasons under his belt heading into the 1990 campaign.

    He hit .304/.377/.449 for a 130 OPS+ with 37 doubles, 14 home runs and 89 RBI in 1990, earning his final All-Star selection and finishing 19th in AL MVP voting in a 6.7 WAR season.

    He averaged just 76 games per year over the final six seasons of his career, but he remained productive when healthy, posting a 94 OPS+ and 8.3 WAR during that span.

    His election into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee as part of the 2018 class was long overdue.  

11. Jeff Blauser

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    Simon Barnett/Getty Images

    Stats: 4,503 PA, .263/.359/.408 (103 OPS+), 106 HR, 445 RBI, 19.1 WAR

    Postseason: 197 PA, .208/.321/.333, 5 HR, 16 RBI, One-time WS winner

    WAR/500: 2.12

    Jeff Blauser was a staple at shortstop for the Atlanta Braves from 1990, when he first took over as the team's starter at the position, through the 1997 season, after which he departed in free agency.

    He earned two All-Star selections during that time in what were by far the best seasons of his career:

    • 1993: .305/.401/.436 (125 OPS+), 15 HR, 73 RBI, 5.7 WAR
    • 1997: .308/.405/.482 (130 OPS+), 17 HR, 70 RBI, 4.8 WAR

    He played in the postseason six times and averaged 2.4 WAR during his eight-year run as Atlanta's starting shortstop and then signed a two-year, $8.2 million deal with the Chicago Cubs to close out his career.   

10. Tony Fernandez

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Stats: 5,059 PA, .285/.356/.399 (102 OPS+), 56 HR, 491 R, 21.7 WAR

    Postseason: 121 PA, .321/.370/.406, 1 HR, 20 RBI, One-time WS winner

    WAR/500: 2.14

    Tony Fernandez was a three-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner with the Toronto Blue Jays during the 1980s, and he still had plenty left in the tank when the 1990s rolled around.

    He was traded to the San Diego Padres along with Fred McGriff after the 1990 season in the franchise-altering deal that brought Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter to the Blue Jays.

    Before the decade was over, he had also played for the New York Mets, Blue Jays again, Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Blue Jays yet again.

    He was an All-Star in 1992 and then again in 1999, when he hit .328/.427/.449 for a 125 OPS+ and 3.3 WAR in his age-37 season. He won a World Series title with the Blue Jays in 1993 and reached the Fall Classic again in 1997 as Cleveland's starting second baseman.            

9. Ozzie Smith

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    Ron Vesely/Getty Images

    Stats: 3,302 PA, .274/.347/.341 (90 OPS+), 10 HR, 243 RBI, 19.8 WAR

    Postseason: 14 PA, .083/.214/.083, 0 HR, 0 RBI

    WAR/500: 3.00

    Ozzie Smith was in his prime during the 1980s, winning 10 Gold Glove Awards and earning nine All-Star selections.

    That said, he was still a top-tier shortstop at the start of the 1990s.

    He won three more Gold Glove Awards during the first three seasons of the decade, and he put together two of the most productive offensive seasons of his career in 1991 and 1992.

    • 1991: .285/.380/.367 (112 OPS+), 36 XBH, 5.1 WAR
    • 1992: .295/.367/.342 (105 OPS+), 22 XBH, 5.1 WAR

    Considering he was a career. 262/.337/.328 hitter with an 87 OPS+, those numbers were a surprising uptick for a player in his late 30s.  

    He turned 40 after the strike-shortened 1994 season and played in just 126 games over the final two seasons of his career before breezing into the Hall of Fame as a first-ballot inductee with 91.7 percent of the vote.  

8. John Valentin

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Stats: 4,161 PA, .283/.362/.463 (111 OPS+), 118 HR, 521 RBI, 32.3 WAR

    Postseason: 81 PA, .347/.407/.639, 5 HR, 19 RBI

    WAR/500: 3.88

    Before Nomar Garciaparra took the baseball world by storm, it was John Valentin who starred at shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.

    How good was he relative to the rest of the league?

    His 30.4 WAR from the start of his first full season in 1993 through the end of the 1998 campaign ranked 11th among all position players and tops among shortstops, narrowly edging out Barry Larkin (30.1) during that stretch.

    He peaked in 1995, when he hit .298/.399/.533 for a 138 OPS+ with 37 doubles, 27 home runs and 102 RBI, good for an 8.3 WAR season. He took home Silver Slugger honors and finished ninth in AL MVP voting.

    He moved to second base in 1997 when Garciaparra arrived on the scene and served as the team's starting third baseman in 1998.            

7. Jay Bell

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    Stats: 6,477 PA, .272/.349/.429 (107 OPS+), 155 HR, 667 RBI, 37.4 WAR

    Postseason: 105 PA, .283/.356/.446, 3 HR, 9 RBI

    WAR/500: 2.89

    Jay Bell is perhaps best remembered for his surprising 1999 season when he slugged a career-high 38 home runs at the age of 33 as the Arizona Diamondbacks' starting second baseman.

    Before that unexpected power surge, he spent the first seven seasons of the decade playing shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, hitting .270/.341/.405 for a 103 OPS+ while averaging 31 doubles, 11 home runs and 3.3 WAR.

    He was a 6.2 WAR player in 1993, when he hit .310/.392/.437 for a 124 OPS+ with 50 extra-base hits and 16 steals. That earned him his first career All-Star selection, and he took home Gold Glove and Silver Slugger honors.

    After spending the 1997 season with the Kansas City Royals, he joined the D-backs for their inaugural season.              

6. Nomar Garciaparra

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    Ron Vesely/Getty Images

    Stats: 2,074 PA, .322/.367/.566 (135 OPS+), 96 HR, 340 RBI, 20.4 WAR

    Postseason: 56 PA, .383/.446/.936, 7 HR, 20 RBI

    WAR/500: 4.92

    Nomar Garciaparra played just three full seasons during the 1990s, but he did more in those three years than most shortstops did the entire decade.       

    The number speak for themselves:

    • 1997: 123 OPS+, .306/.342/.534, 85 XBH (30 HR), 98 RBI, 22 SB, 6.6 WAR
    • 1998: 140 OPS+, .323/.362/.584, 80 XBH (35 HR), 122 RBI, 12 SB, 7.1 WAR
    • 1999: 153 OPS+, .357/.418/.603, 73 XBH (27 HR), 104 RBI, 14 SB, 6.6 WAR

    He won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1997 when he led the AL in hits (209) and rattled off a 30-game hitting streak. He finished runner-up in AL MVP voting in 1998, and he won the AL batting title in 1999.

    After one more standout season in 2000, injuries derailed his career, and he wound up finishing his time in MLB with 44.3 WAR. That means 45.8 percent of his career value came from those three standout seasons.

5. Omar Vizquel

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    Ron Vesely/Getty Images

    Stats: 5,457 PA, .279/.343/.357 (85 OPS+), 33 HR, 429 RBI, 28.1 WAR

    Postseason: 241 PA, .233/.316/.291, 0 HR, 14 RBI

    WAR/500: 2.57

    Omar Vizquel won his first Gold Glove Award as a member of the Seattle Mariners in 1993.

    The Cleveland Indians acquired him that offseason in exchange for Reggie Jefferson, Felix Fermin and cash, and he went on to win the award in each of the next eight seasons.

    On the offensive juggernaut that was the mid-90s Indians, he was the defensive glue and an underrated offensive player who consistently provided a solid batting average and speed on the bases. In his six seasons with Cleveland during the 1990s, he hit .291/.357/.383 for a 90 OPS+ while averaging 35 extra-base hits, 33 steals and 3.1 WAR.

    At his offensive peak in 1999, he hit .333/.397/.436 with 45 extra-base hits and 42 steals for a career-high 6.0 WAR. He made his second of three All-Star Game appearances that year and earned some down-ballot MVP support.

    With Ozzie Smith on the other side of his prime when the 1990s began, Vizquel deserves the title of best defensive shortstop of the decade.    

4. Alex Rodriguez

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Stats: 2,843 PA, .308/.363/.551 (132 OPS+), 148 HR, 463 RBI, 27.7 WAR

    Postseason: 18 PA, .278/.278/.500, 1 HR, 1 RBI

    WAR/500: 4.87

    In a bubble, the 1996 or 1998 version of Alex Rodriguez was probably the best shortstop of the 1990s.

    Still just 20 years old and in his first full MLB season in '96, he won the MLB batting title with a .358 average and tallied 54 doubles, 36 home runs, 123 RBI and 141 runs scored to finish second in AL MVP voting.

    Two years later, he joined the exclusive 40-40 club with a 42-homer, 46-steal season. He was a 9.4 WAR player in '96 and an 8.5 WAR player in '98.

    So why doesn't he rank even higher?

    In the end, he played just four full seasons during the 1990s, making it hard to rank him ahead of guys who had a greater overall impact on the decade.          

3. Derek Jeter

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Stats: 2,886 PA, .318/.389/.465 (121 OPS+), 63 HR, 341 RBI, 23.4 WAR

    Postseason: 205 PA, .326/.393/.459, 4 HR, 12 RBI, Three-time WS winner

    WAR/500: 4.05

    Young Derek Jeter gets the nod over young Alex Rodriguez on the strength of his stellar postseason production while playing for a trio of World Series winners.

    After a 15-game audition in 1995, Jeter took home AL Rookie of the Year honors in 1996 when he hit .314/.370/.430 with 41 extra-base hits and 14 steals. He earned his first All-Star selection in 1998, and the 1999 season represented the high-water mark for his offensive production.

    The 25-year-old posted a career-high 8.0 WAR and also set personal bests in batting average (.349), on-base percentage (.438), slugging (.552), OPS+ (153), hits (219), home runs (24), RBI (102) and runs scored (134). He capped off that impressive run by hitting .375/.434/.542 over 53 plate appearances in the postseason.

    He continued on as one of the faces of baseball during the 2000s, but there's a strong case to be made that the 1998 and 1999 seasons were the best of his Hall of Fame career.     

2. Cal Ripken Jr.

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    Focus On Sport/Getty Images

    Stats: 6,348 PA, .278/.341/.443 (107 OPS+), 198 HR, 827 RBI, 44.9 WAR

    Postseason: 85 PA, .364/.424/.506, 1 HR, 6 RBI

    WAR/500: 3.54

    Cal Ripken Jr. did a lot of his statistical damage during the 1980s.

    In fact, seven of his 10 highest single-season WAR totals came prior to the 1990 season, which would explain why he sits in the No. 2 spot in these rankings despite his legendary status.

    That said, he was still one of the best players in baseball during the early 1990s.

    He won his second AL MVP award in 1991, when he hit .323/.374/.566 for a 162 OPS+ with 46 doubles, 34 home runs, 114 RBI and 99 runs scored. His 368 total bases led MLB, and his 11.5 WAR was a career-high and the highest single-season total by a shortstop during the 1990s.

    On Sept. 6, 1995, he broke Lou Gehrig's long-standing record by playing in his 2,131st consecutive game in what stands as one of the most memorable moments in baseball history.

    He was voted to start the All-Star Game every year during the 1990s, with the final three starts coming at third base, and he earned 98.5 percent of the vote as a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2007.        

1. Barry Larkin

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    Ron Vesely/Getty Images

    Stats: 5,541 PA, .303/.388/.466 (126 OPS+), 137 HR, 639 RBI, 52.6 WAR

    Postseason: 78 PA, .338/.397/.465, 0 HR, 3 RBI, One-time WS winner

    WAR/500: 4.75

    Barry Larkin was second-to-none in terms of production at the shortstop position during the 1990s.

    Among shortstops with at least 3,000 plate appearances during the decade, he led the way in batting average (.303), stolen bases (266) and WAR (52.6).

    He was an eight-time All-Star, seven-time Silver Slugger winner, three-time Gold Glove winner and the 1995 NL MVP after he hit .319/.394/.492 with 50 extra-base hits and 51 steals in a 5.9 WAR season for an upstart Cincinnati Reds team that won the NL Central title.

    He was also one of the leaders of the 1990 Reds team that won the World Series title, finishing second only to ace Jose Rijo (5.8 WAR) with a 5.7 WAR performance.

                                           

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

    Catch up on past Top 20 of the 1990s articles: First Basemen