Change-UpMay 04, 2007
Year of the Shortstop?
By Patrick Sullivan

Last Thursday David Pinto posted a note on his Baseball Musings site about the quality of offensive output coming from shortstops in the National League East. He concluded the post with this question referring to Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez:

So is this the Nomar/Jeter/A-Rod trio of this generation?

They may be, but the truth is that the extraordinary production from shortstops extends well beyond the National League East in 2007. Thanks to the getting-ridiculously-more-awesome-by-the-day Baseball Reference and its fantastic new Play Index tool (subscribe if you have not yet), I was able to put into historical context just how fantastic this year's crop of shortstops have been.

Thanks to the Play Index, I was able to look back over time at those seasons that stood out in terms of quality shortstop offensive play. I looked for seasons in which multiple shortstops posted an OPS+ of 120 or better. For historical analyses of this sort, OPS+ does the trick because it adjusts for both ballpark and competitive environment. I chose "120" because it seems like a nice, round number and 20% above league average for a shortstop is one heck of a good season.

A shortstop with at least 502 plate appearences has posted an OPS+ of 120 or better only 147 times since 1901. There have only been six seasons in which four shortstops posted an OPS+ of 120 or better, and only one of those came before 1998. Never have five shortstops accomplished the feat.


Player          OPS+
Robin Yount     151
Cal Ripken      144
Alan Trammell   138
Dickie Thon     126


Player              OPS+
Nomar Garciaparra   142
Alex Rodriguez      135
Barry Larkin        134
Derek Jeter         126


Player              OPS+
Alex Rodriguez      152
Nomar Garciaparra   132
Miguel Tejada       122
Jose Hernandez      121


Player              OPS+
Alex Rodriguez      148
Edgar Renteria      131
Derek Jeter         127
Nomar Garciaparra   121


Player              OPS+
Jhonny Peralta      139
Michael Young       133
Miguel Tejada       133
Derek Jeter         121


Player              OPS+
Derek Jeter         138
Carlos Guillen      137
Miguel Tejada       126
Bill Hall           126

So there you have it, every season in which four shortstops have notched an OPS+ of 120 or better in the history of baseball. But given expansion, are these even the most impressive seasons for shortstops? In 1983, there were 26 available Major League starting shortsop jobs and from 1998 on, there were 30. How about in the pre-expansion years? Were there ever three shortstops in a 16-team league that pulled it off, because that would be a greater percentage than four out of 26 or 30?

The answer is yes. Buoyed by some of the greatest shortstops in the game's history, there are three distinct eras where we see three shortstops getting to 120 or better on multiple occasions. We will group them into the Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughn and Lou Boudreau eras while also showing the two outlier seasons in which it took place.

The Wagner Era

1901: 3 (Bobby Wallace- 136, George Davis- 130, Kid Elberfield- 124)
1903: 3 (Wagner- 161, Freddy Parent- 124, Elberfield- 121)
1906: 3 (Wagner- 168, Terry Turner- 123, George Davis- 120)

Note: Wagner played a lot of outfield and third base in 1901 but did manage a 160 OPS+. From 1899 to 1912, 134 was Wagner's lowest OPS+ season.

The Vaughn Era

1933: 3 (Arky Vaughn- 146, Joe Cronin- 124, Luke Appling- 121)
1940: 3 (Vaughn- 134, Cronin- 123, Appling- 123)

Note: Save 1939 when Vaughn put up a 119 OPS+, Vaughn bested the 130 mark in each year from 1933 to 1940.

The Boudreau Era

1943: 3 (Vern Stephens- 142, Appling- 142, Lou Boudreau- 133)
1947: 3 (Boudreau- 128, Appling- 125, Pee Wee Reese- 120)
1949: 3 (Stephens- 138, Eddie Joost- 137, Appling- 124)

Note: In fairness to Luke Appling, the eras are broken out as they are as much because they fit neatly with respect to chronology as they are because of the respective greatness of Wagner, Vaughn and Boudreau. As you can see, Appling's career spanned both Vaughn's and Boudreau's, he was a consistently excellent performer and a most deserving Hall of Famer.

The Outliers

1956: 3 (Ernie Banks- 137, Gil McDougald- 127, Harvey Kuenn- 126)
1964 (20 teams): 3 (Jim Fregosi- 141, Denis Menke- 136, Eddie Bressoud- 125)

Lest you start to believe that 120 OPS+ seasons are run of the mill for shortstops, consider that from 1970 to 1981, there were three total years in which shortstops reached that mark. And all of this brings us to 2007. I am mindful of all of the necessary caveats. We're barely a month in and I am just about positive that the OPS+ leaderboard for shortstops will look a lot different at the end of the season than it does now. Still, we may be in for a season of historic shortstop productivity in 2007. Check out your current list of shortstops with an OPS+ of 120 or better:

Player               OPS+
Jose Reyes           169
Hanley Ramirez       165
Jimmy Rollins        157
J.J. Hardy           143
Edgar Renteria       142
Derek Jeter          140
Carlos Guillen       138
Jhonny Peralta       138
Miguel Tejada        133
Alex Gonzalez        127

Now, Alex Gonzalez will not end the year on this list, and it is likely that a few others drop out as well but it looks to me like we may be in for something special in 2007.

Athletes are bigger, stonger and faster than they have ever been. Seven footers can make three point shots and take defenders off the dribble in basketball and 275-pound linebackers can move laterally quickly enough to flag down even the speediest running backs. So why shouldn't a shortstop be able to hit in this day and age?

Cal Ripken was the first of the bigger-stronger-faster types and when Nomar, A-Rod and Jeter emerged more or less simultaneously, it was believed that the revolution was upon us. Maybe it was, but it is being taken to a whole new level in 2007.


Maybe the year of the middle infielder? It seems like there are literally a ton of 2B having breakout years. Ones I can name off the top of my head are Ian Kinsler, Orlando Hudson, BJ Upton, Kelly Johnson, and Aaron Hill. This is in addition to guys you'd expect like Chase Utley and Jeff Kent. In all, 9 qualifying 2nd baseman are over OPS+ 120, and there's still time for guys like Robinson Cano and Howie Kendrick to join that group. Is the data for 2nd baseman similar, or is it less uncommon for there to be 4 or 5 really good hitting second baseman in a season?

Would be fun to look at, Richard. Pinto sparked my interest for the SS's and I did not look at the 2B's.

Great article, Sully. It looks like the days of Ray Oyler, Dal Maxvill, Booby Wine and Enzo Hernandez are over.

It seems like there are literally a ton of 2B having breakout years.

Literally a ton, eh? So, assuming that a major league second baseman weighs about 200 lbs, that would be ten, right? Okay, looking at OPS for second basemen . . . well, there are fourteen with OPSes over .780, which is really remarkable. I'm not sure these would all be called "breakouts", because a lot of these guys are established stars, so, removing the likes of Jeff Kent and Marcus Giles, that leaves us with:

BJ Upton
Kelly Johnson
Ian Kinsler
Orlando Hudson
Aaron Hill
Rickie Weeks
Jose Lopez

All performing at levels above and beyond previous indications. Seven. Well, given that the average major-leaguer probably weighs in at something more than two hundred pounds, we may be getting close to a ton. Literally.

A couple of others who have had numerous outstanding years offensively and defensively are Alan Trammell and Barry Larkin, two borderline HOF candidates.