In a recently published Fangraphs article, Jeff Sulivan investigates whether the 20-year-old rookie Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros is the best shortstop in Baseball. The idea that we can bestow the title of best shortstop in baseball to a rookie with less than 200 at bats, at the time of print, can be considered the best at his position is outlandish. I know we all like hype as well as talking about how the game is getting younger, but let us not get too hasty here.
Sullivan, in the Fangraphs article uses a bunch of extravagant stats to try and prove his point, but (there’s always a but) there is this little thing called sample size. First, I’ll show Correa’s numbers and then I’ll throw up a couple slash lines to prove my point. The following line — .286/.339/.553 — is Correa’s. The following represent two other well-known players’ rookie seasons. .319/.391/.534 is the first, and .293/.354/.478 is the second. In the first we saw the rise of an ostentatious behemoth by the name of Yasiel Puig. In the second we have Wil Myers.
I don’t have to put up Puig’s and Myer’s current slash lines, but judging them by their rookie numbers, they’re not quite making the cut. To paraphrase a Sabermetric maxim: We have seen regression before, and we’ll see it again. The only thing working in Sullivan’s case is the lack of strength at shortstop. To say how diminutive in might we are at the position, Starlin Castro was ranked number 5 in Baseball Tonight’s preseason poll, who is now playing so badly that the Cubs are trying to phase him out as an everyday starter. With the lack of a durable and lasting player at the position — cough cough Troy Tulowitzki, cough cough — the choice is inconclusive as to who is the best in baseball. What I do know is that calling someone who has only played half a season the best is one thing and one thing only: Foolish.
Now, I should point out that Mr. Sullivan does express caution in his assessment of Correa. In the article he never explicitly states whether Correa is the best shortstop in Baseball, he also doesn’t state he isn’t. Perhaps Correa is the best shortstop in the game, but I think it’s an untenable assertion to try to support within such a small sample size. This also hinges on how to define “best”. I have more of a platonic, intangible definition of best, such like I do with the word fame in Hall of Fame. What my definition doesn’t support though is deciding who is the best at a particular position by just a couple hundred at bats. Stats are a mercurial thing, especially in such a fluid, ever changing sport like Baseball. Correa has been having a fantastic rookie season, maybe one of the greatest ever. But, I can’t just declare him the best active shortstop after such a short stint in the majors.
Or, wait a minute. Maybe he is the best.