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The Best Players of the Last 50 Years - Part II - Shortstops

March 29, 2020
This is part II of my series on the greatest players of the last 50 years, which I have dubbed the "Dan Marks Era", as it aligns with the 50 years that I have been following baseball.
 A few administrative notes:
·         If you didn't read the introduction to the series, explanation of the methodology (and catcher rankings) can be read here
·         One reader of the original article asked in the comments section if, by saying that I only wanted to include players whom I had personally see play, if that meant that I had seen them either on TV or live, and not just watching them in the stadium in person. That is a correct interpretation, but I would expand it to say that it also includes the general experience of living through the players' careers, because I feel that there is a bit of an osmosis process that occurs simply by following the sport day by day and year by year, and we all acquire a lot of information and formulate a lot of opinions about players through that experience.

·         The focus for each article was to come up with the top 25, and when I present those rankings they include any subjective adjustments I have made. I mostly tried to let the methodology determine the general order of the rankings, and I adjusted if I felt strongly enough to alter any of them. At the end of the article, I will also include #26-50 without commentary, and those rankings reflect how everyone who fell outside the top 25 fared without any further subjective adjustments.
You may also see various abbreviations of the 11 categories that I used in the methodology from time to time. Those are summarized below:
WAR career WAR
WAR per 162 games
Total WAR in best 7 seasons
MVP Points (explained in kickoff article)
All Star selections
Games played (all positions)
Career Win Shares (per Baseball Gauge)
Win Shares per 162 games
Win Shares in best 7 seasons
Career Defensive WAR
Career Wins Above Average
As an additional note, I don't have content ready to roll every day. I basically do the data work first and get that organized, and then it takes me a while to do additional research and fact-checking while I write the brief player observations. So, there will likely be at least a few days in between each article.
Shortstops - The Results
Did anyone just miss getting included due to the timeline cutoff? 
Jim Fregosi and Rico Petrocelli just missed the 1970 Dan Marks Era cutoff, as both of their career midpoints were halfway through 1969. I could have bent the rules and included them, but it made more sense to leave them out. Fregosi had 6 All Star seasons, but the final one was 1970, and Petrocelli's big year was 1969, so I opted to exclude them.
Any active players outside of the top 25 worth noting?
There are 3 active players in the top 25, not including Troy Tulowitzki (who just retired recently). Outside of the top 25, active players who could eventually make it include Elvis Andrus (currently #27) and 2 of the younger ones who could start shooting significantly up the rankings, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts.   They're all worthy, but (especially in the case of Correa and Bogaerts), I decided to hold off bumping them up just yet. As you'll see later, I had no such reservations about Franciso Lindor.  Brandon Crawford and Asdrubal Cabrera are both in the upper 30's in the rankings, but I don't anticipate them improving their positions much.
Any surprise omissions? 
Nobody shocking. Before starting the process, I thought maybe Garry Templeton or Bill Russell might make the top 25, although I can't recall why I might have thought that.
#25-Mark Belanger
Best category: You kidding? dWAR, of course (2nd to Ozzie)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (94th)
The Bob Boone (who made the top 25 catcher rankings) of the shortstop crop, but even more so. Here for his excellent defense, of course. He actually ranked even higher by the unadjusted methodology. I subjectively docked him a little, although not enough to drive him out of the top 25, mostly because I didn't really have anyone else that I felt strongly enough to replace him. 
Belanger's 2nd place in career dWAR to Ozzie is well deserved and consistent with what I would have expected, as I would subjectively rate him the 2nd best defensive shortstop I've ever seen. Smooth as silk, just beautiful to watch field his position, he never seemed to misstep, and was absolutely textbook in fielding his position.   He was different physically from Ozzie - Belanger was 6'1", 170 and Ozzie was listed as 5'11", 150, and Belanger seemed even taller and lankier than even those figures would suggest.   I suspect that if I do these again a few years down the road, Belanger will get nudged out of the top 25, but for now I'm keeping him.
There have been some great 3B/SS combinations, but has there ever been a tandem that covered the left side of the infield as well as Brooks Robinson & Mark Belanger (unless it was Robinson and Luis Apraricio instead of Belanger)? Here are a few other candidates that come to mind for me (not a formal methodology, just some that come to mind). Who would come to mind for you? 
Pee Wee Reese & Billy Cox
Ozzie Smith & Terry Pendleton
Rey Ordonez & Robin Ventura
Larry Bowa & Mike Schmidt
Bucky Dent & Graig Nettles
Greg Gagne & Gary Gaetti
Don Kessinger & Ron Santo
#24-Michael Young
Best category: Al l Star games (7th)
Worst category: dWAR (180th)
Young is another player for whom I used my executive privilege. Why? Because he got so terribly downgraded for his results in both the dWAR and WAA categories, and, subjectively, I felt like he couldn't have been that bad. The dude made 7 All Star teams. It just didn't set right, which is what the executive privilege is all about. Seeing him play, he struck me as a hard-driving, hustling player. He was #30 before adjustments, and I gave him enough of a boost to make the top 25.
Young was one of the more prolific 200+ hit generators of all time. There are 16 players with 6 or more 200+ hit seasons. Michael Young is one of those. And if you raise the threshold to 215 hits, it's quite exclusive:
Seasons with 215+ Hits
Paul Waner
Rogers Hornsby
Ichiro Suzuki
Ty Cobb
George Sisler
Sam Rice
Joe Medwick
Stan Musial
Pete Rose
Kirby Puckett
Michael Young
Young just missed a 4th such season (213 hits in 2011).
Here's what strikes me funny though. Even with a career .300 average, even with all of the 200 hit seasons, and even with a couple of other seasons with more than 180, he never made a run at 3,000 hits. He ended his career with 2,375 as his career wasn't all that long - just 14 seasons in total. He didn't get an real early start, and he didn't hang around much at the end. He needed about another 4-5 decent seasons to make a legitimate run at 3,000, but wasn't able to string it out.
#23-John Valentin
Best category: WAR/162 (12th)
Worst category: Games (89th)
A short career, but he was good while it lasted. Basically he had about 5-6 good years, and the rest of his career didn't yield much else. A little problematic in that he ended up with only about 55% of his career at SS, but I decided to leave him in because the years he did have at SS were pretty darn good.
#22-Edgar Renteria
Best category: All Star games (13th)
Worst category: WAR/162 (57th)
Did you ever consider the possibility that Renteria was not all that far from a Hall of Fame career? OK...maybe he was still pretty far away. But I think it's not too hard to imagine an alternate fate given a few twists of fate and a slightly longer career.
For starters, his Hall of Fame Monitor Score is already a pretty decent 109, meaning that it's in a range where he's a good candidate. He was a significant contributor to 2 World Series championship teams (more on that later). 
Renteria got an early start to his career, becoming a regular at age 19. He's well up on the all time list of games played at SS (13th), and he could have finished  much higher, because unlike most of the players above him on that list, Renteria retired after his age 34 season. 
Renteria had 2,119 games in the field in his career, and 2,114 were at shortstop. He could still play, and I see no reason why he couldn't have put in another 3 or 4 seasons. If he had posted even another 300 games at SS, he would have finished in the top 5 all time, ahead of even iron man Cal Ripken Jr., and behind only Vizquel, Jeter, Aparicio, and Ozzie. He probably would have finished with over 2,500 career hits. 
He had 2 big moments in the World Series towards both ends of his career - in 1997 with the Marlins at age 20 when he drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th of Game 7, and again 2010 at age 33, when he hit the 3-run home run in the Game 5 clincher that gave the Giants the win. 
He gathered some hardware in his career (2 Gold Gloves, 5 All Star games), but not enough to really grab your attention. He had 2 seasons in which he hit higher than .330, but in both seasons he only finished 4th in the league. Winning a batting title or 2 would have greatly enhanced his image and have made him much more memorable. Good accomplishments, all.....but not enough.
He had a lot going for him. He ended up a long way from the Hall of Fame election, of course, and I think it's safe to say that he really was never spoken of as a Hall of Fame candidate at any point in his career.....but to my mind, it's not all that difficult to imagine how it might have played out differently.
#21-Jay Bell
Best category: WAR7 (16th)
Worst category: dWAR (56th)
Bell had one big season that stood out from the rest of his career when he hit 38 home runs for Arizona in 1999 (mostly as a second baseman), a figure that nearly doubled his previous high (21). He wasn't generally spectacular, but was a good, solid player over an 18 year career.  
I wonder how many players have had careers with one season of 30 or more home runs and another with 30 or more sacrifice hits? I think Bell might be the only one. Using the Play Index on, there are 236 instances of a player laying down 30 or more sacrifice bunts in a season, and 228 of those are pre-1940. I think the only player who laid down 30 or more sacrifice bunts in a season and even managed 20 home runs in another season in his career is another shortstop further up this list (Bert Campaneris).
#20-Jose Reyes
Best category: Win Shares 7 (11th)
Worst category: dWAR (153rd)
The greatest shortstop in Mets history, much to the chagrin of all of the Bud Harrelson fans out there. He had a bit of an inglorious end to his career, but he was a very good player for a while there. Had a pretty impressive Black Ink Score, leading the league at various times in plate appearances, at bats, hits, triples, batting average and stolen bases.
#19-Andrelton Simmons
Best category: WAR/162 (4th)
Worst category: Games (96th)
As an active player, Simmons has some extreme category ranks that are connected to evaluating someone mid-career. I didn't anticipate Simmons ranking so high in WAR per 162 games, but, again, this tends to happen to players who are still in the middle of their careers and have not yet had a decline phase that pulls their rate down. To illustrate, here are the top shortstops in that category that are in my 50-year data set, with active players in yellow:
Alex Rodriguez
Francisco Lindor
Carlos Correa
Andrelton Simmons
Troy Tulowitzki
Trevor Story
Barry Larkin
Cal Ripken
Alan Trammell
Nomar Garciaparra
The methodology rewards this performance, but for active players it's generally offset (as it is in Simmons' case) by less-than stellar finishes in other categories (such as games) that tend to reward aggregation through longer careers.
Simmons is 29, and has now completed 8 seasons in the Majors. Does he have a chance to be remembered as the greatest defensive shortstop of all time, and supplant Ozzie's status? Maybe there's a chance, but I doubt it. He has 4 Gold Gloves, which of course is impressive, and his defensive stats are spectacular. However, he has also had 3 of the past 5 seasons where he didn't win a Gold Glove, and that is troublesome for his eventual reputation. 
Simmons lost in the 2015 NL Gold Glove vote to Brandon Crawford, and he lost in the AL in 2016 and 2019 to Francisco Lindor. When Ozzie started winning, he won 13 in a row. When Vizquel started winning, he won 9 in a row (and 11 total). The fact that Simmons has had a couple of interruptions will, I think, work against his final reputation. Simmons currently has a career dWAR of 26.7, which is 11th among all shortstops in history. By the time he's done, he could have a higher dWAR than anyone other than Ozzie (44.2), and, I don't know....maybe he could theoretically exceed that total. I think he's got a good chance to be thought of as a top-5 defensive shortstop. But I think Ozzie's reputation as the greatest defensive shortstop ever is safe.
#18-Rafael Furcal
Best category: WAA (12th)
Worst category: Games (42nd)
Furcal did well across the board, mostly finishing in the high teens to mid-twenties in most of the category ranks. He ended up with a fairly abrupt end to his career as he missed his age 35 season with an injury, and wasn't able to really ever come back, so he's a little light on the games played front.
When he first came up, I thought Furcal was going to be a legendary base stealer, and he was certainly good and very fast, but he never really seemed to reach the heights in that regard that I had imagined. As someone who has played fantasy baseball for the last 25 years or so in a league where we draft not only major league players but also minor leaguers that we can keep for several seasons as well, I remember becoming aware of him as a 21-year old in 1999 when he stole 96 bases in 126 games at A ball, and of course everyone in my league was salivating over the prospect of having this guy, especially with stolen bases being one of the 4 offensive categories we tracked (we play classic "Rotisserie" style).  
What I wished I had known at the time was that, even though he was prolific, he really didn't steal at a fantastic success rate. When he swiped 96, he was also caught stealing 30 times (76% success rate), which isn't all that great. As it turns out, that was about the rate he succeeded in MLB as well (77%). So, he was fast, and he did steal over 300 bases in the Majors, but he only topped 40 in a season twice, and seemed to lose his speed pretty quickly as he started to age.
#17-Hanley Ramirez
Best category: Win Shares 7 (6th)
Worst category: dWAR (179th)
Defense is the troubling factor for Ramirez, of course. In fact, 3 of my top 25 shortstops were at the very bottom of the dWAR rankings in my dataset - Michael Young was #180, Ramirez #179, and Derek Jeter #180. Which, again, is problematic for any player who plays such a key defensive position. Still, even though Ramirez's shortstop days are long since over, he has played over 900 more games at SS than at any other single position, so this is the position at which he is ranked.
His first 5 full seasons at Florida (age 22-26) after being acquired as a hot prospect from the Red Sox (in the big trade where Boston received Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell) were a joy to behold. He averaged .313/.385/.521, 25 HR's, 78 RBI, 39 steals, with a 136 OPS+. He averaged over 5.0 rWAR per season in that stretch, won a batting title, and had a 2nd-place MVP finish. He was the darling of fantasy leagues.   He was considered raw and erratic as a young defensive shortstop, but the offense he provided was sizzling, and, well, you could hope that the defense would be adequate and maybe he'd even improve.
And then....well, it kind of fell apart. He missed about half a season in 2011, was traded mid-season 2012 to the Dodgers, and, while he's had a couple of successes here and there, he's basically been relegated to 1B/OF/DH over the past several seasons, and is probably done now. But for a while, he was something.
#16-Omar Vizquel
Best category: Games (2nd)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (61st)
As I mentioned in the catcher rankings, in my dataset "games" includes all positions, not just the position you're ranked at, so Vizquel, even though he has played more games at SS than anyone in history, is #2 (behind Ripken) in total games, because Ripken's total includes nearly 700 games at third base. Vizquel also rates high in dWAR (#4), as you might have expected.
I feel that #16 is about the right slot for Vizquel, who at the moment is probably the most polarizing Hall of Fame candidate on the current ballot - about half the voters are a "yes", and about half aren't (at least not yet). To some, he's the epitome of beauty and grace at shortstop, a defensive highlight reel, and the proud owner of 11 Gold Gloves. To others, he was overrated defensively and mediocre-to-poor offensively. To some, the fact that he played 24 years and accumulated nearly 3,000 hits (he was 123 short) speaks volumes. To others, they think it implies that he had close friends in high places who kept giving him the opportunity to play.
What's the truth? I don't know. To each his own. I love players who manage to stay in the game for a long time, but the analyst in me is drawn to "big seasons", because I think that's what helps win pennants. And, well, Vizquel just wasn't that type of player. He was fun to watch, and he played forever. I suspect some of you will feel that this is too low, but I decided not to make any upward adjustments for him.
#15-Tony Fernandez
Best category: WAR (12th)
Worst category: dWAR (28th)
Fernandez, of course, was in the news recently as he passed away in February 2020 at the age of 57. He is another player who is pretty consistent across the board - no extremely strong categories, no exceptionally weak ones. And I think that pretty much characterizes his career accurately.   In fact, even though dWAR is listed as his "worst" category, he was pretty good defensively, winning 4 Gold Gloves. It's just that, well, some category has to be your "worst" one.
Fernandez is one of a zillion players who, at a young age, looked like they could potentially be an all-time great. Fernandez had his 2 best seasons at ages 24 and 25 (1986 & 1987) as he was part of that young and talented Toronto Blue Jays squad that also included the great outfield of George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, and Jesse Barfield. But, he didn't really progress any from there, and a few years later was part of a blockbuster deal that sent him (along with Fred McGriff) to the Padres in exchange for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. They're very close in the rankings, but between Vizquel and Fernandez, if it were my team, I'd opt for Fernandez.
#14-Miguel Tejada
Best category: MVP Points (5th
Worst category: dWAR (74th)
Outside of dWAR, Tejada was top 20 in virtually every category. A powerful hitter, he was not great at getting on base (.336 career OBP) due to a pretty poor walk rate, and his defense was definitely suspect. And, of course, fair or unfair, he has a bit of a cloud hanging over his head. 
Below is a list of all hitters who have higher Hall of Fame Monitor Scores higher than Tejada who are not in the Hall of Fame (only includes those players who have appeared on at least one BBWAA ballot):
HOF Monitor
Barry Bonds
Pete Rose
Manny Ramirez
Sammy Sosa
Rafael Palmeiro
Todd Helton
Mark McGwire
Gary Sheffield
Miguel Tejada
Tejada only received 1.5% of the vote during his one turn on the ballot (2019).
#13-Francisco Lindor
Best category: WAR/162 (2nd)
Worst category: Games (148th)
Lindor, of course, is another example of the challenge of figuring out what to do about active players, and he's only 5 seasons into his career, so his category numbers are going to be flying all over the place in the coming years. Like Simmons, he does very well on the "rate" type of categories (WAR/162, Win Shares/162), but not as well on the ones that reward accumulation.
One approach would be to simply exclude active players because their status and performances are fluid and still unfolding. However, I have seen enough of Lindor to feel comfortable that he's clearly one of the top 25 shortstops I've seen. The question is, where to rank him that has any meaning?
Without any intervention on my part, he was coming in #19. I decided to take a look at what would happen if I projected him with just even a few more productive seasons (not even a full career), and he jumped up to #13. So, that's where I put him, at least for now, as a bit of a compromise ranking.
I will say this....I wouldn't be at all surprised if Lindor eventually makes the top 10, or even makes a push for the top 5,6, or 7. I think he's certainly on a Hall of Fame trajectory, and even though it's no guarantee, he's the one active shortstop that I think is reasonable to project a very high ranking. He's coming off 3 consecutive 30 HR seasons, he hits for a good average, he's a good base stealer, he's already won a couple of Gold Gloves despite competing with Andrelton Simmons for both of them, he's had a couple of high MVP finishes, he's been named to the All Star team 4 years out of 5. Whether you're talking fantasy baseball or real MLB baseball, he's a consensus top-10 level player right now. The sky's the limit. I've got him halfway up my top 25, but if ever do a 60-year retrospective, he'll probably end up quite a bit higher.
#12-Dave Concepcion
Best category: All Star games (6th)
Worst category: WAR/162 (50th)
Concepcion was also very highly ranked in games (7th) and dWAR (8th).
If you'll indulge me, I'm going to spend a little extra time on this entry. Do you recall from the kickoff article when I alluded to Bill's observation about the amount of information we each possess about various players, where he used Mickey Rivers as an example? Well, for me, Dave Concepcion is such a player. In my brain I have so many bits and pieces and memories that relate to Concepcion, in part because he was pretty much there from day 1 of the "Dan Marks Era".
Concepcion came up in the first year of my era - 1970, and the Reds had a pretty impressive collection of rookies that year, including a first-year manager that no one had ever heard of, a guy by the name of George "Sparky" Anderson. In addition to Concepcion, players who qualified as Reds rookies that year included Hal McRae, Don Gullett, Milt Wilcox, Bernie Carbo, Pedro Borbon, and the phenomenal (at least during the first part of that season) Wayne Simpson. It was a pretty formidable rookie crop.
Concepcion was (sort of) the primary shortstop for the Reds that season, although he ultimately was in a 3-way time share with Woody Woodward and Darrel Chaney, neither one of whom could hit worth a damn. Concepcion had a decent rookie season (.260 average), and then struggled for the next 2 seasons before blossoming in 1973.
Memories of Concepcion? So many. 
I remember that, just when he was starting to show great progress in 1973, he had a devastating injury mid-season and missed the rest of the year. 
I remember when he came up with that whole bouncing throws off the Astroturf technique when he needed to utilize it.  
I remember the time when, in desperation to "get hot" during a slump, he jokingly placed himself in a clubhouse clothes dryer only to be surprised when someone actually turned it on.
I remember how rail-thin he was for most of his career.
I remember how he came up wearing uniform #50 and then opted for "lucky" #13, which ultimately became associated with him.
I remember how he swung the bat and how it always seemed to wrap around and strike the "13" on his jersey as he swung through.
I remember how he seemed to glide over baserunners as they tried to break up his double play attempts, and how he just seemed to effortlessly "sling" the ball over to first base.
And, I remember how he was always smiling. Basically, he was the Reds' version of Frank White.
That last point leads into something else. The Big Red Machine remains huge here in Reds Country, and Reds fans obviously have very fond memories of that special group. But I'm not sure that all of them are "beloved".
Pete Rose? Sure, he's the local boy made good, and everyone loved his all-out, hustling, aggressive style of play, and he remains extremely popular here. But, my sense is that the fans aren't blind to his warts and shortcomings.   They love him in one way, and for me personally, I tried to emulate the way he played. We all loved having him on our team. But, for the most part, I also think that the fan base understands who he is and what he is. You can still be a fan of the player without loving the person.
Johnny Bench? Certainly he was loved as a ballplayer and appreciated for the talent and skill he exhibited in setting the standard for excellence behind the plate. But beloved? I don't get the sense he was. Bench had a very strong ego (who could blame him), and he always struck me as a little conceited.   Maybe that's not fair, but just my sense.
Same thing with Joe Morgan - again, loved and appreciated as a ballplayer for the special talent and attitude he brought to the team, but I don't think of him as being beloved personally by the fan base.   Like Bench and Rose, Morgan comes across as someone with a strong ego.
George Foster, Ken Griffey Sr., and Cesar Geronimo were all much quieter personalities, and you never heard much from them. All 3 were very appreciated, of course.
But, if you were to ask me who among the "Great Eight" were most beloved, I would have to go with Tony Perez and Dave Concepcion. Perez was a veteran when I started following the team, and was a greatly respected player and team leader. Concepcion eventually grew into that role as an elder statesman with the club, as he was the last man standing from that great club, long after Bench retired and long after the others had all scattered to various locations around the Majors. Concepcion played all 19 of his big league seasons with the Reds, and played more games in a Reds uniform than anyone other than Pete Rose.  
Perez and Concepcion, I believe, are the most beloved players among the fan base. Always smiling, always exhibiting great joy.
Concepcion seems to pop up every few years on a Veterans Hall of Fame ballot, but never gets quite enough support. His hitting stats don't help his case, as he was basically a .260-ish type hitter who didn't really get on base much, and he had what would be called "occasional power". He was a stellar defensive player and won 5 Gold Gloves, and was very popular with fans, making 9 All Star teams. But, ultimately, his claim to fame was to being a good, valuable supporting player on a great team, and that's sometimes a hard route to rely on when trying to make the Hall. My suspicion is that he won't ever get in, and that's OK. He'll always have Cincinnati.
#11-Jimmy Rollins
Best category: MVP Points (6th)
Worst category: dWAR (29th)
Rollins is 10th in total career games played among the shortstops in the data set (which counts all games regardless of position), but he's 6th in career games specifically at shortstop. The top 10 in defensive games at shortstop:
Defensive Games as SS
Omar Vizquel 
Derek Jeter 
Luis Aparicio 
Ozzie Smith 
Cal Ripken Jr. 
Jimmy Rollins 
Larry Bowa 
Luke Appling 
Dave Concepcion 
Rabbit Maranville 
Rollins has a nice resume - an MVP, another top 10 finish, 4 Gold Gloves, a World Series ring, 2 NL pennants. He led the league at various times in several categories including plate appearances, at bats, runs, triples, and stolen bases. He played his entire career at shortstop except for 7 games at DH and 1/3 of an inning at second base.
#10-Troy Tulowitzki
Best category: WAR/162 (5th)
Worst category: Games (76th)
Tulowitzki's weakness, of course, was his inability to stay healthy. That, along with playing most of his career with the Rockies, presents a challenge with trying to rank him in the right spot. 
Like others who have called Coors home, he certainly benefitted from the park, but I do think that Tulo was legitimately a very good player, and there can be a bit of a Coors bias that works against a player's reputation, as sometimes it will be assumed that a player's success is either mostly or entirely due to the park advantage, and oftentimes that's just not fair.  
For example, in his strong 3 year stretch from 2009-2011, he posted the following home/road splits:
Did Coors help him? Sure. But where his road totals over that stretch still pretty good? Yes, they were. I think when you look at others that had Coors as their home park, you will tend to see more dramatic splits than that. Even in road games during that stretch, Tulowitzki prorated to about 28 homers per 600 plate appearances. I think the election of Walker to the Hall of Fame may soften some of the anti-Coors bias that may have existed, and will force people to take a closer at each individual case before automatically writing off any Colorado hitter. Tulowitzki was a good player.
#9-Nomar Garciaparra
Best category: WAR7 (6th)
Worst category: dWAR (77th)
What a fascinating career. Nomar is exhibit A of a player that had one foot in the Hall of Fame, but couldn't get that second foot in.
Starting with 1997, his seasonal rWARs are 6.6, 7.1, 6.6, 7.4, 0.5 (only played 21 games in 2001), 6.8, and 6.1. At that point, he was still only 29 years old, and already had a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP runner-up finish, 4 other top-10 MVP finishes, 5 All Star teams, and 2 batting titles to go with a .323 career batting average. He was a star.
And then.....that was pretty much it. His WAR7 is almost the same as his career WAR. He kind of serves as a cautionary tale about projecting one's career too much based on early success, which I'm probably in danger of doing with Lindor in this exercise. He could have been an all-time great. As it stands, even with the severe slide of his career path, he still makes my top 10 shortstops of the last 50 years.
#8-Bert Campaneris
Best category: WAR, All Star games, Games (all 8th)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (23rd)
The second best baseball player ever nicknamed "Campy".
Campaneris is the last entry before we get to the Hall of Famers at this position (well, A-Rod's not in, but he's certainly Hall of Fame quality even if he never gets in). Campaneris is the type of player, like a Dave Concepcion, for whom you can make a case as a Hall of Famer in that he was a key cog on a great team. The A's dynasty is currently represented by 3 Hall of Fame players (Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, and Rollie Fingers). If there were ever to be a 4th one, it would likely have to be either Campaneris or Vida Blue. Maybe Sal Bando, but I doubt it. Gene Tenace? No, I don't see that either.
Campaneris certainly doesn't rate as a great offensive player, although his environment (both his home park and the era he played in) didn't do him any favors. Things like WAR and Win Shares are actually pretty kind to him. His strengths were speed and defense, and he certainly was a valuable asset to the A's championship teams.   I was glad to see him rate this high.
#7-Alan Trammell
Best category: WAR7 (4th)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (14th)
We have now entered shortstop Hall of Fame row. Trammell really doesn't have any weak categories, and I think this is clearly where he belongs in the rankings. I think he is distinctly better than everyone below him, and, by the same token, I think he is clearly below the 6 players above him. Not by a lot, but it's a clear line of demarcation in my mind. He's on "Alan Trammell Island", and that's not a knock on him at all.
#6-Robin Yount
Best category: Win Shares 7 (2nd)
Worst category: dWAR (76)
Yount also did not score very well in the All Star game category, as he only was named to 3 All Star teams, which has to be one of the lower totals for any Hall of Fame position player in the All Star game era. His dWAR total was also affected by his mid-career shift to the outfield. Before the move, he had a career dWAR of 13.0. After the shift, the rest of his career was -6.2. If he had managed to stay at shortstop for his entire career and been pretty decent defensively at it, I suspect he could have moved up another notch or two in the rankings, but he didn't, and so I didn't feel compelled to move him up any further.
Yount's 1982 MVP season is certainly one of the most magical individual seasons that I've had the pleasure of following. His across-the-board totals are still amazing to look at, up to and including the impressive 10.5 rWAR figure. Yount captured 27 of the 28 first place votes in the MVP balloting that year, and I still can't fathom how one of the voters felt that Reggie Jackson was a worthier selection. Boggles the mind.....
#5-Barry Larkin
Best category: WAA (3rd)
Worst category: dWAR (30th)
Larkin also was ranked 4th in Win Shares/162, and 5th in several categories (WAR7, All Star games, Win Shares, and Win Shares 7). He actually finished 4th in the unadjusted rankings, but I swapped him and Jeter in the final tally, a move that will probably get me kicked out of some local Cincinnati fan clubs.
I spoke about Concepcion before as being beloved in Cincinnati, and Larkin is certainly another Reds player that the fans really took to heart. In large part, this is because he is a hometown hero, having been born in Cincinnati and starring at Moeller High School before deserting us and going to play college ball for "That School Up North". 
Larkin might just be the greatest "all around" player to ever star at shortstop. Every player above him in these rankings had a definite weak spot - Jeter's defense, Ozzie's power, Ripken's speed. A-Rod....well, I don't suppose he had a real weak spot skill-wise, but career-wise he played nearly as many games at 3B than SS, and you can say that it wasn't his fault, but that does matter to some degree as to his ultimate reputation at the position. Larkin wasn't the best overall, and he got injured a little too often, but he might have been the most well-rounded. There basically wasn't anything he couldn't do.
#4-Derek Jeter
Best category: All Star games (3rd)
Worst category: Guess
As mentioned before, Jeter had one of the lowest dWAR figures in the entire dataset (ranked 178 out of 180). Despite that, he was strong enough in the other categories across the board (3rd through 7th in everything else except WAR/162 where he was 14th) to push him close to the top of the list.
As mentioned in the Larkin comment, Larkin ranked 4th and Jeter 5th in the unadjusted rankings, and I flip-flopped them. I think Jeter's career, taking everything into consideration, merits pushing him ahead of Larkin. He's certainly a polarizing figure in some corners, especially when it comes to discussion about his defense, but he's certainly one of the biggest stars that the game has had over the past 25 years or so, and there's no doubting his place in history.
#3-Ozzie Smith
Best category: dWAR (1st - As if there were any doubt)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (20th)
Is there any athlete with a more fitting nickname than "The Wizard of Oz"? Everything about it fits so perfectly, from the magical nature of his glove work to the wordplay on his first name. It's just perfect.
Not sure if there's a whole lot I can put here that you don't already know about Ozzie. One of the things that I think was most impressive about his career was the tremendous improvement he made in his offensive game as he went along. He was truly a terrible offensive player during his early years with the Padres, but in his Cardinals' years he was much more of a threat, all the while maintaining his brilliance in the field.
In addition to his top ranking in dWAR, he was 2nd in All Star games (with 15) and 4th in both WAR and WAA. I'd literally just as soon go into a season with Ozzie as my shortstop and taking my chances with him as anyone on this list. 
#2-Cal Ripken Jr.
Best category: Games and All Star Games (1st in both)
Worst category: Win Shares/162 (11th)
If 11th is your "worst" category, you're doing something right. Ripken was also 2nd in a ton of categories, including WAR, WAR7, MVP Points, Win Shares, and WAA. He was also 3rd in dWAR behind Ozzie and Mark Belanger.
Like Ozzie, I'm not sure what else I can tell you about Ripken that you don't already know. If you had to nitpick, you'd probably say that the .276 career batting average and .340 OBP and the 112 OPS+ don't knock your socks off, but that's really splitting hairs in my opinion, because of lot of that damage to his rate stats was done at over the last few seasons of a legendary career. Obviously, he was still piling up a lot of playing time long after he had started his decline phase. But that just takes a little shine off some of the final numbers. In my book, that really does nothing to tarnish his legend.
#1-Alex Rodriguez
Best category: WAR, WAR162, WAR7, MVP Points, Win Shares, Win Shares/162, WS7, WAA (all 1st)
Worst category: dWAR (45th)
Like Yount, A-Rod's dWAR figure reflects somewhat the position switch he made mid-career. In his years as a SS, A-Rod had a 9.3 dWAR. After switching primarily to 3B, the rest of his career resulted in a 1.1 figure. But, again....that's part of the total picture of evaluating him.
In fact, the only thing making me reluctant about A-Rod's ranking is the fact that he almost didn't qualify. My guideline has been to rank someone at the position at which he appeared most often, and A-Rod only ended up his career with 78 more games at SS than at 3B. But, SS is where he's at, and he ended up with my #1 ranking
Top 25 Shortstops of the Past 50 Years - Ranking/Points
Alex Rodriguez
Cal Ripken Jr.
Ozzie Smith
Derek Jeter
Barry Larkin
Robin Yount
Alan Trammell
Bert Campaneris
Nomar Garciaparra
Troy Tulowitzki
Jimmy Rollins
Dave Concepcion
Francisco Lindor
Miguel Tejada
Tony Fernandez
Omar Vizquel
Hanley Ramirez
Rafael Furcal
Andrelton Simmons
Jose Reyes
Jay Bell
Edgar Renteria
John Valentin
Michael Young
Mark Belanger
Distribution of the top 25 by decade (using career mid-point):
In the first article (which had the catcher rankings), a reader requested #26-50 as well (without commentary), so I'll start including those from this point on, with the caveat that these are unadjusted rankings at this point, strictly based on how everyone outside of the top 25 did based on the raw methodology. So, no subjective adjustments on my part. Also note that the active shortstops listed (Andrus, Crawford, Correa, Bogaerts, etc.) are very volatile and fluid in how they fare in the various categories, and will likely change considerably in the years ahead.
Jhonny Peralta
Elvis Andrus
Chris Speier
Garry Templeton
Bill Russell
J. J. Hardy
Jose Valentin
Scott Fletcher
Larry Bowa
Carlos Correa
Rick Burleson
Brandon Crawford
Asdrubal Cabrera
Roy Smalley
Carlos Guillen
Mike Bordick
Greg Gagne
Orlando Cabrera
Freddie Patek
Jack Wilson
Dickie Thon
Yunel Escobar
Ozzie Guillen
Xander Bogaerts
Erick Aybar
Next up (in a few days, hopefully): Second Basemen. 
Thanks for reading.

COMMENTS (21 Comments, most recent shown first)

Part of the reason Furcal was perceived to be a disappointed had to do with age shenanigans, right? When he had that massive base-stealing season in the minors (and during his rookie year) he was believed to be two years younger than he really was...

My memories of Furcal have to do with some big hits for the 2011 Cardinals. He popped a home run off Randy Wells to break a tie on the last Sunday of the season that was crucial in sending them to the playoffs, then tripled off Roy Halladay and scored the only run in that great NLDS Game 5. He also coined the team's catchphrase of "Happy Flight" and seemed to be a key source of leadership and energy as the team stormed back from the dead. Good player.
8:05 AM Apr 27th
A life-long friend and I, recognizing that, although we can acknowledge the excellence of Ruth, Gehrig, Williams, Dimaggio, Cobb, Johnson, et al., we never had a chance to ‘see’ them play. So, we put together the ‘All Star Team of Our Time,’ which effectively runs from the late 1950s (when we became baseball sentient) through the present day. I thoroughly enjoyed your discussion, and the reasoning behind it, of shortstops. Not surprisingly, a lot of overlap with our view, but a few differences of opinions as well (now there’s a surprise; it’s baseball!). So, for grins, here’s our list of the Top 10 Shortstops of 'Our' Time:

1. Alex Rodriguez
2. Cal Ripken, Jr
3. Robin Yount
4. Barry Larkin
5. Ozzie Smith
6. Ernie Banks
7. Alan Trammell
8. Miguel Tejada
9. Derek Jeter
10. Nomar Garciaparra

5:27 PM Mar 30th
Ripken's great range at shortstop is one of those statistics that never computed vs. the eye test. Sort of the anti-Jeter in that respect. He was so darn big; he just looked slow out there. I think anyone who saw both guys play and didn't have any other information would have chosen Tony Fernandez as a defensive player over Ripken.
5:16 PM Mar 30th

That comment about almost playing as many games at 3B as SS was in reference to A-Rod, not Larkin. It was in the Larkin section, but I was talking about some of the "weaknesses" of the players ahead of Larkin (Jeter, Ozzie, Ripken, A-Rod).
In re-reading it, I'll admit I could have worded it a lot more clearly, but it was referring to A-Rod.

5:15 PM Mar 30th
Belanger was a real team leader, much respected by his teammates. He was a really big deal in the major league players union, and was front and center as a player rep during the 1981 strike. At the insistence of a large number of players who were active in the union, he went to work full time for the MLBPA after retiring. He turned down a chance to work as a player agent so he could work for the union. A chain smoker, he died from lung cancer while still in his fifties.

None of this has anything to do with where he should be ranked (well, maybe the leadership stuff), but I thought it was interesting.

SABR bio:
5:14 PM Mar 30th
Dan, I will probably put my ratings on the readers post also soon. I agree that people looking at this from different angles teaches as all more. I am still playing with mine a little but almost finished.
3:23 PM Mar 30th
You said Larkin played almost as many games at 3B as SS, which is just not true. Per BB Ref: 2085 games at SS, 3 games at 2B and 3 games at DH.
1:29 PM Mar 30th

Here are some things I would want to look at.

1) How often did Belanger get pinch hit for? I'm sure he got pinch hit for more than a lot of shortstops, but how much are we talking about? Is that info available?

2) Using the comparison to Concepcion, it's true that Concepcion has a higher PA per game than Belanger, 3.9 to 3.3 (about 18% higher). I would have to think that some of Concepcion's advantage in PA per game is related to batting order and realizing additional opportunities related to that, since some games result in an additional appearance for the higher batting order slots.

Looking at what % of each player's games were out of each batting slot, over 70% of Belanger's games were in the 7,8, or 9 hole. Concepcion was only 37%. Concepcion had 38% of his games hitting out of 1,2, or 3, and about 46% if you go 1 through 5. Belanger was about 26% in 1 through 3, and 27% if you go 1 through 5.

3) If I make some adjustment for the fact that Belanger's Win Shares/162 is misleading because Belanger didn't get the full benefit of what is being counted as a "game", then I would also have to take that into account when assessing "Games played" as its own category. Belanger scored pretty well in that category (he was 22nd), but he got full credit for a "game" regardless of whether he was a partial participant, either as a starter or a sub. So, I would think that if I tried to make adjustments based on that, I'd have to do it in both categories, and I suspect they would wash.

So, the real question is....why am I docking Belanger in the first place? Because, I decided that the fact that he was a poor offensive player and not as "whole" as some of the others, that I should bump him down. That's really what it came down to.

I promise you Belanger isn't getting the short end of the stick. Because I decided to include dWAR as its own category, Belanger got a nice boost just from that. If I hadn't included dWAR on its own, Belanger would have been 27th. I feel like I have him in an appropriate slot.

12:05 PM Mar 30th
I’m surprised you didn’t subjectively move Belanger up, rather than down. His Win Shares/162 is reduced because he was so often used as a defensive substitute or pinch hit for. Concepcion, for example, has 23 percent more games played, but 46 percent more plate appearances.
7:37 AM Mar 30th
Regarding Belanger and Belanger/Robinson best left side defense. And they had Grich as the 2nd baseman!

Worst: Frank Tavares/Hubie Brooks (Mets early 80's). Jose Offerman/Dave Hansen (1992 Dodgers). 34 year-old Bill Russell/Pedro Guerrero (1983 Dodgers--won the division).

My Best-Carey
2:23 AM Mar 30th

Brinkman/Rodriguez is a good one for sure. I had forgotten about them. If you take each one at their prime, they'd be well up any list.


Interestingly enough, they were pretty close to each other in this methodology, and well down the list. Alex Gonzalez #2 (the one who played mostly for the Marlins) was #77 on my list, and Alex Gonzalez #1 (who played mostly for the Blue Jays) was #84.

10:43 PM Mar 29th
Thankfully neither Alex Gonzalez #1 or Alex Gonzalez #2 made the list. If one or the other had, it'd have taken several paragraphs to explain which one had.

Alex Gonzalez #1 played from 1994-2006, 13 seasons, 1396 G 1209 H 137 HR 536 RBI 97 SB .243/.302/.391 79 OPS+. He played for 6 different teams in his career accumulating 11.2 WAR. He played 1262 games at SS

Alex Gonzalez #2 played from 1998-2014, 16 seasons, 1609 G 1418 H 157 HR 690 RBI 30 SB .245/.290/.395 79 OPS+. He played for 8 different teams in his career accumulating 9.4 WAR. He played 1548 games at SS.

Alex Gonzalez #1 is the 7th most similar player to Alex Gonzalez #2 while Alex Gonzalez #2 is the 3rd most similar player to Alex Gonzalez #1 according the BBR, or is that the other way around?​
9:09 PM Mar 29th
Dan, you and I share close to the same era (I started following baseball, and specifically the Impossible Dream Red Sox, in 1967, the year I turned ten), and I'm hugely enjoying the hikes down positional-memory-lanes.

One of the great 3B-SS combinations I've ever seen was Aurelio Rodriguez and Ed Brinkman for Detroit from 1971 through 1974. Didn't hit much, but they surely could pick it. Brinkman was a bit past prime, but still had tremendously sound fundamentals. Rodriguez had the best arm of any third baseman I've ever seen. He only won a single Gold Glove, after Brooks was done, but I always thought he deserved more, that Brooks toward the end was being rewarded for lifetime achievement.​
9:06 PM Mar 29th
Bruce: That is hilarious, and what a brain teaser. What could it possibly be....

Well maybe it doesn't be. :-)
On my screen, it shows 162.

(BTW, Sean [i]Foreman[i]!
I think Sean Lehman went bust around 2008.)
7:48 PM Mar 29th
Thanks Bruce and Bear....

Bruce - I gave serious thought to having Ripken #1. Serious thought.

Bear - I'd be interested in seeing what your list looks like. I feel like the way I approach things like this is that (at least I think) I tend to approach it in such a way that it doesn't necessarily tend to reward one particular thing or another, but that there's a "balance" of considerations, because I think all of it counts - peak, longevity, offense, defense, high totals, high goal is to have a variety of angles covered, and hope those that it's the best players who tend to bubble to the top overall. That's kind of what I'm shooting for, at least in theory.

7:45 PM Mar 29th
....and please tell Mr. DMB, she is a very perceptive person! :-) :-)

In real life, most people think I'm a very nice guy despite being a pain in the butt.
Online, I think most people think I'm not a nice guy, and a pain in the butt.

7:45 PM Mar 29th
A weird thing about Cal Ripken's Baseball Reference page: If you highlight the seasons 1982-1993 and look at the totals for that time period, he averages 162 games per season (no surprise) but for some reason, his "per 162" line shows an average of 163 games per 162 games. Weird. Also, I'm pretty sure that's a record.

Why do I know this? I highlighted these twelve consecutive nonstrike seasons because I thought it would be neat to see that his per season averages and his per 162 averages were exactly the same. But they weren't. And I'm not sure why. Perhaps a glitch in Sean Lehman's formula?

7:44 PM Mar 29th
Hi Maris,

Thanks for the comment. No, I hadn't thought of the book angle, or how plausible it might be, but it's a nice sentiment. Thank you!

Understood about "WS", and yes, that's true. As it turns out, I don't think I ended up using abbreviations much anyway - I believe I spelled out "Win Shares" just about every time, but I know I was abbreviating columns in my spreadsheet, so I thought I'd better cover myself just in case.

Off topic - My wife likes to peruse the comments of all my articles, so she's familiar with a lot of you, and this time shortly after I submitted this article she asked me if anyone had posted yet, and I told her you had, and she said "Tell Maris that your wife thinks that he's a nice guy". So that's what I'm doing now...

7:38 PM Mar 29th
Great article, Dan. One of your best.

I wonder if, given the choice in a draft in a league where PED testing is strict and tough to defeat, how many baseball people would take ARod over Ripken? That's the problem with the PED guys. With the possible exception of Bonds, we don't know when they started using, so we therefore don't know how good they were.

Since we don't know, I think Ripken has to be the choice.
7:37 PM Mar 29th
We are father apart at shortstop than catcher. Looking at your formula I can see why there are differences. I like a longer career and don't put as much emphasis on defense. I like mine better, but can see why you have your formula the way you do.
7:35 PM Mar 29th
Terrific again.
Dan, have you thought of making this a book?

As I started looking through these rankings, starting at #25 and working down, as you present them, there was a lot of "Huh - just 25th?" "....just 19th?" But I immediately recognized that this wasn't an issue about how you ranked them, but a comment on how many really good SS's there have been in this half-century.
Well, there is something that made me look askance a bit, but "it's not you, it's me" -- it's that I sort of don't count players who I think did what they did because of [you-know], which is an issue for anything about this period but I realize that when you're doing serious rankings, you can't ignore those players or what they did, even besides the fact that usually we don't know 'for a fact.'


I'm with how you explained about players you "saw," including the "osmosis" part. Similarly, in what I said about Varitek (in both this section and Reader Posts), I was going a great deal on osmosis -- stuff I read and heard over the months and years, which seemed to be borne out by what I 'saw' in the relatively small sample of my seeing his games.

Stray note: Good job explaining the abbreviations, and let me take the opportunity to mention, about this possible confusion, not particularly aimed at you because I don't think it's likely you'd use it confusingly; I'm saying it more to the whole world: :-)
Good to realize that when you use "WS," it could look like you're saying World Series. It's been an issue to me quite a few times.
3:44 PM Mar 29th
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