Saturday, March 29, 2008

NL West breakdown: Shortstop

Time to swing along the diamond to shortstop, where our look at the top position players in the National League West continues.

1. Troy Tulowitzki (.291 AVG, 25 HR, 99 RBI)
Colorado Rockies

Tulowitzki gets the edge here, even though he has only completed one full season in the majors. His numbers last year came out of nowhere, and were huge for a team that went to the World Series. He hit .291 with 25 HR and 99 RBI. 33 doubles and 104 runs scored ain’t too shabby either.

What really puts him on top, however, is his fielding. He had a .987 fielding %, which largely contributed to the Rockies MLB-record .989 fielding %. He was also tops in putouts, assists, double plays turned, and total chances in the entire majors. How in the world he did not win the Gold Glove award is beyond me (it went to Jimmy Rollins), which goes to show just how much of a joke this award can be sometimes.

As one of the top ranked SS in baseball now, he goes into this season with the job solely his, and will look to top last year’s high marks. With that offense surrounding him, anything is possible.

2. Rafael Furcal (.270, 6, 47)
Los Angeles Dodgers

Furcal did not enjoy last season by any stretch of the imagination. He was hurt in Spring Training by chasing after a measly pop-up, colliding with outfielder Jason Repko, and injuring his ankle. That one play would affect the rest of his season.

His AVG, SLG, and OBP all took big hits as he battled a bad back as well. Normally a leadoff hitter who can get 10-15 HR, he only hit 6. Instead of netting around 60 RBI, he had 47. He still managed to play in 138 games, but probably none of them were completely healthy. Any way you slice it, it was a year to forget.

Coming into this season, he appears to be injury-free. The Dodgers desperately need him to make a lot of noise at the top of the order, which is how they made the playoffs in 2006. He’ll always have a cannon arm, so his defense is never in question. When he’s hitting line drives and stealing bases, the Dodgers are a tough team to beat. He is the key.

3. Khalil Greene (.254, 27, 97)
San Diego Padres

Probably one of the more underrated players in baseball, Greene showed last year just how much pop in his bat he can have. After 3 straight seasons of hitting 15 HR, he tore it up with 27 last season, to go along with 97 RBI. In Petco Park, those are not easy numbers to achieve.

He’s definitely a free swinger (138 K – 32 BB), so he’ll get hacks in every at-bat. Because of this, he’ll always face the criticism of having a lower AVG (his highest was in 2004 at .273). But, he can now hit in the heart of the order with Adrian Gonzalez and be counted on as the main source of runs.

With a newly-signed 2-year deal, he will look to build on his stats as the Padres all-time leading producer of HR and RBI for a shortstop.

4. Stephen Drew (.238, 12, 60)
Arizona Diamondbacks

Drew snuck into 59 games in 2006 and ended up with a .316 AVG. He came into last season as one of those young players with a huge upside. For fantasy lovers, he was a guy to grab late and gloat about it since he had such a big upside. But, things did not pan out as well as he would have hoped.

Much like teammate and fellow prospect Connor Jackson, he never seemed to get into a groove. September turned out to be his highest hitting month, and that was only .266. He played in 28 games in August and hit a pathetic .202. Based on his minor league stats, he has shown to be a much better hitter, so perhaps it was just first-year jitters.

Much like Tulowitzki, his defense has been fantastic. In 638 total chances, he committed only 17 errors. Based on his defense alone, he will have a spot in the Diamondbacks order. But, he needs to show that he’s a more capable hitter than last season, or other options could be sought after.

5. Omar Vizquel (.246, 4, 51)
San Francisco Giants

Entering his 20th season, Vizquel continues to show the world why he’s one of the best defense shortstops in the history of baseball. A career .988 fielder, he nearly reached that number last season at .986. He continues to defy Father Time.

He’s had his ups and downs with the bat, and last season was clearly defined as a down. Normally a .274 hitter, he only hit .246. The most telling stat was the OBP. At .340 on his career, it was way down to .304. That’s quite eye-opening. I knew he had a rough year, but that’s really bad.

Despite his poor hitting, his defense and clubhouse presence caused the Giants to resign him to a 1-year deal with a club option for a 2nd year. The Giants are in the midst of rebuilding, and he will be counted on to mentor the young players. From that standpoint, the Giants made a very smart decision. But, if his hitting continues to tank, it’s not unrealistic to see this being his final year in the Bay Area.

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