Change-UpAugust 12, 2009
Shortstops Still Standing Out
By Patrick Sullivan

There is a shortstop playing for one of the Florida teams this season batting .336/.391/.541, heating up at the right time and overall posting one of the better offensive years by a player at his position in recent memory. Yes, Hanley Ramirez (.351/.413/.556) is having another banner year but the first sentence here applies to Tampa Bay Rays shortstop, Jason Bartlett.

The players manning Tampa Bay's middle infield represent two of this year's biggest surprises in Bartlett and Ben Zobrist. Coming into this season, Bartlett was a career .276/.337/.362 hitter more renowned for his clubhouse presence (2008 team MVP!!) and glove than for his contributions with the bat. Now he's OPS'ing over .900. And really, how much playing time would Zobrist even have seen if Akinori Iwamura did not go down?

But I want to focus on shortstops for the purposes of this article. I wrote at the beginning of the 2007 season how 2006 was just the sixth ever season in which four or more shortstops eclipsed the 120 OPS+ mark. For all of the talk of how A-Rod, Nomar, Jeter and Tejada represented the peak for shortstop productivity by posting banner season after banner season around the turn of the century, that era seems never to have gone away.

Since 1985, there have been 103 seasons of 110 OPS+ batting by MLB shortstops playing at least 90 games (a convenient cutoff given Bartlett's DL stint this year). 42 of those seasons occurred between 1985 and 1998, the first 14 of the 25 years I analyzed. From 1999 through 2009, in those eleven years there have been 61 shortstops eclipse the 110 OPS+ mark in a given season.

While their simultaneous emergence captivated baseball fans everywhere, Alex Rodriguez would eventually move to third base, Nomar Garciaparra would fall off badly and Derek Jeter began producing unspectacular but steady seasons. When Miguel Tejada regressed significantly in 2007 after three great seasons in Baltimore, it seemed the age of the high-producing offensive shortstop may have come to a close.

But now there is a new crop of shortstops, young and old, toiling in smaller markets and to much less fanfare than did Nomar and Jeter and A-Rod during their shortstop heyday. In fact, 2009 may well be the best season in baseball history for shortstop productivity. Sticking with the metric mentioned earlier, players posting 110 OPS+ and higher, only 2002 matches this season in terms of the amount of players besting the mark. In both years, seven shortstops accomplished the feat.


            AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS+
A-Rod      .308  .392  .623   158
Tejada     .308  .354  .508   128
Nomar      .310  .352  .528   127
Hernandez  .288  .356  .478   120
Cora       .291  .371  .434   119
Renteria   .305  .364  .439   113
Jeter      .297  .373  .421   111


            AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS+
HanRam     .351  .413  .556   154
Bartlett   .336  .391  .541   139
Tulo       .275  .360  .535   126
Jeter      .318  .387  .452   121
Escobar    .307  .374  .464   120
Scutaro    .295  .386  .441   118
Tejada     .323  .350  .463   115

A quick glance at both lists makes it pretty easy to explain why the 2009 group gets so much less publicity. The first group was still considered part of a revolutionary time in baseball, and it didn't hurt that they were largely either in huge baseball markets or playing for the best teams in the game. A-Rod, Nomar and Jeter were referred to as the Holy Trinity, Tejada came on later but grabbed headlines for the great Oakland A's teams of the turn of the century. Edgar Renteria played for St. Louis at the time, a great market with a large and attentive fanbase.

This season's group is a different story. Ramirez and Bartlett's teams have combined to draw less than the Yankees this year. Speaking of the Yankees, it seems like for once Jeter might be overlooked! Newcomers Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett are grabbing headlines as the Yankees cruise to their best season in a few years. Troy Tulowitzki is in Denver, Yunel Escobar in Atlanta, Miggy is now in Houston and the excitement directed towards Marco Scutaro at the beginning of the season seems to have faded with the hopes of the Blue Jays.

We are still in the middle of a golden era of shortstop productivity, perhaps even at the peak of it. If the Marlins and Rays make a big push and qualify for the post-season, it will have to be thanks in large part to their respective shortstops. If that happens, then maybe this crop of slugging glove-men will get their due.


Good article, but I would quibble with your classification of Jeter as "began producing unspectacular but steady seasons".

Other than 1999, his "MVP" year, Jeter is putting up the same seasons he has always put up. He might be the most consistent offensive player in baseball history. And yes, I realize his 2009 season is park-fueled.

Having typed this, I am concerned that this will turn into a Jeter conversation. This is not my intent--its a good post.

I think that's fair, Mark. I could have made that point better.

More importantly, I preferred the great shortstops of 10 years ago. Why? Because the Red Sox had one of them, that's why. :-(

More importantly, I preferred the great shortstops of 10 years ago. Why? Because the Red Sox had one of them, that's why. :-(

I hear ya, Mark. As a BoSox fan, every time I see Hanley's numbers I die a little inside.

Gotta love the Green/Woodward era, though! *cry*

Mark/Jake, yes all Sox fans wish we had a guy on that 2009 list, however Josh Beckett and his 3.10ERA and 14-4 record says hello. BTW so does Mike Lowell and his 2007 world series MVP and so far another productive year at the plate...and yes I know his fielding has fallen off a cliff.
It was a good trade at the time. HanRam was never that good in the minors, and we got a number one starter and a starting 3rd baseman. I'd call the trade a push.

Great post!

It's going to be interesting to see how the Yankees handle the Jeter situation.

Boston, Oakland, and Texas traded away their shortstops, probably not something the Yankees can do, but continuing to play Jeter is going to hurt them defensively.

Never said it was a bad trade. Our current shortstops just make me sad, that's all.

I know the modern media loves to break down trades, and most media members feel the need to declare "winners" and "losers", and I've never understood what's wrong with idea of a win-win trade.

I've argued since the day the Sox and Marlins made their trade that it was the ultimate win-win deal, and I feel that way now more than ever (not a "push", mind you...a deal that helped both teams, in different ways). The Sox wanted established, young pitching, a very valuable commodity, and the Marlins needed young players. So the Sox gave up some young players who haven't amounted to much, along with a potential Hall of Famer, and in return they got two vital championship components, including the pitcher who has been their ace ever since.

What I think people overlook the most is the potential effect of a non-deal. Ramirez was indeed coming off a down minor league season, and if he had remained in Boston his arrival might have been delayed by 1-3 seasons. Perhaps if he had continued to play in a system that focused on efficient basestealing and OBP, he never would have developed into the tremendous player we love at all! So for all the Sox fans out there, remember that we're all BASEBALL fans too, and while Sox fans would love to see Ramirez in a Boston uniform at least we all get to enjoy seeing him play his game (plus, we always have fantasy baseball).