According to the Baseball Hall of Fame researcher Freddy Borowski, the shortstop position was created by Doc Adams of the Knickerbockers. The field typically had eight to eleven players, as each base was covered and the remainder of the players were in the outfield. Players struggled to throw into the infield with the weight of the ball—known as liveballs, they had more rubber and were wound tighter, so they traveled further and faster. Borowski created a position around 1849 which could help relay throws into the infield. But as ball quality increased, the position moved further into the infield—eventually becoming the position we know today.
1. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Trea Turner both steal 40 bases this year.
Justification: I think we see an uptick in stolen bases this year. It won’t be massive but I think a combination of some potential ball changes coupled with an attempt to get on base more as pop flies become more corrosive create a desire to steal from those who do it at an elite level. Trea and Fernando each managed a 20/20 year last season and should be strong candidates for 30/30 this year. Trea stole 32 bases while being caught five times last season. Fernando Tatis Jr. stole 25 while being caught four times.
2. Tim Anderson finishes outside the top 15 shortstops.
Justification: Tim Anderson’s 2021 season included these stats:
4.0% walk rate (1st percentile)
21.6% K rate (48th percentile)
xwOBA of .329 (51st percentile)
BABIP of .357
Between 2020 and 2021, he saw a decline in barrel rate, sweet spot rate, xBA, xSLG, whiff%, and out of zone%. Unless he fixes a number of things, his numbers are hanging on but a somewhat lucky exit velocity when he does make contact. There are too many regression red flags here for me to go for him ANYWHERE in the top 10 shortstops.
3. Xander Bogaerts is a top 4 shortstop.
Justification: Just about each season I toss this one out there. It’s bold only because he somehow slips down the rankings each year despite repeatedly delivering top value. Do you know (ignoring the 2020 shortened season) he has had at least 70 runs and RBIs with a batting average above .270 and 20+ homers in four of the last five seasons? Looking for more than that? Okay, last year only three players had 160 combined runs and RBIs, a batting average above .260, an OBP above .250, and a SLG above .500: Fernando Tatis Jr., Brandon Crawford, and Xander Bogaerts—but if you went back a few years you’d find he’s always among the handful doing all of that.
4. Dansby Swanson cracks 100 RBI for the first time in his career.
Justification: Watching his progression in the big leagues, he is developing power and in the process utilizing it. His K-rate is rising as he is clearly swinging harder, mainly for power. Early in his career his hard hit rate was 36% (now 43%). Additionally, his exit velocity, max EV, and Barrel rate have all increased steadily as well. The good and bad of this is he is driving in more homers and more RBIs, the downside is he is pulling the ball as he chases the pitches earlier trying to get that sweet contact. Pitchers are getting savvy and throwing him more breaking balls, but he showed some progress from 2020 to 2021, improving from a .200 batting average to .221 as they increased the usage on him. It looks like he’s content to continue down this path and largely I’m optimistic that with Marcell Ozuna, Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley, and Ozzie Albies around, there will be plenty of guys on base to be knocked home by this additional power.
5. Alcides Escobar is top 5 in hits among shortstops this year.
Justification: Alcides is among the worst in the league in power and barrel rate, but what he lacks there he makes up for in making quality contact. Looking at his sweet spot rate (up 20% over the last five years), pitches topped or under hit (both improved by about 10% over the last few years)...both are likely part of his transition to Washington last year, where it looks like he worked on a better approach when hitting the ball. He was 22nd in hits among shortstops last year while only playing 75 games, if you gave him a full season he would be 2nd behind only Bo Bichette. There will be a bit of a learning curve, but even pitches where he struggled (breaking) he improved on in 2021, showing he is adapting his game.