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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Central Showdown - Shortstop

Asdrubal Cabrera – Indians

Cabrera had always been a solid shortstop going into the 2011 season. Through his 4 previous big league seasons, he had only once posted an average below .275 and an OBP below .340. Cabrera’s sudden power stroke was inexplicable given that in four previous MLB seasons he had managed just 18 home runs. Out of nowhere in 2011 he blasted 25 to go along with a .273/.332/.460 slash line, with 92 RBI and 17 SB to boot, making him an explosive 5 category contributor and arguably, one of the top five offensive shortstops in the game: All this with his lowest BAbip since entering the big leagues in 2007. Through his major league career, Cabrera has never walked a significant amount and strikes out right on par with the rest of the league at 17.8%, so how did he do it? The % of Cabrera’s fly balls that became home runs jumped from a miserly 2.2% in 2010 to 10.5% in 2011, well above the league average of 7.5%. Even with some regression Cabrera is still the class of the division.

Alexei Ramirez – White Sox

Cuban defector Ramirez has been a remarkable model of consistency since joining the White Sox in 2008. ‘A little bit of everything not a lot of any one thing’ would be an accurate description of Ramirez four big league seasons thus far. In that span he has delivered a 162 game average of .279/.323/.421 with 19 HR 77 RBI and 13 SB. All this while providing an outstanding glove at SS in 2010 and 2011 makes Ramirez one of the better American league shortstops out there. While Ramirez has been a little more strike out prone in the last 2 seasons, his SO% is still well below the league average. Ramirez is a lock to put up his excellently consistent numbers again in 2012. In the AL Central, he is as close to a sure thing as you can get. 

Cabrera is the class of the division at shortstop

Jhonny Peralta – Tigers

At the still friendly age of 29, it’s hard to believe Peralta is entering his 10th full big league season. Peralta has always had good pop in his bat, averaging 19 HR and 83 RBI as a 162 game average over his big league career. What really elevated Peralta in 2011 was his career best .299/.345/.478 slash line which earned him his first all-star nod. Peralta did benefit from a 62 point rise in BAbip between 2010 and 2011 so we should perhaps expect some level of regression from his outstanding average last year. Similarly to Ramirez, Peralta has in recent seasons exhibited an excellent glove, with an average Rfield of 7.3 over the last 3 seasons. To show he is on the level of Ramirez, Peralta must repeat his 2011 numbers (particularly his elevated OBP) in the middle of a fearsome Tigers lineup that gives him every chance of doing so.

Jamey Carroll – Twins

Put together a decent batting average of .278, a below average SO% - 13.9 %, an above average BB% - 10% and a solid LD% - 22 %, what do you have? A none too shabby OBP of .356 and a solid major league career. These are all statistics that belong to Carroll who has turned a below average (in major league terms) skill set into an above average major league career which has spanned 10 years, 5 teams and both leagues. Such is the confidence the Twins brass has in Carroll as a table setter that they signed him to a 2 year pact worth $6.5 million. Carroll could not have joined the teams at a better time; they sported one of the worst defenses in the league. While Carroll certainly has range that is diminishing with age, he still has a solid glove at three infield positions and should sure up an inexperienced infield which sprang consistent leaks throughout the 2011 season. Offensively Carroll may look unspectacular but if he can do what he has successfully throughout his career Carroll will meet the Twins needs and should score plenty of runs with a guaranteed everyday role.

Alcides Escobar – Royals

Now having had 2 full MLB seasons  under his belt 2011 saw Escobar’s skill set grow very little. Given the green light by the Royals to show off his wheels he swiped 26 bags but was caught on 9 occasions in the process. While Escobar raised his batting average by almost 20 points, his OBP remained the same largely thanks to a truly miserable BB % of 4.2 % and a not so coincidental 20 point spike in BAbip. Escobar also saw a 7% fall in LD % in 2011 and despite a significant improvement with the glove in 2011 has failed to impress in his short major league career – so far!

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