It's the most important position on the field in baseball (it isn't even a debate in my mind, but we can have it if you want to), and if you get an elite one in fantasy baseball, it can be quite the boon to your team. As such, two of the top five players on my draft board play the position. I am talking about shortstop, and the players to which I'm referring are Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez.
Tulo vs. Hanley is one of the more intriguing debates this draft season. You're going to be happy with either, but how do you make the choice of one over the other? Let's settle the issue with an in-depth look at the pair.
Tulowitzki three-year average: 294/.366/.517
Tulowitzki had a dreadful, injury-ravaged 2008 season that kept his three-year average down. Batting average and OBP become a lot more even if we just consider the past two seasons. And Tulo managed to keep slugging percentage a virtual wash. Ramirez also benefited from a .379 BABIP in '09, 32 points higher than his career BABIP. Tulowitzki's career-high BABIP of .335 in '07, a year not reflected in the three-year average, was just 16 points higher than his career BABIP. Ramirez gets a slight edge in the rate categories, but not by much.
Tulowitzki last three seasons: Home runs -- 8, 32, 27. RBI -- 46, 92, 95
This is where Tulowitzki really gets ahead. What jumps off the page here is Ramirez's declining home run totals. His home run/fly ball percentage spiked at 19.2 in '08. In '09, it was 12.1 percent and it climbed back up a bit to 14.2 percent last year. Tulowitzki, meanwhile, has remained steady the last two seasons, as 18.5 percent of his fly balls in '09 and 17.1 percent of the in '10 left the yard. Going back to '07, Tulowitzki had 24 homers and a HR/FB rate of 13.1 percent. As long as he's healthy, his power is more reliable. Not only are Ramirez' totals troubling, but his rates are troubling as well. What's also a concern is that while Ramirez dipped to 21 homers last season, he didn't make up for it in doubles, as is so often the case when a player takes a homer plunge. In fact, Ramirez had just 28 doubles last season, the least he's had in any year of his career, and just the second time he failed to top 40 doubles in a season. Tulowitzki holds a solid advantage in the power department.
The largest advantage in any one category goes to Ramirez here. In five seasons, he's never swiped fewer than 27 bags. That feels like a safe floor for him this year. Meanwhile, outside of the 20 steals Tulowitzki had in '09, he has 22 the rest of his career. A fantasy baseball maxim to which I subscribe is you don't pay for saves or steals, but the contrast is pretty stark in this situation, and you're paying for a whole lot more than steals when you grab Ramirez.
This isn't as one-sided as you might assume. The Marlins have some nice young players in Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison, and nice lineup pieces in Omar Infante, John Buck and Chris Coghlan. Colorado has more star power, especially with Carlos Gonzalez, but these lineups are more even than they seem with just a cursory glance. Seth Smith regressed badly in '10, Chris Iannetta can't seem to put it together in the majors and Todd Helton is slipping. A breakout from Dexter Fowler in front of Tulowitzki would be a welcome sight, giving him the opportunity to hit with guys on base consistently. The edge here goes to Tulowitzki, but not by very much.
There's no doubt that Tulowitzki plays in the superior hitter's park. He also makes it count, posting a career .932 OPS at Coors Field. Ramirez, on the other hand, is remarkably consistent no matter where he's playing. The Marlins' shortstop has a career .313/.393/.540 slash at home and .313/.377/.502 line on the road. Players on the Rockies often get called out for their home/road splits (I did it just a few weeks ago with Carlos Gonzalez), but it doesn't change the fact that they're still getting those 81 games at Coors. Give Tulo a bump here.
There's no getting around the fact that Tulowitzki spent large portions of '08 and '10 on the disabled list, but each of those were due to bad luck, not a lack of durability. Ramirez has a limited injury history, as last year's 142 games played was the lowest amount of his career. I'm not worried about Tulo, though. Anyone can get plunked on the wrist by a fastball as he did last year. In fact, I'm encouraged that it didn't seem to sap any of his power.
Tulowitzki and Ramirez are fantasy studs, neither of whom should go later than fifth in any draft this year. But Tulowitzki's stable, improving power, coupled with Ramirez's decline the last few years, makes him my top shortstop of '11. Overall, I rank Tulo second behind Albert Pujols, and Ramirez fifth behind Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez, respectively. And for anyone who plays in Scoresheet leagues, Tulowitzki's defense at the premier position makes him the top player in my book.