Monday, October 3, 2011

Playoff shortstops

Shortstop was a disaster for the 2011 Twins -- so much so that it remained on my mind as I watched the first weekend of playoff baseball.

The odd thing is how many of the teams in the October tournament struggled at the position. Three of the surviving eight changed their regulars during the season; few have a truly outstanding all-round shortstop.

Break it down:

Sean Rodriguez played 431 innings at short this season
for Tampa Bay, 353 innings at second base and 172
innings at third base.
Tampa Bay Rays: Reid Brignac opened the season as their regular, but he was an utter disaster at the plate (.193/.227/.221). Elliot Johnson didn't hit either. Both men, according to Baseball Info System's advanced metrics (plus-minus and runs saved), fielded well; Brignac was +11 in plus-minus, +8 in runs saved, Johnson +13 and +11 in less than half Brignac's playing time.

But right now it's Sean Rodriguez playing short. He's out of position -- he's a second baseman -- but he's getting the job done well enough in the field, and he supplies something with the bat.

This solution has a ripple effect on the rest of the lineup. Playing Rodriguez at short means Ben Zobrist is locked in at second base, and that in turn deprives manager Joe Maddon of his preferred right fielder against left-handed pitching.

Texas Rangers: Elvis Andrus might be the best defensive shortstop in the American League. The BIS metrics like him (+14, +13).  His offense isn't to the same level, but he just turned 23 in late August. Of all the shortstops in this year's field, he's the one I'd most like to have.

New York Yankees: Derek Jeter had a painfully slow start and caught fire around the time he finally got his much-hyped 3,000th hit. (Second half slash line: .327/.383/.428). His power is pretty much gone, and the defensive metrics continue to say he's a poor defensive shortstop. Plus-minus has him at -22, runs saved at -18.

Detroit Tigers: The Cleveland Indians despaired of Jhonny Peralta's glovework at short, shifted him to third base, then unloaded him. The Tigers returned him to short. The BIS metrics say he's a very slightly below average defender (-5 in plus minus, -4 in runs saved.) From a shortstop who hit .299/.345/.478, that's plenty good enough.

Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmy Rollins is 32, and his game has declined since his 2007 MVP season. The BIS stats say he's an average defender (-4, -2). He is very much still a central figure on the best team in the National League, and it will be interesting to see how he and the Phillies handle his impending free agency.

Ryan Theirot, seen here taking a break-up slide from
Chase Utley, started 87 games at shortstop
for the St. Louis Cardinals.
St. Louis Cardinals: They opened the season with Ryan Theriot, then traded for Rafael Furcal. Theroit was vocally displeased about being replaced, but his defense was bad (-15, -12) and he isn't enough of a hitter to make up for it. Furcal isn't much of a much either, but he's an improvement over Theriot.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Opened with Stephen Drew, who has lived up to the family tradition of being generally viewed as making the least of his considerable talent. Whether that's fair or not, Drew broke his ankle in late June, and the Snakes have made do with veteran utilityman Willie Bloomquist. He's been an adequate patch.

Milwaukee Brewers: Few major league regulars draw the sabermetric disdain of Yuniesky Betancourt, and he certainly isn't a standout. But the position hasn't been a gaping wound for the Brewers either. Betancourt is, by the BIS metrics, a below-average defender, and there's no question that he's a below-average hitter. But this has been one season in which several teams have done worse at short than Betancourt, and that's not always been the case.

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