Generally speaking we think of the corner positions being the power/offensive positions and the up the middle ones being more defensive oriented. Of course there are exceptions – Mike Piazza could hit a little bit and Keith Hernandez wasn’t too bad with the glove – but this is a solid rule of thumb. Adjusted stats, which account for ballpark and run scoring environment, don’t differentiate for positions. A catcher with a 105 wRC+ is a different thing than a 1B with the same numbers. If league average is 100 than it stands to reason that the corner positions will be above that mark and the middle positions will be below it. Everyone can’t be above average.
In 1972, MLB shortstops posted a .231/.290/.298 line, which in that era was good for a 71 wRC+. Meanwhile, RF in that same season had a .716 OPS and a 108 wRC+. The Mets weren’t helping in the former, as their shortstops put up a 64 wRC+ in ‘72. It’s tough to win with offensive sinkholes in the lineup and the ‘72 Mets, despite great pitching, only won 83 games because their offensive production at SS (and 2B and 3B, too) was so poor.
It’s why Francisco Lindor is such an attractive trade target. Lindor has a lifetime 118 wRC+. Last year wasn’t his best season but he still had a 100 wRC+. Yeah, it turns out that’s not so hot. MLB shortstops in 2020 had a 101 wRC+. As for the Mets, while Amed Rosario was doing his best impression of a 1972-era shortstop with his 76 wRC+, Andres Gimenez put up a 105 mark in the category, He was better than league average and better than Lindor in his MLB debut.
Last season started with many fans wondering why Gimenez was even on the roster. It ended up with him having the larger half of a platoon and him out-hitting Lindor. Not too shabby.
Gimenez was long considered one of the club’s top prospects, a guy that former general manager Brodie Van Wagenen made untouchable when he was trading off prospects left and right. He debuts in the majors at age 21 and is an above-average hitter, a strong fielder and an excellent base stealer. So, why does it feel like no one believes in Gimenez?
Maybe chasing after Lindor isn’t a knock on Gimenez. But it seems like maybe people are in love with the idea of Lindor, that he’s going to be this year’s version of Mookie Betts, rather than really looking at either what the club already has in Gimenez or what they’d really be getting in Lindor. Betts came to the Dodgers with a 10.4 fWAR season under his belt and four top-8 MVP finishes, including a first-place finish in the 2018 balloting. Lindor’s best season was three wins worse than Betts and his best finish was a fifth-place in the MVP balloting.
It’s possible that Lindor will be one of those guys who performs best when the biggest spotlight is on him. Betts played in the spotlight in Boston before moving to Los Angeles while Lindor, well let’s just say the lights aren’t quite as bright in Cleveland.
Any club would be lucky to write Lindor’s name in as their starting shortstop. In addition to his bat, he’s also a two-time Gold Glove Award winner in the field. In no way is this post trying to bad-mouth Lindor.
Yet from 2000-2017 the league-wide average wRC+ for shortstops fell in the 84-93 rate. But starting in 2018, the numbers were: 95, 98 and 101 in the shortened 2020 campaign. If you can put up a 117 mark while your positional peers are 30 points below that, well, that’s pretty good. But Lindor was 16 points above the league average in 2019 and a point below average in 2020. Maybe we can’t put a ton of faith into what happened in the Covid year of 2020 but we saw a marked drop in relative performance from Lindor in 2019.
Meanwhile, Gimenez came up and succeeded pretty much the way you would have hoped him to do. He didn’t put up outrageous slugging marks and he didn’t have a Michael Conforto-like .400 BABIP. Instead, he had a .136 ISO and a .318 BABIP, compared to league average SS rates of .158 and .313, respectively.
Let’s say Lindor is slightly better than what he was in 2019 and Gimenez is slightly worse than what he was in 2020. In a vacuum, that would make Lindor a much better option to deploy as your team’s shortstop. But there’s the acquisition cost of Lindor and then the monetary cost once you do trade for him. And it’s tough to see how those two costs don’t cancel out his advantage.
Gimenez is five years younger and significantly cheaper. With the Wilpons gone and Steve Cohen in their place, this doesn’t have to be the main thought in the front of our minds 100% of the time. But we shouldn’t throw it out the window, either. Because of this, some people think that trading for Lindor should be a back-burner issue.
For me, it shouldn’t even be on the stove.