Back in March I declared that J.J. Hardy was the best shortstop in the American League East. The good news is that I was right! So far, at least. If you rank the A.L. East shortstops by WAR, J.J. Hardy is tops in the American League East and third in the American League. The bad news is that Hardy has been a disappointment offensively, and his rank at the top of the AL East seems to be mostly a function of the rest of the shortstops in the division being pretty bad.
Despite missing time with back spasms early in the year, Hardy has played the most game of the projected starting five going into the season (the other four being Derek Jeter, Xander Bogaerts, Yunel Escobar, and Jose Reyes). Four of the five are still in place, with only Bogaerts moving to another position. Here is a look at those five players and their stats so far in 2014:
Stats at SS (WAR includes all positions)
Orioles - J.J Hardy - 86 G, 770.2 innings; Ryan Flaherty - 12 G, 77.2 innings
Hardy may be a little disappointing to Orioles fans this year due to his lack of power, but his ever steady defense is what keeps him at the top of the pack. Despite a below average bat through the first half of the 2014 season, Hardy is on pace for a 3 WAR season. That's pretty valuable, and he's actually following his pattern since coming to the Orioles of having an on year, then off year for offense. It's just more glaring this year because he's only hit three home runs. J.J. had a short period a few weeks ago when he looked shaky on defense, but that's in the rear view mirror and he's been back to being the impressive defensive shortstop that we're used to.
If Ryan Flaherty has a saving grace, it is that he is capable of playing shortstop in the event he's needed. He's even played it without embarrassing himself, looking steady to the eye and racking up a +2 DRS. But an emergency guy is all he is.
Blue Jays - Jose Reyes - 78 G, 679 innings; Ryan Goins - 10 G, 67 innings; Jonathan Diaz -13 G, 93.1 innings;Munenori Kawasaki - 2 G, 3 innings
I said before the season started, the big question mark for Reyes is if he can stay healthy. Though he's no longer the base stealing threat that he was earlier in his career, his bat more than carries him at the position. This year he missed about two weeks early in the year, but has been healthy since. The only thing keeping him from being the best shortstop in the division so far this year is his defense, which has never been considered great. He'll have to hit a lot better if he wants to overcome that and match Hardy's value.
Those other guys held down the fort for Reyes when he was injured, but none of them contributed any value. If Reyes sustains any injuries in the second half that keep him out of the lineup for an extended period, the Blue Jays will really be in trouble. (Same could be said for Hardy, I suppose)
Yankees - Derek Jeter - 79 G, 687.1 innings; Brendan Ryan - 15 G, 96.1 innings; Dean Anna - 9 G, 49 innings; Yangervis Solarte - 5 G, 15 innings
Say, have you heard that Derek Jeter is retiring? Perhaps you may have caught wind of it somewhere. Never an outstanding defensive shortstop, Jeter is now 40 years old. That doesn't help his cause. And he no longer has his bat to make up for his subpar defensive skills, which is making for a pretty uninspiring last season for him. But before you get on him too much, keep in mind that he and Hardy are hitting similarly this year.
Ryan is supposed to be a defensive specialist, but he hasn't been very special this year with a -1 DRS. That's not really fair to him, though, since he's barely played. I still think he's a good defensive SS. But he'll never hit enough to be a regular player, which is why I'm terrified the Yankees are going to sign Hardy next year.
One time Dean Anna pitched an inning for the Yankees! He gave up two runs. Now he plays at AAA for the Pirates.
Red Sox - Xander Bogaerts - 54 G, 483.1 innings; Stephen Drew - 28 G, 243.2; Jonathan Herrera - 16 G, 120 innings; Brock Holt - 2 G, 16 innings
The left side of the Red Sox infield has been a giant mess, to put it frankly. They went into the season expecting Bogaerts to play shortstop with Will Middlebrooks at third base, but that didn't go as planned. First Middlebrooks was terrible, and now he's injured. Bogaerts hit very well at shortstop but was all over the place defensively. When Middlebrooks went down, Bogaerts moved to third base, where he has been terrible both offensively and defensively.
At first Jonathan Herrera got the starts at shortstop, but he just can't hit. So the Red Sox then re-signed the previously spurned Stephen Drew to man shortstop. Drew has been run-of-the-mill defensively so far, but his hitting is putrid. It just stinks. I guess it's tough to miss almost a half of a season.
Rays - Yunel Escobar - 79 G, 691.2 innings; Ben Zobrist - 22 G, 169.1 innings; Sean Rodriguez - 1 G, 9 innings
Escobar recently missed two weeks on the disabled list, during which Zobrist moved over from second base to play shortstop. Escobar hasn't had an OPS+ over 100 since 2011, but his numbers so far this year have dropped even from 2013. Even worse has been his defense. He's at an eye-popping -15 DRS, which is pretty awful. I don't think Escobar is a bad fielder, but he hasn't been making the plays so far this year at any rate. If he stays healthy for the second half I would expect that number to improve.
Zobrist is good, because of course he is. But when he has to move to shortstop, that leaves people like Logan Forsythe to play second base, which definitely hurts the team overall.
Overall the shortstops of the A.L. East aren't the most impressive bunch you've ever seen. That seems to be par for the course this season, as Mark ran into the same thing with his catchers evaluation.But even with Hardy's troubles at the plate this year, he's the best of the bunch and a valuable guy to have on the team. So just cross your fingers that he finds that power stroke after the All Star break. Then he'll really mop the floor with these guys.