The top 5 SS free agents, by the numbers

We’ve been talking about this winter’s amazing group of free agent shortops for a long time and, well, finally here we have them. Even without Puerto Rican Francisco Lindor, who signed a $ 341 million contract extension with the Mets before the 2021 season, we still have Puerto Ricans Carlos Correa and Javier Báez, Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Marcus Semien.

These five talented shortstops come in different shapes, sizes, ages, and tools. So how do they differ and who is the best fit for your team? That could depend on what you are looking for.

1) Who is… the youngest?

This is the age each of the five will be by Opening Day 2022:

This is more important than many believe. Baseball stars are getting younger and younger and that’s why players like Manny Machado get 10-year contracts, because they hit the free market shortly after age 25. According to FanGraphs, for example, players like Correa and Seager will win contracts for seven or eight years, Story for six years and Semien and Báez for four years.

Correa is five months older than Seager and debuted three months earlier in 2015, so there is no major difference between them here, but they both have a significant advantage over the rest of the group. Story and Báez were born two weeks apart in 1992. Semien is the exception here, turning 32 at the end of the 2022 campaign. In fact, he debuted so long ago that Derek Jeter, Alex Rodríguez and Ichiro Suzuki were in the lineup. rival that day.

So you might think that teams will lean towards younger players, with long contracts, except …

2) Who have been … the healthiest?

… Let’s flip that list completely.

For the last four seasons, the lead in games played looks like this.

Seager lost much of 2018 to Tommy John surgery, and has since also lost time with injuries to his left hamstring and a broken right hand. Correa broke a rib in 2019 and lost playing time in 2017 and 2019 due to back discomfort, although he remained healthy throughout 2021. In fact, of the five players in this group, only Semien played more games between 2020 and 2021. Story, meanwhile, has lost a few games due to thumb and shoulder problems.

This complicates matters quite a bit, because Seager’s injuries (mainly the Tommy John, but also the fractured right hand from being hit by a ball) are a bit strange. Meanwhile, Correa’s back discomfort is worrisome for someone so young, although they have not resurfaced in the last two years. On the other hand, only three players have played more duels than Semien in the last four seasons, but he is the oldest in our quintet.

3) Who is… the best defender?

This is a trick question, because the answer is “none of them”, at least if we look beyond these five.

How is that possible? Because the free-agent shortstop who has added the most defensive value, according to Statcast’s Outs Over Average (OAA), is Andrelton Simmons, who has been one of the best defenders in the league for nearly 10 years. Of course, Simmons has a 71 OPS + and 10 home runs over the past three seasons, so now he’s just one of the options for those who can’t sign Correa, Seager, Baez, Story and Semien.

Simmons aside, the 2021 Outs Above Average list of our five shortstop looks like this:

But here a lot of context is needed. Let’s start with the best two, because that’s easy. Correa has always been a great defender. Since 2018, he’s tied with Simmons for third-best defensive shortstop with an OAA of +49. Seager has always been competent, but not spectacular, and will most likely move to third at some point. Since 2018, it has an OAA of minus-3, or slightly below average.

With the other three things are more complicated.

Semien moved to second base when he arrived in Toronto in 2021 and played well enough there to win a Gold Glove. He still played 21 games at shortstop, leaving +7 OAA at second and -2 at short stops. In the last four seasons, he has -13 in shorts, which seems to indicate that the best of each for the future is to leave him in the middle.

Baez, for his part, has been an impressive and stellar defender for years. But there is a detail. Since 2018, he has been the third most valuable defender (not counting catchers), behind Nick Ahmed and Lindor, combining his time at second, third and shorts. However, the evidence suggests that it is declining, because after its monstrous 2019 with + Outs Above Average, it had +9 in the shortened 2020 campaign and +3 in 2021. It is not a problem, but it is a topic to follow from close.

And Story? In 2019, he was one of the top five defensive shortstops. Between 2016 and 2020, it was in the Top 10. But in 2021, it fell to -7. (Another metric, Defending Races Saved, considers that he is still solid with the glove.) Perhaps it was a slump of a year and nothing more, although it must be remembered that he injured his elbow at the end of May, and since then his shots have lost strength.

4) Who was… the best hitter?

This is easier to see because hitting is the easiest tool to evaluate. This is how things looked in 2021.

It was a bad year for Story, who left an OPS + of 123 between 2018 and 2020. And while there is the issue of Coors Field, recent cases such as those of Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu show us that good Rockies hitters can also have success outside of Denver.

Looking at Statcast’s more advanced numbers, which focus on quality of contact (along with strikeouts + traded walks) over results, Seager tops the list and Baez comes in last. It’s also interesting that Semien’s big season looks even better from this vantage point, which might suggest that the batter-friendly pair of stadiums the Blue Jays played before returning to Toronto improved their stats. At Dunedin, he had a .914 OPS; at Buffalo, OPS of .933; in Toronto, OPS of .801.

While some highlighted Semien’s decline in 2020 between two excellent years, Báez has also gone through several ups and downs. In 2019, the Puerto Rican had an OPS + of 115; in 2020, a disappointing OPS + of 59; In 2021, he had a .242 / .287 / .474 offensive line average through Sept. 2 before coming on in recent weeks to improve his season stats.

It is similar, though not identical, if the OPS + list is expanded over the last three seasons.

This time, the ranking based on the Statcast metrics is: Seager, Correa, [una gran diferencia], Story, Semien and Báez.

Depending on your point of view, there are either Two Greats (Seager and Correa) or Three Greats (with Semien joining the group), followed by Story / Báez as the last two.

It is also worth noting that this is in line with the strikeout rate, where Correa and Seager are better than average, Semien near average, Story slightly below average, and Báez’s strikeout rate of 34% in 2021 one of the greatest in all of baseball.

When the debate arises as to whether strikeout rate is that important to a hitter, it generally means in the sense that all kinds of contact is not good contact, because turning a strikeout into a smooth roll doesn’t add any value, and it’s not bad. if sluggers like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton fan themselves because their contact qualities are so good. But in this case, with the power that each of the five infielders has and the excellent quality of contact, the more they do it, the better.

5) Who fared better… against elite fastballs?

This is not more important than overall performance on offense, but since there is no information on swing speed, looking at success against faster pitches can be good evidence of bat speed, and what better. shows that takeoff speed. If a hitter wants to anticipate the fastball, that could leave him vulnerable to breakers and slower pitches.

So let’s take a look at what these hitters did against all pitches over 95 miles per hour. If we start with the 2021 blank swings against +95 mph, here’s a big point in Semien’s favor. As a context, the average in the majors was 23.5%.

The rankings haven’t changed in the last three years, and there’s a fair amount of year-over-year consistency from Correa, Semien and Story, although Seager and especially Báez took a big step back in 2021. Again, Semien, Correa and Seager are the top three, with Story and Báez at the bottom.

How about the production against the high speed in the last three years? OPS is not the perfect metric to measure this – because it is not adjusted to the stadiums and there is one who played with the Rockies – but it can be understood and explains things in a certain way.

By a more advanced metric, of the 261 hitters with at least 100 at-bats who finished with pitches above 95 mph in the past three years, Semien was 10th best in all of baseball. Story was 66th, Seager 82nd, Correa 115th and Báez 252nd, or 10th from bottom to top.

6) Who was the fastest on the bases?

This is not of much consequence compared to the other more important aspects, although it is worth noting that Semien, Story and Báez each have stolen between 15-20 bases per year, while Correa and Seager had a total of one scam. For those first three, part of their value is what they contribute on the grassroots.

Observing the Speed Sprint of Statcast, which sets 27 feet / second as ‘average’, there is a clear difference between the three oldest players – it can be considered a tie at the top – and the two youngest, but not in the way that some they think.

28.7 ft / second – Story

28.6 ft / sec – Báez, Semien

26.9 ft / second – Belt

26.5 feet / second – Seager

It would be more interesting if there were patterns in this regard, reasons to question the future of any of them or injuries, as they have been noted in the past. Story has consistently been in the 90th percentile or better among all runners, even if 2021 was his fewest. Baez and Semien have consistently been in the 80th percentile for speed.

However, Correa took a big step backwards, because he was in the 80th percentile from 2015 to 2016, close to the 65th percentile in the four years later, and fell to the 48th percentile in 2021, or almost below average. Seager is also at the 39th percentile, the worst of his career (if you rule out 2018, when he didn’t see much action). They are also the best players here, so this is not as important as some would think.

7) Who has the best projection for 2022?

This is what it’s all about, right? While obviously each of these players will receive a long-term contract if they wish, we can at least take a look at what the 2022 projections say, according to Steamer.

As winter progresses, other projection systems will pull their numbers, and while some will question some of the numbers – we think Baez’s is too low – the overall rankings look good.

In the end, Correa is the best combination of youth, offense and fielding. Seager’s bat may be at the level of Correa, but fielding is not, which puts him slightly below the Puerto Rican. Semien has a good recent track record, but he’s four years older, which projections take into account, and he might not result in playing shortstop. Story and Báez have clear strengths, but probably more questions, although being at the bottom of this group is not necessarily an insult to realize who the first three are.

In conclusion, there is no bad alternative here, at least in the sense that if a team needs a shortstop and wants a shortstop, they won’t have a problem finding one. Even without Lindor, this is an incredibly good, deep, and talented litter.

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