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What is an elite shortstop worth to a team, anyways?

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An elite shortstop is great in theory, but is there really evidence to support their value to a team?

Justin Edmonds

In case you haven't noticed, there's been a lot of talk about a potential trade of Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. After all, what's not to like? Despite a spotty (and that may be kind) injury history, Tulo has cemented himself as one of the premier offensive threats in the game of baseball over the past seven years, all the while playing a position where teams have been willing to sacrifice a little bit offensively to get the premier glove needed to be an effective team defensively. Oh, and by the way, as long as his legs are healthy he's in the conversation for best defensive shortstop as well.

That being said, the Rockies are going to ask for a king's ransom for their prized star. If you think your favorite team has ‘untouchable' prospects when it comes to a potential Tulo deal, I hate to ruin your day, but they won't be in the running in a potential Tulowitzki sweepstakes.

Some may scoff at this notion, but Tulo is under team control until 2020. Furthermore, the big shortstop so far has been unwilling to overtly throw the team that drafted him under the bus for their inability to put a decent product around him (or short of that, putting new people in the front office as an attempt to create a better product). With that in mind, the team has very little incentive to move him for anything other than absolutely whatever they want. Then there's the question of how many teams actually have so glaring of a hole at shortstop that they'd want to mortgage the farm for Tulo?

The point is, the market for Troy Tulowitxki may be smaller than we all imagined. But beyond that, should a team, even one desperate for offensive and defensive production at a position where it's a at premium, even want to pay good money for a shortstop? After all, how much benefit has Tulo actually given the Rockies in the standings over the past five years?

That may not be fair, since any one position player really can't carry a team to the playoffs by himself, but what about the opposite end of the spectrum? I can barely recall who's played shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals or the Boston Red Sox over the past decade, and those two clubs could be considered the most successful in all of baseball over those 10 years.

Of course, this is all just speculation. So let's take a deeper look at whether or not an elite shortstop is worth your time as a major league club.

Below is the top five teams in terms of shortstop production from 2009-2013 (by wRC+):

Shortstop_wrc_

Those five teams have nine winning seasons between them, with four belonging to the Dodgers. That looks fairly underwhelming, especially considering that the bottom five teams on that list have eight winning seasons.

To look a little closer, I looked up each of the last five individual seasons by the same stat to see if it yielded much different results. I'll spare you all the tables; suffice to say that there were 14 winning seasons over those five years by teams that got top-five offensive production out of the shortstop position, compared to 10 winning seasons from teams that got bottom-five production out of the combined efforts their shortstops. Not much of a correlation there, using this simple test.

But this is shortstop we're talking about here, so as suggested before, teams are willing to put a premium on defensive ability. Let's see how that's worked out from 2009-2013:

Shortstop_uzr

I used UZR (ultimate zone rating) for this exercise over DRS (defensive runs saved), which, it should be noted, moved the Braves and Mariners out of the top five in favor of the Rangers and the Tigers. The result is 16 winning seasons, versus 12 if you'd prefer DRS.

Using UZR, the teams with the worst shortstops had eight winning seasons, with five belonging to the Yankees. DRS yielded the same, but with the A's and Mets ousting the Padres and Indians for two of the worst five slots.

Once again, the side note on this one is that the Braves and Royals ranked sixth and sixth worst, respectively, in UZR. So these numbers could be skewed much further.

Going over the league leaders in UZR in each individual season led to 15 winning seasons among teams within the top five, whereas only nine winning seasons were achieved by teams with poor defensive shortstops.

This is all fairly intuitive. After all, it's better to have a good player at any given position than a poor one. But the fact that there's more of a positive correlation between shortstop defensive play and team success than there is between offensive output from the position and team success just goes to show that teams might have been correct in putting the premium on defense at the position.

Circling back to the original topic here, there are few players in baseball more coveted than Troy Tulowitzki. While his MVP-caliber bat is likely to be the biggest story if and when a trade for his services comes to fruition, it's worth noting that for the position he plays, his glove will play just as vital of a role towards that team's success as his offensive abilities, especially when if he ends up on either New York club.

Yet, Tulo's price (in both prospects and real American dollars) will be largely tied to his offensive productivity. Just food for thought for any team in the running.

Nothing terribly deep or profound in this one folks, just file it under ‘The More You Know.'

. . .

All statistics and tables courtesy of FanGraphs.

Zach Fogg is a columnist for Purple Row, Beyond the Box Score and Mile High Sports. You can follow him on Twitter at @zachfoggsports.