NL East position rankings: shortstop
It’s time to rank the NL East shortstops. I want to note that although the perception of the shortstop has changed with the careers of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and other players who could swing a bat, the position is still one of the weaker hitting spots in the lineup. Last season, only four shortstops with at least 300 plate appearances had an OPS north of .800. A big bat at shortstop is definitely a plus, but the tendency to call any shortstop that doesn’t hit 20+ home runs a light hitter should be avoided. Here are the rankings:
1. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins - Ramirez is one of those shortstops with a premium bat. He ranked second in baseball in OPS among shortstops with an .853, and that was in a “down” year. Before 2010, Ramirez notched three straight seasons with an OPS in the mid-.900s, which makes him one of the premier hitters in all of baseball. There’s a perception beyond the infamous play last season where he jogged after a ball that he dogs it on the diamond and Ramirez could stand to improve in the field. He has arguably the worst range in the National League and isn’t the most sure-handed when he does get to the ball. He had a fielding percentage of .971 in 2010. But his work at the plate is so far ahead of the rest of the NL East and the fact that he is still young makes it unjustifiable to rank anyone ahead of him.
2. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies - From the top batter in the division to the best fielder. At 32 years old, Rollins still has good range and sure hands with a .982 fielding percentage. Unfortunately, he may be starting to decline. His injury plagued 2010 was his second straight season at the plate that didn’t match up to his career averages. The problem is his bat speed isn’t as good as it used to be. He used to kill heat, but now he’s a slightly below average fastball hitter. He still has a good eye, making above-average contact and if healthy, he should have a bounce back year. He’s also one of the most entertaining players in the league.
3. Jose Reyes, Mets - Is this guy the oldest 27-year-old in the world or what? It seems like he’s been around forever. I think there’s still some mystery as to what type of player he really is. He used to be in the Hanley Ramirez mold, a super hitter with other premium tools. Now, his bat has steadily declined to the point where he’s still in the upper-half of National League shortstops, just nowhere close to Hanley’s level. Like Rollins, he use to hammer fastballs, but his ability to catch up to them has declined since 2006 when he had a slugging percentage of .487. He also hasn’t been great in the field, earning a -5.0 UZR last year, and according to one metric, range that only beats Ramirez in the NL.
4. Ian Desmond, Nationals - With seemingly the rest of the NL East on the decline, there’s an opportunity for Desmond to climb up the shortstop rankings. He has to become more disciplined to do it. In 2010, he was a train wreck in the field, committing 34 errors, seven more than the next player in the NL and 14 more than the third worst. He has good range, he just needs to put it all together. Last season, it was an adventure at the plate for Desmond as well. He chases an above-average number of pitches outside of the zone, and in stark contrast to the contact hitters manning the other shortstop, spots strikes out about 21 percent of the time. With a better eye and some focus in the field, Desmond could look like a different player in 2011, a better one.
5. Alex Gonzalez, Braves - In terms of WAR, Gonzalez had the second best year for a shortstop in the NL East behind Ramirez in 2010. I’ll bet that he doesn’t do it again. The year before he was barely above replacement level with an astonishingly bad .635 OPS. Last season was a career year for Gonzalez, 2011 should resemble the rest of his career.
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