Baseball Prospectus has published a new study comparing the great American League shortstops of the early 1990’s: Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez.

The article is on the payside, so I can’t say too much, other than to say BP’s fielding rating system still shows Derek Jeter to be a really poor shortstop on defense, despite his UZR rating which says he’s improved. BP also gives Garciaparra a rather poor defensive rating for the last several years, and ARod pretty much grades out as average defensively at 3B during his time with the Yankees.

However, that’s not what I wanted to note. What I noticed in the article were the overall BP “JAWS” rankings of two Reds greats, Barry Larkin and Dave Concepcion.

“JAWS” is the program Baseball Prospectus uses to measure Hall of Fame candidates (see link above). The program uses an algorithm using each players career’s WARP (career wins above replacement player) and peak WARP (peak wins above replacement player performance). This ideology favorably compares with Bill James’s Win Shares program which gives credit for seasons of steady regular performance even if it’s not star performance. Thus, careers for players such as Don Sutton, and, let’s say Alan Trammell, have value even if they were not the best player in their leagues at their respective times every single year. Sutton and Trammell were superb in some years, and very good in many other years. Sutton has been granted HOF access; Trammell is still waiting, though I feel Trammell has an excellent case for induction.

Well, JAWS is very kind to two guys we feel belong in the Baseball’s Hall of Fame. JAWS has Honus Wagner rated as the #1 shortstop in baseball history, a rating for which I strongly concur. The JAWS system scores Wagner at 111.6 points, which is 28.2 points which is over 33% ahead of of runner-up Cal Ripken, Jr., who scores 83.4 points in the system. Third is Alex Rodriguez (81.4 points), fourth is Arky Vaughan (78.8), and fifth is Ozzie Smith (70.6). Sixth is none other than our own Barry Larkin with 69.9 points.

I feel it necessary to remind readers of something; of these top six only Smith and Larkin played full baseball careers at shortstop. Ripken’s final five seasons were played at third base. Rodriguez has been at third base now for six seasons, last playing shortstop at age 27. Barring injury he will have played more games for his career at 3b (or at 3b and other positions, such as 1b) than he has at shortstop by the time he retires. Vaughan quit baseball during his peak seasons at age 31 over a disagreement with management (only to return as a part-time outfielder at ages 35 and 36), so he never went through real “decline” seasons. Even the great Wagner did not play shortstop full time after his first six major league seasons, switching to the position for good at age 29.

Smith and Larkin were shortstops only and I don’t think baseball fans have truly understood or appreciate this rare accomplishment. Larkin is truly one of the greatest shortstops of all time, and I don’t think Reds fans truly understand exactly how well Larkin played during his career.

Dave Concepcion does very well on the JAWS program. In fact, Concepcion rates as the 14th best shortstop of all time with 57.6 points. The JAWS program states the average HOF shortstop has 59.0 points, and Concepcion is the first player listed in the line below the average HOFer score.

Concepcion scores better than Robin Yount, Pee Wee Reese, Joe Sewell, and Bobby Wallace, Hall of Fame shortstops all. Concepcion also scores higher than Bert Campaneris and Tony Fernandez, both contemporaries of Concepcion. Concepcion outscores former Cincinnati Outlaw Reds shortstop Jack Glasscock, from the 19th Century (Glasscock rated 16th, batting .419 in 38 games for the 1884 Union Association Cincinnati Outlaw Reds).

Concepcion also passes Derek Jeter, who scores 50.8 points and Nomar Garciaparra, who scores 45.9 points in the system. So much for the “great three.”

So, read that again: Baseball Prospectus rates Barry Larkin as the sixth greatest shortstop, and Dave Concepcion as the 14th greatest shortstop of all time, with Concepcion scoring almost dead in the middle as a Hall of Fame shortstop. And six of the shortstops ahead of Concepcion did not play shortstop, the “captain” of the infield position, full time their entire careers, or ended their careers before the player’s decline phase truly began. Ernie Banks switched to 1st base at age 31 (he actually played more games at first base than shortstop), Lou Boudreau was done fulltime after age 31, and George Davis switched to shortstop at age 26. I am aware that Concepcion ended his days as a utility player, but that started at age 38.

That’s something for two of the Reds captains. Concepcion kind of flies below the radar and doesn’t get the credit he deserves, and I’m afraid Larkin won’t for a few more years. In the meantime, we can take pride in demanding quality shortstop play, for we’ve always had it when we were “winners.”