The Six-Hole: Great futility by O's shortstops

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via www.qualitycards.com

There has been much (very deserved) talk this season about the totally inept players the O's have run out to the shortstop position. Currently, veteran Alex Cintron is occupying the spot, with Trembley and Co. threatening to recall Brandon Fahey from Norfolk, which is just terrible, terrible, terrible news. I assume it has something to do with his positional flexibility, mythical or not.

Fahey will play shortstop, second base, third base, left field, and has volunteered in the past to serve as an emergency catcher, so I suppose that does make him a shortstop, second baseman, third baseman, left fielder, and emergency catcher. And I also suppose if you sent him into a space a few times, that'd make him an astronaut. But other than that, he is no more a major league shortstop, second baseman, third baseman or left fielder than he is an astronaut. (tip of the cap to Bill James and those that spotted the reference, and a virtual high-five of sorts to those that know the former Oriole who was the subject of the original James joke)

For this, we have to ignore defensive ability, and to be perfectly and brutally honest, knowing what we do now about the values of hitting and fielding to the overall outcome of the game (and there is still much to learn, yes), it is rather hard to defend Mark Belanger as a very good player no matter how great his glove was. He had a couple years where he was around league average offensively, but most of the time he was terrible. He was a Gold Glove guy to be sure, but give me a competent fielder that can hit.

Let's take a look at what The Big Three did this year before Cintron thankfully was awarded the job. You can't say he won it, only that everyone else lost the hell out of it.

Player Year AB AVG OBP SLG adj OPS+
Freddie Bynum 2008 99 .192 .238 .242 30
Brandon Fahey 2008 25 .200 .231 .240 27
Luis Hernandez 2008 79 .241 .295 .253 50

Not a pretty picture! But despite the fact that the Orioles do have a rich history of shortstops, including two Hall of Famers (Ripken and Aparicio), the truth is that some of the bigger and better names are about to pop up on the next list: all-time crappy Oriole shortstop seasons.

Player Year AB AVG OBP SLG adj OPS+
Billy Hunter 1954 411 .243 .281 .304 66
Willy Miranda 1955 487 .255 .313 .310 74
Willy Miranda 1956 461 .217 .287 .282 57
Luis Aparicio 1967 546 .233 .270 .313 72
Mark Belanger 1968 472 .208 .272 .248 58
Mark Belanger 1970 459 .218 .303 .259 56
Mark Belanger 1973 470 .226 .302 .262 61
Mark Belanger 1975 442 .226 .286 .276 64
Mark Belanger 1977 402 .206 .287 .274 58
Mike Bordick 1997 509 .236 .283 .318 59
Deivi Cruz 2003 548 .250 .269 .378 69

Notes:
1957: Miranda (314 AB) was at 30
1958: Miranda (214 AB) was at 40; Foster Castleman (200 AB) was at 37
1959: Chico Carrasquel (346 AB) was at 64; Billy Klaus (321 AB) was at 86; Miranda (88 AB) came in at 22

Conclusion: Willy (or Willie, depending on the listing) Miranda was f-ing terrible.

Past Ripken and the contemporary Miguel Tejada, the best shortstops in O's history (post-STL Browns) are largely considered to be Belanger, Aparicio and Bordick. All three were glove men who generally carried a weak stick. Aparicio would be ridiculed as a leadoff hitter in today's game -- if there were blogs in Luis' heyday and the same statistical understanding we now have, he'd be Adam Everett. Simply put, if the game were the same then as it is now, Aparicio would never have even sniffed the Hall of Fame. He was not a bad player; he could run and he could field like crazy. But Hall of Fame? No disrespect meant to Mr. Aparicio, but his credentials are fairly shaky.

Belanger was the heir to Aparicio, and was simply a taller, caucasian version most of the time. That and he didn't steal a whole lot of bases. And he had a lot more truly awful seasons at the plate. Bordick had one freaky good year with a 113 OPS+ (2000), which is how we wound up with Melvin Mora. Thanks again, Mike!

Just so this isn't all gloomy (if you choose to take it that way, anyway), here are the ten best offensive seasons by OPS+ in O's shortstop history. It's a pretty exclusive list.

Player Year AB AVG OBP SLG adj OPS+
Cal Ripken Jr. 1991 650 .323 .374 .566 162
Cal Ripken Jr. 1984 641 .304 .374 .510 145
Cal Ripken Jr. 1983 663 .318 .371 .517 144
Miguel Tejada 2004 653 .311 .360 .534 131
Cal Ripken Jr. 1988 575 .264 .372 .431 128
Miguel Tejada 2005 654 .304 .349 .515 128
Miguel Tejada 2006 648 .330 .379 .498 126
Cal Ripken Jr. 1985 642 .282 .347 .469 124
Cal Ripken Jr. 1986 627 .282 .355 .461 122
Cal Ripken Jr. 1982* 598 .264 .317 .475 115

* Ripken played 94 games (813 innings) at SS in 1982, and 71 games (604 innings) at third base

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