In 1980, Robin Yount, then 24, had his first big season for the Brewers, hitting .293 with 82 extra-base hits and scoring 121 runs. The same year, 22-year-old Alan Trammell hit .300, scored 107 runs and won a Gold Glove for the Tigers. In 1982, a rookie third baseman named Cal Ripken would slide over to shortstop for the Orioles.
And so began a long run of the American League at the shortstop position. From 1980 through 2006, there were 115 shortstop seasons in the majors of 4.0 WAR or higher, from Baseball-Reference; 75 of those were from AL shortstops, 39 from NL shortstops (and one who split time in both leagues). The top 15 seasons were all from AL players and 27 of the top 30 were from AL players.
Now, that's not surprising when you see the list of shortstops with the most 4.0 WAR seasons during that span:
Cal Ripken 10
Ozzie Smith 9
Alan Trammell 8
Robin Yount 5
Larkin and Ozzie were NLers, but the rest were all ALers, and the AL guys put up a lot of monster numbers. The list doesn't even include Omar Vizquel, who had just one 4.0 WAR season. Since 2007, however, the tide has swung -- of the 18 shortstop seasons of 4.0 WAR or better, only five have come from AL players: two from Jeter and one apiece from Marco Scutaro, Erick Aybar and Jason Bartlett.
But with Jeter in decline, Aybar unable to replicate his fine 2009 and Bartlett now with the Padres, the American League seems devoid of a topflight shortstop. In 2010, the only two with a WAR of 3.0 or higher were Cliff Pennington and Alexei Ramirez. This season's group isn't doing much better, unless you count Jed Lowrie and Maicer Izturis, two utility guys who have filled in at short (or, in the case of Lowrie, potentially winning the job from Scutaro).
Maybe Jeter and Ramirez will start hitting. Maybe Toronto's Yunel Escobar will regain his 2009 batting stroke. There's not even an obvious Gold Glove candidate -- Jeter has won the last two as much by default as skill. So who is the best right now? Place your vote!