Will Leitch took an in-depth look at the game in 2019 with a series exploring Major League Baseball's Data Decade. From the best World Series, to the best starting pitchers and more, Leitch ranked, dissected and celebrated all the things we loved most about the Great American Pastime during the past 10 years.
You can, in many ways, track the history of baseball over the last 40 years by its shortstops. The position was once peppered with small, slap-hitting defensive specialists; any offense you got from the position was gravy. Then the era of Ozzie Smith gave way to Cal Ripken, big dudes who could hit, and then we had Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, players who could do it all. The idea of the position changes, but the importance of shortstop never does. It’s always right in the middle of everything.
Thus, we look at the 10 best shortstops of this decade. For the sake of clarity, we looked at players who played at least 50 percent of their games at short over the decade, according to Baseball Reference’s Play Index. All told, it has been a transitional decade for the position. Here are the best this decade.
1. Elvis Andrus (Rangers 2010-19)
The fact that Andrus -- a terrific player, but hardly someone we’ll be talking about for Cooperstown in a decade -- is the pick here speaks to the thinness of the decade at the position. And it also speaks to how much of an upgrade the position got in its back half. Andrus has made two All-Star teams since coming up in 2009 at the age of 20, and even though he never quite became the superstar the Rangers might have hoped, he’s been a consistent linchpin of multiple World Series teams. Also, he’s only 30 years old and is off to a blistering start in 2019.
2. Andrelton Simmons (Braves 2012-15, Angels 2016-19)
If Simmons had begun his career a year earlier, he might be atop this list. He’s without question the best defensive shortstop of his generation, but his offense lagged enough for Atlanta that the Braves shipped him to Anaheim before the 2016 season. Since then, he’s become the most valuable Angel not named Trout. He has even received MVP Award votes on three occasions.
You may be asking: Why Andrus over Simmons? And while it’s true that Simmons has more WAR (per Baseball Reference) than Andrus this decade (34.5 to 26.9) despite debuting in 2012, so much of Simmons’ value is tied up in his defensive WAR, and there is a fair amount of debate about how much weight we should place on dWAR. Furthermore, Andrus has him beat in terms of “soft” factors. For example, he has made two All-Star teams while Simmons has never made one, and he was also a key player on two pennant-winning Rangers teams, one of which came within a game of winning it all in '11.
3. Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies 2010-15, Blue Jays 2016-17, Yankees 2019)
We’ll always wonder what might have been for Tulowitzki, who, after all, is still only two years older than Andrus. He sure feels a lot more brittle than that, doesn’t he? That Tulowitzki only once played more than 128 games this decade and still ranks this high speaks to his productivity when healthy; his 2014 season could have been historic had it not been for those darned injuries. He still made five All-Star Games this decade, and he received MVP Award votes four times.
4. Francisco Lindor (Indians 2015-19)
This is when you must start including this new batch of superstar shortstops even though their careers didn’t get started until halfway through the decade. Lindor exploded out of the gate in 2015 and has been the centerpiece of three playoff teams since. His ‘19 has been slowed by injury, but he’s still a perennial AL MVP Award candidate and one of the most purely enjoyable players to watch. Lindor will almost certainly be on this list when we do it again next decade.
5. Brandon Crawford (Giants 2011-19)
Crawford hasn’t always been the most consistent player. He struggled offensively to start his career, figured something out at the plate from 2014-16, and then regressed -- but he hasn’t played fewer than 143 games since his rookie season. Crawford has made two All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves and finished 12th in NL MVP Award voting in '16. Also -- and this should be remembered -- he has two World Series rings.
6. Jean Segura (Angels 2012, Brewers 2012-15, D-backs 2016, Mariners 2017-18, Phillies 2019)
Segura’s career has been marked by wild fluctuations in performance, but he has figured something out in the decade’s back half. He even led the NL in hits in 2016, and he has made two All-Star Games. Segura has hit over .300 for four consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in baseball.
7. Carlos Correa (Astros 2015-19)
Thought initially to be right there with Lindor among elite shortstops, or even better, Correa has taken a step back in the last year or so, largely because of injuries. But he’s only 24, and he’s off to a terrific start in 2019. Like Lindor, Correa seems certain to be on the 2020s list.
8. Ian Desmond (Nationals 2010-15, Rangers 2016, Rockies 2017-19)
Desmond has been moved around a lot in recent years, but more than half his games were played at shortstop, so here he is. He has made a couple of All-Star Games himself, and among qualifiers for this list, he’s second in runs, fourth in hits and doubles and second in homers. (And he’ll pass Tulowitzki if he hits three more.) And surprisingly, Desmond is first in RBIs.
9. Asdrúbal Cabrera (Indians 2010-14, Nationals 2014, Rays 2015, Mets 2016-18, Phillies 2018, Rangers 2019)
Cabrera has already played 13 seasons in the Majors. Now how old do you feel? He’s also only 33, but he has five homers for Texas this far into this young season. At the beginning of the decade, Cabrera looked like a budding superstar. Now he has settled in as a dependable infielder who will help your team more than hurt it. Do that for a decade, and you’re doing something very few players have done.
10. Starlin Castro (Cubs 2010-15, Yankees 2016-17, Marlins 2018-19)
It has been quite the journey for Castro, who looked like the foundation of what the Cubs would be doing until disappointing and being shipped out right before the Cubs won the World Series. Then he made an All-Star Game for the Yankees before being traded for Giancarlo Stanton, of all people. He has quietly been better than you realize for the Marlins. Castro, somehow, is only 29 years old.
Honorable mentions: Erick Aybar, Zack Cozart, Yunel Escobar, Didi Gregorius, J.J. Hardy, Jhonny Peralta, Jose Reyes, Corey Seager