There have only been three shortstops in MLB history to reach 3,000 hits. They are, of course, Honus Wagner, Robin Yount and Cal Ripken Jr. That number will increase by 66% within five years when A-Rod and Derek Jeter accomplish the feat. It may even double within ten years if Michael Young keeps putting up 200-hits a year like he’s Wade Boggs. The offensive revolution at the shortstop position—seemingly sparked by Cal Ripken Jr.—that was looking like a certainty in the late 90s didn’t really happen the way I envisioned it. Nomar Garciaparra missed enough games to account for close to three seasons. A-Rod moved to third base. Jeter is a singles hitter. Miguel Tejada has been the only permanent shortstop to emerge from that time period that could be classified as a legitimate power-hitting player. It looked like those guys were just the first wave of what was going to be a new trend at the position. The only problem is that nobody came after them. To be fair, the position is littered with players capable of putting up 20+ HRs and 80+ RBIs from time to time like Carlos Guillen, Jimmy Rollins, and J.J. Hardy. However, most shortstops in baseball today still struggle to put up a .400 slugging percentage. Ripken’s power/defense combination is standing the test of time amazingly well.
Here are the categories that I will be using to breakdown the candidates and a brief description of each category: The “Lock” and “Likely” categories will be counted as being projected into the Hall of Fame. There won’t be too many “Borderline” candidates but I’ll decide those projections on a case by case basis. I will not count players under 25 regardless of my opinion but I’ll identify players under 25 who seem to be off to excellent starts.
Lock: Barring steroid scandal, will be a Hall of Famer
Likely: Player is on the path based on career progression
Borderline: Pretty close to 50/50; or could make a charge
Not Likely: Almost no chance; would take an unexpected resurgence
Under 25: Players that have a good start to a potential HOF career
Active Hall of Fame Shortstops
The only controversy here is whether I should have classified A-Rod as a shortstop or a third-baseman. As I type this, A-Rod has played 1272 career games at shortstop and 570 at third base. Also, if A-Rod leaves the Yankees in the off-season, he’ll probably be going back to shortstop. So, Mike Schmidt can relax. His reign as arguably the greatest third baseman of all-time is safe for now. I could go through A-Rod’s numbers but I’ll just refer you to my post from last week that goes over that in detail.
Jeter is a guarantee as well. One thing to look out for over the remainder of their careers is who will finish with more career hits between Jeter and A-Rod. I wouldn’t be surprised if that developed into a friendly competition at some point. In fact, that sort of competition may be what is needed for someone to make a serious run at Pete Rose’s all-time hits record. Jeter probably isn’t as good as he’s made out to be. His defense is often criticized by baseball people that follow the most reputable defensive metrics. He is probably overrated as being “clutch”. Nonetheless, the dude can hit. Plus, a career comparison between Jeter and Ripken makes Jeter look pretty darn good. Jeter has him beat in just about every conceivable category in terms of per-season production. The only thing lacking on Jeter’s side happens to be a pretty important category: MVPs.
Tejada just needs to stay healthy and he’ll be a virtual “lock”. Tejada is one of the most prolific power-hitting shortstops of all-time. In his eight full-seasons, he has six 100-RBI totals and a 98-RBI effort. He drove in 131 RBIs in 2002 and 150 RBIs in 2004; the latter being the most by a shortstop in 55 years. Tejada has an MVP award and close to 1,000 career runs and RBIs and he is only 31. He’ll probably only need five more productive seasons to cement his status as a sure-thing since he plays a position that is historically devoid of offense.
Had I put together a list like this in 2003, I would have almost certainly put Nomar in the “likely” category. He had produced six 190-hit seasons in just seven years. He finished in the top ten of the AL MVP voting five times in six seasons. Then his career was Ken Griffey Jr-ed. He has missed 230+ games since 2004—and 370+ throughout his career—in what were to be his prime seasons. Even still, he has managed a dazzling .316 career average and a 127 OPS+ which is better than Ripken, Tejada, and Jeter. All Nomar is missing at this point are the career numbers. At 34, he still has some time to do damage. I’m guessing he’ll need to keep his career average and OPS+ where they’re at and reach 2,500+ career hits to have a fighting chance. With those averages and numbers, he’ll have a much better resume than some of the borderline shortstops like Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell. I would love to reserve judgment at this point but that would be too easy so I’ll project him “out” of the Hall of Fame. He doesn’t appear to be anywhere near the hitter he was five years ago. Playing in L.A. isn’t going to help his cause either. It’s not impossible but I would have to say it’s improbable.
I received a text message from a friend earlier in the baseball-season that read “Michael Young sucks.” Said friend had Young in a HR fantasy league which may explain his frustration (4 HRs in 444 at-bats). If there are two things I know, one is that Michael Young doesn’t hit homeruns and two, Michael Young does not suck at baseball. He has 200+ hits in each of the last four seasons and he is on pace for 200+ again this year. If he can pull of a fifth consecutive 200-hit season, he’ll join Willie Keeler, Wade Boggs, Ichiro, Chuck Klein, Al Simmons, and Charlie Gehringer as the only players in MLB history to accomplish that feat. Guess what? They are all in Cooperstown with the exception of Ichiro who will be. So, those who think Young won’t make the Hall of Fame also must think that he’ll be the first player ever with 5-straight 200-hit seasons to be kept out assuming he squeaks out 200 hits this year. The problem with Young is that none of his other statistics will blow you away. He got a relatively late start as an everyday player at 25. His OPS+ is only 101. He scores a lot of runs and drives in a lot of RBIs for a shortstop. His power numbers are pretty much non-existent. I really have no idea what to think of Young. There is no reason to think his 200+ hit-seasons are behind him considering he is only 30. I would have a better feel if his career average was something ridiculous like .320 or higher. Amazingly, it is merely a respectable .300. That is good for most players but shockingly low for someone working on five-straight seasons of 200+ hits. I’m definitely torn. I’ll say he’s “out” for now but reserve the right to change my mind. To be honest, even if Young reaches 3,000 hits, I’m not so sure he would be a “lock” to make it to Cooperstown.
Jimmy Rollins has almost no chance. I’m leaving room for an unforeseeable power-surge in the latter half of his career. He is only 28 and has had 628 or more at-bats since he was 22 years old. If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that Rollins gets a ton of at-bats every year. His numbers are less impressive than Young’s across the board and he has zero 200+ hit-seasons. Rollins could end up with 3,000 hits which would make things very interesting. He would almost certainly reach that mark if he plays until he’s 40 which isn’t asking much in this day and age. The talk of Young and Rollins possibly reaching 3,000 hits prompted me to look into active players who have the best chance of reaching 3,000 hits without being elected to the Hall of Fame. I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen some day relatively soon. I'll have a post on that either this week or next.
This is a sore subject for me. I am willing to admit that Vizquel may be voted into the Hall of Fame. I have no idea how much of the “best defensive shortstop of all-time”-propaganda the voters will buy. I am also willing to admit that Vizquel has been a solid pro for 19 years. What I am not willing to admit is that Vizquel is worthy of making it to the Hall of Fame. I refuse to believe that Ozzie Smith’s numbers make Vizquel a Hall of Famer. If Ozzie’s career was judged on numbers, he wouldn’t have made it. He had the luxury of playing in the National League in the 80s where good shortstops were as rare as a John Kruk-stolen base. With respect to the league (NL), Smith was the best shortstop in the game—or at least he was viewed that way. That, along with the fact that he made 15 All-Star games is why he was selected to Cooperstown. Call it misfortune but Vizquel has never been close to the best shortstop in the game when offense and defense are weighed appropriately. Vizquel’s defense and run-of-the-mill batting average has made him serviceable. There is no reason for him to be thought of as anything more.
Renteria, like Rollins and Young, has a shot at 3,000 career hits without any other impressive numbers to back it up. If the “3,000-hits equals Hall of Fame” rule is iron clad, then Renteria may be heading to Cooperstown. However, I think their will be exceptions if exceptions need to be made. Renteria’s numbers aren’t nearly in line with the great shortstops of this era. His numbers are better than Rollins’ but both don’t have the production to merit much consideration.
According to baseball-reference.com, the most similar batter to Furcal in the history of baseball is Jimmy Rollins. In fact, this is freaky…
Since Rollins and Furcal are pretty much the same guy, you can read Rollins’ write-up again if you’d like. I have nothing more to add on Furcal
Under 25 to keep an eye on:
Ramirez is only 23 so it’s way too early to know how good he’s going to be. I’m getting a Miguel Cabrera-vibe. That would put Ramirez on the fast-rack to stardom. He won the NL Rookie of the Year last season and has followed that with a monster sophomore campaign. He’s hitting .342 with a whopping 155 OPS+. I’m not sure how the Marlins keep having fire-sales only to end up with players that are better than the ones they got rid of. It is mighty impressive.
If I knew for sure that Reyes would be guaranteed to play injury-free until the age of 35, I would call him a “lock”. There isn’t a young player in baseball today—including Miguel Cabrera—who has a better shot at Cooperstown than Reyes. I think he’ll end up being the closest thing to Rickey Henderson that we’ll ever see.
Final Projected Shortstops (3)