With all due respect to Evan Longoria, Justin Upton and Matt Wieters, the best young player in baseball right now is playing shortstop for the Colorado Rockies.Not bad for a hook. But is this really the case? The writer for the
Boston Herald seems to think so.
I actually did not realize how good of a season Tulowitzki had last year. After a slow start, Tulo caught fire and ended the year hitting .297/.377/.552 with 32 home runs. Not bad for a shortstop with a great defensive reputation. But does that really make him the best young player in the game?
A closer look at his defensive statistics shows that Tulo's defensive reputation might be a vestige of his great defensive rookie season. His first year, in 2007, he posted a phenomenal +14.9 UZR in his time at shortstop. He had an injury shortened season in 2008 where he came in around average, and then last year posted a -1.2 UZR at shortstop.
Defensive metrics can, of course, be somewhat unreliable, but those statistics match what we can assume about Tulo in real life. We know that players defensive skills erode with age, and we know that he was injured for much of 2008. Could it be that his torn quadriceps tendon made him lose a step?
A commenter over at BaseballThinkFactory.org summarized the issue perfectly when he said, "you need to be very confident in Tulowitzki being the best defensive player in all of baseball to get him in the conversation" of best young player.
Who else is in that conversation? Firstly, it depends on who is a "young player." Troy Tulowitzki was born on October 10, 1984. Here are some players around that age or younger:
Prince Fielder, May 9, 1984
Hanley Ramirez, December 23, 1983
Matt Kemp, September 23, 1984
Tim Lincecum, June 15, 1984
Joe Mauer, April 19, 1983
Miguel Cabrera, April 18, 1983
Evan Longoria, October 7, 1985
Justin Upton, August 25, 1987
Ryan Braun, November 17, 1983
Brian McCann, February 20, 1984
David Wright, Jose Reyes, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Johnson... the list goes on. You can arbitrarily draw the line right at his exact age and disqualify some of the best ones, but either way, it is a competitive list. Troy Tulowitzki is a great player, but once again, you'd have to be VERY confident in his defensive or leadership skills to make an argument for Tulowitzki over Longoria, Upton, or Hanley Ramirez.
Tulo was worth 5.4 WAR last season. Prince Fielder, even though he plays first base, was worth 6.8 WAR last year. That is what 46(!) home runs and a .412 OBP will do for you. Evan Longoria, my pick, was worth 7.2 WAR last season. Even Jose Reyes, a great player but never in the "best" conversation, posted 5.5, 5.1, and 5.9 WAR in his last three healthy seasons.
What do you think?