(Photo by Tony Medina/Getty Images)
Arizona went into the season knowing that the shortstop position wouldn't be completely stable. Stephen Drew wasn't expected to be back until around the All-Star Break, if not after, and Willie Bloomquist wasn't exactly expected to do much. Things really got weird when Bloomquist went down with injury and Drew was traded to the A's.
Before we get to the meat of the issue, a short stop at the history of the shortstop position: it's long been a defense-first position, one where good glove and baseball smarts trumped prowess at the plate. Over time, like other traditionally defensive positions, such as second and catcher, shortstops have been expected to be better hitters. Unlike some other positions, or perhaps the general trend in the nineties, the shortstop was still asked to be good on defense. Good range, a strong arm, good footwork, these are all skills needed to succeed at the position. An old saw is that shortstops who can't throw are moved to second.
If defense is still desired for shortstops, then the Diamondbacks haven't gotten the message. The only shortstop with passable UZR/150 was John McDonald, who saved the team perhaps 8.5 runs per 150 games. The important thing here is that 0 is supposed to be average, so McDonald obviously was well above average in this metric. And anyone who has seen him play can say he has pretty good range, a good glove, and a great transfer.
After that is gets real ugly. Bloomquist had a -9.8, Drew had -10.7, Elmore had -13.7. These are truly awful numbers, and yes, our littlest Sun Devil has the small sample size to hide behind, but it's very disappointing. Of course, we knew Bloomquist was not good on defense, and that Drew could be good but was coming off a severe ankle injury.
But just how important is it for the Diamondbacks to have good middle infielders? Any team would choose better defense over worse, just like all attributes, but mid-market teams have to make choices. Why spend money on the middle infield, positions traditionally not known for power, if your pitching staff doesn't even produce the groundballs necessary to necessitate good middle infielders?
As it turns out, the Diamondbacks don't really produce groundballs. The groundball to flyball ratio for the D-backs was just about league average at .86, and most of the staff was just below average or significantly lower. The only pitchers that were significantly higher that saw regular playing time where Brad Ziegler, Trevor Cahill, and Bryan Shaw.
So if the shortstops weren't really good defenders, did they at least provide through hitting? Well, no. It was pretty much a trainwreck, with the only guy pulling any kind of hitting weight, Bloomquist, doing it with an insane BABIP of .367. Byrnesian, almost.
Some numbers to wrap around your noggin: Bloomquist had a slash of .302/.325/.398, wRC+ 90, OPS+ 91. Drew had a slash of .193/.290/.311, wRC+ 79, OPS+ 60. McDonald: .249/.290/.311, wRC+ 73, OPS+ 79. Elmore? Don't even get me started.
Those numbers look pretty bad by themselves, but they don't even compare well against other shortstops. Bloomquist was 21st for shortstops with 100 plate appearances in wRC+, 19th in wOBA, but hey, he was 2nd in batting average. We weren't expecting much from Bloomquist's bat, and he's always been a contact, no power kind of guy. The point is that he was our best shortstop.
As I alluded at the top, this wasn't the plan. Bloomquist may have been acceptable, and he certainly performed better than most of us were hoping, but Drew came back late and came back lame. Then he was traded, Bloomquist was injured, and we stumbled along until the end.
The lack of production at shortstop certainly wasn't preventing the D-backs from making the playoffs, though a top level guy certainly would have made a difference. It just wasn't going to be enough to make up 7 games to get a wild card berth.
Final Grade: C-
Clefo - D+ The Shortstops for Arizona as a whole had fewer Home Runs this season than Rey Ordonez had in his career. Bloomquist is a decent backup utility guy, and McDonald is still one of the better defenders in the history of time, but both of them are at points in their careers where you don’t want them to hold down a starting job if you can help it. Drew just never got in a good groove after he got back from the DL with us. Jake Elmore will be enshrined in the "Andy Green Hall Of Fame Of Former D’Backs Prospects That Will Be Forgotten In A Year".
Jim C-. If you’d told me at the start of the year that Stephen Drew would miss 73 games, hit .189 when he came back, we’d have 108 starts out of Willie Bloomquist or John McDonald, and still get unadjusted offensive production from our shortstops close to league average... I think we were perhaps a little spoiled by the quiet, steady production Drew gave us over the past few years. Bloomquist and McDonald actually produced better than I expected, but I really wouldn’t rely on them to repeat it next year. Glad we got Pennington, but not sure the 2013 numbers will be much better overall.