Series shortstops Correa, Seager show they can hit beyond position

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World Series shortstops: The Astros’ Carlos Correa (left) and the Dodgers’ Corey Seager.

Baseball has a bumper crop of shortstops who can handle the bat, including World Series shortstops Carlos Correa of the Astros and Corey Seager of the Dodgers.

Correa’s .941 OPS and Seager’s .845 would have been among the leaders at any position. Only first basemen, at .833, averaged better than .800 this season.

Six shortstops with at least 400 plate appearances topped .800, but shortstop remains a position where a glove man with a less potent bat can find a home. Five shortstops with at least 400 plate appearances had OPSes lower than .700, including the White Sox’ Tim Anderson at .679. The Royals’ Alcides Escobar trailed the field at .629.

That’s a normal occurrence under the defensive spectrum of positions.

The spectrum usually is represented as a line, with designated hitters at the left and pitchers at the right. In between, the other positions are listed in order of their expected offensive contribution. The full spectrum reads DH-first base-left field-right field-third base-center field-second base-shortstop-catcher-pitcher.

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The spectrum makes no value judgment on whether a position is more difficult to play than another, but it does tell us there are more players who can handle the defensive demands at first base than at third base or shortstop. With a bigger field of candidates to play first base, it takes more offense for a first baseman to hold a job than it does at other positions.

Yearly averages often won’t match the spectrum perfectly. Right now, the major leagues have a strong group of right fielders and third basemen and a weaker group of left fielders. Plus, DHs had a subpar season. So for 2017, the average OPS was .833 at first, .798 in right, .776 at third, .764 in center, .754 at second and left, .737 at DH, .735 at shortstop, .726 at catcher and .318 at pitcher.

We can see the effect in player usage. As players age, they often move to first base, not from first to other positions. Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman used to be primarily a third baseman, as was the Rockies’ Mark Reynolds. And the Rays’ Logan Morrison made the transition from outfield to first.

There has been speculation that a change might be brewing in the spectrum if defensive shifts decrease the value of infield range. Baseball Info Solutions data show 275 runs saved by shifts this season. If positioning by shifts offsets less range by fielders, it might open the door to more offense in the middle infield.

As for Correa and Seager, both were above-average with the glove this season. Correa’s four runs saved at short ranked 11th in the majors, and Seager’s 10 runs saved ranked fourth.

Correa missed about a month and a half with a thumb injury, but his .941 OPS led shortstops with at least 400 plate appearances. Seager’s .845 was second among shortstops who qualified for the batting title with at least 502 plate appearances, trailing only the Reds’ Zack Cozart at .933.

Both provide left-spectrum offense from a right-spectrum position, helping their teams stay ahead of the curve.

Follow me on Twitter @GrochowskiJ.


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