We are a society obsessed with rankings. College football, college basketball, albums, movies, minor league team names, the list goes on. These rankings are largely superfluous and subjective but boy are they fun to dissect, debate and get the heart rate pumping.
MLB Network is on the Rank Everything Train and has been releasing its top 10 players at each position. When they reached shortstop, they ranked Xander Bogaerts No. 8. That’s pretty good. There are 30 MLB teams, so having a top 10 shortstop is a good thing. Also, let’s remember these are just one outlet’s rankings put together mainly to get through the winter before spring training starts.
Now let me ignore those facts and get to the point of this article. Are there really seven shortstops better than Bogaerts?
The seven players ahead of him are, in ascending order: The Cardinals’ Aledmys Diaz, the Rockies’ Trevor Story, the Giants’s Brandon Crawford, the Nationals’ Trea Turner, the Astros’ Carlos Correa, the Indians’ Francisco Lindor and the Dodgers’ Corey Seager.
That is a nice glut of shortstops and doesn’t even include Addison Russell, Jean Segura and Dansby Swanson. Clearly the shortstop position is in the midst of a golden age not seen since people were debating who was best between Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez.
But that’s not the point. Let’s take a look at why Bogaerts was ranked where he was and if he really should be higher.
Odds are if these rankings had come out last June, Bogaerts would have been somewhere inside the top three. After three months of the season, he had been sensational, slashing .342/.393/.491 with nine home runs, 21 doubles, 59 runs and 10 stolen bases. This was just a year removed from his breakout 2015 campaign when he hit .320/.355/421. His first half of 2016 earned him his first All Star appearance and made you wonder who was Boston’s best MVP candidate between him, David Ortiz and Mookie Betts.
Then he hit a wall. August was particularly brutal (.219/.274/.325) but September wasn’t great either (.241/.331/.420). You have to imagine that those two months played a large role in knocking the shine off of the Boston’s best shortstop since Nomar.
However, even when you take the second half slide into account, Bogaerts still finished the season as a roughly four-win player (3.7 bWAR, 4.7 fWAR) and his wRC+ of 113 was just a bit better than the number he produced in 2015. In fact, he finished the season sixth in baseball among shortstops in wRC+ and that’s if you include Jonathan Villar and Manny Machado. As far as everyday shortstops go, Bogaerts fell behind only Seager, Correa and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Now, Story and Diaz did not hit the plate appearance threshold, and both posted superior wRC+’s to Bogaerts at 132 and 120, respectively, whereas Turner played only a handful of games at shortstop and put up a 147. So, there is something to them being projected above him should they see more in the range of 600 plate appearances. On the other hand, Fangraphs projects Story for a 104 wRC+ and Diaz for a 116 in 2017 while Bogaerts and Turner are both slated for a reading of 118.
Aside from that, Bogaerts also has the track record portion going for him. Story lit the world on fire in April of last season, his first at the major league level, but was slowed by injuries the rest of the way. Diaz and Turner, for as good as they were and could be going forward, were also playing at the major-league level for the first time in their careers. Seeing how they adjust in their sophomore seasons will go a long way in determining just how good they really are.
We don’t really have to see Bogaerts prove it anymore. In a little more than 2,000 career plate appearances he has put together a slash line of .286/.337/.411 and that includes his rocky rookie campaign. In the last two seasons those numbers jump (.307/.355/434) with an OPS+ of 108. He has also shown ability to adjust himself, as he found his power stroke and jumped from seven home runs in 2015 to 21 in 2016.
As for more proven commodities, Brandon Crawford posted a wRC+ of 107 and Lindor was just a step behind Bogaerts at 112 last year. Yet both are ranked higher than him. That has a lot to do with the other side of the shortstop coin: defense. Crawford tied (with Russell) for the most defensive runs saved among shortstops last season (19) with Lindor coming in fourth (17). Bogaerts wasn’t anywhere near there, finishing with -10 in that category. He also had a UZR of -2.9 which compares extremely unfavorably to Crawford’s 21.3 and Lindor’s 20.8, the top two marks in baseball for shortstops. However, Correa and Diaz were not exactly defensive maestros themselves, with each recording -3 defensive runs saved, while Story had a similar UZR to Bogaerts (-2.6).
Next, we’ll touch on base running, which should elevate Bogaerts’ standing further. He stole 13 bases in 2016, which tied with Correa for the seventh most among shortstops. Lindor was the only other shortstop appearing in MLB Network’s top 10 to be above that with 19. However, Bogaerts actually led all shortstops in base running according to Fangraph’s BsR. He finished with a 6.1 in that category, with Correa the next best among these top 10 shortstops at 4.0.
Summing it all up, Bogaerts finished with the fifth-highest fWAR among MLB shortstops last season behind Seager (7.5), Lindor (6.5), Crawford (5.8) and Correa (4.9). It wouldn’t be fair to include Story and Diaz in there since they had fewer games to work with, but both are projected to be in the 2.5-3.5 fWAR range in 2017. That would be below Bogaerts’ numbers from each of the last two seasons. Then there’s Turner who is an excellent player no doubt, but has not played everyday shortstop at the MLB level just yet.
So what have we learned and what can we say about this ranking? It isn’t totally unfair. Bogaerts is not the fielder that Lindor and Crawford are and he comes up short in comparison against Seager and Correa overall. However, his work with the bat (prior to his second half swoon), time at the position in the bigs as well as his ability on the base paths should have him a top five shortstop. Top 10 is still nice though.