Previous Sessions in the WAR Lords Series:
For the next step in my ongoing quest to quantify the greatest Rockies ever by position, I'm tackling perhaps the most demanding position in the field (though catchers have a good argument too), shortstop.
Shortstop, according to Tom Tango's positional adjustment scale, is given a +7.5 adjustment. This is due to the fact that shortstops receive the most fielding chances, by and large, requiring excellent fielding technique, quickness, speed, and a strong, accurate arm. In other words, it is a physically demanding fielding position that his historically been manned by weak Punch and Judy hitters. Several Rockies' shortstops have fit this mold.
However, during the last twenty years bigger, stronger players like Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki have come into vogue at the shortstop position as players become more athletic. Many of the best positional prospects in the minor leagues and in Latin America began their careers at shortstop due to their superior athleticism.
On the whole, shortstop does not possess the depth of production for the Rockies that third base, it also has provided much more value to Colorado than catchers have. The list, after the jump...
Unlike other positional rankings, the names on this list are all familiar to most Rockies fans.
Career WAR: 6.2 (1st)
Top Three Seasons: 6.2, 2006-2008 (1st)
Top Season: 5.6, 2007 (1st)
Average Rank: 1
Tulo is clearly the best shortstop in Rockies franchise history, though it is largely on the strength of his fantastic 2007 season. The seventh pick of the 2005 draft had a Total Zone rating of 18 while providing a .291/.359/.479 (.361 wOBA) batting line with 24 HRs and 99 RBI while providing stellar leadership (as a rookie!) and helping to guide the Rockies to their first World Series.
Tulo's 2008 struggles have been well documented, though he did heat up in the second half. That's a trend that has continued in a big way in 2009 as Tulowitzki has been on fire since Hurdle was fired. In fact, Tulowitzki is well on his way to having a better hitting line this year (.378 wOBA) than he did in 2007--though his fielding numbers are less spectacular--and he currently has been the Rockies' most valuable position player (3.6 WAR so far).
Perhaps the best part of all this is that the Rockies have their shortstop under team control for the next five years if they want to, at a price that is more than reasonable ($29.25 guaranteed) given his probable production.
2a. Clint Barmes
Career WAR: 4.3 (T-2nd)
Top Three Seasons: 2.5, 2004-2006 (3rd)
Top Season: 2.3, 2007 (2nd)
Average Rank: 2.33
The reason that Clint Barmes is listed as a shortstop and not a second baseman is the fact that he's played 281 games at SS and 177 at 2B--and that his skill set is more that of a typical shortstop than a second sacker.
Barmes gets the tie-breaker here over Walt Weiss due to the fact that he is still producing WAR for the Rockies (and is likely to do so for next year too if Jim Tracy's mancrush remains intact). Acquired in the tenth round of the 2000 draft, Clint is an enigma, really. His stellar (and surprising) 2005 rookie season (1.6 WAR) was marred by his subsequent failings in 2006 and 2007, when he was below replacement level--after which many Rockies fans figured that we had seen the last of Clint Barmes.
Then, out of nowhere Barmes was brought up to replace Jayson Nix and excelled with the bat (.290/.322/.468) and the glove (TZ of 7) in 2008. This 2.3 WAR season gave Barmes the momentum to secure a starting slot in 2009, and while his streaky hitting has been well documented, his slick fielding has been enough to render a league average performance this year--and that's a very good thing, as league-average players don't grow on trees.
2b. Walt Weiss
Career WAR: 4.3 (T-2nd)
Top Three Seasons: 5.0, 1995-1997 (1st)
Top Season: 1.8, 1995 (1st)
Average Rank: 2.33
Walt Weiss is the shortstop that the 60s forgot--a throwback shortstop that fielded the position at an average level, did the little things well, and was mediocre at best as a hitter. The Rockies' shortstop from 1994-1997 was signed as a free agent from Florida on a two year, $2.8 million deal in 1994 to fill the hole vacated by Vinny Castilla's move to 3rd base.
Weiss OPSed .639 in 1994 and produced -0.7 WAR (with a TZ of -6), but bounced back nicely with a .724 OPS and 1.8 WAR in 1995--of course the Rockies had to have the then 32 year old back, and with a nice raise (two years, $4.3 million). Weiss rewarded Colorado's questionable confidence in him with two decent years (1.5, 1.7 WAR) that were very similar to 1995 in their tenor.
The Rockies benefitted from the steadiness/veteraniness/intangibles of Weiss and got about market level production from him--a fine outcome considering his horrible first year.
4. Juan Uribe
Career WAR: 2.3 (4th)
Top Three Seasons: 2.3, 2001-2003 (4th)
Top Season: 1.2, 2001 (5th)
Average Rank: 4.33
Uribe signed with the Rockies out of the Dominican Republic in 1997 as an 18 year old and was the Rockies' starting shortstop by 2001 at 22 years old after Neifi Perez was traded. He performed very well in half a season (1.2 WAR), posting a .300/.325/.524 line (.359 wOBA) in 283 PA. Unfortunately he regressed in 2002 to a replacement level player, posting a .286 OBP in 618 PA. After that, Uribe was forced into a time-share at shortstop in 2003 with journeyman Jose Hernandez (yuck), but performed well in limited duty (1.0 WAR).
Here's where Uribe's story gets interesting: the Rockies traded the 24 year-old Uribe, who in the equivalent of two full seasons had cheaply provided over 2 WAR, to the White Sox for career minor leaguer Aaron Miles. While Miles got Rookie of the Year love in 2004 (he was fourth, well behind Jason Bay) despite producing only 0.1 WAR (and 0.2 overall in his Rockies career), Uribe went bananas for the White Sox. Uribe posted a .283/.327/.506 line and a 3.7 WAR season in 2004, then he followed it up with a 2.4 WAR season in 2005. And then, just as soon as it came, Uribe's productivity vanished, as he produced 1.1 WAR in the next three seasons for Chicago. A strange case, really.
5. Neifi Perez
Career WAR: 1.1 (5th)
Top Three Seasons: 2.0, 1999-2001 (5th)
Top Season: 1.5, 2000 (4th)
Average Rank: 4.67
Neifi Perez is one of the biggest scam artists in MLB history. I mean, how else can you characterize his 11 year career? He was signed out of the DR as a 19 year old and was the starter as a 24 year old. Perez played for the Rockies for parts of six seasons and posted a negative WAR figure in three of them.
Perez did win a Gold Glove in 2000 and he managed two years of decent play (1.5 and 1.3 WARs in 2000 and 2001), which tricked the Royals into trading the Rockies Jermaine Dye for him. A 27 year old, in his prime Jermaine Dye! Of course, Dan O'Dowd turned around and traded Dye to the A's that same day for Todd Belitz, Mario Encarnacion, and Jose Ortiz. What?!?!? We could have had Jermaine Dye in his prime for Neifi Perez?!? Not that I'm bitter or anything, but Dye in Coors Field would have been awesome. I'm really glad that O'Dowd has improved his trading ability as he's gotten experience.
In his 11 year career, Perez produced a total of 0.0 WAR and was paid $21 million to do it. That's one heck of an expensive replacement player.
The Rest: Freddie Benavides (0.7), Royce Clayton (0.2), Jose Hernandez (-0.3), Desi Relaford (-0.5)
Next week: Left Fielders