Has Troy Tulowitzki Passed Albert Pujols?

ST. LOUIS - OCTOBER 2: Troy Tulowitzki #2 of the Colorado Rockies throws to first base against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on October 2 2010 in St. Louis Missouri. The Cardinals beat the Rockies 1-0 in 11 innings. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

In the wake of Troy Tulowitzki's fantastic series against the Mets this week, my friend Rich Lederer writes:

Move over Albert Pujols, Tulowitzki is now the best player in the game. The seventh overall draft pick out of Long Beach State in 2005 is nearly five years younger than the three-time National League MVP, plays a much more important defensive position (and as well as any shortstop in baseball), and, get this, has actually outhit him over the last 365 days. That's right, Tulo has a higher AVG (.324 to .300), SLG (.614 to .560), OPS (1.011 to .961), wOBA (.431 to .401), and wRC+ (161 to 153) than Pujols during this period. Moreover, the player who is now just approaching his prime has generated 7.7 Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) vs. 6.5 for his 31-year-old counterpart.

You can have Pujols or, for that matter, Hanley Ramirez if you're into shortstops. I'll take Tulowitzki.

Actually, if we consider fWar for the last two seasons -- which of course is mostly 2010 -- Tulowitzki comes in third and Pujols is just seventh.

Here's the list:

Joey Votto (8.4)
Josh Hamilton (8.4)
Troy Tulowitzki (7.8)
Ryan Zimmerman (7.7)
Jose Bautista (7.7)
Matt Holliday (7.3)
Albert Pujols (7.3)

Votto probably had his career year (but maybe not). Hamilton's hurt (again). Bautista definitely had his career year. Holliday, as much as we might appreciate him, is hardly in Pujols' class. Zimmerman's really, really good, but nobody ever talks about him as one of the game's best players (maybe because nobody loves his defense like fWAR loves his defense). Evan Longoria probably belongs in this conversation, right? Hanley Ramirez might not belong, if his defensive numbers last season are a fair barometer of his current shortstopping ability.

At this moment, I think the candidates boil down to Votto, Tulowitzki, Pujols, and Longoria, pending further clarification on both Zimmerman's and Hanley Ramirez's defensive contributions. If Zimmerman's as good as Ultimate Zone Rating says, he belongs (Fielding Runs Above Average says he's not that good). If Ramirez is as bad as UZR and FRAA say, he doesn't belong.

We always have to guard against overvaluing the very recent, and in many cases our analysis might be better if simply ignored the very recent. But these first weeks of the season do count, and we're doing this systematically so there's little reason to ignore what Tulowitzki and Pujols have done this season. Or for that matter Votto, who's been outstanding.

Oh, and speaking of ignoring stuff ... FanGraphs' WAR isn't the only WAR around. Baseball-Reference.com has their own version, and the values can vary widely because the methods for rating defense are significantly different. According to bWAR, Pujols has been the majors' third-best player over these last two seasons, and Tulowitzki 13th best.

I happen to trust fWar somewhat more than bWAR, but the point is that these are not precise measurements, and the top guys are all close enough that you can get completely different rankings depending on what might seem like minor differences in how you interpret the raw fielding data, or park effects.

I don't know if Troy Tulowitzki's the best player in the world right now. I do know that if he's healthy, I'd have a hard time coming up with a player I would rather have.

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