If you want to get defensive at shortstop in baseball, there’s no better place to be than the American League West.
The West features three of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, including two in Elvis Andrus and Erick Aybar who are also solid offensive players. Seattle’s Brendan Ryan may have one-upped the both of them last year with his defensive work at short.
Here’s a look at the team rankings of the shortstops in the West.
1. Texas – Plenty of Texas fans are already lamenting what’s going to happen when Elvis Andrus’ current contract expires after the 2014 season. They should enjoy what they have instead. Andrus, who is entering just his fifth season in the majors, is already a two-time All-Star with some of the best range in baseball and an ever-improving offensive game. Andrus is coming off a season in which he set career highs in games plays, at-bats, hits, doubles, triples and RBI. If that weren’t enough, his .286 average was a career best as were his numbers for on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. And he’s still just 24. He also cut his error total from 25 to 16 and matched his best fielding-percentage number. One area Andrus said he’d like to improve in for 2013 is in the stolen-base department. His 21 steals in 2012 were a career low but he should benefit from the team’s renewed plan to be more aggressive on the bases.
Team production in 2012: .281 average, 3 home runs, 63 RBI, .717 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .300 average, 5 home runs, 70 RBI, .725 OPS
1. Los Angeles – Erick Aybar has never been to an All-Star Game but the Angels would be in trouble without their steady shortstop. Aybar, who won a Gold Glove in 2011, has been a consistent force in the Los Angeles lineup. He’s played in at least 137 games in each of the last four seasons and has scored between 67 and 71 runs in each of the seasons. Aybar batted .290 last season with eight home runs, 45 RBI and stole 20 bases. That’s a typical Aybar season as the Angels can pencil him for 150 hits and solid play in the middle of the infield every year. Fans of defensive sabermetrics also like the consistency of Aybar, who ranked in the top five at shortstop in range factor for three-consecutive years. He doesn’t make as many flashy plays as Andrus or cover as much ground, but he makes every play he’s supposed to.
Team production in 2012: .293 average, 9 home runs, 54 RBI, .740 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .290 average, 10 home runs, 60 RBI, .725 OPS
1. Seattle – It’s hard to believe that Brendan Ryan spent his first two big-league seasons bouncing around the infield trying to find his place in St. Louis. He’s found it at short in Seattle. He’s started at least 120 games at short for the Mariners in each of the last three seasons. While both Andrus and Aybar are solid offensively, it’s primarily on defense that Ryan excels. Not only did he only make nine errors in 2012, but he ranks second among active shortstops in range factor per nine innings and won the Fielding Bible Award at shortstop last season. If Ryan could only hit, he’d be among baseball’s elite shortstops. But Ryan batted a paltry .194 last season with just three home runs and 31 RBI. He’s never had a season in which he’s hit more than four homers or had more than 39 RBI. When he does get on base, it’s normally a single too as Ryan’s never reached 30 extra-bases in a season. Both Andrus and Aybar eclipsed that mark in doubles alone last season.
Team production in 2012: .196 average, 3 home runs, 39 RBI, .543 OPS
Expected production in 2012: .225 average, 4 home runs, 40 RBI, .600 OPS
1. Oakland – The Athletics didn’t just go outside the organization for a shortstop this season, they went outside the country. Oakland signed Japanese veteran Hiroyuki Nakajima to a two-year deal for $6.5 million. He was a middle infielder with power in Japan, reaching the 20-homer mark three times and posting three 90 RBI seasons. Nakajima has struggled at the plate early this spring and has been erratic in the field too. If he falters, Oakland does have security behind in with the versatile Jed Lowrie, who was acquired from Houston. Lowrie started 90 games at short for the Astros last season and set a career high with 16 home runs but batted just .244. Both Lowrie and Nakajima will be better than what the Athletics got out of short last season, when no Oakland shortstop had more than five home runs or 18 RBI.
Team production in 2012: .203 average, 12 home runs, 46 RBI, .585 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .250 average, 15 home runs, 60 RBI, .650 OPS
1. Houston – The Astros have a shortstop of the future in Carlos Correa. Unfortunately for fans of Houston this year, Correa won’t be playing this season as he’s just 18 after being the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft. At shortstop this season, the Astros are going to have to make do with the likes of journeyman Tyler Greene, who has all of 621 at-bats under his belt. Marwin Gonzalez has also had a solid spring but only has 205 at-bats in the big leagues. Jake Elmore and his 68 at-bats is also an option. With those options, you can see why the Astros are pinning so much hope on Correa.
Team production in 2012: .243 average, 25 home runs, 63 RBI, .723 OPS
Expected production in 2013: .220 average, 10 home runs, 40 RBI, .600 OPS