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Troy Tulowitzki: Best Defensive Player in Baseball

Nothing like a little hyperbole to catch your attention, but the gap between exaggeration and reality seems to be getting shorter by each 95 mph heater Tulo rockets to first base.  I was just going through my standard sites this evening, when I came across a link to an update on my favorite defensive metric: Plus/Minus system developed by John Dewan at Baseball Info Solutions.

For some background, the P/M system was laid out in Dewan's 2006 book, The Fielding Bible , which you can find at ACTA's website.  The easiest way to describe it is comparing it to the gymnastics scoring system.  In P/M, every field-able ball is given a degree of difficulty.  If a shortstop fields a moderate speed grounder, it gives him plus points, but only at the amount prescribed to that play.  Likewise, if he fields a ball deep in the third base hole, he gets more plus points than the routine play was worth because of higher degree of difficulty.  Consequently, if you fail to record an out on a field-able ball, you lose points, and that doesn't mean errors per say, that includes balls fielders don't get to, but other players at their position do.  Derek Jeter often scores poorly in this metric because he's not the greatest fielder on balls hit directly at him.  If you are more Rockies-centric, think of a player like Atkins, who doesn't have too much trouble with the routine play, but ask him to field a ball to either side of him and you might be disappointed.  Because of this, Atkins would struggle to stay on the plus side of the P/M system.

For this system to work, it requires all games to be charted, and hits to be graphed in terms of speed, distance and type.  In a way, this is the perfect combination of stats and live action, since the numbers are based off basically a graph of the batted balls.  It also requires a large set of data that has distinguished which hits are more difficult to field, and which should be routine.

If that is at all confusing, just understand this:  Troy Tulowitzki is the highest scoring shortstop in baseball.  With a score of +22, he's five points higher than the next closest and perennial favorite Adam Everett.  He's a whopping 43 points better than Jeter, who's listed at -21 at the end of the story.  If you believe in the fielding spectrum, which suggests that shortstop is the most difficult position in baseball, then you could make the argument that the best defensive shortstop is the game's best defense player, and according to P/M, that player is Troy Tulowitzki.

A couple other Rockies make the top of the list.  Kaz Matsui ties for fifth at second base at +8, and also giving the Rockies the best keystone combo in baseball, defensively.  It's for his defense and home hitting that makes Matsui worth pursuing in the off-season.  Matt Holliday is a bit of a surprise as the second best left fielder in baseball (until you start to think of the other "athletes" that play the position around the league), but he has made improvements with his range.  Worst defender in baseball?  Probably the best hitting shortstop, Hanley Ramirez, outdoing Jeter's shortcomings by three additional negative points.

Of course, you didn't need a statistical tool to tell you what your eyes can plainly see.  I don't think the league has grasped just how special this guy is.  It's not often you can get the best defensive shortstop in baseball AND a guy that could project to a .300 AVG and 25-30 HR's.  So next time you're in the middle of that water cooler discussion about the best defensive players in baseball, impress your friends with your knowledge of plus/minus and how it leads to Troy's superiority to the league.  And if you happen to carry a gold glove vote, don't be the guy that overlooks this piece of glaring evidence:  Troy Tulowitzki is the best defender in baseball.