By Thom Henninger
Quick: which major league shortstop has the most home runs in 2010? It’s not Hanley Ramirez or Jimmy Rollins, but Toronto’s Alex Gonzalez with 14.
The leader among shortstops in runs? It’s not Rollins, Ramirez, Jose Reyes or Derek Jeter. It’s the Rangers’ budding star, Elvis Andrus, who ranks among the American League top 10 with 51 runs scored. And the leader in RBIs? How about the Giants’ Juan Uribe with 45.
There have been pleasant surprises at the position for a few teams. Gonzalez has hit as many as 20 home runs only once in 11 seasons, and with 14 in 72 games, he’s on course for a career high in 2010. So is almost everyone else in the Toronto lineup.
Uribe wasn’t expected to play short at all with Edgar Renteria on the Giants roster, but Renteria has spent most of the last six weeks on the disabled list with groin and hamstring ailments. Uribe, who has just returned to third base but has played 47 games at short, has been the most productive Giant over the last six weeks.
It’s been a tough spring for the game’s elite shortstops. Rollins has played only 14 games because of a calf injury. The Phillies leadoff man, who had hit safely in nine of 12 games before going down, has just returned after missing a month. He’s 2-for-14 since coming back, including a walkoff two-run homer Wednesday for a 7-6 victory over Cleveland. For the season, Rollins is hitting .291/.429/.564 with 10 extra-base hits, eight walks and 13 runs scored in just 16 games.
The other two stud shortstops in the National League East started slowly. The Mets’ Reyes missed the first few days of the season after developing a thyroid problem in spring training and had a disappointing April. The Marlins’ Ramirez reached base successfully in the opening month, but displayed little power and didn’t figure prominently in his team’s run production.
Another elite shortstop, Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, got off to an impressive start, but was struck by a pitch and suffered a broken wrist on June 17. Offensively, he ranked among the top five shortstops in four of the five basic fantasy categories, and even in stolen bases he placed among the game’s top 10 at his position.
A case could be made that Tulowitzki was the best-hitting shortstop in the game when he was lost to the Rockies for most of the summer. The 25-year-old veteran, already in his fourth full season as a regular, continues to lead his peers with an .877 OPS. His .306 batting average is good for eighth place in the National League batting race. He is the only shortstop who both qualifies for the batting title and is a .300 hitter.
Tulowitzki is batting .306/.375/.502. He led his peers in runs with 47 when he was injured, although Andrus (51), Reyes (50) and Jeter (50) have since passed him. Tulowitzki‘s nine home runs are still the fourth most among shortstops, and his 34 RBIs rank fifth. He has seven stolen bases.
Tulowitzki has gone down at a time the other premier shortstops are regaining their form. Rollins is back in action and both Ramirez and Reyes have been at their best again of late.
After a nearly power-free April, Ramirez drilled four home runs in the first three games of May. Since May 1, the 26-year-old star has delivered 12 doubles, nine homers, 37 RBIs and a .532 slugging percentage in 50 games. For the season, he is now batting .295/.381/.491 and places second behind Tulowitzki with an .872 OPS.
Going into Sunday’s action, Ramirez has hit safely in six of seven games, a stretch in which he has batted .423 and reached base in 16 of 31 plate appearances, good for a .516 OBP. Tulowitzski had led his peers in all three hitting percentages, but by adding 13 points to his OBP in this stretch, Ramirez has jumped ahead with his .381 mark. The Marlins shortstop also tops Tulowitzki with 11 home runs, 44 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.
The red-hot Ramirez has been one of the most productive shortstops in June, leading the way with 18 RBIs in 21 games. Only 15 major leaguers have more, and Ramirez has posted a .911 OPS for the month.
If there’s a shortstop who’s been better this month, it’s Reyes. He’s hitting .341 and slugging .582, easily the highest June slugging mark at the position and no NL shortstop has a higher batting average. Reyes also leads his peers with 20 runs scored in 22 June contests. He and Uribe lead all shortstops with five home runs.
Reyes was on a 16-game tear in which he batted .441 (30-for-68) with 10 extra-base hits before the Twins held him hitless in the final two game of the Mets’ weekend series. Reyes hadn’t been held without a hit in consecutive games since the first week of June.