The All-Star voting is complete and the American League’s starting shortstop nod went to Alcides Escobar of the Kansas City Royals. Escobar benefitted from the enthusiastic voting support of Kansas City’s Pendergast machine passionate baseball fans, who got him 11 million votes for a pedestrian .314 on-base percentage/.374 slugging percentage and some good defense.
While the AL’s shortstop class is admittedly the essence of mediocrity, this nod should have gone to either Detroit’s Jose Iglesias or Boston’s Xander Bogaerts. These are the only two players doing anything of consequence with the bat and both play the field with the range and flair appropriate to such a vital defensive position.
Bogaerts, whom I watch most every game via the MLB package, has a stat line of .339/.414. He was a September call-up during Boston’s 2013 World Series title run and took playing time from Will Middlebrooks in the postseason. Bogaerts’ versatility allowed him to step in at third base at a time when the Red Sox still had Stephen Drew. That versatility worked against him in 2014, as Boston foolishly bounced him between short and third and never allowed the young player to get his feet firmly planted.
This time around, Bogaerts has been the shortstop from Day One and the results speak for themselves. His only problem is plate discipline—a .302 batting average needs to translate into a higher OBP than he currently has, but if you’ve cleared the first hurdle—being able to hit major league pitching—the patience and ability to draw walks can come after that.
Iglesias was once in the Red Sox organization himself, renowned as a defensive wizard, with questions about his bat. He was traded to Detroit in mid-2013 as part of a three-way deal where the Red Sox acquired Jake Peavy. Iglesias has established that his defensive prowess is every bit it was cracked up to be, and his hitting has exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Playing in a pitching environment at Comerica Park, Iglesias has a stat line of .374/384, fueled by a .323 batting average.
So who’s the true All-Star shortstop in the American League, Bogaerts or Iglesias? Based on the current numbers, I would have to go with Iglesias. The offensive numbers are better on their face and if you factor the dramatic difference between Detroit and Boston as hitting environments, Iglesias’ edge is even bigger.
Defensively is an interesting question. Bogaerts ranks higher in the defensive metrics—range factor and defensive WAR. I used to live by the numbers, but over time they also appear to be unreliable. When Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy went from the bottom of AL shortstops to the top in a single season for Range Factor, I figured there was no way anyone improved that much at this point in their career.
I still like the intent behind these numbers—to treat defense as something more than the ability to avoid errors, which is all the completely useless fielding percentage boils down to. But range is a tough thing to quantify accurately and it seems the analytics movement isn’t there yet. As far as Defensive WAR goes, I distrust any stat that it takes a graduate degree in chemistry to be able to calculate.
In either case, Bogaerts’ edge over Iglesias in these areas is narrow, and not worth ignoring the decisive offensive edge the Tiger shortstop holds over the rest of the field. And anyone who’s watched him play baseball would never deny him an All-Star spot over defense, even if Ozzie Smith himself returned to the diamond and played in the American League.
Both players, Iglesias and Bogaerts deserve to be in Cincinnati, with Iglesias getting the starting nod. They are head and shoulders above the rest of the American League shortstop class in 2015.