Who’s The AL’s Best SS: Bobby Witt Jr. or Gunnar Henderson?

Bobby Witt Jr. and Gunnar Henderson are the American League's best shortstops right now. But as it stands, who's the best between the two?

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 01: Bobby Witt Jr. #7 of the Kansas City Royals and Gunnar Henderson #2 of the Baltimore Orioles greet each other before a baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 1, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

The 2024 MLB All-Star voting process has revealed many marquee positional rivalries vying for a starting place in this year’s rendition of the midsummer classic.

Whether it be the debate between Bryce Harper or Freddie Freeman at first base in the National League, or the discussion at the American League hot corner between Jose Ramirez and Rafael Devers, there are many positional rivalries for the baseball world to debate.

But no debate is as unique as the one brewing between the two young star shortstops in the American League, Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr. and Baltimore’s Gunnar Henderson.

While Witt Jr. and Henderson might be in a neck-and-neck race for the American League starting shortstop spot this year’s All-Star Game, this is merely just an early chapter in what should be a career-long debate of who’s the better shortstop.

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So as it stands right now, who is better between the two?

All stats were taken prior to play on June 22nd

Who’s Better at the Plate?

Witt Jr. and Henderson are both exceptional all-round hitters. In 2024 Henderson has posted a 172 wRC+ and Witt Jr., a 152 wRC+, both crushing the league average of 100 according to Fangraphs.

Henderson has gotten the edge over Witt Jr. so far in that department over the span of his early career, posting a 139 wRC+ across 257 games, whereas Witt Jr. has a career wRC+ of 116 in 384 games.


When it comes to contact, Witt Jr. has the advantage over his counterpart, both this season and in his career.

In 2024, Witt Jr. has an impressive .322 average, over 40 points higher than Henderson’s .279 clip.

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And for their careers, Witt Jr.’s .277 average is 14 points higher than Henderson, who’s hit .263 so far.

And comparing 2023 and 2024 expected metrics, Witt Jr. has fared better than his Orioles counterpart. He posted a 95th percentile .294 xBA in 2023 to Henderson’s 61st percentile .261 xBA, according to Baseball Savant.

And so far in 2024 Witt Jr. sits in the 99th percentile for xBA at .327, whereas Henderson has posted an 85th percentile .279 xBA.


When it comes to power, this is where the debate gets very interesting, as both have a case to be considered the better power hitter.

In 2024, the debate starts and ends with Henderson for the most part. Through just 73 games in 2024, he already has 22 home runs to pair with a .589 slugging percentage. Witt Jr. has 12 home runs and .550 SLG so far this season.

Henderson also has the advantage when it comes to hard-hit rate and exit velocities this season.

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He sits in 98th percentile for hard-hit rate at 57.1% and the 97th percentile in average exit velocity at 94.0 mph.

While still posting strong totals, Witt still falls just shy of Henderson in both of these metrics with a hard-hit rate in the 86th percentile at 48.8%, and an average exit velocity in the 93rd percentile at 92.6 mph.

But where Witt Jr. has an argument to be considered the better power hitter lies in the expected metrics. Despite Henderson holding a higher SLG, his xSLG comes in lower than Witt Jr.’s.

Henderson has a .533 xSLG in 2024 placing him in the 95th percentile, whereas Witt Jr. sits in the 98th percentile with a .612 xSLG.

When looking at career totals, Gunnar Henderson has Witt Jr. narrowly beat across the board in SLG and hard-hit rate, and is within single digits of Witt in home runs, despite having over 550 less plate appearances.

Gunnar Henderson2571089.5135440.1%
Bobby Witt Jr.3841663.4806234.8%
Gunnar Henderson vs Bobby Witt Jr. Career Power Statistics (according to Fangraphs)


When it comes to approach both Witt and Henderson have shown vulnerabilities in their game but also a few strengths unique from one another.

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A vulnerability they both have in common are high whiff rates, as in 2024 Henderson has posted a 26.2% whiff rate, ranking him in the 41st percentile, and Witt Jr. has 23.3% whiff rate, placing him in the 56th percentile.

Where Henderson has thrived is his ability to limit the amount he chases pitches out of the zone. He sports a 21.1% chase rate this season. Witt has fallen well short of this as he currently chases pitches at a 30.8% clip in 2024.

This has then lead to Henderson having an impressive 11.9% walk-rate, and Witt Jr. a disappointing 7.1% walk-rate.

What Witt Jr. does manage to beat Henderson out in is strikeout rate, as he finds himself striking out 7% less than Henderson at 16.6%, compared to Henderson’s 23.6% rate.

Who’s The Better on the Basepaths?

Both Henderson and Witt Jr. are exceptionally fast players.

However it’s very hard to find players faster than Witt Jr. as he has ranked in the 100th percentile in sprint speed in each of his first three big league seasons.

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This has translated into Witt Jr. reaching 100 career stolen bases already in less than two-and-a-half seasons.

Again Henderson has great speed but not to the same degree as Witt.

This year Henderson ranks in the 89th percentile in sprint speed, and in his 2023 rookie season he ranked in the 86th percentile.

This has not necessarily translated to the same success stealing bags as Witt Jr. as Henderson sits nine steals behind Witt Jr. so far this season.

And he managed just 10 stolen bases in 2023 to Witt Jr.’s 49.

Who’s the Better Defender?

Both Witt Jr. and Henderson are excellent defenders. And they also share something unique in their dramatic improvements defensively from their rookie seasons.

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In 2022 Witt Jr. was one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball posting -11 outs above average (OAA) ranking him the 1st percentile.

Then in 2023 he saw an unbelievable 25-out turnaround to 14 OAA, placing him in the 97th percentile.

And in 2024 Witt already sits in the 100th percentile in OAA with 10.

While Henderson’s defensive turnaround from his rookie season may not have been as miraculous as Witt’s, he himself did not manage an out above average in 2023, placing him in the 57th percentile, and managed to improve 7 OAA in 2024, which ranks him in 97th percentile.

For their careers Witt has managed to post a Fangraphs defensive rating of 22.5 while Henderson sits at 10.6, never exceeding a rating over 7.5 in any given season.

What Henderson does beat Witt out in defensively is his arm strength.

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This season Henderson has posted a 83rd percentile arm at 89.7 mph. And in his rookie season he was at 90.7 mph ranking him in the 84th percentile.

Witt Jr., while not overly far off Henderson, has never exceeded the 80th percentile in arm strength in any of his first three seasons, as he was in the 74th and 76th percentiles in 2022 and 2023 respectively, while posting and 78th percentile arm so far in 2024.

So Who’s Better?

Both Witt Jr. and Henderson have legitimate cases to be considered the best shortstop in baseball right now. And Both are in serious contention to be AL MVP candidates when all is said and done this season.

Henderson currently sits second in the league in fWAR at 5.1 and Witt Jr. is right there in third at 4.7.

I give the edge to Witt Jr. though.

His strong ability to make contact resulting in high batting averages, his lower strikeout rates, his strong expected power metrics, and his world class defensive range and speed, just make him the slightly more well-rounded option at the moment.

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But at the end of the day the real winner here is the baseball world in general, because we get to watch two young and budding superstars for years to come, who’s positional rivalry will fuel exciting debates like this for a long time.