A recurring topic this offseason has been the Giants’ search for a qualified shortstop, whether it be a permanent solution or a stop-gap player. We’ve written a lot of posts on the Giants and their problems with short. In 2011 we saw the collapse of Miguel Tejada’s career; and, we also probably saw the collapse of Orlando Cabrera’s career. Both players looked like veterans who were on their way out of baseball, and if both want to continue their playing career in 2012, it’s looking like they’ll have to do it on a minor league deal.
But, today’s post isn’t here to tell you just how bad the Giants were at the shortstop position last year (answer: incredibly bad), but rather to do a quick look-see at some of the remaining free agent shortstops.
The idea is pretty simple: average the past three years from FanGraphs, limit it to players that have played at SS, again limit to those who accrued at least 1,000 plate appearances, and then rank those players in four categories (hitting, fielding, baserunning, and playing time) from best to worst. I’m using playing time as a proxy for health, but there is also some usage bias going into the mix. Hitting is based on wRC+, fielding is based on Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and baserunning is from FanGraph’s baserunning value metric that gets folded into their Wins Above Replacement calculations.
Running our search (1,000 PAs over the past three years, played time at shortstop) results us in 34 players that fit the description. The resulting players range from Derek Jeter to Ryan Theriot; so, there’s a pretty varied mix of talent in this group. I’m particularity interested in the following players because they’ve either been linked to the Giants, or they just interest me.
The players I’ve picked out are: Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Rafael Furcal, Jerry Hairston Jr., Alex Gonzalez and comedy option, Yunkiesky Betancourt.
Here are the graphs in that particular order with some brief commentary:
Reyes is billed as the top talent this offseason at shortstop and for good reason — he can hit. Over the past three years only two shortstops (Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki) have posted better wRC+ scores. Reyes’ wRC+ score over the past three years (124) is good for any position, let alone shortstop. However, Reyes does have some risks, mostly health related. As you can see, out of 34 shortstops, he ranks 24th in playing time — that’s less than Rafael Furcal who carries the “injury prone” tag. Reyes’ fielding and baserunning aren’t top notch, but you can live with what he does on the field and the base path’s because of his offense.
Rollins is probably the most well rounded shortstop in our grouping. He can hit, field, run, and he’s been relatively healthy. In Giants terms, Rollins is more affordable than Reyes, but there haven’t been any indications that the Giants are interested in Rollins. He’s been a very good player over his career that does a little bit of everything. I like him and would be thrilled to have him.
After running these graphs, I’ve ratcheted up my enthusiasm for Furcal. His graph is comparable to both Reyes and Rollins, but he’ll sign at a fraction of their price. He’s not without risks (health, mostly), but the team that does sign him could do quite well. He’s my preferable free agent shortstop right now. An underrated option in my opinion.
Jerry Hairston Jr.
The Giants have been linked to Hairston Jr. this offseason in their quest to find a utility player. He’s not a full time shortstop, but he’s rated surprisingly well with the glove while playing the position. I was surprised by his baserunning scores since he profiles as a pretty speedy player, but as we know, foot-speed doesn’t always equate to good baserunning skills. He’s been a competent-ish hitter, too. Over the past three seasons his wRC+ (89) makes him a decent option to spot start when you need him.
He’s the best fielder out there, but he offers little else in the way of skills. Oh, and the Giants are interested in him. It’s hard to say if Gonzalez would be better than Brandon Crawford, and unless I have to, I’d rather not pay the $4-5M to find out.
I’ll say this: LOL. It will be amazing if a team willfully pays Betancourt money to play shortstop for them. He doesn’t hit, he’s the worst fielding shortstop in our group, and he’s not terrific at baserunning. Yet, he’s near the top for playing time. Guys like Betancourt really drive home the point that depth at short right now is pretty limited in the majors. There aren’t many guys who are worse than Brandon Crawford, but Yuni is one of them. Avoid.
After looking at these graphs, like I said above, I really like the idea of Furcal. He should sign for a two year deal and he’s nearly on par with the top, very expensive, free agent talent. Of course you take the risk that he’ll blow out his legs by May, but there is a nice balance of risk and reward with Furcal. If you forced my hand, I’d probably take Hairston Jr. after him. Rollins seems to make a lot of sense for the Giants, but like Reyes, they aren’t going to bid so I’m not going to kid myself.
UPDATE: Shankbone, in the comments section, asks: “Morbidly curious if Theriot had any good rankings on this scale.”
He’s in the bottom third for hitting (25 out of 34), fielding (23 out of 34), and baserunning (29 out of 34). And yet he’s played a ton (6 out of 34). Go figure. For me, I’d place him in the minor league contract category. Though, I can see the Giants going for him if they want a utility player to shift between 2B and SS, even though by all accounts he’s a below average defender at short.