Go ask the Cincinnati Reds about the best duo in Major League Baseball today, and the majority of them might be inclined to point at Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.
And then shudder with fear, most likely.
Understandably so given what CarGo and Tulo did to the Reds at Great American Ballpark on Wednesday. The two combined to go 8-for-10 with five homers—three for CarGo, two for Tulo—and nine RBI in leading the Colorado Rockies to a 12-4 shellacking.
Quite the big bang, to be sure, but it's not like it came out of left field. CarGo and Tulo have been a terrific one-two punch for several seasons now, and they've always been roughly equal producers.
Exactly equal in the case of OPS, as they both compiled a .918 OPS between 2010 and 2012. Per Baseball-Reference.com, that put CarGo and Tulo in the top 10 for that span. They also show up in the top 10 for Weighted On-Base Average between 2010 and 2012, according to FanGraphs.
But while CarGo and Tulo were already a special duo heading into this year, the 2013 season has seen them take things to the proverbial next level.
Take a gander at the tippy-top of FanGraphs' WAR charts for hitters, and you'll see Gonzalez and Tulowitzki together in the top five. They're this year's answer to Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia in 2011, Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford in 2010, Longo and Ben Zobrist in 2009, Magglio Ordonez and Curtis Granderson in 2007 and so on.
WAR should only ever be used as a guideline. In this case, it shouldn't hide the fact that the CarGo/Tulo duo has some legit competition. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are an elite duo in Detroit by reputation if nothing else, and an elite one-two punch has arisen in Baltimore this year in the form of Manny Machado and Chris Davis.
If we narrow things down and focus strictly on offensive production, however, CarGo and Tulo are clearly the most equally productive pair of star teammates on the baseball landscape in 2013.
Here's a look at the top of the 2013 leaderboard for Runs Batting, a stat that shows how many runs above (or below) average hitters are:
Fielder is slightly below the top 10 with 14 Runs Batting, and Machado is further down on the list with 11 Runs Batting.
Sure, you can add their Runs Batting to their teammates' and get 43 total Runs Batting for Cabrera/Fielder and 41 total Runs Batting for Davis/Machado, numbers that outpace the 36 combined Runs Batting of CarGo/Tulo.
But to do that would be to obscure the fact that there's clearly one hitter who's more scary than the other in the Cabrera/Fielder and Davis/Machado pairings, and that's not the reality of the Gonzalez/Tulowitzki duo.
As has typically been the case, this season has seen CarGo and Tulo be more along the lines of Ortiz/Ramirez circa 2004 or 2005 than Bonds/Aurilia circa 2001. It's not easy for teams to pick their poison when it comes to Colorado's gruesome twosome.
The equal awesomeness of Gonzalez and Tulowitzki doesn't just show up in the top of the Runs Batting chart, mind you. It shows up at the top of the top of the chart for Weighted Runs Created Plus, a FanGraphs specialty that also measures how many runs above average hitters are worth:
For good measure, we can take a look at the wOBA rankings as well, courtesy of FanGraphs:
We can look at more stats because there's, like, a million of them, but you get the idea. Offensively, the GarGo/Tulo duo has no equal in 2013.
And lest the thought crossed your mind, the heck of it is that their success is not a mirage brought on by the thin air of Coors Field.
Tulo has always been a great hitter whether at home or on the road. He's been better at home this year with a .490 wOBA at Coors Field, but he still ranks in the top 15 in MLB with a .409 wOBA in road games (see FanGraphs).
Gonzalez is the one who's changed, and in a big way to boot.
Heading into this season, Gonzalez's home/road splits practically begged stats geeks like myself to nitpick his overall production. Nobody in baseball had a higher home wOBA than Gonzalez's .444 between 2009 and 2012 (FanGraphs). By comparison, his road wOBA in those years was .325, a downright enormous gap.
Things have more than just leveled out for Gonzalez in 2013. It certainly got a boost from this three-homer performance, but CarGo's road wOBA this year is now up to .469. That's good for sixth-best in baseball and is significantly higher than his .389 wOBA at Coors Field.
Here's offering Gonzalez a well-deserved tip of the cap for the turnaround. Without his road domination, I likely wouldn't even be bothering to plant a kiss on the rear of the CarGo/Tulo duo.
The offensive numbers are Reason No. 1 why Gonzalez and Tulowitzki are such big WAR heroes this year, but certainly not the only reason. Another thing that makes them such an impressive duo is that they've both been above-average defensive players.
That's another complaint I've had about Gonzalez in the past. When he won a Gold Glove in 2010, he only had a 2.3 UZR and three Defensive Runs Saved (FanGraphs). When he won a second Gold Glove last year, he did so with a minus-6.8 UZR and a minus-13 DRS. He won it on reputation, a la every Gold Glove Derek Jeter has ever won.
So far so good this year, though. CarGo already has a 3.4 UZR and four Defensive Runs Saved. His statistics are actually mirroring his reputation, which gives yours truly a happy face.
Tulowitzki, meanwhile, is healthy this year and once again among the best in the business at short in both UZR and Defensive Runs Saved (see FanGraphs). He's no Andrelton Simmons, but, shoot, who is?
The defensive edge that CarGo and Tulo have to go with their offensive numbers isn't there with the other elite offensive duos on our radar. Cabrera and Fielder are below-average defenders at their respective positions (FanGraphs). Machado has been a wizard at third base for the Orioles this season, but Davis has been nothing special at first base (FanGraphs).
Really the only complaint to be made about the CarGo/Tulo duo is that the two of them aren't tearing up the basepaths at an equal rate. Gonzalez may already be up to 12 stolen bases, but Tulowitzki has been taking it very easy on the basepaths.
Tulo hasn't stolen a base and has accounted for minus-1.3 base running runs above average (FanGraphs). It's clear that he's not interested in punishing his legs more than he has to this year, which can be forgiven seeing as how he's 28 and coming off a season marred by leg injuries.
Do you buy Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki as the best duo in MLB?
Even with that one flaw factored in, there's no arguing with the offensive and defensive numbers that cast CarGo and Tulo as the league's most dynamic duo. Good health on Tulo's part has allowed him to rekindle his status as an elite offensive and defensive threat, and improvements on both fronts have pushed Gonzalez deeper into that discussion than he's ever been before.
Heaven help baseball if it turns out that these guys can pitch too.
[Somewhere out there, Dan O'Dowd ponderously strokes his chin.]
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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