Eleven months ago Alcides Escobar was voted into the All-Star game as the AL’s starting shortstop. Escobar is an oft-praised defender with plus speed on a Royals team that was coming off a World Series loss and headed for a World Series win, but he also ended the first half with a modest .699 OPS and finished the season with a .614 OPS that nearly matched his .636 career mark through age 28. Alcides Escobar, All-Star starting shortstop just seemed a little lofty.
Royals fans stuffed the ballot box so much that second baseman Omar Infante and his .555 OPS nearly got voted into the game as well, but in Escobar’s case the story wasn’t so much about an undeserved selection as no other AL shortstops standing out as clearly deserving. In other words, don’t blame Escobar or Royals fans for his being in the starting lineup alongside the biggest stars in the league. None of the AL shortstops had an OPS above .750 at the All-Star break. The chosen backup was light-hitting Jose Iglesias, another glove-first player whose career OPS is .680.
Eleven months later, the AL’s shortstop landscape has changed so dramatically that the position as a whole has a higher collective OPS (.709) than Escobar had at the time of the All-Star break last year (.699) and Escobar has been the worst-hitting shortstop in the entire league. Xander Bogaerts is hitting .359/.405/.527 for the Red Sox. Manny Machado, who shifted from third base to shortstop following J.J. Hardy’s foot injury, is hitting .308/.376/.600 for the Orioles. Francisco Lindor, who made his debut exactly one year ago today, is hitting .304/.360/.450 for the Indians. Carlos Correa, the reigning Rookie of the Year, is hitting .256/.351/.423 for the Astros.
- Carlos Correa, career: 160 games, .825 OPS, 22 steals
- Francisco Lindor, career: 160 games, .825 OPS, 22 steals
How they’ve gotten to that identical .825 OPS through 160 career games is much different—Correa has 11 more homers and 23 more walks, while Lindor has 41 fewer strikeouts and a 60-point edge in batting average—but the end result is equally impressive. The only shortstops in baseball history with an OPS higher than .825 through their first 160 games are Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Joe Sewell, and Hanley Ramirez.
Here is the AL leaderboard for WARP among players with 30-plus starts at shortstop:
3.3 – Manny Machado
3.2 – Francisco Lindor
3.0 – Xander Bogaerts
1.5 – Carlos Correa
Last season’s starting All-Star shortstop, Escobar, totaled 1.7 WARP for the entire year. Machado, Lindor, and Bogaerts have already blown past that mark with nearly a month to go until the break, and Correa figures to be above 1.7 WARP by the end of the first half as well. And here’s the kicker: None of those four shortstops is older than 23. Correa is the youngest at 21, Lindor is 22, and Bogaerts and Machado are 23. In the time between All-Star games, the AL went from Escobar being a reasonable starting choice to having four 23-and-under stud shortstops.
But wait, it gets even crazier. Dodgers rookie Corey Seager, who fits between Correa and Lindor at 22, leads NL shortstops in WARP at 2.5. Trevor Story, the 23-year-old Rockies rookie, ranks fifth among NL shortstops in WARP at 1.8. In all, the four best shortstops in baseball this season and six of the top dozen shortstops are 23 years old or younger. Machado, Lindor, Bogaerts, and Seager each rank among the top 15 in WARP at any position. That all struck me as unheard of, but I double-checked the numbers to make sure and … well, yes, it is unheard of.
Just seven times in the history of baseball have multiple 23-and-under shortstops produced at least 4.0 wins in the same season (1964, 1972, 1996, 1997, 2006, 2007, 2013). And only once did three or more 23-and-under shortstops each reach 4.0 wins: 1997, with 23-year-old Nomar Garciaparra (6.0), 21-year-old Alex Rodriguez (4.8), and 23-year-old Derek Jeter (4.1). That kicked off what has since been considered the Golden Age of Shortstops.
This season Machado, Lindor, and Bogaerts may each get to 4.0 wins by the All-Star break, Seager seems like a strong bet to join them in the 4.0 wins club shortly after the break, and Correa and Story have some chance of also gaining entry during the second half. What we’re seeing now might be the best collection of young talent ever assembled at the position, particularly when you consider their respective pedigrees. This isn’t just some young players coming out of nowhere to have early success while everyone assumes they’ll come crashing back down to earth.
Correa was the no. 1 pick in the 2012 draft and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as a top-five prospect in 2014 and 2015. Machado was the no. 3 pick in 2010 and made our top 10 in 2012. Lindor was the no. 8 pick in 2011 and rated among the top 10 in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Seager was the no. 18 pick in 2011 and was the consensus no. 1 prospect this year. Bogaerts signed for $410,000 as a 16-year-old and was the consensus no. 2 prospect in 2014. And even Story, who appears to be a step below the other five, was a first-round pick in 2011 and cracked our top 101.
All of which resembles the aforementioned 1997 season, when Rodriguez, Jeter, and Garciaparra topped 4.0 wins after all being first-round picks and highly touted prospects. Except this time around there are six instead of three. And there's Addison Russell of the Cubs, who has just 0.3 WARP this season, but at 22 also has considerable upside. And there's J.P. Crawford, our preseason no. 4; Orlando Arcia at no. 12, Trea Turner at no. 13, and a total of nine shortstops in the top 30.
Last week I wrote about how MLB-wide production at first base is at its lowest point since 1949, in large part because most of the best-hitting first basemen of the 2000s got old/hurt and very few young sluggers stepped up to replace them. The opposite is true at shortstop, where the position is experiencing an influx of young talent like never before and has another wave of potential star shortstops making their way up through the minors to join Machado, Bogaerts, Lindor, Correa, Seager, and Story.
Nothing against Alcides Escobar, but this is a lot more fun to watch.
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