We have all engaged in the discussion of who are the best players at their respective positions. When discussing the position of shortstop I think the obvious answer is Hanley Ramirez. He does it all. He hits for average as well as power. He drives in runs and steals bases. He even plays good defense. He is easily the best shortstop in the game. But who is number two? I’m going to make the case for Yunel Escobar of the Atlanta Braves.
Escobar plays solid defense but where he really shines is at the plate. Escobar has improved his contact hitting this year by sporting the 6th best .305 average. He has also shown he can provide the long ball with his 3rd best 11 home runs and drive in runs with his 58 RBI which also rank 3rd. The power numbers aren’t a product of a free swinger either. Escobar has shown excellent bat control and advanced plate discipline. He strikes out just 10.6% of the time which is only beaten by Orlando Cabrera (9.4%) and Miguel Tejada (7.6%). He is also the owner of the 3rd best SO/BB ratio with 0.80.
Escobar ranks 5th in OBP (.370), 5th in SLG (.471), 5th in OPS (.841), 7th in WAR (2.5), 7th in RC (55.8) and 4th in clutch factor (0.49). Escobar is in the top 10 in some of the most important statistics. He is among the best hitting shortstops as well as the most valuable to his respective team.
He has a respectable 4.3 Range Factor when you look at the defensive aspect of his game. One thing that isn’t shown in a statistic is his strong arm. Many Braves fans were spoiled when Rafael Furcal would rifle throws across the field. Escobar’s arm is just as good if not better.
There are a handful of shortstops that have a legitimate shot at being the runner up to Hanley Ramirez at the position. Yunel Escobar has a pretty good argument.
This season has really shed some light on the “real hitters” with players like Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer being thrust into the spotlight for all to see. Pujols is a legitimate complete hitter while Mauer is well on his way to solidifying himself as one.
While players like Pujols and Mauer steal the spotlight there is a player who is quietly one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball. We all know who it is, we just don’t necessarily associate him with greatness. He is an All-Star every year but just doesn’t get the credit he really, truly deserves. That player is Ichiro Suzuki.
This year Ichiro is hitting .358. No typo, it’s .358. Joe Mauer may be leading the majors in BA but he is also having a career year. Ichiro does this every single year. Ichiro’s lifetime average is .332. That’s after he played 8 seasons in Japan, where he hit .353 with 1,278 hits. After 8 years of excellence in Japan he packed his bags and landed in Seattle. He has been the backbone of the franchise ever since but has been overshadowed by players like Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez.
Ichiro doesn’t bring the home run often, but true students of the game know that despite his small frame he has power. It just isn’t his game. He would much rather slap a single or bunt his way on and then steal second base. By the way he has 21 stolen bases so far this year. He doesn’t walk often but he doesn’t strike out often either. In his 391 at bats this season he has struck out just 35 times. His career high in strikeouts came in 2007 when he struck out 77 times. He is obnoxiously consistent while being one of the most durable players in the game. Since coming to the United States he has played in no fewer than 157 games.
Ichiro does it all. Since joining MLB he has been an All-Star every year while earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2001. Not only did he win the ROY in 2001, he won the MVP for the American League while hitting .350 with 56 stolen bases. He has taken home a Gold Glove every year and is a 2-time Silver Slugger and 2-time AL batting champ.
When looking at his short time in MLB his statistics still warrant him the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. When combining his statistics with the his time in Japan he is one of the greatest hitters the game has ever scene. If you were to combine his statistics from both careers he would have 3,223 hits, 429 doubles, 1,023 RBI, 535 stolen bases and a .343 batting average.
There is no doubt that Ichiro is one of the best players in baseball. He is a household name but just does not receive the credit he deserves. He combines incredible bat control with outstanding defense and speed. Pujols, Rodriguez, and Mauer may have the power, but Ichiro has the complete game.
Hitters vs. Sluggers
In today’s game of baseball there seem to be two types of offensive players. You have the hitter. The player who can hit for a high average as well as drive in runs. They can work the count and draw walks. They can move runners over with the sacrifice or hit to the opposite field. They get on base but don’t necessarily always posses the fan favorite tremendous power.
Then you have the slugger. The player with tremendous power. The player who can drive the ball 400 feet with the flick of the wrist. They can change the momentum of a game with one swing at any given moment. Pitchers avoid them with runners on base and are cautious with the bases empty. They hit for power and drive in runs, but rack up strikeouts and can cripple rallies.
Both contribute to their team in many ways, but which is better?
A quick look inside the numbers quickly separates most players into one of these two categories. There however are a select few that can just do it all. Some of those players are Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Morneau, and Prince Fielder. They hit for the high average as well as tremendous power and are RBI machines.
Some high profile hitters are players like Carl Crawford, Ichiro Suzuki, Shane Victorino, and Kevin Youkilis. They put the ball in play, can draw walks, and move the runners over when their team needs them the most. These players are pure hitters.
Some sluggers you may know are Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Pena. They can drive the ball with anyone, drive in runs, but rack up strikeouts at alarming rates.
A statistic that I find accurately grades the value of a hitter is Runs Created. Of all the sluggers in the league only Adam Dunn (7) ranks in the top ten in runs created. Ryan Howard (38) and Carlos Pena (23) rank further down the list. As for the hitters Carl Crawford (14), Ichiro Suzuki (9), Shane Victorino (16), and Kevin Youkilis (27) rank further up on the list. The previously mentioned freaks happen to all be in the top 6. Pujols and Fielder come in a 1 and 2 while Morneau sits at 4 and Ramirez at 6. They contribute to their team in a ton of different ways offensively.
Personally I would rather take the hitter because of the fact that they can do more. I would take the guy that hits .310 with 10 home runs and 80 RBI, but can move runners over and put the ball in play over someone who hits .260 with 35 home runs, 110 RBI, and 160 strikeouts.
The strikeouts are a big factor because not only are they an ugly stat but they are a rally killer. If you are going to end a rally at least put the ball in play. Strikeouts are also an easy tell for someone who is just swinging as hard as they can. The hitters will shorten their swing with 2 strikes and look to put the ball in play rather than drive it into the gaps. The sluggers however tend to swing for the fences regardless of the situation. Not only is that not going to work out too well the majority of the time it sets a bad example for the younger players.
I guarantee that if any of the before mentioned freaks were to take up the slugger mentality they could put 55-60 balls out of the park every season. The home run is a great thing, but I think it’s time the hitter gets more recognition for his talent than the slugger.