In this series we are looking at every position in the NL Central division to see how each team ranks by player. Each position will be graded by the player expected to start the most games at that position. For pitching, each collective of starters and bullpen arms will be evaluated. At the end, we will take all of the positional rankings and try to predict where each team will finish in the standings. Last week we looked at second base. This week it’s on to shortstop.
Addison Russell – CHC
Much of how the Cubs roster shakes out will depend on how embattled shortstop Addison Russell handles himself. He is in the midst of serving a 40-game suspension for violating the MLB Domestic Violence policy. In spite of that, the Cubs still tendered him a contract this off-season.
In their own words, they wanted to be part of the solution and felt as though dumping Russell instead of getting him help would be counterproductive to helping avoid future issues. There are strong feelings on both sides, but dollar figures aside, it is admirable that the team is taking responsibility on its own for getting Addison the help he needs.
As for Russell the player it’s kind of a mixed bag. His pedigree and minor league track record suggested that Russell would be a very good hitter. He flashed the power potential in 2016, but that was all he flashed. Russell has mostly disappointed at the plate, as his .250/.317/.340 slash line from 2018 shows.
Russell has never posted even a league average year offensively since arriving in the bigs. He was 20% below league average in 2018 with a wRC+ of 80, his worst mark yet. The one tool he did have dropped off a cliff as he posted a mere .090 ISO with only five home runs.
Addison still posted a 1.4 WAR, mostly because of his defense. He posted a UZR/150 of 2.0 while his 13 DRS were third in the league among shortstops. His glove work remains unquestionably spectacular.
Then there is the matter of Russell’s suspension. While he is away from the team, Javier Baez will serve as the everyday shortstop. Baez is a great player, and if it were him all season we’d be grading this out higher.
Russell figures to slot right back in after his suspension is over. As such, his incredible defense buoys his grade, but his woeful bat keeps him from grading any higher than a C.
Jose Peraza- CIN
The retooled Reds look to build on the steady improvement from 2018. Peraza’s continued development figures to be a big part of that moving forward. The speedy shortstop has the potential to really make an impact this year.
Peraza turned in a respectable, if not solid, .288/.326/.416 slash line in 2018 while putting up a 2.7 WAR. While his 97 wRC+ puts him slightly below league average offensively, there is still a lot to like.
Peraza continued to show off his speed last season as he was among the league leaders with 23 stolen bases. He also managed to add a little extra power as he roughly doubled his ISO to .128 with 14 home runs.
If there’s a knock on Peraza offensively it’s that he doesn’t walk enough. He only drew walks 4.2% of the time, the third year in a row he’s increased his walk rate. Though it doesn’t really hurt when he only struck out 11% percent of the time, also an improvement. There’s room to grow, and no reason to assume he won’t.
While he’s growing on offense, Peraza really needs to improve on defense. He committed 22 errors last year with a -2 DRS and -3.3 UZR/150. It was an improvement over 2017, but he will need to better if he hopes to compete with a group of shortstops that’s pretty lackluster overall in the NL Central.
Peraza is still only 24 and has plenty of room to grow. If he continues to progress, he could become one of the better shortstops in the league. For now though, he’s not even the best in his own division and grades out as a C+.
Orlando Arcia – MIL
Arcia comes with a high degree of prospect pedigree. That led many to believe that he was primed for a true breakout season last year following a solid 2017 campaign. Unfortunately for Arcia (and the Brewers), things started bad and got way worse before they got better.
Arcia slashed .236/.268/.307 on the year. The numbers would have been much worse had it not been for the last two months of the year. A demotion to Triple-A seemed to right the ship as he slashed .290/.320/.386 for the second half.
Arcia was arguably one of Milwaukee’s best hitters to end the year and during the playoffs. It wasn’t enough though as he walked less, struck out more and managed a measly .072 ISO on the year. He finished the year with a 54 wRC+ and -0.4 WAR. Ouch.
At least Arcia can play defense, right? Well, not exactly. He made 15 errors on the year em route to a +4 DRS, but a -0.3 UZR/150. He’s not the worst shortstop in the league, but he’s not that good either.
Arcia is only 24 and could very well make a huge leap forward in 2019. He needs to if the Brewers want to repeat as division champs. He should grow and grade higher, but for now Arcia gets a D-.
Erik Gonzalez/Kevin Newman – PIT
With long time shortstop Jordy Mercer now with the Detroit Tigers, Erik Gonzalez steps in as the most likely guy to replace him. They could also turn to former first round draft pick Kevin Newman. Gonzalez was a top prospect in the Cleveland Indians farm system before being included in the five player swap that sent him to Pittsburgh.
Most scouts think Gonzalez has the arm to stick at short, but he most likely profiles as a utility player. For his career Gonzalez has slashed .263/.292/.389 with a 78 wRC+ and 0.4 WAR. It’s a little uninspiring to say the least, with just a .126 ISO. What helps Gonzalez is his speed on the base paths. Offensively he isn’t a huge threat.
Then there’s Newman, who failed to impress last season. He only slashed .207/.247/.231 with a wRC+ of 28 and -0.8 WAR. He’s a top prospect, so he should get every chance to compete for the job, but will have to do much better than that.
The defense is another story altogether for Gonzalez. He didn’t get many opportunities playing shortstop behind Francisco Lindor, but when he did he was very good. His one DRS doesn’t jump off the stat sheet, but his 14.6 UZR/150 certainly does.
Newman got eaten alive defensively last year, albeit in an extremely small sample size. His -2 DRS and -17.1 UZR/150 certainly leave something to be desired. He’s going to have to do much better as Gonzalez is a slick defender and likely has the early edge.
Gonzalez may yet turn into something offensively, but at 27 already it doesn’t look like it. Newman is a top prospect with time and room to grow. Gonzalez will get the first crack at the job. His defense is good, but not enough to grade Gonzalez any higher than a D+.
Paul DeJong – STL
Last season was a rough one for the St. Louis Cardinals’ DeJong. He started off well, and began to display growth as a hitter before being hit by a pitch. He broke his hand and spent significant time on the DL and wasn’t the same hitter. Our own Steven McNeil breaks that down here.
In spite of it all, DeJong’s follow up to his breakout 2017 was not terrible. He slashed .241/.313/.433 en route to a 102 wRC+ and 3.3 WAR. Those are down from 2017, but still productive.
It all makes sense when you consider DeJong’s BABIP was 29 points lower than his career average. The power numbers took a hit too as his ISO was 26 points lower than his career mark. He still managed to slug out 19 home runs and remain above league average offensively.
Those numbers likely suppressed his overall numbers, and with the hand injury it all makes sense. DeJong was still productive and should continue to be in 2019 as well, especially if he continues to raise his BB% and lower his K% like he did last year.
The most pleasant surprise from DeJong though was his vast improvement defensively. DeJong turned in a fine performance that should have garnered a little Gold Glove consideration. Though Nick Ahmed was certainly deserving of it.
DeJong’s 14 DRS was tied with Francisco Lindor for third best among major league shortstops. His UZR/150 of 9.3 was tops in the NL and fourth best among his major league peers at short. The fact is, DeJong is a very good defender at short.
Shortstop is one of the weaker positions in the NL Central, but DeJong is one of the best in the league. The MLB Network recently named DeJong the eighth best shortstop in the league. We agree and grade DeJong at B+. If his bat continues to progress, that grade will be higher.
Shortstop Grade Recap
STL – B+
CIN – C+
CHC – C
PIT – D+
MIL – D-
Check back next week as we continue our look at the NL Central landscape with third basemen. If you would like to see other installments of this series, look for the links below:
Stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com