While the Cubs appear to be fading in the Manny Machado sweepstakes, the conversation is far from over. Plus, it remains a fascinating conversation as most deals for Machado as a shortstop involve sacrificing one strength in order to gain another.
Consider that among qualified MLB shortstops, Addison Russell ranks second in Defensive Runs Saved (+10). At the other end, Manny Machado is last (-20). However, if he stays healthy and in the AL, he should win the Silver Slugger Award.
This awakens the old debate about the relative importance of strong defense at shortstop as a foundation for winning championships. I long ago settled this debate for myself. If one must choose between glove and bat – and one doesn’t always – I’d automatically take the defensive standout at short.
Why? Consider that no full-time position player can account for more than one-ninth (11 percent) of his team’s plate appearances. Yet the average NL shortstop last year participated in 15 percent of team outs and 22 percent of all outs not recorded by strikeout. So even an average-range shortstop has more chances to either prevent or allow runs in the field than to produce them at the plate.
Granted, math isn’t for everyone. So sometimes when debating this issue I’ll just ask my opposite to name one World Series-winning shortstop to have won a Silver Slugger award but not a Gold Glove. The Silver Slugger was created in 1980. This covers 37 World Series winners, none of whom featured a Silver Slugger-only shortstop.
By comparison, 20 of 37 World Series-winning shortstops (54 percent) have won either just a Gold Glove or both awards at some point in their careers. Further, only four Silver-Slugger-only shortstops – Garry Templeton (1984 Padres), Jeff Blauser (1992 and 1996 Braves), Rich Aurelia (2002 Giants) and Corey Seager (2017 Dodgers) – have even started in the Fall Classic for the losing team.
Fascinating as these factoids are, I’ll admit they are more anecdotal than decisive in the great offensive-versus-defensive shortstop debate. After all, both Seager and Aurelia’s teams came within one Game 7 win of a World Series ring. Seager in particular was no slouch on defense with a 1.7 dWAR last year; Aurilia was more average with a 0.3 dWAR.
But remember I said 20 of 37 teams featured a Gold Glove-winning shortstop. This also means 17 World Series-winning teams featured a shortstop who won neither gold nor silver hardware. So what can we learn from those players’ offensive and defensive attributes? Here they are:
As the chart shows, stronger defense predominates. Twelve of 17 teams featured shortstops with dWARs higher than their oWAR. What’s more, only one of these shortstops had a negative dWAR or posted negative Defensive Runs Saved (DSR): Walt Weiss had a -0.1 dWAR in 1989. However, he also featured dWAR marks of 2.7 and 2.4 the year before and after for the Athletics’ two World Series runner-up teams.
By comparison, Machado currently has a -1.5 dWAR and -20 DRS at shortstop. To find a shortstop dWAR of -1.0 or worse on a title winner, you must got back to 1945 and Detroit’s Skeeter Webb (-1.5). And he only started because so many WWII-enlisted major leaguers had yet to return to their teams.
On the flip side, Addison Russell is not the mirror version of Machado – meaning he’s not all glove and no bat. While no threat at the moment to win a Silver Slugger, Russell’s .766 OPS currently ranks fourth among NL shortstops.
Further, his 2.7 dWAR in 2016 is tied for sixth highest for any World Series shortstop (winning or losing) over the past 40 years. And anyone who remembers the Cubs’ Alex Gonzalez in the 2003 NLCS knows how World Series dreams can quickly turn on the sureness of a shortstop’s hands.
Russell is in some pretty impressive company in this chart. All but one of the retired shortstops appeared in more than one World Series. This is why most teams are reluctant to trade away a proven World Series-winning shortstop in his prime.
It will be interesting to see which team eventually trades for Machado and whether they role the dice on him as their playoff shortstop or if they convince him to return to third base. Some Silver Slugger-only shortstop will eventually end that World Series shutout and grab a ring. But something tells me Machado’s shortstop mitt will not be the one into which that ring settles.