Is the answer to our SS problem right under our nose?
While perusing the season's statistics, I think I came across a guy who could fit in with our team next year.
For starters, he is the 9th best (of 30 teams) SS in the big leagues, using OPS (on base % + slugging %). He is highly thought of defensively. He also takes a lot of pitches, as he's 4th in the majors among shortstops in pitches per plate appearance. Some other numbers of note:
His weaknesses are his BA and his OBP, as he ranks 19th & 20th in those rankings. Oh, and he strikes out quite a bit. Considering his other positives, that could be overlooked, in my view.
Surely, his salary must be prohibitive, you say? Well, he is due to make a bit over $3 million, and is signed through 2002. Not that high, certainly.
What's funny about this is that while a few of you may be asking, "What would it take to get this guy?", most of you have likely correctly surmised that the SS I described above is, indeed, Jose Hernandez, our current SS.
Jose is not a great SS, and he never will be. But, OPS is by far the most accurate gauge of offensive ability, and the fact that only 8 teams have received more production from the SS position seems to outweigh the fact that many feel Jose is undeserving of playing time. Actually, I feel Jose has been overvalued this season for his defense. He ranks in the middle of the pack in defensive stats, and while he may look the part of a shortstop, he fields his position at a mediocre level, maybe just slightly above.
That said, Jose is still more productive than all but eight shortstops in the majors. Anyone think that any of those eight will be available this winter? Me neither.
Other options? Mark Loretta is signed for $5 million next year. Lo would give you similiar production (higher OBP, lower SLG), and cost $1.7 mil more. Elvis Pena, a speedy prospect acquired with Mike DeJean from the Rockies, has struggled in his first season at AAA, and will finish with less than a 650 OPS...a notch below the bigs. Marcos Scutaro, who has produced at a 850 OPS clip in AAA, is limited with his defense. Marcos has played 2B at Indianapolis this year, but has played SS in the past. He may be an option, but is very unlikely he will unseat Jose.
Sometimes, when you watch a team play, little irritating things get in the way of objectively judging a player. Jose is a slugging SS, and will strike out more than you'd prefer. Occasionally, those K's will come at inopportune times. We notice that, and it bothers us. At times it is best to take a step back, and compare him to other players at his position. When doing so, it is obvious that Jose is a better run producer than the vast majority of his SS counterparts.
Anyone looking to "upgrade" that spot next year is likely looking at replacing him with a .270 BA, spunky little contact hitter. Too bad that won't mean a thing unless you also improve that position's OPS. That seems VERY unlikely.