Earlier this week, one of my fellow editors asked if Carlos Correa — with only 99 major-league games under his belt — is already the best shortstop in Major League Baseball. The Boston Red Sox fan in me wanted to say, no, that’s Xander Bogaerts. The adherent to Baseball Reference leaderboards in me actually said, in disbelief, “Is it really Brandon Crawford?” Crawford had 5.6 WAR to lead all shortstops last year. Or was it Francisco Lindor, who led the majors with a .345 average after the All-Star break?
I had begun to chase my tail in circles.
Seeing as that I’m not a professional scout, I felt any judgment I might make of Corey Seager would be unfair, myopic. To reiterate, Seager’s 113 plate appearances is too small of a sample size. I wanted to narrow it down to where I could make a decent argument or analysis. The further piled beneath numbers I got, I found my perfect dyad.
That pair consists of the Houston Astros’ Correa and the Cleveland Indians’ Lindor. They both played 99 games in their 2015 debut seasons. The lover of symmetry in me found a beautiful mirror between Correa and Lindor; the Astros’ cornerstone had 432 PAs and the Tribe’s 438. It felt like Nirvana versus Soundgarden or Michael Jordan versus Dominique Wilkins in 1988.
Which shortstop — ruler already of his own baseball fiefdom — will ascend to the throne as the best [sophomore] shortstop in baseball? Let’s have them go a few comparative rounds and see who comes out on top, shall we?[table “” not found /]
Clearly, Correa has the upper hand in power when you look at home runs, slugging percentage, and RBIs. Initially it would seem that Correa wins this round, despite the negligible difference in on-base percentage and Lindor’s superior average (and yes, I’m aware most of these stats are antiquities of a simpler time, but they can still be part of the larger argument). Something of note, however, is the fact that Correa saw 79 percent of his PAs in the three spot in the order, whereas Lindor spent 87 percent of his in the two hole. Generally speaking, this means lineup position naturally favors Correa to produce higher power numbers, which he did.
With that said, I’ll give it to Correa for the 30 extra points of SLG and the sizable advantages in homers and RBIs.
Correa 1 – Lindor 0[table “” not found /]
This one seems to be a little clearer; Lindor just didn’t land many punches this round. Just an aside, Seager posted a 173 OPS+ in his 113 PAs, so that might be unsustainable. Or he just might be the second coming. Removing him from the list would make Correa number one, Jung Ho Kang second, and Lindor third amongst shortstops last year. In Kang’s case, there’s a sense he may quickly transition to third base with the retirement of Aramis Ramirez. So, that also takes him out of the equation.
Back to Correa and Lindor. Correa wins handily in every category of this round except for BABIP. Does this signal regression for Lindor more than Correa? It’s possible, or it’s possible Lindor could be as good of a hitter as he showed in the second half of the season, where he did nearly all of his damage. After the break, his average skyrocketed by 122 points and his OPS by 362!
That may not be convincing enough. So I looked at both players’ best minor league BABIP for a season. For Correa his came in 2013 at Single-A, where he had a .375 BABIP in 519 PAs. Lindor, on the other hand, had a .295 in 567 Single-A PAs in 2012. It would appear that Lindor’s 2015 might be a bit of an outlier. Or did he just adjust that well?
Hopefully 2016 can help us answer that. For now, the round goes to Correa.
Correa 2 – Lindor 0[table “” not found /]
This one seems pretty simple as well. Aside from Correa’s slight advantage in Base Runs Above Average, Lindor seems to be the superior talent on the basepaths. Not much to dig into here, so I’m going to state the obvious and hand this round to Lindor.
Correa 2 – Lindor 1
Next, let’s look at some defensive numbers. Just a quick breakdown of abbreviations — even if I think you readers are smart enough by now. Defensive Runs Saved is a metric calculated by the fine folks at FanGraphs, which appears in the table below as DRS. Also from FanGraphs is UZR, which stands for Ultimate Zone Rating. And from Baseball Prospectus, we have FRAA — which I love, because it proved that Derek Jeter was actually a pretty poor defensive shortstop — and that stands for Fielding Runs Above Average. FRAA can, in fact, be a negative number. That’s also true for UZR.[table “” not found /]
In an almost exact number of innings played and chances — 390 for Correa and 389 for Lindor — these numbers clearly raise Lindor’s fist in victory.
I highly doubt that this victory for Lindor mitigates the pain of Astro’s fans, but maybe it illuminates that error as less tragic. Then again, it was the playoffs. Then again, you could say that Tony Sipp actually committed the error. Nonetheless, the round goes to Lindor.
Correa 2 – Lindor 2
So, it’s a good thing I have five comparisons to make, because we need a tie-breaker! This one will just be a quick look at the “Above Replacement” valuation stats from Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Prospectus. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is Baseball Reference’s quantification. FanGraphs’ metric is fWAR, with the ‘f’ just being a designator that it is their measurement as opposed to Baseball Reference’s. Lastly, Baseball Prospectus gives us WARP or Wins Above Replacement Player. They are each calculated slightly differently and thankfully provide us with a diversity of numbers to play with.[table “” not found /]
Wow. What a come-from-behind victory for Lindor! Pretty clear advantage across the board. If I’m not mistaken, fWAR does incorporate defensive value, which may explain the bigger gap there.
Lindor 3 – Correa 2
Then again, by June we could be saying this is all pointless, because Corey Seager will be well on his way to Rookie of the Year and MVP honors. Who knows? That’s the beauty (to a certain extent) of baseball!