In 2014 Marcus Semien didn’t have a place to play, now he is the best shortstop in baseball.
At the plate, that is.
He still has some developing to do on the defensive side of the ball, which is very important as the everyday shortstop for the Oakland Athletics. But since he is still figuring out how to daily play the position I’m willing to give him a pass. He has slowly improved over the first two months of the season and makes routine plays look routine and is committing fewer mistakes. He certainly isn’t the worst defensive shortstop in baseball, but he is far from the best. If the error count reset right now I suspect he would finish 2015 with league average defense.
Where I want to give Semien praise is his batting line. When Billy Beane traded phenom Addison Russell last summer it was an unpopular move because of Russell’s offensive promise. In 17 games in the majors this season the 21-year-old Russell has struggled some but also shown his potential from time to time. But Beane’s gamble that Semien would hit is paying off.
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35 games into 2015 Semien is the best offensive shortstop in baseball with 9.5 offensive value above average (Fangraphs), besting Zack Cozart’s 6.5. Among shortstops he is tied for fourth in batting average, his 6 home runs are good enough for first, his 20 runs scored are good for second most, his 15 RBIs are tied for fifth most, and his six stolen bases are tied for the most in baseball.
He is tied for fourth in OBP, second in slugging percentage, tied for third in isolated slugging, and second in wOBA and wRC+.
And according to ESPN’s Mark Simon, he carried the 20th best hard-hit rate in baseball.
In terms of total WAR Semien is at the top of the list with Cozart and a few other defense-first shortstops at 1.2. His offensive prowess has helped overcome his defensive lapses to make him one of the best at the position in baseball.
A couple of weeks ago I tweeted the comparison between Russell’s and Semien’s minor league numbers to show just how good Semien was before coming over to Oakland.
It isn’t a perfect comparison and obviously a 21-year-old major league shortstop who was previously a consensus top-5 prospect has all the potential in the world. My point is that Semien is no slouch either, and Beane’s desire for him last winter is being justified with his skills in the batter’s box.
In a season where seemingly everything has gone wrong this is one thing that has exceeded expectations.