Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

AL shortstops on historic hitting tear

105 wRC+ would be the highest offensive mark for SS on record
MLB.com @mike_petriello

When the initial All-Star Game rosters were announced on Sunday, Francisco Lindor and Manny Machado were selected as the American League shortstops. Neither was surprising; Lindor is the best all-around shortstop in the game, and Machado is having what looks like the best offensive season of his already stellar career.

Now realize the quality of the shortstops who didn't make it. Andrelton Simmons is probably baseball's best defender and is crushing the ball (.307/.369/.436) this year, while Jean Segura (.330/.358/.470) is putting up his third straight strong year. The best they could do was make the ballot for the Camping World MLB All-Star Final Vote. Didi Gregorius was April's AL Player of the Month, but he wasn't even in the conversation. Neither was Carlos Correa. Nor was Xander Bogaerts (.277/.351/.512), who has been one of baseball's most improved hitters.

When the initial All-Star Game rosters were announced on Sunday, Francisco Lindor and Manny Machado were selected as the American League shortstops. Neither was surprising; Lindor is the best all-around shortstop in the game, and Machado is having what looks like the best offensive season of his already stellar career.

Now realize the quality of the shortstops who didn't make it. Andrelton Simmons is probably baseball's best defender and is crushing the ball (.307/.369/.436) this year, while Jean Segura (.330/.358/.470) is putting up his third straight strong year. The best they could do was make the ballot for the Camping World MLB All-Star Final Vote. Didi Gregorius was April's AL Player of the Month, but he wasn't even in the conversation. Neither was Carlos Correa. Nor was Xander Bogaerts (.277/.351/.512), who has been one of baseball's most improved hitters.

The depth of talent at the position is so good and so strong that it's tempting to wonder how this group stacks up historically. As it turns out: It's not just a good group. It is, so far, the best offensive season by AL shortstops in history.

How can we possibly measure that? Traditional stats like batting average don't do the job, because walks are important and hitting for power matters. (This year's .265 would be tied for 35th.) Even better metrics like on-base percentage or wOBA aren't good enough, because they don't do a good enough job of accounting for changes throughout history, and that's important. A home run was worth more in 1947, when only 15 players had 20 dingers, than it was in 2017, when a record 117 players did.

For that, we turn to an advanced metric called Weighted Runs Created Plus, or wRC+, which measures how a hitter performs with the league average that year, with park effects accounted for. It's simple to use, because it sets 100 as the league average each year, so you can say things like Dante Bichette's .331/.357/.509 in 1998 Coors Field was about as valuable as Mickey Stanley's .259/.311/.364 at Tiger Stadium in 1968's "Year of the Pitcher" -- both had a 103 wRC+, or three percent above league average for that year.

So when we say that AL shortstops this year have a 105 wRC+, what we're saying is that as a group, they're hitting five percent better than league average. That alone is a big deal, because shortstop is traditionally not a high-offense position; it's only the second time that shortstops in either league have hit better than the league average.

Top offensive performance by shortstops from 1901 to present
105 wRC+ -- AL, 2018
104 wRC+ -- AL, 1904
99 wRC+ -- NL, 1908
99 wRC+ -- AL, 1964

As you'd expect, one good player can't elevate an entire league by himself. Mike Trout didn't single-handedly make last year's AL center fielders historically notable, for example. It takes a group effort, and that's what we're seeing. Right now, eight qualified AL shortstops have been league-average hitters this year, and it'll only take a hot few days from Chicago's Tim Anderson (.245/.304/.414, 97 wRC+) to make it nine.

AL shortstops with above-average bats, 2018
152 wRC+ Lindor (.298/.374/.565)
149 wRC+ Machado (.309/.379/.555)
134 wRC+ Bogaerts (.277/.351/.512)
130 wRC+ Segura (.330/.358/.470)
129 wRC+ Correa (.268/.352/.480)
126 wRC+ Simmons (.307/.369/.436)
107 wRC+ Gregorius (.255/.320/.455)
106 wRC+ Jurickson Profar (.247/.328/.441)

(The multipositional Daniel Robertson, who has spent about half of his time at shortstop, has a strong .268/.394/.412 line, a 132 wRC+, but he has not yet played enough to qualify.)

The AL has eight shortstops hitting at or above the league-average line of 100 wRC+ -- the most in league history, and tied with the 2007 National Leaguers of Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins and Troy Tulowitzki for the most in Major League history.

Now, there's one thing that's making this performance all the more incredible, and it's not that it's happening in the absence of Elvis Andrus, who had strong seasons in 2016 and '17 before missing most of this year with a fractured elbow. It's that it's happening in the face of one of the worst offensive seasons of all time.

That's what's happening right now in Kansas City, where Alcides Escobar is hitting .195/.243/.275, a 38 wRC+ that's 72 percent worse than league average. Dating back to 1901, there have been nearly 1,800 qualified seasons from a shortstop, and that 38 wRC+ is tied for the the fifth worst on record, and is the lowest since Billy Hunter's 29 wRC+ for the 1953 St. Louis Browns. (This is another good example of how wRC+ makes it easy to compare across eras.)

Escobar might not get enough playing time the remainder of the year to continue to be "qualified," as he's losing time to Adalberto Mondesi, but that only helps the case of his shortstop colleagues to set a historic mark. Fewer Escobar plate appearances would be an offensive improvement simply by default.

So if this group does end up having the best collective hitting performance by shortstops, what else can they shoot for? How about simply "best shortstops ever?" In order to do that, we'd need to bring defense and baserunning back in, but other than Machado, each of these guys have positive defensive metrics, too.

If we look at Wins Above Replacement, 2018's AL shortstops are worth 33.4 WAR, the 19th most since 1901. Despite the fact that we're still a week away from the All-Star Game, the season is more than halfway over, with about 55 percent of games having been played so far.

Still, the all-time record is in sight, as the list is topped by the 45.2 WAR from the 2002 AL crew led by Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra, and the 44 WAR from the 2016 group featuring many of the same stars we're watching today.

There's a long way to go to get to that point. But we expected this group of shortstops to be good, and then Machado slid over from third, Bogaerts had a huge rebound from 2017, Simmons hit like he never has before, and Anderson and Profar started to deliver on their prospect promise. This was always going to be a great group of shortstops, and it's been even better than that. Enjoy shortstops who are hitting better than league average. We haven't seen it in more than a century.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.