A Battle of Shortstop Futility

Even though 2010 was labeled “The Year of the Pitcher”, offense throughout Major League Baseball has continued to trend downward this season. This low run scoring environment makes it more difficult to find players at premium positions (i.e. C, SS, and CF) who are even average with the bat. Currently, only a third of all teams in baseball are getting above average offensive production from the shortstop position. At the opposite end of the spectrum, three groups of shortstops on playoff contending teams are battling to see who can be the most useless hitters.

The good news for these contenders is that there should be shortstops aplenty at this year’s trade deadline. To the victor of this battle goes the spoils. The spoils being Jose Reyes, who is having a whale of a year*. It’s possible that going from a replacement level group to Reyes would be worth five wins during the second half of the season. Five wins could easily catapult any of these teams into the playoffs. Consolation prizes of the underrated J.J. Hardy and the exciting, but oft-injured, Rafael Furcal could also be the difference between playing baseball or golf in October.

*Actually receiving said spoils depends on many factors.
1. The dealing team’s willingness to part with the player in question.
2. The receiving team’s ability to match the dealing team’s asking price.
3. The receiving team’s willingness to part with that asking price.
4. et cetera

Now, let’s meet the combatants.

First up, the defending World Champions, the San Francisco Giants. Coming into the season, the champs went with an old staple of General Manager Brian Sabean’s regime. Sabean signed the 37 year old Miguel Tejada, who played SS in only 58 games in 2010 while hitting eight percent worse than league average. The Tejada experiment worked so well that Li’l Mike Fontenot has played 22 games at the position. Prior to 2011, Fontenot had played SS in 13 games. Prospect Brandon Crawford has spent the last month manning SS for the Giants. Few question Crawford’s ability to field the position, but in 187 games in the Double-A Eastern League, he has a meager .250/.313/.369 line. In his first 25 games in San Francisco, he has been much, much worse. All in all, the Giants shortstops have combined to hit 51 percent worse than the league average.

The shortstops in Cincinnati have been similarly hopeless. As of June 28th, the duo of Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria — the same Renteria who was so impressive in 2010 that the Giants decided against re-signing him — have hit for a park and league adjusted wOBA of 48, one percentage point worse than the Giants’ group. They must be swinging toothpicks at the plate, because their power is embarrassing. If you add their ISO’s together, it’s still lower than that intimidating catcher, Jeff Mathis. The Reds do have an option in Zack Cozart down in Triple-A, but a trade would be the ideal situation.

Finally, no group of shortstops has been worse at the plate than the Tampa Bay Rays’ combo of Elliot Johnson and Reid Brignac. Their 40 wRC+ sits at the bottom of the leaderboard by a comfortable margin. Johnson has been playing more and more lately, and he must look like Honus Wagner out there. Brignac is only 25 and a former top prospect. His wOBA this year is .209 though. That’s unplayable. The Tampa Bay front office doesn’t have a reputation of blockbuster trades at the deadline. They should think about bucking that reputation, because no team stands to benefit more from adding a competent hitting shortstop.

Jose Reyes’ monster season is giving the Mets front office second thoughts about dealing him. There have also been rumors about a contract extension to keep J.J. Hardy in Baltimore. The Giants, Reds and especially the Rays need to make significant offers for these guys. Otherwise, they’ll win this battle that every team is trying to lose.

References and Resources
Baseball Reference and Fangraphs

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