Alexei Ramirez

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.

Angels’ Pujols has foot surgery, could be sidelined 4 months

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols had surgery on his right foot Friday, possibly sidelining him past opening day.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Pujols had the procedure Friday in North Carolina to release his plantar fascia, the ligament connecting the heel to the toes. The three-time NL MVP was bothered by plantar fasciitis repeatedly during the season, but played through the pain in arguably the strongest year of his half-decade with the Angels.

Eppler said the surgery typically prevents players from participating in baseball activities for three months, along with another month before they’re ready to resume playing in games. Opening day for Los Angeles is April 3, and the Angels hope Pujols can be ready.

“He’s at that point in his career where he’s keenly aware of what’s happening with his body,” Eppler said in a phone interview. “I don’t put the timetable on Albert like you would with your younger players. We’ll just see in Albert’s case, as he progresses, what his timetable is.”

Pujols, who turns 37 next month, batted .268 last year with 31 homers and 119 RBIs, the fourth-most in the majors – although his .780 OPS was among the worst of his career. He largely served as a designated hitter instead of playing first base due to problems with his hamstrings and feet.

Pujols heads into 2017 with 591 career homers, ranking him ninth in major league history. He is 18 homers behind Sammy Sosa for eighth place.

After playing in pain until the final week of the Angels’ disappointing season, Pujols began shock wave therapy on his foot early in the offseason, believing he wouldn’t need surgery.

But Pujols’ foot became more painful in recent weeks despite the therapy, and he huddled with the Angels’ top brass to decide on surgery after his most recent trip to see Dr. Robert Anderson in North Carolina. Continuing with conservative care would have required 10 more weeks, forcing Pujols to miss the first half of the 2017 season if he still required surgery.

“He just felt that the pain had gotten to a point where he was comfortable” having surgery, Eppler said. “If we did delay it, you’re just looking at 2 1/2 more months into the season.”

Pujols had a different type of surgery on his right foot last winter, but recovered in time for opening day. He also had plantar fasciitis in his left foot during the 2013 season, eventually forcing him out for the year when his fascia snapped.

Pujols has five years and $140 million remaining on the 10-year, $240 million free-agent contract that pried him out of St. Louis, where he won two World Series and became a nine-time NL All-Star.

The Angels haven’t won a playoff game since Pujols’ arrival and Mike Trout‘s concurrent emergence as one of baseball’s best players. They went 74-88 last season, the injury-plagued club’s worst record since 1999.

Diamondbacks hire Mike Fitzgerald to head Research and Development department

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Mike Hazen, new Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Red Sox, addresses the media during a press conference to announce his promotion before the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on September 24, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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According to an official announcement, the Diamondbacks have acquired former Pirates quantitative analyst Mike Fitzgerald as their new Director of Research and Development.

Fitzgerald joined the Pirates’ front office in 2012, where he frequently accompanied the team on the road to help breach the divide between analytics and the clubhouse. According to a profile written by Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh in 2014, Fitzgerald’s multifaceted approach brought balance and perspective to the organization, whether he was assisting coaches in making statistically sound decisions, optimizing the batting order, weighing in on scouting and personnel decisions, developing more effective defensive positioning, or keeping players and personnel appraised of the latest developments in sabermetrics.

In the wake of Fitzgerald’s departure, Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington praised the Diamondbacks for a smart acquisition and said that the club has every intention of finding a replacement analyst, albeit one who will have some big shoes to fill.