We continue our series comparing the A.L. East positions today with a look at shortstop. I have ranked each player by who I think will be best in 2014 and I have to say, it's a lot more fun writing up these comparisons now that the Orioles have good players. Take a look at my ranking and tell me what you think. Am I right on? Total off base? Blinded by my love for J.J. Hardy?
1. J.J. Hardy - Baltimore Orioles
Am I homer? Quite possibly. The shortstop position in the A.L. East has a lot of good names. If I were picking a complete career to have on the Orioles at this position, I'd go with Derek Jeter and probably Jose Reyes. If I were picking a shortstop to have from this moment going forward, I'd take Xander Bogaerts. But for 2014 alone, I find it tough to go with anyone other than our own James Jerry.
Over the past three seasons with the Orioles, Hardy has hit a total of 77 home runs, by far the most of any shortstop in that same time span. Even Troy Tulowitzki only hit 63. Of course, the flip side to that is that he hit all of those bombs while maintaining a disappointing .298 OBP. The combination make him basically a league average bat, although getting power from his position is certainly a bonus.
The thing that makes Hardy one of the best shortstops in baseball is that, combined with his power numbers at the plate, he is an outstanding defender. FanGraphs ranks him as the third-best A.L. defensive shortstop in 2013, and over the last three seasons he ranks first. He has good range, sure hands, and a strong and accurate arm. When the game is on the line, he is the guy you want the ball hit to (well, him or Manny Machado). ZiPS agrees with me that he should be the best shortstop in the A.L. East in 2014, projecting him to be worth 3.4 WAR.
2. Jose Reyes - Toronto Blue Jays
There are some days when I might rank Jose Reyes as the top shortstop in the A.L. East. I consider myself a Reyes fan, and there is no denying that when he is good, he is very, very good. He has been playing in the majors for eleven seasons already and he won't be 31 years old until June. Even last year, when he was on the field, Reyes was pretty good. But the key point is that he has a lot of trouble staying on the field.
Since 2009, Reyes has managed to stay healthy for an entire season exactly once. He was struck with injury again last year, his first season with the Blue Jays. He got off to a quick start for the Jays but suffered a high ankle sprain the took him out of commission for 66 games. He returned in June and played 83 games over the rest of the season. He wasn't bad, but he wasn't the Reyes the Jays thought they were getting. His power was down some and one of his major assets, his ability to steal bases, just wasn't there.
There's no reason to think that Reyes isn't fully healed after having an offseason to recover and strengthen his ankle, and if he is and can stay healthy for the the full year, I think he could easily be the best shortstop in the A.L. East.
3. Yunel Escobar - Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays have no issue with taking on players with character issues, and Escobar is no exception. He is far from an offensive powerhouse, but at shortstop he doesn't need to be. He has slugged just .374 over the past three seasons, but he generally gets on base at a decent, although not outstanding, clip.
Both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference ranked his 2013 WAR over 3 (3.3 bWAR and 3.9 fWAR), and that was on the strength of his defense as he showed himself to be about league average at the plate. His UZR/150 of 12.2 was far beyond any other single season mark in his career (the next highest being 5), so there is reason to think he could regress defensively in 2014.
With a bat that rarely reaches league-average territory, Escobar is reliant on his defense for much of his value. He's been a good addition to the Rays so far, and he'll likely be a solid, but not extremely valuable part of their team in 2014. I'm just glad he's not an Orioles, because rooting for a guy who puts homophobic slurs in his eye black is not something I'm capable of doing.
4. Xander Bogaerts - Boston Red Sox
|2013 - MLB||18||2||1||.250/.320/.364||0.303||86|
|2013 - AAA||69||11||9||.284/.369/.453||0.374||133|
|2013 - AA||56||12||6||.311/.407/.502||0.409||153|
I don't know where I should rank Xander Bogaerts, honestly. He is one of the best prospects in baseball, ranked #2 by Keith Law going into this season. He's had killer numbers in the minors, and he is being given the starting shortstop job in Boston with just 18 games of MLB experience. Part of me says that he'll be young and inexperienced and, even if he has a long and successful career ahead of him, it's very possible that success won't happen in 2014. But on the other hand, for a team like the Red Sox to think he's ready for the job, he must be very special.
Keith Law says about him: "Bogaerts has explosive potential as a hitter, as the ball comes off his bat exceptionally well, and the fact he sees the ball so well and makes good decisions as a hitter bodes well for his ability to adjust to major league pitching." and that he could be a player similar to Troy Tulowitzki, which means he's special. ZiPs ranks him favorably but not outlandishly, and predicts a 2.7 WAR.
It's possible that next year or the year after, Bogaerts will be at the top of this list. But he'll have to prove himself first.
5. Derek Jeter - New York Yankees
It's hard to know what to expect from Derek Jeter in 2014. On one hand, he was injured most of last year and it's uncertain how he'll bounce back from that. And he certainly hasn't been the same player over the past four seasons that he was earlier in his career. But on the other hand, he might be bolstered by his retirement tour, and let's face it, the Yankees practice dark magic.
I think that it's a real possibility that Jeter will bounce back to have a decent season at the plate, but positives on that side of the ledger will surely be canceled out by the fact that I can't imagine a world where his defense isn't horrible. In his prime years Jeter was passable, at best, on defense. But now he is a soon-to-be-forty-year-old shortstop coming off of major ankle injury that limited him to just 17 games in 2013. For what it's worth, ZiPS projects him to be worth 0.4 WAR this season.