Rosenthal: Bobby Witt Jr. or Gunnar Henderson? Why the All-Star vote for AL shortstop won't be easy (2024)

If you had to pick the starting shortstop for the American League All-Star team right now, it wouldn’t be the Texas Rangers’ Corey Seager, Minnesota Twins’ Carlos Correa or any other member of the Great Free-Agent Shortstop Class of 2021-22.

Nope, the rightful starter would be the Kansas City Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr., 23, or Baltimore Orioles’ Gunnar Henderson, 22. Another young shortstop, the New York Yankees’ Anthony Volpe, 23, would be on the edge of the conversation. So would the Houston Astros’ Jeremy Peña, who is slightly older at 26.


When asked their preference in an unscientific survey, 11 American League players, coaches and managers — all of whom were granted anonymity for their candor — revealed an almost even split between Witt and Henderson.

The latest wave of shortstops also includes several NL youngsters: The Cincinnati Reds’ Elly De La Cruz, St. Louis Cardinals’ Masyn Winn and Colorado Rockies’ Ezequiel Tovar, all 22; the Washington Nationals’ CJ Abrams, 23, and Pittsburgh Pirates’ Oneil Cruz, 25. None, though, is likely to start the All-Star Game over the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Mookie Betts. And the AL group, at the moment, is better.

At the start of the week, Henderson and Witt ranked tied-fourth in the majors in FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) with 2.8. Volpe was tied-10th. De La Cruz, the top NL shortstop among those 25 and under, was tied-14th.

The last time two 25-and-under shortstops finished a season ranked in the top five in fWAR? Go back to 1998, when Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra were fourth and fifth, respectively.

WAR, which estimates a player’s value based upon his offense, defense and baserunning, is not an end-all, be-all metric. Certain players rank higher in different versions than others, based on the formulas applied. But however you look at it, Henderson and Witt are playing like superstars.

Which isn’t to say either will start in the All-Star Game. Fan balloting begins June 5. The game is at Globe Life Field, the Rangers’ home park. It would not be a surprise if Rangers fans voted en masse for Seager, who was the 2023 World Series MVP but is not performing at his usual level coming off sports hernia surgery. It also would not be a surprise if Yankees fans did the same for Volpe.

Rosenthal: Bobby Witt Jr. or Gunnar Henderson? Why the All-Star vote for AL shortstop won't be easy (1)

Anthony Volpe won the AL Gold Glove award at shortstop as a rookie in 2023. (Matt Blewett / USA Today)

Whatever, the Henderson vs. Witt debate is one fans and reporters could be talking about for the next decade or longer. Witt, in the first year of an 11-year, $288.78 million contract, figures to stay in Kansas City. Henderson can become a free agent after the 2028 season and his agent Scott Boras generally prefers his clients to establish their values on the open market.


Heaven knows what Henderson might get by then. His 16 homers lead the major leagues and put him on pace to break the Orioles’ franchise record — 53 by Chris Davis. He strikes out at a higher rate than Witt (23.8 percent to 16.9) but has 11 more homers and an OPS nearly 100 points higher.

Witt rates higher in defense and baserunning — his 15 stolen bases in 20 attempts rank second in the AL. A year ago, he became the first player to hit 20 homers and steal 30 bases in each of his first two seasons. He also has more experience than Henderson, who in his first full campaign was voted 2023 AL Rookie of the Year.

Those are the basics. Here are highlights from the responses by the AL players, coaches and managers on Henderson and Witt. The question I posed to them was, “Henderson, Witt or Volpe, who you got and why?” Several managers answered with a version of, “I’ll take any of ‘em,” but none of the respondents ranked Volpe first. In an effort to eliminate bias, I did not reach out to anyone with the Orioles, Royals or Yankees.

Henderson: “A step above”

One player noted that Henderson plays in a tougher division and Witt in a tougher hitter’s park. The latter perception, however, is not necessarily true. According to Statcast’s park-factor metric over a three-year rolling period, which compares the rate of stats at home to the rate on the road, Kauffman Stadium actually is far easier for right-handed hitters like Witt than Oriole Park is for left-handed hitters like Henderson.

“I think Henderson is a step above, both a legit power and hit threat,” one manager said. “He can make all the throws from the position and has a growing presence among a lot of good players on that team. I love the left-handed hitting infielder since he will face so many right-handers. He’s also figuring out left-handers, which will make him really hard to pitch to.”


— MLB (@MLB) May 21, 2024

It’s true — Henderson actually has a higher OPS against lefties this season (1.040) than righties. As a rookie, he was significantly higher against righties (.885 versus .618). His offensive ceiling is such that even one of the managers who chose Witt said, “I can see Gunnar changing my views once he hits 30 to 35 home runs.”


While Henderson might not rate as highly as Witt at shortstop, this is his first full season at the position. He started more games at third as a rookie, yet talk of moving him off short to accommodate the game’s top prospect, Jackson Holliday, has greatly diminished. Holliday played second while going 2-for-34 during his first callup, and is alternating between middle-infield positions now that he is back at Triple A.

Witt: “The total package”

The Athletic’s Keith Law, in ranking Witt second behind Adley Rutschman in his top 100 prospects of 2022, raved about Witt’s tools on the 20-to-80 scouting scale.

“He’s at least a 70 runner, has an 80 arm, plus power, and his hands and feet make him a plus glove at shortstop,” Law said.

Several of the players, coaches and managers who favored Witt made reference to those same tools. Several also noted that Witt hits in a less formidable lineup than Henderson.

The Orioles entered the week ranked fourth in the majors in runs per game. The Royals were 11th. As one player who chose Henderson put it, “I would love to see the numbers Witt puts up when that Royals lineup becomes a real force.”

One manager viewed Witt as a blend of Henderson and Volpe, not just in playing style, but also in physical stature — Henderson is listed at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Witt at 6-1, 200, Volpe at 5-9, 180.

“Volpe has the best glove but Witt right now is the total package,” another manager said. “His instincts on the bases don’t get enough attention.”

A coach added, “Witt is more explosive with his first step, which allows him to have plus range, and his arm has improved too” — the same arm that Law already rated at the top of the scouting scale two years ago.

Henderson and Witt, Witt and Henderson. They’ll be deserving All-Stars, likely MVP candidates, perhaps even opponents in the 2024 postseason. And they’re just getting started.

(Top photo of Bobby Witt Jr. and Gunnar Henderson: Mitchell Layton / Getty Images)

Rosenthal: Bobby Witt Jr. or Gunnar Henderson? Why the All-Star vote for AL shortstop won't be easy (2)Rosenthal: Bobby Witt Jr. or Gunnar Henderson? Why the All-Star vote for AL shortstop won't be easy (3)

Ken Rosenthal is the senior baseball writer for The Athletic who has spent nearly 35 years covering the major leagues. In addition, Ken is a broadcaster and regular contributor to Fox Sports' MLB telecasts. He's also won Emmy Awards in 2015 and 2016 for his TV reporting. Follow Ken on Twitter @Ken_Rosenthal

Rosenthal: Bobby Witt Jr. or Gunnar Henderson? Why the All-Star vote for AL shortstop won't be easy (2024)


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