Ranking MLB's 10 Best Shortstops Ahead of 2021 Spring Training
As teams across Major League Baseball gear up for the 2021 season, our efforts to rank the top players at every position are ongoing.
There's a lot of star power at shortstop right now, particularly on the offensive side. To wit, the highest single-season OPSes ever accumulated by shortstops have come from each of the past two seasons. More of the same figures to be in order for 2021.
In determining our rankings, we considered players' recent track records and their upside and downside for the coming season.
We'll begin with some honorable mentions and then count down the top 10.
5 to Watch
Willi Castro, Detroit Tigers
Albeit in only 36 games, he broke out last year via a .349/.381/.550 slash line that was backed up by solid peripheral metrics, including above-average marks for expected batting average and slugging percentage.
J.P. Crawford, Seattle Mariners
It seems like forever ago that he was an elite prospect in the Philadelphia Phillies system. But he's only 26, and he's coming off a Gold Glove-winning season.
Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
He's stuck behind Willy Adames—who's a pretty good shortstop in his own right—for now, yet he's the No. 1 prospect in MLB. He should be seen in Tampa Bay at some point in 2021.
Andres Gimenez, Cleveland
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Texas Rangers
He finally moved out from behind the plate last year and responded by hitting .280 and winning a Gold Glove. Now he's set to fill Elvis Andrus' shoes at short.
First 5 Out
Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays
Because he boasts an impressive .307/.347/.549 line with 16 home runs and eight stolen bases through 75 major league games, he'd be a shoo-in for the top 10 if shortstop wasn't so crowded with proven stars.
Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants
Didi Gregorius, Philadelphia Phillies
His defense isn't looking so great these days, yet he's still a candidate to hit close to .300 with 20-odd home runs.
Miguel Rojas, Miami Marlins
He was good yet unspectacular in his first five seasons in Miami but then busted out with a .304/.392/.496 line last year. It also bears mentioning that he's one of the great clubhouse leaders in MLB right now.
Dansby Swanson, Atlanta
10. Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
Key 2020 Stats: 42 G, 160 PA, 3 HR, 1 SB, .243 AVG, .356 OBP, .368 SLG, 102 OPS+
2020 WAR: 0
Gleyber Torres more than lived up to the hype with the New York Yankees in 2018 and 2019. Working mostly as a second baseman, he was an All-Star both years, and his 62 total home runs were the most ever by a middle infielder in his first two seasons.
His first season as a full-time shortstop was...not as good. His power vanished, and he ranked among the position's dregs with minus-four outs above average.
On the plus side, Torres made strides with his walk and strikeout rates, and his hard-hit rate increased last year. Especially given that he was battling the injury bug all season, that's encouraging stuff.
If Torres' postseason performance—in which he had a 1.262 OPS—is any indication, the worst was behind him by the end of last season. If he picks up where he left off, he'll be an All-Star once again in 2021.
9. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
Key 2020 Stats: 58 G, 221 PA, 5 HR, 0 SB, .264 AVG, .326 OBP, .383 SLG, 92 OPS+
2020 WAR: 1.8
Carlos Correa was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2015, and he trails only Francisco Lindor in total rWAR ever since then.
Correa also boasts a sturdy 126 OPS+ for his career but only a 110 mark over the last three seasons. Injuries have had a hand in that, yet he's also had a hard time laying off breaking and off-speed stuff outside of the strike zone since 2017—and we all know what happened that year.
But when last anyone saw Correa, he was tearing up the playoffs with a 1.221 OPS and six homers in 13 games. If he stays on that track in 2021, he'll build plenty of value for his first trip onto the open market.
8. Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox
Key 2020 Stats: 49 G, 221 PA, 10 HR, 5 SB, .322 AVG, .357 OBP, .529 SLG, 141 OPS+
2020 WAR: 2.5
Five years into his tenure with the Chicago White Sox, Tim Anderson remains a frustratingly imperfect player.
His up-and-down defensive metrics (see here and here) are emblematic of his erratic glovework. Offensively, he's walked all of 25 times over the last two seasons and posted generally subpar batted ball metrics, such as average exit velocity in the 23rd percentile last season.
And yet Anderson is firmly established among baseball's top hitters by way of his .331 average and 132 OPS+ since 2019. That speaks to how well he makes his free-signing style work, as he's able to salvage singles when he expands the zone and drive the ball when he swings at strikes.
Because he still has youth going for him, it's also well within the realm of possibility that Anderson will iron out what flaws he has. That would pave the way not just to his first All-Star nod but possibly also to MVP contention in 2021.
7. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
Key 2020 Stats: 59 G, 235 PA, 8 HR, 3 SB, .203 AVG, .238 OBP, .360 OBP, 59 OPS+
2020 WAR: 0.9
Javier Baez was probably the most exciting player in baseball in 2018 and 2019.
It wasn't just his offensive prowess, though there was plenty to enjoy as he was racking up a 122 OPS+ and 63 home runs. The Chicago Cubs star was also a human special effect on the bases and on defense, where he delighted crowds with impossible slides and magic glovework.
Baez kept the brilliant defense coming in 2020, finally winning won a Gold Glove after missing out in previous years. There's otherwise no excusing his offensive slump, which was marked by a relatively passive approach and a decrease in average exit velocity.
Per the man himself, not having fans in the stands was a factor for Baez in 2020. That figures to change this season, in which he'll surely be motivated to boost his stock ahead of free agency. So, we'll cross our fingers and bet on a bounce-back year for El Mago.
6. Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
Key 2020 Stats: 52 G, 232 PA, 15 HR, 1 SB, .307 AVG, .358 OBP, .585 SLG, 152 OPS+
2020 WAR: 2.1
If Seager's results don't prove that he was healthy in 2020, his metrics will. Nobody was more aggressive against pitches in the heart of the zone, and his rewards included an expected batting average and slugging percentage in the 99th percentile and the most expected home runs of any hitter.
Staying healthy will perhaps be Seager's biggest challenge in 2021. If he can do that and carry over the approach that worked for him in 2020, he can make a run at the NL MVP before going into free agency.
5. Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
Key 2020 Stats: 59 G, 259 PA, 12 HR, 12 SB, .335 AVG, .394 OBP, .588 SLG, 157 OPS+
2020 WAR: 2.4
Trea Turner? More like Trea Blur-ner. Or better yet, Trea Burn-er.
Yet Turner's speed has consistently been but one of several core attributes, and never more so than in 2020. He had the highest OPS+ of any shortstop, which sprung from a more aggressive attack against pitches in the heart of the zone and a personal high for average exit velocity at 90.5 mph.
Considering that Turner's defense has routinely been in the black for outs above average, he's going into this season with the potential as a high-average, high-OBP shortstop with 20-homer power and at least 40-steal speed. That's his path to his first All-Star nod and some MVP votes.
4. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
Key 2020 Stats: 56 G, 225 PA, 11 HR, 8 SB, .300 AVG, .364 OBP, .502 SLG, 131 OPS+
2020 WAR: 1.5
Maybe Xander Bogaerts isn't the best offensive shortstop in baseball, but his consistency is unmatched.
Though he's been with the Boston Red Sox for eight years, it's within the last three that he's really found his stride. He's hit .300/.372/.535 overall, and he's the only shortstop who's topped a 130 OPS+ in each of the last three seasons.
Relative to 2018 and 2019, Bogaerts' exit velocity diminished in 2020. But lost in that fog was the sturdy 94.9 mph that he averaged on his fly balls and line drives. That was pretty much business as usual, as were his solid walk and strikeout rates.
Even though he doesn't have Turner-ian speed, Bogaerts is also one of the craftiest and ultimately most productive baserunners in MLB. All of this is to say that he does plenty to make up for his defense, which is typically somewhere between bad (here) and passable (here).
3. Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Key 2020 Stats: 59 G, 259 PA, 11 HR, 15 SB, .289 AVG, .355 OBP, .519 SLG, 118 OPS+
2020 WAR: 2.4
Well, at least there's one superstar left in Denver.
Trevor Story wasn't on many radars when he debuted for the Colorado Rockies since 2016, but only Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa have more rWAR than him since then at the position. Story has been especially brilliant over the last three seasons as he's compiled a 122 OPS+, 83 homers, 65 steals and 14.2 rWAR.
Of course, the Coors Field effect makes it a challenge to rank Story among his peers. He's no different from the typical Rockie in that his offensive numbers take a hit on the road. And there isn't a solid counterweight for that, as he routinely overperforms his expected offensive output.
Still, it's obviously not Story's fault that the Rockies play where they do. And even if he's not the best, he'll remain one of baseball's best shortstops as long as he keeps the power, speed and, oh yeah, excellent defense coming in 2021.
2. Francisco Lindor, New York Mets
Key 2020 Stats: 60 G, 266 PA, 8 HR, 6 SB, .258 AVG, .335 OBP, .415 SLG, 102 OPS+
2020 WAR: 1.1
The New York Mets acquired arguably the best shortstop in baseball when they landed Francisco Lindor from Cleveland last month.
On the whole, Lindor's 28.7 rWAR is the most of any shortstop since 2015. He was an All-Star four times and a Gold Glover twice between 2016 and 2019, peaking in 2018 via a 132 OPS+, 38 home runs, 25 stolen bases and 7.8 rWAR.
So what happened in 2020? By at least one account, Lindor was distracted by his contract status. By his own account, it was "terrible" to have to play in fanless parks, per Zack Meisel of The Athletic.
Yet there was also a bad-luck element at play, as Lindor's walk and strikeout rates remained steady while his hard-hit percentage improved. So if he collects on some outstanding good luck while also enjoying his new scenery in 2021, he should return to his MVP-caliber form just in time to cash in on the open market.
1. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
Key 2020 Stats: 59 G, 257 PA, 17 HR, 11 SB, .277 AVG, .366 OBP, .571 SLG, 155 OPS+
2020 WAR: 2.8
The San Diego Padres will pay Fernando Tatis Jr. $340 million over the next 14 seasons for two fairly simple reasons: He's very young, and he's the best all-around shortstop in the business.
Tatis' offensive numbers through his first 143 games are simply astounding, as he's hit .301/.374/.582 with 39 home runs and 27 stolen bases. And he might have underperformed in 2020, wherein his average exit velocity, hard-hit rate and barrel rate were all in the 100th percentile.
As a rookie in 2019, Tatis dragged down his defensive metrics by bungling too many easy plays. That was no longer the case in 2020. He made only three errors all season, allowing his athleticism and his rocket arm to pave his way to a shortstop-high seven outs above average.
Because Tatis is still only 22, it's fair to assume he'll now look to improve other flaws such as his swing-and-miss tendency. But even as is, he's an unparalleled talent at shortstop and a clear MVP contender for 2021 and beyond.