While they’re not in the same division, a pair of centrally based major league teams have produced a couple of the majors’ top-performing shortstops. The White Sox of the American League Central have seen Tim Anderson turn into a rather valuable player. The same goes for the Cardinals of the National League Central and Paul DeJong. They’re pretty similar in value, age and contract situations, but which of the two would you rather have?
Anderson, 26, was a first-round pick in 2013 who debuted in ’16 and took some time to find himself as a major league hitter. In 1,643 plate appearances from his first year through 2018, he hit a below-average .258/.286/.411 (86 wRC+) with 46 home runs and 51 stolen bases. A high strikeout rate (26 percent) and a low walk percentage (3.4) were part of the problem. Those K/BB trends largely stayed in place last year (2.9 percent and 21 percent, respectively), but Anderson nonetheless found another gear a hitter. He slashed .335/.357/.508 (130 wRC+) with 18 homers and 17 steals en route to a career-best 3.5 fWAR (he combined for 4.1 in the prior three seasons) and an AL batting title. Of course, he was also the beneficiary of a .399 batting average on balls in play – up .110 points from the previous year – and Statcast wasn’t as bullish as his bottom-line production (.363 weighted on-base average versus .328 expected wOBA).
Shifting to the defensive side, Anderson hasn’t been a consistently good player, at least not according to the metrics. By Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating, he has been a plus player twice and a minus fielder twice. The most recent campaign fell into the latter category, as he posted minus-12 DRS with a minus-9.1 UZR. DeJong, meanwhile, has greatly outdone Anderson as a defender since debuting with the Cardinals in 2017. Last season, for instance, DeJong put up 26 DRS and 11.4 UZR, making him one of the sport’s top fielders.
Also 26, DeJong has graded as a solid performer on a regular basis dating back to his first game in the majors. He has been at least a 3.0-fWAR player every season, including a career-high 4.1 mark in 2019. DeJong, unlike Anderson, has struggled to hit for average of late, but he was a 30-HR man last year – a season in which he finished with a .233/.318/.444 mark (100 wRC+) across 664 plate appearances. Going by wRC+, it was the third consecutive time that DeJong registered league-average or better offensive numbers. That and his excellent defense have combined to make DeJong quite valuable for St. Louis.
Beyond the production on the field, you have to consider the two players’ contracts when comparing them. They’re pretty alike in that regard, too. Anderson inked a six-year, $25MM extension heading into the 2017 season. That deal also includes a $12.5MM club option for 2023 and a potential $14MM salary the next season. Whether or not the White Sox pick up either option, they’re surely not regretting the gamble now. Likewise, the Cardinals must be happy that they locked DeJong into a six-year, $26MM pact prior to 2018. That deal includes a $12.5MM option for 2024 and $15MM in ’25.
There’s a lot to like about both of these shortstops, but if you have to pick one, whom would you want on your team? (Poll link for app users)