Thursday, February 03, 2011

Is Alexei Ramirez The American League's Best Shortstop?

The National League gets a lot of flack these days. Quite often the league is called the AAAA League. Of course, winning the 2010 All Star Game and World Series does a bit to dampen that kind of talk. But one thing is for sure: The National League has the best shortstops. Troy Tulowitzki, Stephen Drew, Juan Uribe and Hanley Ramirez all finished in the top six in fWAR in 2010 with Tulowitski, Drew and Ramirez finishing one to three respectively. With Derek Jeter famously having a bad year in 2010, the AL is looking weak, especially on offense. Drew, Hanley, Uribe and Tulowitzki all had good offensive seasons. No AL shortstop had a good offensive season. But who led the AL in WAR among shortstops? That would be Alexei Ramirez, who just signed a four year deal worth $32 million.

Let's face it, Alexei Ramirez leaves a lot to be desired offensively. Ramirez walked only 4.3 percent of the time in 2010. Only Yuniesky Betancourt had a lower rate. His .313 on base percentage did much to sap the good out of his .282 batting average and 185 hits. But Ramirez did hit 18 homers and his wOBA led all AL shortstops at .322. But that's not very good and sheds a lot of light on how bad the state of offense is among shortstops in the junior circuit.

What sets Alexei Ramirez apart is his defense. Among AL shortstops, only Cliff Pennington is near his equal.  In fact, Ramirez was rated second on defense to only Brendan Ryan in all of the majors. And looking at the past three years, it seems remarkable how far Ramirez has come defensively.

So, yes, the answer is that Alexei Ramirez was the American League's best shortstop in 2010. Unfortunately, that isn't saying much. But at least it's better that he had a great year defensively than the other way around. Ramirez is one of those players where you think you haven't seen the best of him yet. But he is 29 years old. At that age, it's hard to imagine him getting much better than what he is now. He is more than worth the contract he signed. But the AL needs to step it up in the shortstop department.

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