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Friday, April 15, 2011
Best 1-2 punch in majors: Tulo & CarGo

By Steve Berthiaume

Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez
Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez have the Rockies off to a 10-2 start.
No player has ever done to the New York Mets what Troy Tulowitzki did this week. No, not even Chipper Jones.

In a four-game series at Citi Field, Tulowitzki hit .625 (10-for-16) with four home runs and eight RBIs. Tulowitzki became the first player to homer in each game of a four-game series against the Mets. The Rockies swept all four games to increase their overall win streak to six games and their record to 10-2, the best in baseball and the best start in franchise history. What is even more enticing for Rockies fans is the notion that Tulowitzki has a wingman in Carlos Gonzalez, who is almost certainly going to go on a similar tear at some point. Yes, Tulo & CarGo could be a bad cop show from the '80s. They also may be the best 1-2 punch in baseball.

With only a two-week sample size available for 2011, let's take last season's basic numbers. Here are arguably the five best teammate duos in the game and where each pair ranks according to their combined 2010 statistics. In the interest of symmetry, I have excluded the Yankees' trio of Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira only because they are exactly that, a trio. This is about finding baseball's best 1-2 punch and it's hard to include two from the Yankees but leave out a third.



If we then apply an MVP-style voting system and award 5 points for finishing first in a category and 1 point for finishing fifth, the results are as follows:

Troy Tulowitzki/Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies: 16 points
Albert Pujols/Matt Holliday, Cardinals: 16 points
Josh Hamilton/Nelson Cruz, Rangers: 11 points
Joey Votto/Jay Bruce, Reds: 10 points
Prince Fielder/Ryan Braun, 7 points

If those numbers are too simplistic for you, let's metric-up for some deeper analysis. Weighted On-Base Average (or wOBA) includes all the different aspects of hitting and gauges each one based on its actual run value. It's the weighted part that gives you a more detailed number by which to measure what a batter did at the plate, giving more weight to home runs than singles, and so on. Tulowitzki and Gonzalez both ranked in the top 10 in wOBA last season. Hamilton and Cruz were the only other pair of teammates to do so with a minimum of 400 plate appearances.

WAR (wins above replacement) measures a player's value over over a replacement-level bench player. WAR includes everything a player does on the field -- hitting, fielding and baserunning -- and summarizes with a single number representing how many more wins that player is worth to his team than the replacement player who would play in his place. Using 2010 statistics, here's how our five teammate candidates rated by WAR:

Pujols (7.3)/Holliday (6.9) -- 14.2
Hamilton (8.0)/Cruz (5.1) -- 13.1
Votto (7.4)/Bruce (5.3) -- 12.7
Tulowitzki (6.4)/Gonzalez (6.0) -- 12.4
Fielder (4.1)/Braun (4.2) -- 8.3

Another reason WAR has value as an overall evaluation tool is because it does include defense. For instance: Despite hitting a relatively light .277 last season with five home runs and 47 RBIs, the Yankees' Brett Gardner had a WAR of 5.4, higher than Jay Bruce (5.3), Nelson Cruz (5.1), Ryan Braun (4.2) and Prince Fielder (4.1). One reason why was Gardner's Defensive Runs Saved score of +16, which tied for third among outfielders.

Defensive Runs Saved measures how many runs a player saved his team in the field when compared to the average player at that position. From 2007 through 2010, Tulowitzki ranked fourth in the major leagues in Defensive Runs Saved at +57, behind only Chase Utley (+75), Ryan Zimmerman (+73) and Adrian Beltre (+60). Gonzalez was 14th among outfielders from 2008 to 2009 at +20, but despite all those Web Gem catches in left field last season, Gonzalez actually plummeted to a -2 DRS in 2010. That was likely an aberration and considering Gonzalez's previous two seasons in the outfield and Tulowitzki's body of work at shortstop, the only duo among our five candidates that might challenge the Rockies' tandem defensively would be Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.

What about the ability to lead or carry your team through critical stretches over the course of a season? As we saw last year and are seeing again this spring; the Tulo and CarGo show can often be baseball's version of must-see TV. These guys, for stretches of several weeks, can be electric. Tulowitzki has been baseball's best player going back to Labor Day. Since last September, the Rockies shortstop has a 1.198 OPS, 22 home runs and 54 RBIs, leading the major leagues in all three categories. Gonzalez has been slower carrying over his remarkable 2010 season, but he hit his first home run of the season on Thursday. Tulowitzki then followed with a home run in the very next at-bat. These two can be a force like no other in the game because they can both reach white-hot levels for weeks at a time.

Randy Robles from the Elias Sports Bureau provided this list of 2010 OPS leaders after the All-Star break (minimum 250 plate appearances). You'll note only one pair of teammates made the top 5:

Jose Bautista, Blue Jays -- 1.099 OPS
Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies -- 1.091 OPS
Joey Votto, Reds -- 1.042 OPS
Albert Pujols, Cardinals -- 1.033 OPS
Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies -- 1.020 OPS

Former pitcher and current "Baseball Tonight" analyst Curt Schilling pointed out that Colorado's current run of six straight wins, and 10 of its last 11, has happened with Gonzalez hitting a modest .260 to this point. In the meantime, it's Tulowitzki who is baseball's hottest player right now, hitting .364 and leading the majors with seven home runs. "He is not uncomfortable at the plate," Schilling said. "He's incredibly comfortable. A lot of his home runs came early in the at-bat or first pitch. But they're following pitches that aren't getting him to move his feet and I'm not talking about throwing at him or trying to drill him. I'm talking about getting him uncomfortable. He doesn't have any reason not to be settled in the box."

Former Reds star and "Baseball Tonight" analyst Barry Larkin has been admiring Tulowitzki's leadership qualities. "He's setting the tone," Larkin said. "He goes out there and he's got a strut about himself. He has a swagger about himself. I'm calling him 'Bad Dude' now, just because of the way he goes out and does his thing."

"Tulo & CarGo" could be a great cop show. They'd drive frantically around city streets, give each other sarcastic looks while arguing about their personal lives and get chewed out by their captain who's had enough of their screw-up antics and threatens to take away their detective badges. He might have them walking a beat or writing traffic tickets. Clearly "Tulo & CarGo" are best served working stadium duty.

(Justin Havens from our "Baseball Tonight" research staff was a great help in putting this post together. It's colleagues like Justin who make working on the show such a great experience.)

Follow Steve on Twitter at @sberthiaume.