Golden age of young shortstops is now

March 9th, 2018

Baseball is in a golden age of shortstops -- emphasis on "age."
It takes only a quick peek at the rosters to notice that this premium position is loaded with uber-talented players across the sport.
There's with the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros, who last fall bested the National League West stalwart Los Angeles Dodgers, featuring their very own stud shortstop, .

In Cleveland, it's impossible to overrate how and his bright skill set -- and even brighter smile -- has transformed the Indians into an American League power. In the nation's capital, brings his dynamic speed and pop to a Washington Nationals club coming off two straight NL East crowns.

And don't forget Baltimore Orioles third baseman-turned-shortstop Manny Machado has made headlines this offseason for shifting back to his natural position entering his final year before free agency.
That's just to name a few. Seemingly every contender comes complete with a top-of-the-line shortstop. What might be underappreciated, however, is just how young the current crop is.
For starters, let's compare all positions to see whether the youth at shortstop stands out. Here's how every spot on the diamond stacks up, based on average seasonal age of the Top 10 players projected for the highest 2018 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), according to Steamer.
Average 2018 Season Age of Top 10 Players* by Position:
SS: 25.7
RF: 27.4
LF: 28.0
CF: 28.0
1B: 29.5
C: 29.7
3B: 29.8
2B: 30.0
DH: 32.1

That's almost two full years between shortstop and the next-youngest position for the Top 10 players from Steamer's WAR projections. Even with (25 years old), (25) and (26) leading the way, right field doesn't come all that close in the age department.
By now, you're probably wondering which 10 shortstops comprise this Top 10 for 2018. The rundown, in order of projected WAR:
Player (seasonal age): Projected 2018 WAR
Francisco Lindor (24): 6.1
Manny Machado (25): 5.6
Carlos Correa (23): 5.4
Corey Seager (24): 5.2
Trea Turner (25): 4.0
(28): 3.5
(25): 3.3
(31): 3.0
(24): 2.9
Didi Gregorius (28): 2.6

As you can see, seven of the shortstops check in under the 25.7 average seasonal age for the Top 10 at the position, and only one player's age begins with a "3."
What's more, the average projected WAR for the Top 10 shortstops is a whopping 4.2, which trails only the Top 10 at third base -- with an average of 4.3 WAR -- a position featuring superstars like , and Josh Donaldson. In other words, shortstop is as much about talent as it is about youth.
The position is brimming with youngsters who already are established stars. Heck, just call them "youngstars" -- an inspired term if there ever was one.

But back to the age discussion. The top tier of shortstops is the youngest such position in baseball, but how does this particular crop compare to previous collections? Is the 2018 class -- and that average age of 25.7 years -- unique?
In a word: Yes.
Looking back 10 years -- the rough equivalent of a baseball generation -- to 2008, the Top 11* shortstops by WAR (according to Baseball-Reference) had an average age of 27.4. That's young, tying this year's right field group, but again, it's nearly two years older than the 2018 shortstop set.
*Top 11 because Michael Young, Derek Jeter and tied at 3.0 WAR.
While we're revisiting this time frame, how about some shortstop symmetry? A year earlier, in 2007, finished No. 1 in WAR at the position at the tender age of 22. Now a little more than a decade later, 33-year-old Tulo is MLB's oldest starting shortstop. Oh, and the only others who will be even 30 this year are Crawford, and (all 31). More proof this position belongs to youth.
Moving back another 10 years to 1998 brings up a fascinating (and perhaps the most celebrated) golden era of shortstops in baseball history. Yep, we're talking about in-their-heyday Alex Rodriguez, Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada and Edgar Renteria, all of whom were either establishing themselves as stars or about to -- and none was older than 24 at the time.
Yet even that season's Top 10 shortstops by WAR checked in at 28.4 years on average -- or nearly three years older than the 2018 crew.

Still not convinced that this year's shortstop lot is shaping up to be historically young? Consider one final chart showing the seasons with the most shortstops to produce at least 2.0 WAR (a reasonable baseline for an average big leaguer) in an age-25 or younger campaign:
Shortstops to Reach 2.0 WAR in Age-25 Season or Younger by Year
2017: 10
2016: 9
2015: 8
1942: 8
That just about clinches things, doesn't it? The past three seasons each set records for most shortstops age 25 or younger to reach 2.0 WAR. More incredibly, every one of the players who made the cut last year -- (23), Bogaerts (25), Correa (23), (24), Lindor (24), Polanco (24), Russell (24), Seager (23), (25) and Turner (25) -- still qualifies in 2018. They're all 25 years old or younger.
But wait, there's more! Remember: Machado, who is 25 and has averaged north of 4.0 WAR per year in his career, is likely to join the fun this year.
And the position's pipeline isn't drying up any time soon, either. There's a chance a number of still up-and-coming sub-25-year-old shortstops -- take your pick from (25), (23), (24), (24), (22) and Dansby Swanson (24) -- could go from having reached The Show to reaching their potential.
If that happens, there won't be any way to sell this "youngstar"-studded position short.