Shortstop is a defensive position. Full stop. Few positions (other than catcher) permit a player to reach the big leagues based on the strength of their defensive game alone. If you can pick it at shortstop, you’ll usually have a job. Hitting isn’t optional but it ranks as a distant second in terms of prerequisites for big league shortstop success.
Not all shortstops are defensive whiz kids. Some are merely adequate, bringing enough to the table with their bats that a lack of range can be excused. Today, we honor the real glove men. The guys for whom defense ranks first, second, and third too.
Andrelton Simmons is probably the best defensive player in baseball right now. Simmons brings the full arsenal of defensive weapons: tremendous range, killer instincts and an absolute cannon for an arm.
Simmons also comes with every type of accolade a defender can ask for in 2013. Simmons ranks second among all players in both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating. He also lead all players in ESPN’s web gems at the All Star break.
Most of all, Simmons passes the smell test. Watching him play, even just watching his highlights, it becomes very, very clear that what they say about Simmons is true: nobody can go and get it quite like Andrelton. Even if they can, few infielders (or outfielders, for that matter), can match the power of Simmons’s throwing arm.
He truly is the complete package defensively and, to his credit, has improved his offense of late as well. After a stellar showing while representing Holland at the World Baseball Classic, Andrelton Simmons has translated some of the power he displayed in the preseason tournament. The 23-year old Atlanta Brave has 11 home runs on the season, despite slugging just .363. Five of those homers have come in July, when Simmons owns a .770 OPS. More than enough for a player of his considerable defensive skills.
Andeiny Hechavarria might not be on Simmons’ level but he is a wizard in his own right. The Marlins starting shortstop doesn’t boast the same kind of sparkling advanced metrics as his divisional rival from Atlanta but Hechavarria earned his reputation has a defensive dynamo as a young player in Cuba. Since making his big league debut last season as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, nobody is ready to strip that title from Hech.
Hechavarria plays the kind of shortstop where he seems to be moving in slow motion while everything else remains at full speed. He reaches balls with ease that off the bat appear to be base hits. He glides and plays with an uncommon smoothness that is exciting and somewhat disconcerting to watch.
Like Simmons, Hechavarria is in the big leagues for his defense first and foremost. His bat has been a quite surprise of late, showing an increased ability to put the bat on the ball and spending some time in the leadoff spot for the Marlins. While his July batting average of .348 isn’t “for real”, increasing his line drive rate each month of the season might allow Hechavarria to grab enough singles to justify keeping him in the lineup every day.
There is no way to dress up Elvis Andrus‘s 2013 season: ugly. After signing a eight-year contract extension with the Texas Rangers (which doesn’t kick in until 2015), Elvis Andrus looked to build on a career-best 2012 season. Instead, Andrus has struggled mightily at the plate.
Luckily, the Rangers didn’t give Andrus $120 million through 2022 for his bat. It is Andrus’ ability to play shortstop that landed him a lucrative pay day. His ability to leave his offensive struggles behind him when he takes the field suggest it should end up as money well spent.
When he isn’t showing off his accurate arm or ranging far and wide for all manner of ground ball, Elvis Andrus is entertaining Rangers fans in another way: his faux-volatile relationship with teammate and defensive rock in his own right, Adrian Beltre. The left side of the Rangers infield are constantly embroiled in a game of one-upmanship, attempting to distract or embarrass each other (without actually losing focus on the task at hand.) Nobody has more fun than Andrus and Beltre, even if the brilliant Rangers shortstop isn’t producing as expected at the plate.