So who was the AL’s best shortstop this year?

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In announcing their annual awards Wednesday, The Sporting News declared Alexei Ramirez the shortstop on the American League All-Star team. It’s a choice that will probably surprise a lot of people, but the AL shortstops really were so bad this year that a guy with 18 homers in a hitter’s ballpark and an unexceptional defensive reputation truly did deserve consideration for the award.

Just look at the AL’s regular shortstops this year:

Baltimore – Cesar Izturis – .230-1-28 – 545 OPS
Boston – Marco Scutaro – .275-11-56 – 721 OPS
New York – Derek Jeter – .270-10-67 – 710 OPS
Tampa Bay – Jason Bartlett – .254-4-47 – 675 OPS
Toronto – Alex Gonzalez – 259-17-50 – 793 OPS (85 games)

Chicago – Alexei Ramirez – .282-18-70 – 744 OPS
Cleveland – Asdrubal Cabrera – .276-3-29 – 673 OPS (97 games)
Detroit – Ramon Santiago – .263-3-22 – 662 OPS (112 games)
Kansas City – Yuniesky Betancourt – .259-16-78 – 692 OPS
Minnesota – J.J. Hardy – .268-6-38 – 714 OPS (101 games)

Los Angeles – Erick Aybar – .253-5-29 – 636 OPS
Oakland – Cliff Pennington – .250-6-46 – 687 OPS
Seattle – Josh Wilson – .227-2-25 – 572 OPS (108 games)
Texas – Elvis Andrus – .265-0-35 – 643 OPS

Ramirez had the highest OPS of the group and he tied with Pennington for the most games played at 156. Once one accounts for ballparks, he was no better offensively than Pennington or Jeter. But he was no worse either.

Taking defense into account, WAR does in fact rate Ramirez as the AL’s best shortstop, based mostly on his strong fielding rating. Here are the AL shortstops ranked according to WAR:

1. Ramirez – 3.8
2. Pennington – 3.7
3. Gonzalez – 2.7
4. Jeter – 2.5
5. Hardy – 2.4
6. Scutaro – 2.1
7. Santiago – 2.0
8. Jed Lowrie – 1.8
9. Andrus – 1.5
10. Nick Punto – 1.4

Of course, that’s putting a lot of faith in very shaky defensive statistics. Fangraphs data has Ramirez’s glove being worth 10.8 runs, while Andrus came in at 0.1. I don’t buy that for a second. I think Andrus is the AL’s best defensive shortstop, followed by Izturis and then maybe Pennington. I view Ramirez as average or maybe a little better.

Gonzalez was the AL’s best shortstop for 3 1/2 months, but he wasn’t so much better that he deserves the nod here. In my opinion, this mostly comes down to defense. Jeter compares to Ramirez and Pennington offensively, but not with the glove. I’m actually going to give the nod to Pennington here. While the triple crown stats point to a huge edge for Ramirez, when it comes down to OPS, the difference is just 57 points and Ramirez was playing in a kinder environment for hitters. Also, Pennington was 29-for-34 stealing bases, while Ramirez was 13-for-21. WAR actually rates Pennington as the more valuable offensive player by 1.7 runs.

In the end, though, this is just a remarkably weak class. This year’s top four shortstops were all National Leaguers: Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, Stephen Drew and Rafael Furcal. Andrus should be the AL’s best shortstop going forward, but he might be another year away from impressing anyone with his numbers. Rebounds from Jeter and Cabrera are going to be needed for the AL shortstops to avoid being embarrassed by their counterparts again in 2011.

Video: Albert Almora, Jr. saved by the ivy

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The ALCS had a weird play in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but Game 4 of the NLCS did as well. This one involved Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Jr. and his attempt to spark a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning against Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling.

After Alex Avila singled, Almora ripped a double to left field, past a diving Enrique Hernandez. The ball rolled to the ivy in front of the wall. Most outfielders there would’ve put their hands up, which would have alerted the umpires to call an immediate ground-rule double. Hernandez didn’t, instead fishing the ball out and firing it back into the infield. Avila had stopped at third base, but Almora kept running. Much to his surprise, he pulled up into third base to see his teammate standing there, resigned to his fate as a dead duck. Third baseman Justin Turner applied the tag on Almora for what he thought was the first out of the inning.

Almora, however, was then sent back to second base after the umpires correctly called a ground-rule double.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lucky break didn’t help as closer Kenley Jansen came in and took care of business, retiring all three batters he faced without letting an inherited runner score. The Dodgers won 6-1 and now lead the NLCS three games to none. They’ll try to punch their ticket to the World Series on Wednesday.