Monday, February 16, 2015

Top Shortstops for 2015

Tulowitzki is far and away the best shortstop in baseball (Denver CBS Local)
Thinking about Ernie Banks and his place among shortstops all-time got me thinking about the best shortstops in the game today. Here's the list I came up with.

1. Troy Tulowitzki
There's no doubt that when healthy, Tulowitzki is one of the best all-around players in baseball. "When healthy" is the key phrase there, as Tulo has played 130 games once in the past five seasons, but even last year when he missed 71 games he was still worth 5.5 bWAR. The four-time All-Star turned 30 last October and is still in his prime, as evidenced by last year's ridiculous first half. He also gets to play half his games in Coors Field.

2. Ian Desmond
Quick, name the only player to go 20/20 in each of the past three years. It's not Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, or Carlos Gomez. It's Desmond, who's earned the NL Silver Slugger award three years running. Hard to believe it's the same guy who batted .262/.304/.387 (87 OPS+) through his first three seasons and 1,300 big league plate appearances. Desmond did regress a bit last year, whiffing 183 times as his batting line fell to .253/.313/.430, but at 29 that power-speed combo probably isn't going anywhere.

3. Jose Reyes
Reyes isn't the game-changing stolen base threat he was during his younger days, but he's still a very good one (30/32 in stolen base attempts last year) and has retained his double-digit home run pop. He hasn't been a plus defender for a while now, but he does enough as a table-setter (gets on, steals, scores runs) to be an elite shortstop when healthy.

4. Starlin Castro
Castro's coming into his prime at 25 and is already a three-time All-Star. He rebounded from an abysmal 2013 to bat .292/.339/.438 (114 OPS+) with 14 home runs last year, putting him back on the Hall of Fame track. Castro's defense remains atrocious, but he might be the only shortstop not named Tulowitzki capable of batting .300 with 15-20 homers.

5. Alexei Ramirez
Ramirez flies under the radar despite playing everyday and having good power/speed numbers for a shortstop. He's hit at least 15 home runs in four of his six seasons and notched double digit steals every year except one. The result is a durable, decent defensive shortstop with close to league average power/on-base skills and solid speed. That might not be sexy, but it's a pretty good ballplayer, even if he is 33.

6. Jhonny Peralta
Peralta played outstanding defense last year in addition to popping 21 home runs, clubbing 38 doubles, and hitting .268/.336/.443 (116 OPS+). He was rewarded with MVP consideration for the first time in his 12 seasons. His bat and glove have both held steady with age, which is why I don't predict a major drop-off coming in his age-33 season. Peralta's also surprisingly durable for someone of his size and build, as he's played at least 140 games in all but one of the past 10 seasons.

7. J.J. Hardy
Hardy has a great glove (three straight Gold Gloves) and solid bat (96 OPS+), though his stick might be slipping if last year's power outage was any indication. He's already 32, so I wouldn't bank on him bouncing back to his 25-homer days, but 15 or so should be reasonable in that ballpark. If he's truly a single-digit home run guy from now on, though, that doesn't bode well for the Orioles, as he's just a .260 hitter who hardly walks and strikes out a fair amount. Given his age the defense is probably headed south soon as well, but for now he's still a comfortably above average shortstop.

8. Andrelton Simmons
Winner of back-to-back NL Gold Gloves, Simmons is hands-down the best defensive shortstop in the game, but his bat slipped from usable in 2013 to a black hole last year (.617 OPS). His glove makes him an asset no matter how poorly he hits, but if he can just be mediocre at the plate rather than cringe-worthy, he'll be a borderline All-Star.

9. Erick Aybar
Aybar's another one who doesn't stand out but consistently plays well. He's as steady as they come, a lock to bat .280 with around 20 steals and 30 doubles despite playing in a tough hitter's environment. Throw in decent defense and you've got yourself a capable if uninspiring shortstop.

10. Jimmy Rollins
Now 36, Rollins refuses to break down. He was worth almost four bWAR last year after socking 17 homers, stealing 28 bases in 34 tries, and putting up a 101 OPS+. He also played not terrible defense, which is always a pleasant surprise from a veteran shortstop in his mid-30s. His bat might finally crumble now that he's moving from a hitter's heaven in Philly to a pitcher's paradise in LA, but it seems equally likely that Rollins will just continue to roll on.

Honorable Mention: Alcides Escobar, Jed Lowrie, Xander Bogaerts, Elvis Andrus

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