Which Statistically Subpar Shortstop Will Win the World Series?

Well, it was bound to happen. A beloved shortstop factoid of mine is all but dead. For near eight years now, I have loved throwing out this bit of trivia: No team has ever won a World Series with a shortstop who won a Silver Slugger but not a Gold Glove.

It’s a somewhat gimmicky “shortcut factoid,” but it nicely expressed the defensive importance of the shortstop position. Not that I ever doubted some team would eventually win a World Series with a Garry Templeton- or Nomar Garciaparra-style shortstop. I most expected factoid to die when two teams with defensively average-to-poor shortstops faced off.

And such happened this year. Neither Boston’s Xander Bogaerts nor Los Angeles’s Manny Machado will ever win a Gold Glove at short. But Bogaerts has already won the AL Silver Slugger twice (2015, 2016), and the odds are good for Machado to win at least one if he stays at short with his next team.

When it comes to comparing the defense of these two, the question which one likely to hurt his World Series team least? There the conversation gets complicated. Both featured negative Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and dWAR at short in 2018, but they are very different stylistically while playing in quite different infield defenses.

Machado is very athletic and has an arm cannon, but from a fundamentals perspective is as defensively flawed as a peacock. He’s capable of highlight-reel plays, but will cost far more outs than runs he’ll save defensively.

Bogaerts’ best quality is avoiding big mistakes, but he has a below average arm and range, and will rarely make a plus play. So while he makes relatively few errors (10 in 2018), the lack of run-saving plays means is few mistakes inevitably pulls his dWAR and DRS tallies into the negative (-2 and -1.0, respectively in 2018).

This postseason, Bogaerts has technically handled all 66 chances that came his way. In watching his play, however, it’s clear that his weaker arm creates a very slim margin for error. This proved to be the case in Game 2 of the ALCS when Bogaerts’ arm and a lack of urgency allowed Carlos Correa to beat out an infield hit. On another sure double play, he muffed the ball transfer with no pressure from the baserunner. No error was scored because the forceout was recorded, but it extended the inning.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two shortstops is found in their number of defensive chances. As noted above, Bogaerts has had 66 chances in nine postseason games, for a 7.3 average. Machado, though, averaged just 3.3 per game (36 chances in 11 games). It’s an oddity with the Dodgers that for several years their shortstops have so few fielding chances. But whatever the cause, it does help limit how often a Machado miscue can hurt them.

Despite this difference in chances, Bogaerts continuing his no-frills, error-free defense will probably help his team more (or hurt it less) than Machado. But if it is defensive excitement you crave this World Series, forget about shortstop. Train your eyes instead on each team’s outfield play, which should shine as brightly as it did in the last round.

My World Series prediction: Knowing all of Boston’s pitchers well, Machado explodes offensively, but the Red Sox still win in six.

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