Back in the late 1990's the American League tauted the three best shortstops in all of baseball and Derek Jeter. ARod, Nomar, and Miguel Tejada all seemingly redefined the position by being immense power threats as well as top notch glovemen...and Jeter had his queer inside out swing and his fairy jump throw from the hole. The Ozzie Smith's, Rafael's Santana and Belliard, were ushered out in favor of the new prototype shortstop who could actually hit the ball hard. Sure Barry Larkin and Cal Ripken were around, but there was a huge chasm between them and the next legitimate offensive threats at the position. For years the National League lagged behind the American League in elite shortstops (my sincerest apologies to Rey Ordonez), but as I write this the NL is long on top shelf shortstops (whew clever word play!). J.J. Hardy, Jose Reyes, and Hanley Ramirez all are having all-star caliber seasons and project to be amongst the most productive players in baseball for years to come. Here are their respective stat lines:
Player Age OBP SLG BA R HR RBI SB (sorry about the format)
Hardy 24 .340 .546 .294 36 16 47 0
Reyes 23 .398 .470 .315 42 2 26 31
Ramirez 23 .378 .491 .308 51 8 17 17
It's going to be infinitely fun over the next several years to debate about which of these young shortstops is the best in the league. Based on last year and this year's productivity I am going to have to go with with Reyes. He has the best OBP of the group and many sabermetricians tell you that OBP should be valued higher than SLG%. Ramirez is not that far behind Reyes however, as their OPS's are practically equal and Ramirez has the potential to steal as many bases as Reyes. Reyes's power numbers are still respectable since he hits so many doubles and triples and he is a more potent longballer than the modest two homeruns he has hit this year, but his slugging percentage is deflated because it does not take into account his stolen bases. If after a single, he steals first with no outs, it's as if he doubled, but that is not reflected in his slugging. There needs to be some sort of sliding scale metric to factor stolen bases into slugging percentage based on outs made after getting on base but before stealing the base, but that is a post for another time. JJ Hardy has the best power potential of the three and projects to be a 30 hr guy through the years. Hardy's glove is also comparable to the other two. This year his range factor is 3.78 and his zone rating is .819. In comparison Reyes is sporting a 4.03 and .901 and Ramirez has a 4.03 and .802.
All three of these players have taken dramatic steps forward over the last season or two and might be just the players the MLB marketing department should build around (especially Reyes and Ramirez) in the post-steroid era.
Coming soon: Taking a look at Trevor Hoffman and his ilk's place in baseball history.