Jays From the Couch compares Toronto Blue Jays’ SS, Troy Tulowitzki, to his AL East counterparts to see if he’s still got it
It seems every year that American League East acts as a showcase for the game’s top shortstops. The division was home to such greats as Cal Ripken Jr and Derek Jeter through the 1990’s and 2000’s and was where Nomar Garciaparra served his time in the fabled Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. There’s never been a shortage of elite shortstops in this division, and in 2017, there will be plenty more discussion on the subject. Here, we’ll compare the names that highlight that bunch in the upcoming season.
The numbers provided in this article were born on the pages of Fangraphs.com, both offense and defense. We’re also assuming that the shortstops with the most service in 2017 in the AL East will be Troy Tulowitzki (Blue Jays), Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox), JJ Hardy (Orioles), Didi Gregorious (Yankees) and Matt Duffy (Rays.) We could have gone Tim Beckham, but the Rays seem to have lost their interest in the first overall pick of the 2008 draft.
There’s a couple ways to look at the data, both offensive and defensive. At first look, Bogaerts and Tulowitzki run away with the offensive superiority. Bogaerts posted an .802 OPS and a wRC+ of 113, as well as a 6.1 fWAR, so it’s hard to argue Tulo over Xander. The dark horse here is Matt Duffy, acquired by the Rays in the Matt Moore trade at the deadline. He played just 91 games, but managed 5 HR and 28 RBI. Extrapolating that over 162 (healthy) games, and there might be a 15 HR, 75 RBI type lurking in that empty Florida stadium, especially after moving to the power-friendly parks of the AL East.
Down in the Bronx, however, we have Didi Gregorius. Rather quietly, Gregorius whacked 20 HR (some undoubtedly aided by the Little League park NYY play in) while driving in a similar amount of runners as Tulowitzki. However, fWAR values on-base skills in a big way, and Didi’s 3.2 BB% kept his OBP at an uninspiring .302 in 2016.
And then there’s always J.J. Hardy, who despite having a decent 9 HR, 48 RBI season, was only good for 2.3 fWAR, the second-lowest among ALE shortstops. Hardy is in his declining years, and will likely give up the shortstop position to Manny Machado before too long, should he not immediately sign with NYY as soon as he’s a free agent.
Let’s start with a disclaimer here. At best, defensive metrics are in their infancy. While the good work is being done, these numbers are far from gospel and should be taken with a grain of salt. We’re getting there, but at this point, don’t buy too much into errors, ultimate zone ratings and defensive runs saved out there.
That being said: Troy Tulowitzki and JJ Hardy are the guys to pay attention to here, both posting excellent DRS totals of 10 and 6, respectively, with Hardy taking a huge lead in UZR/150 (14.3 to Tulo’s 4.9). The most surprising numbers here, though, are the dreadful numbers tagged to Xander Bogaerts and Didi Gregorius, with both deeply in the negatives of both DRS and UZR/150. This is the part that’s so hard to take too seriously, as based on the eye test, neither Gregorius or Bogaerts seem to be poor fielders. Hardy remains solid if unspectacular, and I’m likely biased – but I’ve always been impressed with the steadiness, arm accuracy and strength of Tulowitzki at shortstop.
So how do we place the AL East shortstops in a hierarchy? Chemistry and intangibles aside, Bogaerts and Tulowitzki lead the pack. Unfortunately for Jays fans, though – the two have the largest divide in fWAR, with Bogaerts good for 4.6 in 2016 to only 2.8 from Tulowitzki. Is Bogaerts twice the player Tulowitzki is? That itself would be hard to justify. Should some regression come to the Boston SS this season with an increased walk rate and baserunning value from the hometown guy, an we’re having a much different conversation.
*Featured Image Credit: Terry Foote UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.