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MLB - AL Shortstops Are Elite Threesome

By Sean Rogers
Saturday, August 24th, 2002
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A few weeks ago, a slender man sporting a fake afro, presumably bought at a costume store, was the center of attention at Cooperstown. He was known for his slick-fielding base-stealing, who later developed into an above-average hitter. The most homeruns this so called Wizard had ever hit in one single season was 6. His career batting average was .262. Yet, because he was a shortstop, he was considered a Hall of Famer for those numbers.

Flash forward to today. The Brewers shortstop, a fellow enjoying a career-year named Jose Hernandez, is hitting .272, 11 points better than Smith's career clip, with 21 homeruns, roughly the amount that Smith hit for his entire career.

Without further adieu, the time has come to enroll Jose Hernandez in the Hall of Fame. Your Hall of Fame invitation is in the mail, Jose. Really -- it should be there any day.

All kidding aside, the gaping differences between Jose Hernandez and Ozzie Smith show one major thing -- how much the position of major league shortstop has changed. A shortstop used to be known as the defensive captain, a light hitting, perhaps No. 1, No. 2, or No. 8 hitter, who could steal a few bases and bunt runners along. Cal Ripken, Jr. may have been one of the first to transform the position, telling people that it was acceptable for shortstops to put up numbers normally only considered natural for outfielders and corner infielders.

Now, though, we are completely in the land of Alex Rodriguez. Rey Sanchez, a slick-fielding player hitting .290, could not find a team that wanted him until late in spring training, when the Red Sox decided to move his position to second base. Change has wreaked havoc on the position of shortstop, and as a result, some of the deepest debates have come down to which shortstops are the best.

Of course, flash back to two years ago, and the top three shortstops were all fairly set. Alex Rodriguez was a Mariner putting up huge numbers in the absence of Ken Griffey, Jr. and Nomar Garciaparra was leading his team to what they thought might be their first World Series in 75 years. Derek Jeter? He hadn't been doing much -- you know, he was just the biggest star on the team that was considered to be a dynasty, rarely losing championships.

All over the American League, more young shortstops were coming up, wondering if they would ever even get a chance to play in an all-star game with a clear elite echelon of shortstops already established.

Back to the present. The position of shortstop has continued to evolve, and three of the top four RBI leaders are shortstops (the other is White Sox OF Magglio Ordonez.) But before you assume that it is the same top three, remember that change is always present in baseball -- the type of change that can make a Hall of Famer's stats (Ozzie Smith) compare poorly with a meddling veteran on a poor team. Yes, change has happened again.

Two of the players are still in that top RBI range. Nomar Garciaparra and Alex Rodriguez are still putting up mammoth numbers, although Rodriguez is now leading a struggling Texas Rangers team instead of an up-and-coming Mariners roster. The third member of this group, though, can be quickly forgotten.

Without naming names, compare the stats of these three players, all of which have started all season. Toronto SS Chris Woodward also could be approaching this top level with his recent power surge, but due to the lack of games he has played, he will not be included.

Player A: .275, 13 HR, 61 RBI, 15 SB, .774 OPS (on base average + slugging percentage)

Player B: .303, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 27 SB, .805 OPS

Player C: .305, 27 HR, 107 RBI, 3 SB, .854 OPS

Player C leads in all categories except for SB, making him the clear cut choice for the next best shortstop. Yet, the name of this player is not Derek Jeter, it is Oakland's Miguel Tejada. Some have argued that Tejada's emergence should lead columnists to say that there are four elite shortstops in the American League, but why? Player A and Player B (Omar Vizquel and Derek Jeter, respectively) are very similar. Should we add in Omar Vizquel as an elite shortstop? Probably not.

To be honest, the only real reason that Derek Jeter should be considered an elite player is that he has won four world championships, whereas Tejada, Garciaparra, and Rodriguez have combined for 0. Using this same reasoning, it should be assumed that Tino Martinez is better than Todd Helton, Scott Brosius is better than Scott Rolen, and Chuck Knoblauch is better than Roberto Alomar. Yeah, right. Put Chris Woodward on the Yankees and people will be calling him an MVP, too.

Derek Jeter is a phenomenal player, and certainly very clutch, especially in the playoffs, but to continue considering him in the same level as Rodriguez, Tejada, and Garciaparra is inaccurate. Ten years ago, Jeter would have been considered, quite possibly, the best shortstop ever to live. Now he gains fame solely for being the best shortstop on the best team.

And, in an around the horn format...

Sean's Quick Hits

Jarrod Washburn deserves as much Cy Young consideration as Derek Lowe. ... Jason Jennings deserves the ROY as much, if not more, as Kaz Ishii and Josh Fogg. ... Torii Hunter and Miguel Tejada deserve more MVP praise than either Yankee star, both of which could exist without the other. ... Randy Johnson may be the best pitcher, EVER. And finally, the Oakland A's will FINALLY win a World Series, over the rejuvenated Houston Astros, led by bullpen aces Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner. That's all, I'm out.

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