When people think of the greatest shortstops of all time, the names Jeter, Ripken, Ozzie, and of course, Honus usually come to mind. If you are talking about the best shortstops of today, the possible answers include names such as Lindor, Bogaerts, Tatis Jr., Story, and Baez. As we head into the 2020 season, it is time to see who is the top shortstop in the MLB today.
The first name to start with would be Francisco Lindor. On the offensive side of the ball Lindor posted an .854 on base plus slugging percentage (OPS), a 118 OPS+, which is OPS adjusted for how hitter/pitcher friendly a park is, and a 114 Weighted Runs Created Plus (WRC+). The WRC+ means Lindor Is 14% better than league average, which is a 100 WRC+ standard. He also has a career WRC+ of 119 and has never been below 109 in his career. As the face of the Cleveland Indians, he has a career .840 OPS and a career 44 defensive runs saved demonstrating his skill on both sides of the ball. His wins above replacement level (WAR) last season was 5.0 and his career WAR sits at 27.6. He does this while playing in a pitcher’s park and being the center of each opposing pitcher’s game plan every night. Lindor has remained a consistent force on the Indians lineup his entire career, despite many scouts wondering if his bat, and especially his power, would ever catch up to his glove. With three 30 home run seasons on his resume and a career slugging percentage of .493, he has proved the doubters wrong and looks like he is destined to do so for years to come.
Bogaerts is coming off a 5.9 WAR season with a .939 OPS and a 140 OPS+ in 2019. This was the best offensive season of his career as he also finished with a 141 WRC+. Xander Bogaerts has had his defensive problems throughout his career; just last season, he posted a negative 3 outs above average which is slightly below average at his position. Some people say based on what they have seen of him, he has gotten better over his career, but his negative 14 defensive runs saved in each of the last two seasons tells a bit of a different story as they are both a career low. Despite his defensive woes, he has a career 21.5 WAR in 7 seasons. His offensive game has improved every season but one of his best may be yet to come as he enters his prime years. He also has been a part of two championship Boston Red Sox teams showing that he is a winning player at a premium position. If he cleans up his defense and continues on his offensive trajectory, he may be the top shortstop very soon.
Fernando Tatis Jr. burst onto the scene in 2019 and lit the baseball world on fire at just 20 years old. In just 37 games he posted a .941 OPS and hit 10 home runs, but missed the rest of the season due to injury. He also posted a 150 WRC+ and a 4.1 WAR for the San Diego Padres. Tatis Jr. was the second top prospect in baseball heading into 2019 (according to MLB.com). His bat speed has always been admired by scouts and his batting eye has progressed throughout his career. In double A in 2018, he posted a .507 slugging percentage. He also stole 16 bases, demonstrating his 5-tool talent. He also posted the 32nd best sprint speed in the MLB in 2019, and was in the top 9% in barrel percentage and top 4% in weighted on base average. However, he did post a 29.6% strikeout percentage and a negative 3 defensive runs saved, leading some to question whether he can stay at shortstop long term. His ability to stay at shortstop and cut down his strikeout rate will tell where his future goes but if he does, his ceiling is as high as anyone’s in baseball.
Trevor Story has quickly become a fan favorite in Colorado. He hit 6 home runs in his first 4 games and finished his rookie season with 27 home runs and a .909 OPS. While he struggled his second year to the tune of a .239 average and a league leading 191 strikeouts, he is not the first player to go through a sophomore slump. He quickly overcame that and has posted a .914 and .917 OPS the past two years. While he does still strikeout a lot, he did walk more last year and posted a .363 OBP. Like many of these shortstops, he is just entering his prime going into his age 27 season and, after a down year defensively in 2018, he got back to his great defense last year with 14 defensive runs saved. In just four years he has already accumulated an 18.6 war and a career 114 WRC+. Now, some people may look at his WRC+ and think it is low considering his other career counting stats such as his career .878 OPS and 123 home runs in only 544 games. Due to the fact that he plays his home games in Colorado, his counting stats such as home runs and OPS are inflated. His OPS is .998 at home and .756 on the road and he has hit almost twice as many home runs at home in only six more games. While it is good he is taking advantage of hitting in his hitter friendly home park, without demonstrating he can hit well anywhere he will not be able to achieve status as the top shortstop. A well-built all-around game that includes two twenty stolen base seasons makes Story a strong candidate for the top spot. While he didn’t choose to play in Coors Field, he has an advantage that other hitters do not and that must be taken into account when looking at who the best shortstop in baseball is.
Javier Baez is one of the flashier players in baseball. He got a tattoo of the MLB logo on his neck before he was even a permanent MLB player. He is known for his quick swipes at the bags on double plays and his electric bat speed. Baez is an exceptional athlete that has spent time as both the primary second baseman and shortstop on the Cubs. He is the best fielder on the Cubs, so they want to put him in the best position to help the team win. In 2018, he was second in MVP voting while playing primarily second base and hitting .290 with an .881 OPS and leading the NL with 111 runs batted in. While Baez has never been afraid to swing for the fences he has gained a greater knack for getting his bat to the ball, and, despite not walking a lot, he has still posted an OPS+ of 129 in 2018 and 113 in 2019. Combining that with his defense where he has saved 29 career runs at shortstop and 10 more at second base. He also was the leader in Statcast’s Outs Above Average this past season while playing shortstop. The knock against Baez is he has only hit well for three seasons despite playing in five. While 2018 was an incredible year, he came back down to earth in 2019 offensively. His defense is unquestionably amazing, and he has improved his offense, but he will need a few more seasons of his 2018/2019 offensive production combined with his great defense to be the top shortstop.
Now, you may have noticed two names I seem to have forgotten: Carlos Correa and Corey Seager. Both were top prospects and first round draft choices, but they have had their peaks and valleys throughout their MLB careers. After winning the rookie of the year in 2015, over Francisco Lindor, people thought Correa was posed to be the next Manny Machado or A-ROD. With a 6’4” frame, Correa was imagined developing 40 homerun power – which is unprecedented for shortstops. While that power never quite developed, he has turned into a 20 home run threat. His OPS has also been up and down; he has posted two seasons of an OPS above .900 but also one below .800 in-between. He is also a very good defender at a premium position, where he has played well despite being very tall for the shortstop position, with 34 career defensive runs saved. Correa has never been the most durable player, only playing over 120 games once back in his sophomore season. While he has all the tools people love to dream
about, due to injuries and inconsistent play Correa has never been able to achieve the great heights many expected him to. He will have to show he can stay healthy and productive all at once to climb the shortstop rankings to the top spot. Corey Seager debuted at the end of 2015 and won the rookie of the year award in 2016. He has a career .853 OPS, but has battled injuries in recent years and missed most of 2018 due to Tommy John Surgery. Discounting his shortened season, he has managed to post an OPS above .800 all other seasons. He has 73 career home runs and a 126 OPS+ in 489 games. While he only hit .272 in 2019 he still managed to post an .817 OPS, and it looks like he is headed in a positive direction, especially as he gets further removed from his surgery. He has been a slightly below average defender with negative three defensive runs saved for his career, but he improved last year posting a positive two defensive runs saved. If he can stay healthy and bring his offense up a little closer to pre-surgery levels, while maintaining his good defensive play, he could be vying for the top shortstop spot very soon.
Marcus Semien is coming off a 3rd place finish in MVP voting and Gleyber Torres moved over to shortstop full time for the Yankees last season. Both had outstanding years with Semien posting a 138 OPS+ and an 8.9 WAR and Gleyber posting a 128 OPS+ with a 3.1 WAR. Both will have to continue this high level of play to enter into the conversation of the top shortstop in the MLB.
While there may be superior fielders like Andrelton Simmons and his 193 DRS over the last 8 seasons or Xander Bogaerts and his 140 OPS+ in 2019, Francisco Lindor is the correct answer for who is the best shortstop in baseball. His combination of offensive and defensive capabilities put him in conversations for the best player in the American league (not named Mike Trout). With more great seasons out of Baez, Torres, Tatis, or Seager we may have a different answer soon. Bogaerts and Seager need to improve their defense since shortstop is such an important defensive position and Story has to prove he can hit in every ballpark while Baez and Correa need to prove they can be durable and healthy over the long haul. Everyone has their own opinion, maybe value offense or defense more than others and therefore may have a different answer, but no one else has the value of Lindor on offense and defense, and when it comes to his team’s chances of winning on a daily basis.