By Cliff Corcoran
When my gracious host, Alex Belth, first asked me to contribute a guest column to his spring training preview, he assigned me a profile of then Yankee second baseman Alfonso Soriano. I cranked out about 3,000 words and was in the home stretch when, on the day after Valentineís Day, Soriano was shipped to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Alex Rodriguez. Despite having spent the preceding week vigorously gathering evidence with which to defend the then 26-year-old Soriano against his critics, I was no less delighted at the news of the trade. The Yankees had just picked up the best all-around player in the majors and a man who is challenging for the title of the best shortstop in the history of the game. Well, that was my initial reaction.
As the trade sank in, official word came down that Rodriguez would be moving to third base, and I began to picture Miguel Cairo as the Yankees starting second baseman, I began to think about A-Rodís place in history a bit more deeply, as well as his ranking among the best active players in the game. The three primary questions I had were:
1) How exactly does Rodriguez measure up against the greatest shortstops in history, and how would this status change should his move to third be permanent?
2) If his move to third base is permanent, how would A-Rod measure up against the gameís greatest third basemen, should he continue to produce at his established levels with the typical decline of a player of his skill level?
3) Where exactly does Alex Rodriguez rank among the top hitters in the game today, and when speed and defense are taken into account, how much further would he move up the list of the games greatest players?
So letís try to answer these questions.
First letís take a look at how Rodriguez measures up against the gameís greatest shortstops. Itís widely acknowledged that if A-Rod has any competition for the title of the greatest shortstop ever, that competition comes in the form of one John Peter “Honus” Wagner. As Wagner played the entirety of his career in the dead-ball era (he retired in 1917 at age 43) the comparison between the two men is almost impossible to make based on counting stats alone. Even traditional rate stats fail us, as a large part of Rodriguezís value is derived from his slugging, which by definition is difficult to compare to that of a player from the dead-ball era. As a result weíre forced to turn to some slightly more advanced metrics. Namely OPS+ (adjusted on-base percentage plus slugging, which adjusts for park factors and is expressed in comparison to a league average of 100) from Baseball-Reference.com, and four stats from Lee Sininsí Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia: RCAA (runs created against average, the difference between the runs created totals for the given player and a league average player based on outs), RCAP (runs created against position, same deal but measured only against players at the same defensive position), OWP (offensive winning percentage, the projected winning percentage of a team composed of a league average defense and pitching staff and an offense comprised of clones of the given player) and RC/G (runs created per game, simply the number of runs scored per game by an offense consisting solely of clones of the given player