Top 40 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #21 Shannon Stewart

Shannon Harold Stewart | OF | 1995-2003 | Career Stats

Shannon Stewart, whose name might not immediately conjure up baseball-related thoughts, was the personification of a natural - a player who gave off the impression that he could roll out of bed, shake off any side-effects from the night before, and hit .300. A three-sport athlete -- baseball, football, and track -- in high school, his athleticism led to high early-career batting averages and stolen base totals. Those numbers were somewhat hollow, however, for he did not walk enough to take full advantage of his high batting average nor did he steal successfully enough to overcome his high caught stealing totals. Nevertheless, when healthy, his offense was worthy of an everyday spot in the lineup, as was his above average defense.

Stewart was selected in the first round, 19th overall, of the 1992 amateur entry draft. With history as our guide, that draft, on the whole, was not very memorable, though it did manage to produce Derek Jeter, who is in the midst of a Hall of Fame career. Stewart rose through the minor league ranks quickly, as he never repeated a full season at the same level. He never displayed much power during those years, for the most home runs he ever managed in a season was six, in 1996. However, he displayed the ability to walk more often than he struck out, thus leading to high on-base totals. As a result, he earned his first cup of coffee with the Blue Jays in 1995, as well as another, albeit slightly briefer one, in 1996.

Following the 1997 season, the 1998 Sports Forecaster magazine -- my copy appears disheveled due to the amound I read it as a kid -- labeled Stewart a potential star:

The Jays hope this speedy center fielder will be a part of their outfield for the next decade.... Speed is his meal ticket. The 24-year-old sophomore should be able to steal close to 50 bases per season. Add that to a good eye at the plate and his OBP/SB potential and his OBP/SB potential is solid enough for him to grow into an all-star leadoff man, in time. His arm isn't the strongest, but his range makes up for it.

By 1998, he was in the majors for good, starting in left field for a surgung Blue Jays team whose outfield featured the impressive young trio of Stewart, who manned left field; Jose Cruz, Jr., who was pilfered from Seattle for Paul Spoljaric and Mike Timlin, who patrolled center field; and Shawn Green, who possessed an absolute rocket for an arm, who was in right field. That trio never quite fulfilled its potential, as it turned out, but they were far from flops, especially Green. With a rejuvenated Jose Canseco at DH and the always formidable Carlos Delgado at 1B, the Blue Jays posted 88 wins that season, an impressive total that was unfortunately dwarfed by the two superpowers, New York (A) and Boston, the former of which won an otherworldly 114 games.

Stewart's 51 stolen bases that season ranked third in the American League. However, despite that high total, he was caught stealing 18 times, which led to a SB% of just under 74%. The break even point for stealing second base is about 73%, which means that anything below that mark actually hampers the team's success, high SB totals notwithstanding. In fact, in 1998, his CS total was the second highest in the AL, while his CS total of 14 the following year was the highest. His SB% totals were perennially too low for him to ever have been considered a top base stealer. Unfortunately, despite that harsh fact, the acclaim he received generally revolved around his basestealing abilities, not his other above average attributes. The following excerpt, taken from the Preview Sports' 2000 Fantasy Baseball magazine, is but one example:

Blazing speed and solid contact make Stewart one of the best outfielders in the league, which he should remain for years to come. The stolen base total dropped due to ankle problems late last season, but he should rebound and return to the 50+ level in 2000.

That quote indicates how much reliance analysts had on hollow, uninformative statistics such as AVG and SB. To be fair to these particular authors, however, in standard 5x5 fantasy leagues, which glorify such stats, they are rather important.

Okay, after debunking prevailing perceptions, it is time to focus on Stewart's positives, of which there were quite a few. While his production certainly did not the fit mold of the traditional corner outfielder, he posted above average OPS totals during his final three-plus seasons as a Blue Jay. Despite so-so home run power, he managed to post respectable SLG totals due to his ability to manufacture doubles, as he hit more than 40 in three separate seasons. His ability to reach base was mostly dependent on his batting average, but, since he managed to hit .300 or above virtually every season, his OBP was comfortably in the .360-.375 range every season. Of course, that is rather impressive, though not incredibly high relative to other leadoff hitters. Nevertheless, during his tenure with the Blue Jays, he fit that role better than any of his teammates, many of whom, like Tony Batista and Alex Gonzalez, neither walked nor hit for a high average.

On the defensive side, as mentioned in one of the above excerpts, Stewart's range was quite impressive, though his poor arm detracted from his value to an extent. For the most part, that explains why he primarily manned LF, since leftfielders, due to their advantageous position on the field, need not possess similar arm strength those in CF or RF. His Rate2 totals, as listed on Baseball Prospectus, were above average every season except 1999 and 2002. Once he left the Blue Jays, though, age and injuries sapped his speed, which not only reduced his SB totals, but also his range in LF. As a result, his defense was never quite the same, as it was average to below average from that point onwards.

One of Stewart's highlights as a Blue Jay included a 26-game hitting streak from August 1-29, 1999. Also, despite my obsession with his CS totals, he managed to never get caught more than once in a game, instead doing so exactly once in 67 separate affairs.

Top 10 Toronto Blue Jays Batting Ranks (min. 2000 PA):

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