2020 MLB Top Ten: Shortstops

Last week, we looked ahead at who the top ten third basemen would be next season, which is very tough, as there wasn’t enough room for former MVPs or All-Stars. Today, we’ll stick with the left side of the infield by looking at the top ten shortstops. Similarly to third base, this list has plenty of high-end players, and as a result, the players not on the list may be shocking. After all, there are about 15 players at the position that could be All-Stars this season, but due to that depth, I was forced to nitpick to compile a top ten that I could feel confident in. So, who will be the top ten shortstops this season? Let’s take a closer look.

Stats Used (Via Fangraphs and Baseball Savant):

wrc+= Weighted Runs Created Plus; 100 is league-average (Ex: A player with a 111 wrc+ is 11% better than league average offensively, while a player with a 93 wrc+ is 7% worse)

xwOBA= Expected Weighted On Base Average

xSLG= Expected Slugging Percentage

drs= Defensive Runs Saved

UZR= Ultimate Zone Rating

ISO= Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average)

OAA= Outs Above Average

WAR= I will be using Fangraphs’ WAR

Before we get to the top ten, let’s go over the players who barely missed the list:

  • Anderlton Simmons (LAA) has a legitimate Hall of Fame case as one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time, but as he dealt with injuries last season, he regressed on both sides of the ball, while his sprint speed was below-average for the first time in his career.
  • Jorge Polanco (MIN), Fernando Tatis Jr. (SD), and Gleyber Torres (NYY) all are tremendous young players, but their offense isn’t strong enough to make up for their well-below average defense.
  • Didi Gregorious (PHI) shouldn’t be punished for his poor season last year, as he returned much sooner than you’d expect from his Tommy John surgery, but based on his poor defense and batted ball data, I never saw him as a top-ten shortstop previously.
  • Nick Ahmed (ARI) is very underrated with his stellar defense, but he simply doesn’t hit well enough to complement it.
  • Bo Bichette (TOR) could make this list in the future, as he has a lot of potential, but defense remains an issue with him.

#10: Trea Turner, Washington Nationals

trea turner
Photo Cred: Bleacher Report

Age: 26

2019 Rank: 10

2018 Stats (162 Games): .271/.344/.416 105 wrc+ 2 drs 3.2 UZR 3 OAA 4.8 WAR

2019 Stats (122 Games): .298/.353/497 117 wrc+ -10 drs -7 UZR 4 OAA 3.5 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .284/.339/.449 106 wrc+ 1 drs 0 UZR 4 OAA 3.9 WAR

Coming off of a near 5-win season, the sky appeared to be the limit for Trea Turner, who still has five-tool potential. An early thumb injury caused him to only play in 122 games, but nevertheless, the 26-year-old had another strong season. Now, Turner doesn’t particularly excel in any category, outside of sprint speed (30.4 ft/sc), which is why for the second season in a row, he only ranks tenth on this list. Still, a lack of a weakness may be his biggest strength, as he’s proven himself to be both a slightly above-average hitter and defender. He hasn’t done so on a consistent basis yet, but Turner’s speed makes me believe he can overachieve his expected statistics, as he did this season, so he’s better than whatever his statcast numbers will look like. As for his defensive metrics, he suddenly was below-average in terms of drs and UZR, yet his OAA has remained stable, and because of that, I’ll trust that his defense didn’t suddenly fall off a cliff. Turner isn’t a superstar by any means, but he’s proven himself to be a reliable contributor, and was a key part of the Nationals’ World Series championship team last season. With three years left of club control, he and Juan Soto will continue to provide Washington with a strong base at the front of their lineup.

#9: Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves

Divisional Series - Atlanta Braves v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three
Photo Cred: Tomahawk Take

Age: 25

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats (136 Games): .238/.304/.395 80 wrc+ 10 drs 5.3 UZR 4 OAA 1.9 WAR

2019 Stats (122 Games): .251/.325/.422 92 wrc+ -3 drs -6.4 UZR 3 OAA 1.5 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .265/.339/.438 101 wrc+ 7 drs 3.9 UZR 4 OAA 3.3 WAR

This will undoubtedly be the most shocking ranking on this list; Dansby Swanson barely has a higher career WAR than Turner had last season alone, yet ranks ahead of him and other talented players on the list. Yes, it’s true that he hasn’t gotten off to a hot start at the major-league level, as in his first three full seasons, he’s posted just a combined 3.2 WAR. Yet, he’s a former first-overall pick, is just 25-years-old, and although his overall statistics don’t reflect it, he really turned a corner last season. The gap between Swanson’s wOBA and xwOBA (.317/.347), as well as his slugging percentage and xSLG (.422/.480) is enormous, and he clearly was one of the most unlucky hitters in the MLB last season. Therefore, he didn’t get the credit he deserved for improving his plate discipline and launch angle, as well as increasing his hard-hit rate (41.6%). Plus, he was thriving with a 108 wrc+ in the first half, but as he dealt with a right heel injury, had just a 56 wrc+ in the second half as his power (.049 ISO) disappeared. So not only was Swanson unlucky as it is, but assuming he’s healthy this season, his production should also be boosted by that; he should have his season as an above-average hitter this season. Regarding his defense, the Vanderbilt product saw his defensive metrics randomly decline, similarly to Turner, but since his OAA remained stable, I’ll once again base my analysis of his defense on that. The Braves have a lot of star players, but Swanson may be the true X-Factor- if he really can become the player that many anticipated he’d be, then they may truly be able to run the table in the NL East for the third straight season.

#8: Paul DeJong, St.Louis Cardinals

DeJong
Photo Cred: CBS Sports

Age: 26

2019 Rank: 8

2018 Stats (115 Games): .241/.313/.433 103 wrc+ 14 drs 7.1 UZR -5 OAA 3.3 WAR

2019 Stats (159 Games): .233/.318/.444 100 wrc+ 14 drs 11.4 UZR 13 OAA 4.1 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .238/.323/.443 101 wrc+ 12 drs 10.1 UZR 10 OAA 4 WAR

After signing him to a six-year extension with two club options that could have him in St.Louis through the 2025 season, the Cardinals were hoping that Paul DeJong could blossom into a superstar player. After improving his defense dramatically in 2018, all he needed was an offensive breakthrough to make good on that, and with a 163 wrc+ through the first month, he generated a lot of optimism about his development. However, he was a lackluster offensive performer throughout the season, and as a result, he was simply an average hitter. On the bright side, his plate discipline was better but for whatever reason, his hard-hit rate (34%) was significantly worse than the season prior, which certainly hurt his offensive numbers. Now, luckily for DeJong, his defense by every metric is tremendous, so even if he’s an average hitter, he’ll be a 4-WAR player for years to come. That’s a slight step back from the star potential he flashed early on, yet he’s certainly a player the Cardinals can build around, and who knows, maybe he can start hitting the ball hard again?

#7: Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs

baez
Photo Cred: ESPN

Age: 27

2019 Rank: 7

2018 Stats (160 Games)*: .290/.326/.554 131 wrc+ 3 drs -0.5 UZR 1 OAA 5.3 WAR

2019 Stats (138 Games): .281/.316/.531 114 wrc+ 15 drs 10 UZR 19 OAA 4.4 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .277/.312/.516 112 wrc+ 14 drs 8 UZR 21 OAA 4.5 WAR

*Only Played 462.2 Innings at SS

With his aggressive and flashy style of play, Javier Baez is one of the most popular players in the MLB, and is usually regarded as a superstar. Yet, on a purely objective basis, his red flags will always prevent him from ever being a star. It all starts with his plate discipline, which may be the worst in the MLB; his 5% walk rate, 27.8% strikeout rate, and 43.5% chase rate are all putrid. Even more concerning, the 27-year-old has not made any efforts to improve those numbers, which causes him to rely on a lot of luck to post high enough batting averages to compensate for that. That makes his offense very volatile, and as we saw by his offensive regression this season, he can’t sustain the luck he had in his strong 2018 season on a consistent basis. Still, there is a reason Baez is a mid-4-win player, and that’s a result of his elite defense. He rated near the top of the league in every defensive metric, clearly passes the eye test, and showed why he was always meant to be a shortstop- he was much better moving to his left. With a 3.3 projected WAR from Steamer, there is a chance Baez could once again suffer serious regression next season. I tend to think his stellar defense will compensate for his murky offensive reliability, but nevertheless, he clearly isn’t a top-tier shortstop.

#6: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

seager
Photo Cred: Dodger Blue

Age: 25

2019 Rank: 3

2018 Stats (26 Games): .267/.348/.396 106 wrc+ -2 drs -0.8 UZR -1 OAA 0.5 WAR

2019 Stats (134 Games): .272/.335/.483 113 wrc+ 9 drs -1.5 UZR 5 OAA 3.3 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .278/.341/.471 114 wrc+ 9 drs -1.2 UZR 4 OAA 4.2 WAR

After posting back-to-back seasons with a 6 WAR, Corey Seager was not only considered the best shortstop in the MLB, but one of the game’s rising superstars. Unfortunately for him, he had to undergo Tommy John surgery after playing in just 26 games in 2018, and wasn’t the same in 2019. All of a sudden, his stock has disintegrated, and he’s become the forgotten man on a Dodgers team that will continue to run the National League for years to come. Now, he wasn’t bad by any means, posting a 3.3 WAR with terrific defense and above-average offense, yet that’s still a far cry from his previous production. Therefore, the question isn’t if he can be an impact contributor, but rather if he can be an MVP-caliber player. Strangely, I can’t find any major difference between his peripheral numbers last season and pre-2018, though perhaps that’s the problem, as this was a very offensive-friendly season. In the end, I’m essentially betting on Seager’s talent by ranking him ahead of very talented players, but when you’re as dominant as he was before the surgery, I can’t ignore that. Hopefully, the 25-year-old will go back to producing at an illustrious level, and if he does, how could the Dodgers not dominate the National League?

#5: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros
Photo Cred: CBS Sports

Age: 25

2019 Rank: 4

2018 Stats (110 Games): .239/.323/.405 100 wrc+ -4 drs -4.5 UZR 13 OAA 1.6 WAR

2019 Stats (75 Games): .279/.358/.568 143 wrc+ 1 drs 0.1 UZR 9 OAA 3.2 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .289/.368/.547 141 wrc+ 2 drs -1.4 UZR 10 OAA 5.4 WAR

If this ranking was on sheer talent alone, Carlos Correa may rank #1 on this list. However, when projecting for next season, I have to take into account how many games I can count on a player to play in, and for the 25-year-old, that has remained a consistent issue. In the past three seasons, he’s played in 110 games or fewer due to a variety of injuries, and although I don’t believe in the “injury-prone” label, that’s a large enough sample size to be able to have serious questions about his durability. That’s very regrettable- he truly is a terrific all-around player. His offensive production was severely hampered by a back injury last season, which destroyed his power, but this season, he got back to his usual ways. In fact, his .391 xwOBA and .559 xSLG were the highest for any player on this list, and when you combine that with well-above-average defense, you have an MVP contender if he can play 150 games. Nevertheless, I don’t foresee him playing more than 120 games, and on a list as talented as this one, that drops him down a spot from last season. If all these players were guaranteed to be at full health, then Correa would easily be my pick. In the real-life world, however, durability matters- there is a reason that he’s the one player on the Astros’ core that the team has not made any effort to sign to an extension.

#4: Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

story
Photo Cred: CBS Sports

Age: 27

2019 Rank: 5

2018 Stats (157 Games): .291/.348/.567 128 wrc+ 1 drs -2.2 UZR -1 OAA 5.1 WAR

2019 Stats (145 Games): .294/.363/.554 121 wrc+ 17 drs 8.6 UZR 15 OAA 5.8 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .272/.341/.505 116 wrc+ 13 drs 4.7 UZR 12 OAA 5 WAR

With Nolan Arenado trade rumors continuing to circulate, there’s a chance the Rockies will be without their franchise superstar when the season starts. Luckily for them, the player who plays right next to Arenado on the left side of the infield has blossomed into a story, and that’s Trevor Story. The 27-year-old has had a pretty strange career so far, as he burst onto the scene as an elite power threat in 2016, went on to post an 82 wrc+ in 2017, and now in each of the past two seasons, has posted of WAR of at least 5.1. For Story, the main improvement he has made over the past two seasons is lowering his strikeout rate; at 26.5%, it’s not ideal, but it’s much better than the 34.4% strikeout rate he had in 2017. Plus, he’s also hitting the ball extremely hard (45.8% hard-hit rate), and easily has the most power out of any player on this list. Now, as with every Rockie player, we have to examine the legitimacy of Story’s production, and to that end, there are some red flags. Not only has he significantly exceeded the amount of production that his expected statistics would indicate he should have, but his 98 road wrc+ is also alarming, as is his .378 BABIP at home. I’m not bringing that up to diminish what Story has done; had he been doing this for a different team, perhaps he’d rank in the top two. His combination of defense (15 OAA) and power is elite, and as long as he’s in Colorado, he’s a shoo-in to post a 5 WAR. Still, I can’t put him ahead of the top three players on this list, who’ve been just as productive in lesser situations.

#3: Marcus Semien, Oakland A’s

semien
Photo Cred: Beyond The Box Score

Age: 29

2019 Rank: N/A

2018 Stats (159 Games): .255/.318/.388 96 wrc+ 9 drs 8.3 UZR -3 OAA 3.8 WAR

2019 Stats (162 Games): .285/.369/.522 137 wrc+ 5 drs 6.7 UZR -4 OAA 7.6 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .266/.350/.455 116 wrc+ 5 drs 7.1 UZR -3 OAA 4.8 WAR

As we mentioned with Correa, durability is an important trait, and cannot be overlooked. By missing just three games in the last two seasons, Marcus Semien has definitely showcased that ability for the A’s, and has been a huge part of a team that has won 97 games in each of the last two seasons. Plus, not only has Semien been reliable, but after years of incremental improvements, he put it all together last season. His 7.6 WAR earned him a third-place finish in the AL MVP voting, and his value goes beyond that. The 29-year-old made drastic improvements to his plate discipline (11.6% walk rate, 13.7% strikeout rate), which allowed him to post a much higher on-base percentage, and though the juiced ball may have something to do with his power surge, he also hit the ball much harder (41.9%). At this point, Semien has certified himself as an above-average hitter, and by drs and UZR, looks like a defensive stud as well. Unfortunately for him, Baseball Savant’s recently released OAA pegs him as a negatively-graded defender, so he’s probably average defensively at shortstop. Still, that’s more than acceptable given his durability and offensive production; he doesn’t have the upside that Correa, Seager, and Story have, but he’s the one player I know I can count on. Heading into a contract year, he’ll look to replicate his success en route to a major payday.

#2: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

xander
Photo Cred: Bleacher Report

Age: 27

2019 Rank: 2

2018 Stats (136 Games): .288/.360/.522 133 wrc+ -19 drs 1.1 UZR 2 OAA 4.9 WAR

2019 Stats (155 Games): .309/.384/.555 141 wrc+ -21 drs 1.1 UZR -3 OAA 6.8 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .288/.363/.506 123 wrc+ -17 drs 1.5 UZR 0 OAA 5.2 WAR

Though Mookie Betts was the star that Red Sox fans wanted to be extended, former general manager Dave Dombrowski chose to lock up a different young star, signing Xander Boegarts to a six-year, $120 million deal. At the time, it looked like an awfully large amount of guaranteed money for a good, not great player, and with the way the 2018 offseason went, it wasn’t a shock to see Bogaerts bypass being a free agent. Right now? The 27-year-old almost certainly wishes he could have a do-over. Had he been a free agent right now, there’s no doubt in my mind that Boegarts would have received over $200 million, especially after he posted a career-high 6.8 WAR and 141 wrc+ in 2019. Mainly, the Dutch shortstop has continued to slowly improve his plate discipline, and continues to hit the ball in the air at a higher rate. Furthermore, even though his drs is terrible, both UZR and OAA peg him as about an average defender at shortstop, which is more than acceptable considering the elite offensive production he continues to bring to the table. At this point, he appears to be capable of consistently posting better numbers than his Statcast profile would indicate, and of all the players on this list, he’s probably the most consistent. The fact that he probably peaked in 2019 makes me slightly favor the #1 player on this list, but with another terrific season, perhaps he can be an even greater threat for the top spot on this list.

#1: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians

lindor
Photo Cred: CBS Sports

Age: 26

2019 Rank: 1

2018 Stats (158 Games): .277/.352/.519 130 wrc+ 14 drs 14.1 UZR 12 OAA 7.6 WAR

2019 Stats (143 Games): .284/.335/.518 114 wrc+ 9 drs 6.4 UZR 11 OAA 4.4 WAR

2020 Projected Stats: .283/.344/.505 118 wrc+ 13 drs 12.8 UZR 14 OAA 5.9 WAR

Earlier in the offseason, Francisco Lindor was discussed heavily in trade rumors, and at some point, the Indians will trade him during his two seasons remaining of club control. They know that he’s going to earn $300-$400 million on the open market once he’s a free agent, and rightfully so- he’s a superstar. The 26-year-old wasn’t right last year and didn’t make his debut until late April due to multiple injuries, but still was able to muster together a 4.4 WAR, which was disappointing, but definitely not terrible. Regression with his walk rate (7%), launch angle (11.9 degrees), and chase rate (35.4%) are all certainly alarming, and cannot be blamed simply on the injury. However, what can be blamed on the injury is his inability to hit for more power (.234 ISO) despite maintaining a hard contact rate in the 40% range, and the same goes for a slight decrease in sprint speed (27.5 ft/sec); it’s impossible to not expect some sort of improvement if he’s fully healthy. When it’s all said and done, he’s a 120 wrc+ type of hitter, and when you combine that with simply stellar defense all-around, then you have a six-win player. Putting Lindor ahead of Boegarts and others on this list requires trusting his talent, but considering he posted a 7.6 WAR in the previous season, that feels like a very smart gamble. Whether he’s an Indian for the full season or not, I’m expecting a bounceback season for “Mr. Smile”.

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