|Friday, September 7
Aurilia makes sure Giants aren't one-man show
By Joe Sheehan
Special to ESPN.com
You wouldn't think it's possible for a shortstop having an Alex Rodriguez season to be a bit lost in the shuffle, but that's what we're seeing in 2001. Not one shortstop, but two.
The first is, well, Alex Rodriguez. He's having your basic A-Rod season: .316/.398/.609, 42 home runs, 15 steals with an 83 percent success rate, fourth in the AL in Equivalent Average, second in Runs Above Position, even fourth in the league in Zone Rating. Unfortunately, the Rangers have been out of the race since Easter, so while Rodriguez might well be the most valuable player in the American League, he has no real chance of being voted the hardware.
The other shortstop playing at this level would be an MVP candidate in any season in which a teammate wasn't playing like Babe Ruth on a frappucino bender. Rich Aurilia is putting up numbers that would fit right into Rodriguez's career line, and in fact, is having one of the 10 best seasons for a shortstop in history. He's hitting .330/.376/.585, with 32 home runs and 32 doubles. He's fifth in the NL in Runs Above Position, and to top it all off, leads all NL shortstops in Zone Rating with an .877 mark.
We've come to expect this kind of performance from Rodriguez, who with every year looks more like an inner-circle Hall of Famer. But Rich Aurilia? He'd been an underrated player, a shortstop whose power and glove helped to compensate for so-so on-base percentages. Coming into 2001, it appeared that he'd established his performance level with two remarkably similar seasons:
Year AVG OBP SLG AB H 2B 3B HR BB SB CS 1999 .281 .336 .444 558 157 23 1 22 43 2 3 2000 .271 .339 .444 509 138 24 2 20 54 1 2
His projection in Baseball Prospectus 2001 called for more of the same:
Year AVG OBP SLG AB H 2B 3B HR BB SB CS 2001 .273 .338 .427 473 129 20 1 17 47 1 1
How good has Aurilia's performance actually been? Well, other than being a key element in the Giants' push for a second straight NL West crown, his year ranks among the best ever at his position. BP's Keith Woolner projects that Aurilia's year will be the ninth-best by a shortstop in major-league history:
Name Year PA AVG OBP SLG VORP Alex Rodriguez 1996 664 .358 .419 .631 108.1 Robin Yount 1982 690 .331 .384 .578 107.8 Alex Rodriguez 2000 672 .316 .420 .606 104.8 Cal Ripken 1991 708 .323 .379 .566 104.2 Derek Jeter 1999 736 .349 .437 .552 104.1 Arky Vaughan 1935 603 .385 .491 .607 99.8 Alex Rodriguez 2001 635 .316 .398 .609 97.0* Honus Wagner 1908 627 .354 .415 .542 96.2 Rich Aurilia 2001 585 .330 .376 .585 95.7* Nomar Garciaparra 2000 599 .372 .434 .599 92.0*projected
That last column -- VORP -- is Value Over Replacement Player, developed by Woolner to measure how many runs a player's performance has been worth above a set baseline. It is adjusted for league offensive level and for ballpark. Replacement level, a term that we throw around a lot, is defined as the kind of player freely available from the minor leagues or the waiver wire, and is set at 70 points of OPS below the league average at that position.
It's worth noting that A-Rod's year is even better than Aurilia's, and gives him three of the seven best shortstop seasons in history. You can't blame A-Rod for the Rangers' struggles this season; he's been worth every cent.
As you can see, Aurilia is running in some fast company, surrounded by the best seasons of some of the greatest shortstops in baseball history. Yount and Ripken won the MVP award in 1982 and 1991, and the other players on this list all finished high in the voting. In fact, save Jeter in 1999 (and Wagner in 1908, when there was no vote), every player above Aurilia on this list finished in the top three in MVP voting. That's the kind of season Aurilia is having. And it's worth mentioning again: Aurilia leads all NL shortstops in Zone Rating, which is the best measure we currently have of defensive performance.
In a normal year, a shortstop who plays great defense and is among the league's best hitters (Aurilia's .322 EqA places him 15th in the NL) would be, if not the MVP, at least on the short list. For example, Barry Larkin won the 1995 NL MVP despite numbers that pale in comparison to Aurilia's (.319/.394/.492 with 15 home runs, although he did add 51 steals in 56 attempts). This isn't a normal year, thanks to Barry Bonds, but as we watch the Giants push towards another division crown, note that there's not just one, but two historic performances, integral to the team's success.
The team of writers from the Baseball Prospectus (tm) writes twice a week for ESPN.com during the baseball season. You can check out more of their work at their web site at baseballprospectus.com. Joe Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.