2015 Positional Review: Shortstop

Next up in our series of 2015 reviews, we look at the Dodgers’ shortstop position, which wasn’t great. But it did feature some excitement toward the end of the season.

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How Dodger shortstops fared (MLB ranks in parenthesis):

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.241 (25th) .306 (15th) .388 (10th) 8.5 (3rd) 15.4 (12th) 94 (9th) 1.6 (17th)

Despite having Jimmy Rollins play the position almost exclusively for five months, the Dodgers still had some decent showings on offense from shortstop. It’s almost hard to believe a Top-10 wRC+ number, but it’s there, thanks mostly to Corey Seager. Enrique Hernandez logged some games there, too, but never got much of an extended look.

Jimmy Rollins

 

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.224 .285 .358 7.8 15.3 80 0.2

The Dodgers knew Corey Seager wasn’t going to be ready to being the 2015 season in the majors, so a short-term stopgap was necessary. I identified Rollins as a possible option in November 2014.

“Rollins, 36 on Nov. 27, is coming off a good-not-great season, and he actually fared better defensively than offensively. He had four defensive runs saved and a 3.6 UZR/150. He was once in the upper-tier of shortstops, but now he’s just decent – which would be a hell of an upgrade over Hanley Ramirez. He did play his fewest number of innings in 2014 (1170 2/3) than he did since 2010 (744 1/3), which is something to consider. But, the Dodgers have enough decent backups at shortstop that they could sustain if Rollins were to miss any time during the season.”

Then, the Dodgers traded for him almost a month later, during “The Night That Blew Up Baseball.” The cost was Tom Windle and Zach Eflin (who would be acquired in the Matt Kemp trade). That was a price some thought was a bit high, but it seemed to be fine.

While we shouldn’t have expected 2007 Rollins or anything close to that, his Dodger career got off to a bang.

Hell of an introduction to the fan base. Unfortunately, that was probably the offensive highlight of his season. April 22 was the last day his on-base percentage was north of .300. He slugged some homers (13), which was solid, but his struggles led to whispers of Seager coming up from Triple-A.

Chad tried to put Rollins’ struggles into perspective.

“Rollins’ line drives have come down and the fly balls have gone up, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, when a great number of said fly balls are nothing but can-of-corn infield flies and lazy fly balls due to weak contact, the bad luck becomes more and more deserved. In 2015, he’s actually technically hitting the ball “hard” as frequently as he has in the last five years, but in aggregate, his average velocity off the bat is fifth-worst in the MLB. That trend of weak contact seems unfortunately sustainable, as it can be explained by the fact that Rollins is not only expanding the zone more, but is also making more contact when he does expand the zone.

Most alarming are his struggles against fastballs. FB/100 represents runs above average against fastballs per 100 pitches, which used to be a strength of his, and he was known as a fastball hitter. Now though, Rollins has declined well into negative territory, suggesting that his bat speed is a serious problem and he hasn’t been able to find a way to effectively compensate.”

I proposed in June that maybe Enrique Hernandez (who ended up playing 16 games at shortstop) would be in line for more playing time before resorting to Seager.

“He has a completely unsustainable 59.1 UZR/150 and 2 DRS. In 97 1/3 career innings at the position, he has a 49.7 UZR/150 and 3 DRS. Say what you want about defensive metrics (and this sample size is minuscule), Hernandez has not been a liability on defense at shortstop. Offensively, he only has 80 plate appearances, but has a couple home runs and a 98 wRC+. With that kind of defense, a 98 wRC+ is more than acceptable. But you also lose his versatility if you’re relying on him to be a full-time shortstop. Of course, the defense wouldn’t hold up that well, but Hernandez and his Rally Banana might be worth a look.”

That was never much of an option. Instead, the Dodgers brought up Seager in September after they could take no more of Rollins. He wasn’t good on offensive, nor was he good on defense. He had a -6.8 UZR/150 and -7 DRS. Basically, his presence in the clubhouse and track record kept him in the lineup as long as it did.

Now, Rollins has signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox in hopes of winning the starting shortstop job. Seeing as he has played all but one inning in the majors at short, ideas of him being a super utility guy probably are for naught. The 37-year-old is nearing the end of his career.

Corey Seager

 

AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ WAR
.337 .425 .561 12.4 16.8 175 1.5

Seager might be the best prospect the Dodgers have developed since Clayton Kershaw. He might be the best position player since prime Matt Kemp or Adrian Beltre. He sure didn’t do anything to temper expectations with a white-hot September.

Despite finishing 2014 in Double-A, Seager went back there to begin the 2015 season. He played one month with Tuls and hit .375/.407/.675. Chad touched on his scorching start.

“Despite Seager’s hot start, the theory that he’s being prepped for a promotion doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Even if we assume that the front office is legitimately concerned about Uribe’s two weeks of play thus far, there’s still Justin Turner, Alex Guerrero, and even Enrique Hernandez that they’d likely turn to before rushing their prized prospect up with minimal on the job training at third. That rings even more true when the Dodgers figure to avoid Super Two arbitration by postponing any Seager call-up until around July, as there’s little chance this front office misses out on that opportunity.

That said, while Seager might not be on the fast track to the majors just yet, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly the Dodgers promote him to AAA, which I do believe will happen before he moves up to the bigs. Seager isn’t far away from being MLB-ready despite whatever positional concerns may exist, but with this Dodgers roster being as deep as any I can remember, there’s plenty of time to let Seager develop at another level, continue to prove himself over a larger sample, and maybe even let him get used to playing a new position.”

He was promoted to Oklahoma City. His best game came on May 28, when he went 6-for-6 with a home run and two doubles.

It was the year of the prospect in the majors. Carlos Correa got promoted in Houston and went on a hot streak. Byron Buxton got his first taste of the MLB. Some were wondering when Seager would get his chance. Mike touched on the topic.

“Which is as it should be. What the Astros or Twins or Rangers do shouldn’t affect what the Dodgers do. Still, it’s perfectly reasonable for Dodger fans to want to see Seager as soon as possible. That got me thinking, though. Were any of the other top prospect callups in a similar situation? That is, Rollins really couldn’t be benched. He’d have to be cut. Other than a single inning at second base back in 2002, he’s never played another position in the big leagues, and the Dodgers simply don’t have the roster space to carry a shortstop-only backup on the bench. And while Rollins’ performance hasn’t exactly made him an untouchable, what happens if you dump him and Seager really isn’t ready? That makes your shortstop… Enrique Hernandez? Justin Turner?

If Seager is ready, you take the chance and don’t let that risk stand in the way. But it does add another layer to this decision.”

September came and I was against the Dodgers bringing up Seager.

“If Seager comes up in 2015 and the Dodgers want to play the service time game (ala the Cubs and Kris Bryant this year), they’d have to keep him in the minors for a bit longer — perhaps the entire first month of the season. If the front office is OK with that, then sobeit.

But there are other factors when considering a Seager promotion. Peter Guber, a Dodger minority owner, is the majority owner of the OKC Dodgers. It behooves him and the organization for the Triple-A team to do well. There are a lot of quality players on that club — some who would easily be in the majors if they played in other organizations. While they’re going to lose some players later today, I don’t think the LA front office is going to gut the team right away. OKC’s season doesn’t end until Labor Day (Sept. 7). Assuming OKC makes a deep run into the playoffs and Seager sticks around for all the games, he might not be in Los Angeles until Sept. 23. The LA Dodgers would have 12 games remaining, including four in San Francisco against the Giants. You know Seager wouldn’t draw a start in those games, so you’re looking at eight starting opportunities in 12 games. I’m not sure the math adds up for Seager to get the call.”

In hindsight, I was waaaay off. The reasoning made sense, but the fact he came up and destroyed MLB pitching made it the absolutely correct call. He easily displaced Rollins as the starting shortstop. He even started four of the five games in the National League Division Series.

Seager comes into 2016 as the Dodgers’ unquestioned starting shortstop and will likely be hitting high in the batting order sooner rather than later. His offensive upgrade over Rollins’ is going to be felt. If he can even be a 45-defender at shortstop, he’s going to be a 3-plus win player in his rookie season. He’s going to be great, and the Dodgers certainly don’t wish they had drafted Michael Wacha instead.

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The combination of Rollins and Seager started 88.3 percent of the games at shortstop in 2015. Barring anything unforeseen, Seager should be a 90-plus percent starter at shortstop. He’s young, but he’s incredibly talented.

Next up: Left Field

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.