For Fans, By Fans

Jays Listed – Top 10 Shortstops

shortstop header

Shortstop is a tough position to grade when you’re trying to compare players from one generation against another. Before the likes of Cal Ripken a shortstop was generally graded by how good he was with the glove. There were big hitting shortstops before Ripken,  Honus Wagner and Ernie Banks come to mind, but without Ripken would we have had sluggers like Alex Rodriguez and Troy Tulowitzki manning short? Of course you don’t have to swing a big stick to be considered a top-notch shortstop. Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Luis Apracio can attest to that.

The Jays have had shortstops on both sides of the scale throughout their history, solid hitters and defensive wizards, but no one like Ripken or A-Rod. They don’t come around very often. There is one Blue Jays shortstop I’d put up against Ripken and A-Rod (guess who?), but I might be a little biased.

So, if shortstops are considered great based on both their bats and their glove which do you rank more highly? Does John McDonald or Alex Gonzalez’s (Gonzo not Sea Bass) strong glove earn them more points than Yunel Escobar or Marco Scutaro’s stronger bat? None of them can unseat the No. 1 shortstop on the list who had a knack both in the field and at the plate. Figured it out yet? It’s not too hard, but the rest of the Top 10 may generate some arguments. Here we go.

10. Chris Woodward – 1999-2004, 2011

Woodward was basically a utility player during his years with Toronto, but he saw more action at shortstop than any other place on the field. In fact, in 2003 he saw more time at shortstop than any other player on the team.

Woodward was a late round pick for the Blue Jays in 1994, getting taken in the 54th round. He debuted with the Jays in 1999, appearing in 14 games, which included 10 at short. Woodward finally saw the field with more regularity in 2002 when he appeared in 90 games, which included 77 starts at shortstop. Woodward’s bat showed some pop with the added playing time as he hit a respectable .276 with a .333 OBP, 13 home runs, 45 RBI and 48 runs scored. The following season with Toronto lacking a real starter at short (sorry Mike Bordick, Howie Clark and Dave Berg), Woodward appeared in a career-high 104 games, which included 98 starts at shortstop. He continued to put up pretty good numbers for a low in the order hitter with a .261 average and a .316 OBP.

In 2004 Woodward spent more time on the bench and in the minors than on the field for the Jays and following the season he left Toronto to sign as a free agent with the Mets. Over the next six seasons Woodward would make stops in Atlanta, Seattle and Boston before beginning another stint with Toronto in 2011. That season he appeared in 11 games for the Jays but failed to get a hit in 10 at bats. He’s still with the organization currently playing at AAA in Las Vegas.

9. Manuel Lee – 1985-1993

Manuel or “Manny” Lee originally signed with the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 1982. He was shipped to Houston two years later along with Gerald Young in a deal that sent Ray Knight to New York. Later that year the Jays snagged him in the 1984 Rule 5 Draft.

He made his Toronto debut in the 1985 season appearing in 64 games and hitting .200 with a .238 OBP.  He played more games at second base than shortstop that season and that would tend to be the norm for Lee for a number of years. In 1990 he was the Jays starting second baseman, but he was moved to short the following season when Tony Fernandez was sent to San Diego and Roberto Alomar was brought in to play second. Lee was the starting shortstop in 1991 and 1992 and because of that he ended up playing more games at short than any other position during his career with the Jays.

It would almost be a bit of an understatement to say Lee wasn’t known for his skills with the bat while with Toronto. He somehow hit .291 in 1988, but he would never come close to that again in his career with the Jays. His career numbers with Toronto over eight seasons include a .254 average, a .304 OBP and a .627 OPS. Hitting down in the lineup Lee had only 199 RBI and 231 runs scored, while posting a 6.6 WAR. Following the 1992 season Lee left Toronto as a free agent and signed with the Rangers where he finished out his career.

8. Felipe Lopez – 2001-2002

Lopez was a first round pick, eighth overall by the Blue Jays in the 1998 Draft. He made his Toronto debut three years later in 2001, playing in 49 games, but most were at third base. In those 49 games he hit .260 with a .304 OBP, five home runs, 23 RBI and 21 runs scored.

In 2002 Lopez was the Blue Jays starting shortstop on opening day. Through many ups and downs that season he would appear in 85 games and hit a lackluster .227 with a .287 OBP and a .672 OPS. He hit eight home runs, but seven of them came in the first two months of the season.

After the 2002 season Lopez was part of a four-team deal that would send him to the Cincinnati Reds. Other parts of that deal included Erubiel Durazo going to Oakland, Elmer Dessens going to Arizona and the Jays picking up Jason Arnold (who?) from Oakland. Lopez’ best season after leaving Toronto was with the Reds in 2005 when he was an All-Star and won the Silver Slugger after hitting .291 with 23 home run, 85 RBI, 97 runs and 15 steals. Thankfully for Jays fans those numbers would turn out to be an anomaly in Lopez’s career.

7. Alfredo Griffin – 1979-1984, 1992-1993

Griffin began his career with Cleveland, but barely saw the field in the Majors with only 31 games between 1976 and 1978. That changed when he was traded to the Blue Jays in December 1978 along with Phil Lansford for Victor Cruz.

In his first season with Toronto Griffin played in 153 games and was the co-AL Rookie of the Year along with John Castino. He hit .287 with a .333 OBP with 21 steals and 81 runs scored.

Following his Rookie campaign Griffin’s offensive numbers declined rather rapidly. His average in 1980 fell to .254 and his OBP plummeted to .283. He did have an amazing 15 triples though. The .333 OBP he posted in his rookie season would be the only OBP above .300 he would post while with the Jays. To see Griffin’s steep decline just look at his WAR with the Jays. In 1979 his WAR was 2.3. The combined WAR in his next five seasons was -4.8.

In 1984 Griffin was an All-Star but he earned the honor in a peculiar way. Apparently back then MLB paid the cost for each player and one guest to go to the game. Toronto’s All-Star representative Damaso Garcia brought Griffin along. When shortstop Alan Trammell got hurt and couldn’t play AL Manager Joe Altobelli named Griffin to the team because he was in the right place at the right time and was a good shortstop. That season, Griffin’s last with the Jays in his first go-around he hit .241 with a .269 OBP. After the season Griffin and Dave Hollins were traded to Oakland for Bill Caudill.

Griffin returned to Toronto late in his career as a free agent in 1992. He was a bench player for both World Series winning teams before retiring following the 1993 season. He is currently the first base coach for the Angels.

6. Alex Gonzalez – 2010

The Blue Jays took a chance on Gonzalez as a free agent signing heading into the 2010 season. He was coming off a season split between Cincinnati and Boston in which he hit .238 with eight home runs, 41 RBI and 42 runs scored.

The Blue Jays 2010 team was all about the home run and Gonzalez wasn’t no exception. In 85 games Gonzalez clubbed 17 home runs and had 50 RBI. He hit .259 with a .296 OBP and a .793 OPS. He also posted a career-best 3.3 WAR.

Alex Anthopolus sold high on Gonzalez’s unexpected offensive outburst by dealing him to Atlanta along with Tyler Pastornicky and Tim Collins for Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes.

5. John MacDonald – 2005, 2006-2010

Johnny Mac arrived in Toronto via trade from Cleveland in exchange for Tom Mastny in December, 2004. In his first season in Toronto he only appeared in 37 games hitting .290 with a .340 OBP before being traded to Detroit in July. McDonald finished out the 2005 season with the Tigers, but his time in Detroit was short. After the season Toronto bought him back from the Tigers and he rejoined the Jays for the 2006 season.

With Russ Adams continuing to struggled at the Major League level McDonald was the Jays starting shortstop for most of the 2006 season. In 104 games that season he hit only .223 with a .271 OBP, but he provided stellar defense in the field.

In 2007 the Jays brought in Royce Clayton to split time at short with McDonald, but he was eventually released leaving the job in McDonald’s hands again. That season McDonald was one of the top defensive AL shortstops with a .986 fielding percentage to go along with a 2.7 defensive WAR and he made many sensational plays at short, but was looked over by the voters who gave the Gold Glove to Orlando Cabrera.

The following year he began the season once again sharing the shortstop duties, this time with David Eckstein. And, once again he took over the starting role when Eckstein underwhelmed was shipped out of town.

Looking for a chance to play in the postseason McDonald was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks along with Aaron Hill in August, 2011 for Kelly Johnson. McDonald may not have had a potent bat, but his range and strong arm at short and his great attitude and work ethic made him a fan favorite in Toronto and more than worthy of this list.

4. Marco Scutaro – 2008-2009

The Blue Jays acquired Scutaro in a trade with Oakland following the 2007 season in exchange for Kristian Bell and Graham Godfrey. He would provide the Jays with two solid seasons at shortstop, appearing in 289 games with a slash line of .275/.362/.384.

In 2009 Scutaro set a number of career bests at the plate which included hitting .282 with a .379 OBP and a .789 OPS. He also hit a career-high 12 home runs, 60 RBI and 100 runs scored. His OPS+ that season was a surprising 108 and his WAR 5.2. Scutaro was also strong with the glove, making only 15 errors at short in his two seasons while posting a combined defensive WAR of 4.6.

Scutaro’s strong 2009 season caught the eye of the rest of baseball and in 2010 he signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox.

3. Alex Gonzalez – 1994-2001

The Blue Jays drafted Gonzalez in the 13th round of the 1991 Amateur Draft. After passing former first round pick Eddie Zosky on the Toronto depth chart he made his debut with the Jays in 1994, for a 14-game cup of coffee which included starting on opening day. Gonzalez officially became the starting shortstop the following season when he played in 111 games and hit .243 with a .322 OBP, 10 home runs, 43 RBI and 51 runs scored.

Those numbers were pretty much the norm for Gonzalez throughout his career. His home run total got a little higher over the years but after eight seasons with the Jays his hash line was .245/.304/.386 with 83 home runs, 350 RBI, 47 runs scored and an 8.1 WAR. Gonzalez struck out a ton and he’s a member of an exclusive group that no players wants in on, players that have struck out six times in a single game. Gonzalez’s skill with the bat can basically be outlined by his 77 OPS+ during his years in Toronto.

What Gonzalez lacked with the bat he made up for the glove. Gonzalez never won a Gold Glove in his career, but he likely should have at least been in the conversation, not getting his due while playing on some mediocre Toronto teams. It was really hard for any AL shortstop to win a Gold Glove in the 90′s with Omar Vizquel owning the award from 1993-2001. You could make the argument that at least the 1996 Gold Glove should have gone to Gonzalez. He had a better fielding percentage and defensive WAR than Vizquel and had only one more error despite having 72 more defensive chances than Vizquel. With solid range and a rocket for an arm Gonzalez’s defensive skills were definitely overlooked and underrated by the rest of baseball while he was with the Jays.

2. Yunel Escobar – 2010-Present

Escobar fell out of favor in Atlanta during the 2010 season and the Blue Jays were able to acquire him  (they had to take Jo-Jo Reyes too) in exchange for Alex Gonzalez, Tyler Pastornicky and Tim Collins.

In the 60 games remaining that season Escobar batted .275 with a .340 OBP and a .696 OPS. He also socked four homes, had 16 RBI and scored 32 runs.

In his first full season with the Jays Escobar showed why Toronto wanted him and built on the promise he showed in his early seasons in Atlanta. He hit .290 with a .369 OBP and a .782 OPS. He showed some power with 11 home runs and 48 RBI and he also scored 77 runs. Escobar receives some flack for his nonchalant defensive approach at times, but he’s actually a solid defender when his heads in the game with a 1.4 defensive WAR in 2011 with a .974 fielding percentage. Escobar’s overall WAR in 2011 was a strong 4.4. By comparison, Troy Tulowitzki, who won the NL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger at shortstop in 2011 had a WAR of 5.9.

So far in 2012 Escobr has scuffled at the plate at times while being shuffled around the lineup. Heading into this week he was hitting .251 with a .301 OBP and a .624 OPS. Escobar will need to improve those numbers with the Jays holding top-prospect shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria at Triple A.

1. Tony Fernandez – 1983-1990, 1998-1999, 2001

Fernandez was another great find by the Blue Jays scouts in the Dominican Republic. He was signed as an amateur free agent in 1979 when he was just 17 years old. He made his debut with the big club in 1983 appearing in 15 games and hitting .265.

The following season Fernandez began splitting time at shortstop with Alfredo Griffin. Fernandez was much better with the bat than Griffin and since he also had a stellar glove the Jays moved Griffin to Oakland following the 1984 season.

In his first year as the Blue Jays No. 1 shortstop in 1985 Fernandez played in 161 games and hit .290 with a .340 OBP and a .730 OPS. He also scored 71 runs and stole 13 bases while posting a WAR of 3.7. He also flashed his glove on a regular basis making most plays look so smooth with a defensive WAR of 2.2.

In 1986 Fernandez’s made his first All-Star game appearance after hitting .310 with a .338 OBP and a .766 OPS and collecting what was at the time a club record 213 hits. He also clubbed 10 homers, drove in 65 runs, stole 25 bases and scored 91 runs. For his efforts Fernandez’s garnered a few MVP votes and for his glove work he won his first of four consecutive Gold Glove awards.

Fernandez was an All-Star again in 1987 as his average improved to .322 and his OBP hit .379. He also stole a career-high 32 bases that season and scored 90 runs. Fernandez could have scored a few more runs if his season was cut short. He missed the last nine games of the season after breaking his elbow on a hard slide (takedown) by the Tigers Bill Madlock.

Jumping ahead to 1989 Fernandez’s returned to the All-Star game again and won his fourth Gold Glove in a row after a spectacular season in the field. He posted a .992 fielding percentage and had a 2.7 defensive WAR after making only six errors in 741 chances. The 1989 season was also memorable for Fernandez for a difficult reason. In April just four games into the season Fernandez was hit in the face by a pitch from Cecilio Guante and required surgery. As a result Fernandez’s missed nearly a month.

In his final season in his first turn with the Jays in1990, Fernandez was healthy again all season and played in 161 games. He hit .276 with a .352 OBP and had an astounding 17 triples which is still a team record. After the season Fernandez was part of the franchise changing trade that saw him and Fred McGriff head to San Diego for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.

Fernandez wasn’t away long though. In 1993 the Jays started the season with Dick Schofield at short. On May 12 Schofield broke his arm in a collision with Milt Cuyler. After trying to hold down the fort with Alfredo Griffin Pat Gillick stole Fernandez away from the Mets in exchange for Darrin Jackson.

In 94 games with the Jays that season Fernandez hit .306 with a .361 OBP and a .803 OPS. He also stole 15 bases and drove in 50 runs. Of course he also made up an amazing defensive tandem up the middle with Alomar. Fernandez also delivered big in the postseason in 1993. Against the White Sox in the ALCS he hit .318 and he was a force at the plate in the World Series against the Phillies, hitting .333 with nine RBI. After winning the World Series in 1993 Fernandez departed Toronto again to sign with Cincinnati.

A few years later Fernandez was back in Toronto. He signed as a free agent  in 1998, but this time around he manned second and third base instead of shortstop. The bat was still their for Fernandez and in 1999 he hit a career-high .328 with a .427 OBP and a .877 OPS. He made another All-Star appearance and finished the season fifth in average in the AL. After the record-setting season Fernandez spent a year in Japan before returning to the Majors with Milwaukee in 2001.

Fernandez also made his final stop in Toronto in 2001 after getting released by the Brewers in May. The Jays picked him up in June and in 48 games in his final season Fernandez still hit .305 with a .323 OBP and a .746 OPS.

After 12 seasons with Toronto and a franchise-high 1450 games Fernandez was inducted into the Blue Jays Level of Excellence in 2001. Fernandez also holds the Toronto record for hits with 1583 and his slash line during his time with Toronto was a solid .297/.353/.412.

Other Blue Jays Shortstops:
Hector Torres
Luis Gomez
Dick Schofield
Mike Bordick
David Eckstein
Royce Clayton
Cesar Izturis
Russ Adams

Related Posts

Leave A Response