MLB Network Top 10 Right Now Recap & Analysis: Shortstop

Throughout January and February, MLB Network will rank the top 10 players right now ahead of the 2019 season. Here at M-SABR, we are specifically interested in MLB Network’s most statistically-influenced list, compiled by “the Shredder.” In this series, we will react to the Shredder’s list and offer our own, based on our own statistical analysis. Check back every week for our recaps of the lists, which release at 9:00 PM Eastern every Saturday on MLB Network. Today, we are looking at the Shredder’s top 10 shortstops.

The Shredder’s List

  1. Francisco Lindor [2018: 3]
  2. Javier Baez [2018: NR]
  3. Trevor Story [2018: NR]
  4. Manny Machado [2018: NR]
  5. Andrelton Simmons [2018: 5]
  6. Carlos Correa [2018: 1]
  7. Corey Seager [2018: 2]
  8. Paul DeJong [2018: 7]
  9. Jean Segura [2018: 6]
  10. Didi Gregorius [2018: NR]

Now the Shredder has not gotten all these lists right, which the premise of our response series indicates, but you would be hard-pressed to disagree with the name at the top of this one. Coming off an incredible 7.6 fWAR season with 38 home runs, an MLB-leading 129 runs, 42 doubles and 25 stolen bases just for good measure, Francisco Lindor can add best shortstop in Major League Baseball to his trophy cabinet, right next to his reigning best smile title.

His fellow shortstop Manny Machado — who accumulated more WAR through his age 25 season than Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Willie Mays and Lou Gehrig (just to name a few) — might have just signed the single richest contract in free agency history, but Lindor is the rightful number 1, while Machado does not even crack the top 3 for the Shredder.

Instead, it is Javier Baez and Trevor Story at 2 and 3 respectively. Story’s .567 SLG and overall power production (37 HR and 42 doubles) have made him seem like a bit of an anomaly at shortstop since he reached the Majors and hit an MLB record 7 home runs in his first 6 career games in 2016. Admittedly, Baez’s numbers in the power department were not far behind this past year (34 HR and .561 SLG), but given that 2018 was his first ever season with an above league average wRC+ and his highly questionable plate discipline (5th worst Contact% and 2nd highest O-Swing% in MLB), his spot on this list feels too high.

These two are followed by the aforementioned Machado, Andrelton Simmons and Carlos Correa. The rep on Simmons was always that despite being a bonafide magician with the glove, the bat was simply missing for the man they call Simba. Since arriving in LA though, he followed up a sub-par 2016 with the best two hitting years of his career, instantly elevating him into a consistent 5 fWAR player, and thrusting baseball’s best defender into the top shortstop conversation. If anything the Shredder might still be a little low on him. Correa, meanwhile, has not been able to dodge the injury bug these past two years, but do not count out a man with a career 128 wRC+ at only age 24 when it comes to these rankings next year.

Speaking of injuries, poor Corey Seager was making a push in best player in the NL discussions before getting Tommy John surgery in 2018. But with a 7.0 fWAR rookie year and a 5.9 fWAR “sophomore slump”, the Shredder might be overreacting with his drop from 2 in 2018 to 7 now.

Rounding out the top 10 are DeJong, Segura and Gregorius, in that order. It’s hard to gripe with 8 and 9, both of whom are solid players, but putting Gregorius, yet another shortstop Tommy John victim, on this list when his recovery timetable is still unclear seems a little off—especially with players like Xander Bogaerts and Trea Turner still out there.

Good thing we get to take our own crack at this.

M-SABR’s Top 10

  1. Francisco Lindor
  2. Manny Machado
  3. Andrelton Simmons
  4. Corey Seager
  5. Carlos Correa
  6. Trevor Story
  7. Trea Turner
  8. Javier Baez
  9. Xander Bogaerts
  10. Jean Segura

The top two feel obvious. If Machado keeps doing what he’s done and lives up to his new, shiny contract, Cooperstown awaits. Yet, after seeing the heights of Lindor’s 2018 and considering the model of consistency he has been since entering the league, plus Machado’s questionable shortstop defense, Mr. Smile has to be the top dog heading into 2018.

At three, it is time to pay tribute to defense. The link to any of these incredible videos should make the case for Andrelton Simmons pretty self explanatory, but let’s cite some offensive and defensive numbers just in case. Since entering the league in 2012, the gap between Simmons and second-place Jason Heyward in Defensive Runs Saved is the same as the gap between Heyward and 45th place Brett Gardner. On the offensive side of things, a stark decrease in groundball rate has allowed Simmons’ OPS to exceed .700 each of the past two years. With the guys behind him on this list, .700 might not sound that much, but given health and other question marks, there is something to be said for simply plugging Simmons in at short and worrying about everything else later.

That being said, let’s get to the upside guys! Ordering Correa, Seager and Story really comes down to personal preference, but this is how we are going to do it here:

  • Seager’s injury cost him one season while Correa now has missed major chunks of two
  • Correa and Seager’s upsides seem higher than Story’s, whose success, while impressive, might always be a little bit inflated by Coors Park
  • Seager is the best defensive player of this group
  • Story’s strikeout rate is astronomical

Some of these arguments factor in more than others, but ultimately Seager, Correa, Story seems to be the way to go.

Trea Turner at 7 is a guy who seemed on track to be challenging the group of youngsters ahead after his rookie year. Settling for (maybe) fastest player in baseball is not a bad consolation price, but his 146 rookie year wRC+ made Turner seem destined for the upper tier of this list rather than simply an excellent leadoff hitter. A 4.8 fWAR in 2018 and 20 HR/50 SB potential make him one of the most fun players on this list either way though.

Rounding out M-SABR’s list are Baez, Bogaerts and Jean Segura. Yes, Baez had an excellent 2018, but the aforementioned plate discipline issues and underwhelming overall track record keep him below the big names ahead of him. It is hard to find much love for Bogaerts on a loaded Red Sox team, but the 26-year old is coming off a career year in which he posted new personal bests in HR, RBI, BB%, and wRC+, as well as a whopping .119 increase in SLG to .522 which placed him fourth at the position.

Last but not least, Gregorius gets bumped for one of the Phillies’ many offseason acquisitions. Segura might not be Machado, but a track record of success and at least 3.0 fWAR production across three previous teams earns him a spot on this list.

It should be interesting to check in on the top of this list next year, both given Machado’s massive contract, as well as the fact that there are 6 guys on this list that have an outside chance at reaching the top spot at some point in the coming years.

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