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8/15/2007 07:32:00 PM

NL East: Shortstop debate revisited

By Ben Reiter

The best shortstop in baseball currently resides in the NL East. The only question at this point is: Which shortstop is it?

This season I've discoursed extensively on the division's glut of talent at the position. At the end of April I wrote a feature in SI on the troika of Hanley Ramirez, >Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins; at the end of May I looked at the reasons behind Rollins' month-long slump, from which he quickly broke out; and July brought a lambasting of Tony La Russa for leaving Ramirez and Rollins off the NL All-Star team. (I'm not quite sure why more than a month later I still hold an L.C.-on-Heidi-type grudge against La Russa for that, but I do).

I'm not apologizing, nor do I feel I've exhausted the topic. With all due respect to Derek Jeter -– and the Yankee Captain needs more respect about as much as he needs more winsome girlfriends -– the top four shortstops in the majors this season are all NL Easters, in Ramirez, Reyes, Rollins, and Edgar Renteria, who, lest you've forgotten during his stint on the DL with a sprained ankle, is hitting .336 with an .879 OPS, both career highs. (A fifth NL East shortstop, Washington's Cristian Guzman, was hitting .329 and appeared to be on his way to breaking out when a torn ligament in his left thumb ended his season on June 24).

For all his talents, though, Renteria does not quite possess the all-around chops of the others, so he finishes a very respectable fourth. Now, the stats for each of the top three so far this season, and their projected final numbers:

Jose Reyes, Mets
Current: .306 BA, .378 OBP, .459 SLG, 26 2B, 11 3B, 9 HR, 47 RBI, 86 R, 56 SB
Projected: .306 BA, .378 OBP, .459 SLG, 36 2B, 15 3B, 12 HR, 65 RBI, 119 R, 78 SB

Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Current: .341 BA, .393 OBP, .574 SLG, 34 2B, 5 3B, 21 HR, 59 RBI, 90 R, 37 SB
Projected: .341 BA, .393 OBP, .574 SLG, 47 2B, 7 3B, 29 HR, 82 RBI, 126 R, 52 SB

Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
Current: .290 BA, .342 OBP, .523 SLG, 27 2B, 15 3B, 21 HR, 69 RBI, 100 R, 22 SB
Projected: .290 BA, .342 OBP, .523 SLG, 37 2B, 21 3B, 29 HR, 96 RBI, 138 R, 30 SB

A few things must be noted here. First, Rollins and Ramirez have this year spent significant time hitting third in the order, not leadoff -– 18 percent of Rollins' at-bats and 36 percent of Ramirez's have come in the three-hole -– while Reyes has taken every one of his hacks at the top of the order. Second, both Rollins and Ramirez play in offenses that are more productive than Reyes', Rollins especially so. However, it's hard make any conclusion after examining the numbers other than that Reyes now significantly trails Ramirez as the NL East's best shortstop -– and may be behind Rollins as well.

That fact might come as some surprise to some of the baseball men I interviewed for that SI shortstops piece, including Nats GM Jim Bowden, who said, "I love Hanley Ramirez, I love Jimmy Rollins, but Jose Reyes is the guy I would pick of the three ... He has the highest upside." And it might surprise you, unless you're one of the several hundred people who usually watch Marlins games. But check out the name at the top of the list on Baseball Prospectus' current VORP leaderboard, not just for shortstops, but for all positions.

Yes, BP's numbers say, Hanley Ramirez is now more irreplaceable than even Alex Rodriguez. Reyes' and Rollins' VORPs rank 16th and 23rd, respectively, as the BP algorithm appears to give equal weight to Reyes' unmatched disruptive ability on the basepaths and the run-generating prowess of Rollins, who has become a certifiable power hitter despite standing 5'8" -– that is, a single inch taller than David Eckstein.

In Ramirez's case, however, we're looking at one of the finest offensive seasons ever put together by a major league shortstop. His .967 OPS would be the 16th-best for a shortstop in MLB history; his 47 projected doubles would tie for 11th; his 83 extra base hits would tie for eighth (the only shortstops to hit more are Rodriguez, Robin Yount, Nomar Garciaparra, and Cal Ripken); his 52 steals would tie for 26th. Sure, his defense is questionable -– his 16 errors are the NL's second most, and his .791 zone rating is the league's worst -– but he's only in his second season, and that facet of his game should improve with experience.

In April, Bowden said of the deal that in essence brought Ramirez to Florida for Josh Beckett, "I think it was a great trade for both franchises. The Red Sox got an ace for the top of their rotation -– but they paid a big price." Even as Beckett excels in Boston this season, the Red Sox must be watching Julio Lugo flounder and wonder what might have been.

After all, they had the young man who is not just the finest shortstop in baseball, but possibly the game's best player, in their clutches, and they sent him away.




  • That Mets catching situation we talked about last week? Suddenly not looking so hot, but the organization still has no interest in bringing back Mike Piazza, reports Joe Popper of The Bergen Record.

  • The two men whom the Nationals drafted with the compensatory picks they received by virtue of not trading Alfonso Soriano at last year's deadline are now in the fold: they are Josh Smoker and Jordan Zimmermann. Heck, the Nats figured, we've already had so much luck with one Zimmerman(n)…

  • John Smoltz might have a little extracurricular motivation to put together an end-of-season winning streak. Smoltzy's learning what the pro golf world realized long ago: do not bait El Tigre.

  • A healthy Brett Myers and Tom Gordon have completely turned things around for the Phillies' bullpen, says Todd Zolecki of the Inquirer.

  • ... So you're saying the Marlins have a chance?

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    posted by SI.com | View comments |  
  • Comments:

    Posted: August 17, 2007 10:57 AM   by Anonymous
    Now, if Hanley could only figure out what to do with that thing on his left hand...you know, what we call a glove...
    Posted: August 18, 2007 12:07 AM   by Anonymous
    This is one of the problems with a stats oriented approach to baseball - it only looks at one dimension. Hello, McFly! You're talking about guys who play SHORTSTOP - a prime defensive position. You say of Ramirez “Sure, his defense is questionable -– his 16 errors are the NL's second most, and his .791 zone rating is the league's worst -– but he's only in his second season, and that facet of his game should improve with experience.” Why? In his second season, Reyes was already a great defensive shortstop. What makes you think Ramirez is suddenly, or even gradually, going to develop instincts for the ball and the ability to throw it accurately if he hasn’t by now. Reyes is only in his third full season – maybe he’ll become a power hitter with experience. Maybe Rollins will grow five more inches with experience. Or maybe Hanley Ramirez will have to move to the outfield because even his bat won’t be able to carry his weak glove at a prime defensive position. And maybe you’ll figure out that there’s more to judging a shortstop than his offensive numbers. Or maybe not.
    Posted: August 18, 2007 9:20 AM   by Anonymous
    Every great shortstop from Honus Wagner to Jeter and ARod was a two way player. If Ramirez is the best shortstop in the NL East, then answer this honestly. If he became a free agent at the end of this year and signed with the Phillies, the Braves or the Mets, do you really think he would take Rollins, Renteria or Reyes's job? Or would he be moved to the outfield? He's a great hitter, yes, but not a great shortstop.
    Posted: August 18, 2007 11:16 AM   by Anonymous
    Rollins is the oldest of the 3, and he plays in the best hitters park in baseball. I think Reyes is so much better than Ramirez defensively that he is the winner of the 3.
    Posted: August 20, 2007 12:50 PM   by Jim Little
    Did someone say Jeter was a great two way SS? His gold gloves are a joke...he's NOT a great defensive SS...he's weak to his left (up the middle) and when he DOES make a play up the middle (one that many SS make with ease) he makes it look specatcular and it gets shown time and time again...last year, Michael Young lead Jeter in every defensive category...and could make plays up the middle, yet Jeter won the CY...

    As far as the excuse that Hanley being new to the league and his D will get better, look no further than Troy Tulowiski...the 2nd best fielding SS in the NL to Visquel (nothing to be ashamed of there)...can make all the plays and has a top 3 arm of ALL SS..and he's a rookie...
    Posted: August 20, 2007 12:52 PM   by Jim Little
    Jeter should have moved to 2B to make room for the superior fielding SS, ARod, but didn't...Jeter's defensive 'skills' are best suited to 2B...again, Jeter is not a great fielding SS.
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