If you haven’t been following our position rankings, feel free to go back and look at the previous ones. So far, first base, second base, and third base have been ranked. Next, we have shortstop.
Let’s start with Dansby Swanson. When healthy, he has shown flashes of being an All-Star caliber player. 2020 was by far his best year from a full body of work standpoint, finishing with 2.9 WAR in all 60 games. If he can continue his ascent, he should be mentioned among the best shortstops around the league. But, his OPS+ is only 87 for his career — not exactly proving to be an offensive juggernaut, at least not consistently.
Swanson has been trending upwards offensively over the past two seasons, however. In his last 187 games, he’s slashed .258/.332/.436, resulting in his OPS+ 95, which is 5% below league average. 5% below average from a run creation standpoint is absolutely acceptable when Swanson averages about 2.4 WAR per 162 games due to great baserunning and defense. He was 2nd in the MLB with 1.4 dWAR in 2020. Remember, dWAR is an accumulation stat and not a rate stat, suggesting that he would have only continued to add value defensively if it were a full season.
From a Defensive Runs Saved standpoint, Swanson is a bit streaky. However, when he is good, he is terrific. In 2019, he only had 2 DRS, but he absolutely dominated last year with 10 DRS in only 513.1 innings. Swanson is also one of the more underrated baserunners in the league. If we look at Ultimate Base Running, which does not factor in steals, Swanson excels. In his four full seasons, he has accumulated 7.6 UBR. He also has a sprint speed of 28.5 feet per second, which puts him 49th in the league.
The Mets landed a premier shortstop in Francisco Lindor. He had a down season last year; Dansby was actually better. But if you factor in his sustained success over six years, he averages a 117 OPS+ and 5.9 WAR per 162 games played. Lindor’s career slash line is .285/.346/.833.
Defensively, he is no slouch either. He has accumulated 9.4 dWAR in 777 games and has 46 DRS in 6,697.2 innings. For comparison, Swanson has 18 in 4,284.2 innings. From a UBR standpoint, Lindor has accumulated -2.6 — one of the weakest parts of his game. He was actually outstanding from 2016-17 with 3.4. But, if you take those two years out, he has a disastrous -6. If Lindor and Swanson each prove that last year was the norm, they may swap in the rankings, but for now, Lindor is the best shortstop in the division.
Trea Turner of the Nationals could also have something to say about it. He had 2.4 WAR in 60 games in 2020, good for 8th in the MLB. He is one of the top baserunners in the league, with 9.8 UBR since 2016, and put together an unbelievable year at the plate, slashing .335/.394/.588. Turner averages 4.97 WAR per 162 games played, showcasing pretty mediocre defense, accruing 2.2 dWAR in 541 games. However, if we look at DRS, Turner is showing serious signs of regression. Last year, he had -7 DRS in only 479.2 innings and had -1 in 2019.
Miguel Rojas plays shortstop for the Marlins. He was on pace to have the best year of his career last season, posting a 141 OPS+ and a slash of .304/.392/.496, but that is not the norm for him. He averages an OPS+ of 86, and his BABIP suggests some serious regression in the future. Defensively, his numbers are also deceiving. In 2014, he was an absolute wizard with 10 DRS in only 283.2 innings at shortstop. Since then, he has 10 total combined. From a UBR standpoint, he does not really add any value with a career -0.1 mark.
Lastly, we have Didi Gregorius for the Phillies. Didi has been in the league longer than anyone else in this group, so let’s look at his last two years rather than his entire career. He had a 119 OPS+ last year, but since the start of 2019, he has an OPS+ of exactly 100. If you want to go back a little further since he only played 82 games in 2019, he has an OPS+ of 106 over the last five years. Since 2019, his slash line is .256/.302/.460.
Gregorious has accumulated 2.3 dWAR over the past five years, showing the glove is still there. However, he is regressing quickly, recording -12 DRS since 2019. He averages about 3.72 WAR per 162 over the past five seasons and is a very good baserunner, having accumulated 11.5 UBR in 911 games. As you can see, he is regressing but is still very much a serviceable shortstop. So far, he has had a better career than Swanson. However, this is a perfect example of how having a better career to a certain point does not mean you are the superior player in the present.
With all this in mind, here are my rankings:
This is in no way looking at Swanson negatively. In most divisions, he would be at the top of the list. The NL East just happens to have two of the best shortstops in the game. With that being said, Swanson has the opportunity to jump one or two names if he builds on his unbelievable 2020.
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