Best in the West – At Each Position
For all its warts a few years ago, the NL West has become a compelling and competitive division. A look at the landscape of the five teams offers an interesting observation: extreme talent exists at some positions and a dearth at others. Therefore, more as an exercise out of curiosity than a definitive analysis of player value, a look now at the best player at each position in the NL West:
NL West’s best catcher:
Buster Posey – San Francisco Giants
For a team with next to no offense, it is a least a little ironic they get more offense out of a defensive position than anyone else. Posey is, simply, a young stud. After a Rookie-of-the-year freshman campaign, Posey had his sophomore jinx come in the form of a violent collision that put him out of action in 2011. Turns out, it mattered quite a bit to the Giants who had one of the worst offenses in baseball while playing without their backstop. In 2012, Posey hasn’t missed a beat, hitting 304/355/471 through 31 games.
NL West’s best first baseman:
Todd Helton – Colorado Rockies
The pickings are beyond thin here. 3 of the 5 first basemen are in their early 20’s and have combined for fewer than 200 games in the majors. While the kids are working to find their groove, an old man has about run out of his. Todd Helton will not make anyone say “wow” any longer with statistics. What he is, is a solid and smart veteran. He doesn’t hit a ton any longer, but few control the strike zone the way he does and few take the respect he does to the plate. Despite diminishing power and average he is still getting on base at a .472 clip in 2012.
NL West’s best second baseman:
Aaron Hill – Arizona Diamondbacks
The prettiest car in a junkyard is still in a junkyard. Of the #4’s, 4 of the 5 are over 30. One is closer to 40. To say these guys couldn’t hit their way out of a wet paper bag would be an understatement. Of the group, Hill has the largest upside and solid numbers. Despite slightly diminished range defensively, he is still a plus-defender. Couple that with a .770 OPS and I suppose he gets the job done, unspectacularly so.
NL West’s best shortstop:
Troy Tulowitzki – Colorado Rockies
No real competition here. Tulo is the man and will probably be the man for years. You don’t need to see him numbers, but here they are anyway: More than 27 HR and 92 RBI each of the past 3 seasons (including a stupid .916 OPS in 2011), excellent, bordering on sublime defense (2.2 dWAR in 2010) and better control of the zone (improved k/9 rates each of the last 3 seasons). Not sure he is worth the crazy contract, but we may look back in 6 years and think it was a bargain.
NL West’s best third baseman:
Pablo Sandoval – San Francisco Giants
The only other real weapon for the Giants is the slightly more svelte panda. After a rough 2010, Sandoval practically carried the Giants in the absence of Posey in 2011, posting a line of 316/375/552. Sure he swings out of his shoes and yes he is slower than your average 10-year-old little league player but the guy can just rake. And his defense is getting better with a positive dWAR the past two seasons.
NL West’s best left fielder:
Carlos Gonzalez – Colorado Rockies
Much like Tulowitzki, this isn’t close. Cargo is light years ahead of his division brethren, especially considering the fact the Dodgers scooped up 137-year-old Bobby Abreu because they had no one else. Although no one is in love with his defense (his gold glove was a joke), Gonzalez is off to a good start after 2 excellent seasons, including the near-MVP year of 2010. With Tulo and Cargo, the Rockies have a lefty/righty hitting combination for most of the next decade.
NL West’s best center fielder:
Matt Kemp – Los Angeles Dodgers
No one player means more to his team than Kemp. Arguments were made for his MVP candidacy, and rightfully so. If the Dodgers make the playoffs in 2011, Kemp wins the award. Of course, that was all apparently an appetizer before what is looking to be an other-worldly 2012. While it’s early, Kemp has a legitimate shot at the first Triple Crown in two generations. Oh, and he runs like the wind, takes pretty good (bordering on great) routes to the ball and has a howitzer. Um, 5-tools: Kemp be thy name.
NL West’s best right fielder:
Andre Ethier – Los Angeles Dodgers
The closest race of all 8. Either just edges out Upton by virtue of the fact he has been productive for longer, strikes out less and gets on base at a slightly better rate. But it is really close. Upton will, in all likelihood, pass Either for career production (Either is 30, Upton only 24) but for now Either is the better all-around player. Either is a career .291 hitter who has averaged almost 60 extra-base hits per season for the past 3 years. He is also the perfect foil for Matt Kemp, much like Tulo and Cargo in Colorado.