We all know Joey Votto was by far the best player on the Reds this past season. He single-handedly carried the offense on his broad and capable shoulders. Some say he is more than a man but less than a god, like some kind of demi-god, or archangel, or X-man. He posted an impressive 4.4 WAR according to FanGraphs. That is solid All-Star-level production. Joey Votto is good at baseball. But is he really the best player on the team? Consider the following:
Drew Stubbs came up in mid-August and saw action in just 42 games. He looked all right at the plate, holding his own and posting a slash line of .267/.323/.439. That OPS of .762 is nearly identical to his career minor league OPS of .765. Of course, he hit for more power and got on base less (his career minor league line is .269/.364/.401), but considering the small sample size it's still a pretty accurate reflection of the skill set he showed in the minors. This isnt a wild aberration like Chris Dickerson's debut in '08, and I think it is totally reasonable to believe he can continue to hit like a league-average hitter. His solid walk rate (he's never had an OBP lower than .353 at any minor-league level), decent-but-not-shabby ISO (steadily around .150), steady K-rates, and luminous BABIP rates (kid gets a ton of infield hits) scream "consistent" to me. He is precisely the kind of hitter whose minor league numbers translate well to the majors.
His early projections for next year aren't as optimistic about his future performance though. ZiPS sees him posting a measly .653 OPS for next season. As we talked about a few days ago, Bill James projects him much better, foreseeing a .726 OPS. Not as good as his small-sample-sized performance from the end of '09, but not as Taverasian as ZiPS thinks. Now, normally I trust these advanced projection systems more than I trust my gut, but on this one I think they are missing the mark. I think, for the reasons stated above, Stubbs is far more likely to OPS around .750 than .650.
So if Stubbs hits like a league-average hitter, then how can he be as good as Joey Votto, the Joey Votto who OPS'd .981, posted a .418 wOBA, and stole my heart?
Checking the WAR leaderboards over at FanGraphs, one particular player really caught my eye. He was the most valuable center fielder in the Major Leagues last year. He's not Grady Sizemore, Curtis Granderson, Torii Hunter, or Matt Kemp. He's not Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, or B.J. Upton. He's Franklin Gutierrez, and he's the best gloveman in the league.
Gutierrez OPS'd .764 last season, his first as a Mariner. He was a tick above league-average with the bat, accumulating 6.3 BRAR. But boy, he was a '64 Fender Stratocaster in classic white with triple single-coil pickups and a wammy bar in the field. He posted 28.5 FRAR in 153 games, the best mark in all of baseball at any position. This was good for 5.8 total WAR.
Stubbs was nearly equal to Gutierrez with the glove last season, albeit in a small sample size. Stubbs posted a UZR of 7.7 in just 42 games, which extrapolates into a UZR/150 of 22.3. Of course, it is not a foregone conclusion that Stubbs can keep up that level of glovesmanship over a full season. But all the scouting reports say that he can. Since he was drafted in '06 (ahead of Tim Lincecum), he's been heralded as a future gold-glover. It is not good science to take such a small sample and use it as a representative sample, but in this case I think Stubbs really is that good. His minor league TotalZone numbers think so (found at minorleaguesplits), the scouts think so, and so I think so.
So Gutierrez had the best season according to WAR of any center fielder in the league last season, and his game is nearly identical to that of Drew Stubbs. A league-average bat and an elite glove at a premium position makes for a very valuable player.
So what is the takeaway from all this? At the very least, we can see how there is much, much more to winning baseball games than just hitting the ball with the bat. Votto is an elite hitter, but he plays a weak defensive position and is merely average there in comparison to his peers. Stubbs is the exact opposite of Votto, with an average bat and an elite glove. I'm not ready to seriously consider Stubbs to be the same caliber of player that Votto is (though it makes for a hooky title), but I can envision a future, as early as next season, where this is the case.