With Javy Báez and Tim Anderson renewing what used to be a rivalry on the South Side this weekend, we’re reminded of the obvious question that suddenly looms again.
Who’s the best shortstop in Chicago?
With all due respect to Báez, who’s giving Anderson and his newly minted All-Star starter status a run during their four-game series, we’re obviously talking about Nico Hoerner.
Whether Hoerner, who leads the Cubs in batting, finds a way into his own All-Star bid as an injury replacement in the coming days, he’s taking on the look of a guy who will in the coming years.
But more important for this discussion, and maybe for the Cubs, is the fact he’s taking on the look of a championship-caliber big-league shortstop.
He’s probably not better than Gold Glove winner and potential megabucks free agent Carlos Correa — definitely not better than Platinum Glove shortstop and teammate Andrelton Simmons (who platoons at second).
But he’s better defensively this year than another potential free agent, All-Star Xander Bogarts of the Red Sox, a guy linked to the Cubs already in rumors.
In fact, whatever your eyes might be telling you about Hoerner, some of the more popular metrics say he’s one of the best shortstops in the game.
BaseballSavant ranks Hoerner as the top MLB shortstop in Outs Above Average — fourth overall among all big-league players (one OAA behind third-place Nolan Arenado).
Anderson, by the way, is 94th overall on that list, 16th among shortstops (18th if you count Simmons and Boston’s Trevor Story, who don’t primarily play that position this year).
Fangraphs also rates him as the game’s top defensive shortstop by the same metric as well as defensive runs above average, defensive runs saved and others.
It’s not even close in some categories (for what it’s worth, given the relative imprecision of defensive stats).
“Playing the complete game is something I take a lot of pride in,” Hoerner told our Tim Stebbins recently about the hard work he did in the field since last year. “My favorite players growing up always did it.”
He leads the Cubs with a .300 average this year, with an on-base percentage that could stand to be higher than .337. But he’s also among the four toughest players in the league to strikeout, and he has occasional pop that included a fifth home run Friday night that was the go-ahead shot for the Cubs early in an extra-inning loss to the Dodgers.
If he can stay healthy — one of the big ifs coming into the season — he has the chance to catch Anderson for All-Star selections (the Sox leadoff man has two).
And he might yet have a shot this time around, with reserves from players balloting announced Sunday night — and possible injury replacements, based on those ballots, to follow.
“If one day I would have that opportunity, especially when it’s a players vote and the respect of your peers, that would be incredible,” he said.
He pointed out he missed two weeks in May after that freak collision with the an umpire and said he’s just focused on staying on the field and staying focused.
“I just need to continue to get better as the season goes on,” he said.
Douche of the Week
If commissioner Rob Manfred is as serious as he seemed when telling ESPN last week he wants to start implementing automated strikes zones in the majors by 2024, the game’s in worse straits — and worse hands — than we thought.
The game needs to restore more of its human element, not less, if it wants to connect again with younger fans. We already have robo swings, robo sliders made in pitch labs, robo scouting, robo managing and robo roster building driven by tank-happy computer models.
The last thing this increasingly hard-to-watch, de-personalized sport needs is robo umps.
And don’t whine about the g-damn human umps’ strike zones (and before you go there, save the low-hanging-fruit sniping at Angel Hernandez). We wouldn’t put up with it from our kids in their games.
The Cubs have been wearing shirts and hoodies during workouts this season with STFU stitched across them. Don’t like the call from the human being behind the catcher? With all due respect to Mike Bryant, whose kid never took a pitch in the strike zone in his life, read the shirt and talk to the hand.
When you keep sucking the human element out of the game, you necessarily suck life out of it.
And the day you perfect correct all the so-called flaws and human error in the sport is the day you finally kill it.
So congrats, Mr. Commissioner, on your well-deserved DOW award.
(Also receiving votes: Red Sox Wrigley-basher Josh Winckowski, Marquee Sports Network)
Previous winners: Josh Donaldson (May 23), Marquee Sports Network (May 30), ESPN Mic’d-up Player Dept. (June 6), Orioles Rain Delay Dept. (June 13), late-night host Stephen Colbert (June 25), Cards fan on proposal cam (June 30).
The Rest of the Story
One of the best stories of the year was the recent debut of Cubs outfielder Narciso Crook nine years after getting drafted by the Reds in the 23rd round.
And two of the best parts of the story didn’t even make the first wave of media reports about the universally liked kid.
For one, he’s not the first Narciso to play in the majors, sharing the unusual name with former Brewers left-hander Narciso Elvira, who pitched four big-league games in 1990.
But the best one: Yes, the dude named Crook led Triple-A Iowa in stolen bases (11) when he was called up.
Bronx Bombers 3.0
That Yankees lineup that clobbered the Cubs last month? It includes three guys, including a former Cub — Aaron Judge (30), Anthony Rizzo (22), Giancarlo Stanton (21) — with almost as many combined home runs (73) as the Cubs (84), through Friday.
In fact, that trio — which out-homered the Cubs 4-2 by themselves in last month’s three-game sweep — has hit more home runs than the White Sox (66) and these six other teams: Padres, Nationals, Royals, Guardians, Tigers and A’s.
Lingering in Los Angeles for the Cubs’ series this week? Or planning to head back out to watch Contreras in the All-Star game?
If so, pick a morning, jump in the rental and give your palate the treat of the trip by having breakfast at the original location of the famed Roscoe’s House of Chicken ’n Waffles in Long Beach.
Address is 730 E. Broadway. Opens at 8 a.m., seven days a week.
Highly recommend: the breakfast combo of chicken and, uh … yeah. You get the idea.