MLB Players Of The Decade: Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki Only Serious Shortstop Contenders

LOS ANGELES CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Troy Tulowitzki #2 of the Colorado Rockies celebrates as he crosses home plate after hitting a two-run home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning at Dodger Stadium on September 18 2010 in Los Angeles California. The Rockies defeated the Dodgers 12-2. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Rob Neyer turns to shortstops in his quest to identify the best players of this decade, and it's a death match between Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki.

If you’ve been following this thrilling action serial – and if not, you can catch up here – you know that I’ve been choosing the best players of this decade, position by position.

No, not so far. The whole decade, 2010 through 2019.

A daunting chore? You bet.

Worth trying? Maybe.

Anyway, so far I’ve selected Joe Mauer, Albert Pujols, and Robinson Cano.

We’ve been running polls, of course, and I’m pleased that you disagreed with me about Mauer. Your choice was Buster Posey, which is eminently sensible; we’ll have to revisit our choices in nine years. All I can say now is, "Best of luck to you, sir. And may the best Nostradamus wannabe win."

Next up are the shortstops, and once again there aren’t many viable candidates.

The best shortstop you’ve (probably) never heard of is Baltimore’s Manny Machado, the third pick in the amateur draft last summer. Machado looks great, but he’s played in exactly nine minor-league games and isn’t going to arrive soon enough to make a huge dent in this decade.

The best exceptionally young shortstops you know about are the CubsStarlin Castro (almost 21) and the RangersElvis Andrus (22). 

I’m afraid that Andrus isn’t a serious candidate here, and for two reasons. One, he’s been a subpar hitter in his two seasons. And two, his defensive numbers to this point haven’t matched his reputation.  Andrus still projects as a solid player, perhaps even someday a star. But he hasn’t done anything to suggest he’ll be the decade’s top shortstop.

Castro’s a different sort of cat. Despite playing only 57 games at the Double-A level and skipping Triple-A completely, Castro held his own in the National League last season, batting .300/.347/.408 after debuting with the big club barely a month after his 20th birthday. If you want to dream a little, Castro’s your man.

Do we need to dream, though?

With apologies to everyone else, our list of serious veteran candidates consists of exactly two: Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki. Whether we look at the last three seasons, the last two seasons, or just 2010, it’s Tulowitzki-Ramirez or Ramirez-Tulowitzki. After those two -- well after those two – you’ve got Derek Jeter, Marco Scutaro and Yunel Escobar, and for various reasons none of those fine players figure to dominate this decade.

This is an imprecise science. We can’t know who’s going to dominate the decade. But if it’s not Castro os some kid we haven’t even seen yet, we have to assume it will be Tulowitzki or Ramirez.

But which of them?

Tulowitzki’s been an every-day player for four seasons, one fewer than Ramirez, which is convenient because Ramirez is one year older than Tulowitzki.

If we look at those four seasons, Ramirez comes out on top in Wins Above Replacement (via Baseball-Reference.com), 24-19. He wins in the last three seasons, too:  18-13.

But Tulowitzki played brilliantly in 2009, and played brilliantly again in 2010; after both seasons, he finished fifth in National League MVP balloting.

Which isn’t to say that Ramirez is a slouch. He was brilliant in 2009, too. But after four straight brilliant seasons, Ramirez did slump some in 2010. Which was enough to drop him behind doubly brilliant Tulowitzki.

Is one subpar (for him) season enough to drop Ramirez below Tulowitzki for the whole decade, though? Well, remember that Ramirez is a year older. Remember too that Ramirez is merely an adequate shortstop, while Tulowitzki is brilliant with the glove. It’s not hard to imagine Ramirez shifting to third base or the outfield at some point, while Tulo figures to be a shortstop for many years.

Before wrapping this up, a couple of caveats. One, Tulowitzki does benefit, as all hitters do, from Coors Field. But WAR does account for park effects, and anyway his splits aren’t as crazy as some we’ve seen. Two, there’s the injury thing. Tulowitzki missed a big chunk of 2008 with a quadriceps tear, and a big chunk of 2010 with a broken wrist.

But the quad’s been fine since ’08, and last season’s broken wrist was the result of an errant Alex Burnett fastball; that sort of thing can happen to anyone.

Tulowitzki’s combination of hitting and fielding is unbeatable. He’s the best shortstop in the majors right now, and should retain that title over the next five or six seasons, at least.

Beyond that, no man can know.

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