Jimmy Rollins and Every Team's Best Cannon-Armed Defender
Admit it: Some of the greatest memories you've collected throughout your life center around a great defensive play in baseball.
Be it one of the all-time greats like Brooks Robinson making a throw from the third-base foul line to nail a runner at first or some of today's stars, like Jimmy Rollins, making a great throw from the hole or Ichiro Suzuki gunning down a runner at the plate, these are the plays that we remember.
You bought tickets to the game, but you were treated to the gun show. From anywhere in the ballpark, you sit on the edge of your seat every time the opponent hits a ball to the warning track, the right fielder settles under it and with a shuffle, skip and pro-hop, unleashes the cannon.
How many of us will ever be able to forget Ichiro's throw that nailed Terrence Long at third base, or have heard of Ellis Valentin for no other reason than his legendary throwing arm? We love watching grown men put their whole body into a throw in hopes that the recipient can slap a tag on the man brazen enough to test him.
For the sake of cannon-armed defenders enthusiasts everywhere, let's make a list. I'll pick one guy from every Major League team and single him out as the team's best arm. Let's not forget—not every team has their best arm playing right field or third base, and some of the results may be surprising.
Make sure to leave a comment below, and most importantly, let the debate begin!
Boston Red Sox: Adrian Gonzalez
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What better way to kick things off than with a selection that I'm sure will cause a bit of a stir? While the Boston Red Sox have assembled an All Star cast of talent for the 2011 season, and more than a few players will scare a few pitchers at the plate, not many will be instilling much in the way of fear to baserunners.
Looking around the diamond, the Sox have a lot of average arms, from Kevin Youkillis at the hot corner to an outfield consisting of Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury and a plethora of guys who have helped man right field this season.
None of these guys will wow a scout or fans with an overwhelming throw.
Surprisingly enough, one guy who isn't afraid to let it fly plays a position that doesn't demand many throws. That, of course, is first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. After coming over to Boston from the San Diego Padres via trade and signing a massive extension, Gonzalez has lived up to the hype not only at the plate, but in the field as well.
He may play a position that is less demanding with the arm than others, but don't let that fool you. If you try to take an extra base on A-Gon, you will regret it.
New York Yankees: Alex Rodriguez
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Moving on from the Boston Red Sox, let's take a look at the bitter rival New York Yankees. Like their archnemesis, the Yanks' selection will not come from one of the traditional "strong arm" positions in the outfield.
Instead, the Yankees' representative will be the man who signed the most lucrative contract in the history of baseball, making the transition from shortstop to third base to play the hot corner in New York, Alex Rodriguez.
While he had his struggles defensively with the glove when first moving to New York, Rodriguez has settled in nicely and, believe it or not, has played some of the best defense at third base in the game this season—when he's healthy.
Of course, one of A-Rod's greatest tools is that cannon he calls a right arm. From the time he was just a kid with the Seattle Mariners, showing off strong throws from the hole at shortstop to the present day, Rodriguez has long been known for a strong throwing arm. Even in 2011, that has not changed, and he takes home the prize for best Yankees arm.
Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista
Jose Bautista has become one of baseball's most popular players over the last couple of seasons with a late-blooming emergence unlike anything we've ever seen.
However, while most people are enthusiastic about his tremendous power and ability to make contact, one of the least talked about aspects of his game has been the stride he's made defensively, thanks in large part to a great throwing arm.
Be it in right field or at third base, Bautista has undoubtedly become the face of the Toronto Blue Jays and a clubhouse leader. By proxy, he demands respect from the rest of the league, not only from opposing pitchers who should be wary about leaving a pitch in the strike zone, but by baserunners who should think twice before testing the cannon.
In 2011 as a right fielder, Buatista's rARM (Outfield Arms Runs Saved runs above average) rating, which is an advanced metric that attempts to measure an average amount of runs saved by the strength of an outfielder's throwing arm, is five in less than 1,000 innings—one of the best ratings in baseball this season.
For those who prefer a more traditional stat, Bautista has also logged 12 outfield assists this season.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria
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Heading into the season's stretch run, there isn't much to talk about in terms of postseason races. This isn't news. The Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks have been virtual locks to win their respective divisions for quite some time now, and the Atlanta Braves still have a decent lead for the NL Wild Card.
For that reason alone, it's almost exciting to see the Tampa Bay Rays giving the Boston Red Sox a run for their money in that AL Wild Card race, and Joe Maddon and company, if nothing else, have shown that they won't be going down without a fight.
Of course, one of the main reasons they've been able to claw their way back into the race is their phenom third baseman, Evan Longoria.
After a slow (and frankly, unlucky) start to the season, Longoria has hit his stride in the final month of the season, and that means much more than just catching fire at the plate. Longo also has great range at the hot corner and the ability to fire a bullet to first base, second base or wherever the ball needs to be to get a runner in time.
Baltimore Orioles: Nick Markakis
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At times, finding a bright spot for the Baltimore Orioles can be a bit of a challenge. After a hot start to the season, Buck Showalter's club faltered and fell back into the cellar of the American League East, and while there is certainly hope to be had for the future of this franchise, at times, it's hard to put a finger on.
One of the franchise's most obvious bright spots has been right fielder Nick Markakis, who was drafted and developed by the O's into a fine young outfielder. While, by his standards, 2011 has been a bit of a down year offensively, Markakis boasts one of the strongest arms in baseball.
Playing right field in Camden Yards can be a challenge, and it seems as though Markakis has come as close to being comfortable out there as is possible. In more than 1,000 innings this season, he has generated an rARM rating of six, collecting 14 outfield assists along the way.
Detroit Tigers: Delmon Young
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The Detroit Tigers have to be one of this season's most surprising teams. Sure, everyone expected them to compete for the division title, but to be this good? I can't imagine that too many people pictured that. Led by the exploits of Cy Young/MVP candidate Justin Verlander, the Tigers have taken the AL Central by storm and will be a tough challenge for any team they meet in the postseason.
One of the underrated additions to this club (and maybe an under-the-radar move in general) has to be the acquisition of Delmon Young. An MVP candidate in his own right last year, the Tigers acquired the outfielder from the Minnesota Twins and he has since given the lineup a nice boost.
Moreover, he brings with him to Comerica Park a solid throwing arm. He may not have the same kind of explosive arm that other guys on this list do, but he is certainly the best of a weak bunch.
Since arriving in Detroit, his metrics have taken a turn for the worse, but over the course of his career, he has displayed a strong arm on more than one occasion.
Minnesota Twins: Michael Cuddyer
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On the other hand, one of this season's most disappointing teams is the Minnesota Twins. Riddled by injuries and players performing below par, the Twins have plummeted to the bottom of the AL Central with velocity. Well out of the race by July 31, they had an opportunity to move a few veterans for prospects, but chose not to go that route, and one of the game's most popular names at the time, Michael Cuddyer, stayed put.
Cuddyer appealed to many a contender because of his versatility and offensive prowess, but it seems that lately, many a fan has forgotten about the cannon that Cuddyer owns and uses frequently. While he doesn't have great range, when he does manage to get to the ball, it gets to its target in a hurry.
Just a notch below the "elite" arms, Cuddyer certainly has one of the strongest, more accurate arms in baseball.
Chicago White Sox: Alexei Ramirez
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Speaking of underachieving teams, how about those Chicago White Sox?
No slugger in baseball has struggled more than Adam Dunn, who is struggling to keep his batting average hovering above his number of strikeouts, and the rest of the Sox offense has been unable to pick up the slack.
So with that in mind, there hasn't been much to be happy about going on in Chicago this season, but if you're looking for some entertainment, just watch Alexei Ramirez.
Not many shortstops have been able to figure out the Major League like Ramirez, who has evolved not only into a threat at the plate, but one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. He has excellent range to both sides of his body, and of course, the one thing that puts him on this list is that cannon he has for a right arm.
Kansas City Royals: Jeff Francoeur
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When Jeff Francoeur first came to the big league with the Atlanta Braves back in 2005, I was among the masses of people that legitimately thought he had a chance to be a mainstay there for a long time. Needless to say, I was very wrong. He flamed out at the plate and the Braves gave up, trading him to the New York Mets.
Now with the Kansas City Royals, Francoeur has been a pleasant surprise. As the Royals wait for some of their top prospects to turn into everyday regulars, Francoeur, expected to be a stopgap, has been much more than that, posting an OPS of .808 with 19 home runs.
They may not have expected that kind of offense, but one thing that was anticipated when he signed a deal with the Royals in the offseason was a strong arm in right field. Francoeur hasn't disappointed, generating an rARM rating of nine in more than 1,300 innings, collecting 16 outfield assists along the way.
Cleveland Indians: Shin-Soo Choo
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Once upon a time, the Seattle Mariners traded Shin-Soo Choo to the Cleveland Indians for Ben Broussard. Do you think they'd like a do-over?
Aside from an injury-plagued 2011 season, Choo has done nothing but good things for the Indians since the trade, helping to anchor the offense and create runs like few others could. He's made a name for himself in right field, and even numerous injuries won't sap the strength of his throwing arm, which generated an rARM of 12 for the Tribe in 2010.
Some may consider it unfair to give Choo, who was limited to just 85 games this season, the nod. Take a look at the competition though. In other words, there is none.
Seattle Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki
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Please welcome to the list the man who not only has one of the strongest arms we've ever seen, but inspired a worldwide craze for the game of baseball when he made the jump to the MLB way back in 2001, Ichiro Suzuki.
After arriving in the United States and joining the Seattle Mariners, Ichiro became a national sensation, inspiring baseball fans everywhere with not only a vacuum-like glove and cannon arm, but one of the most consistent bats in the world, to boot. He made arguably one of the best throws of all time when he gunned down then-Oakland Athletics' outfielder Terrence Long at third base, and subsequently, became a fan favorite to baseball lovers everywhere.
Fast-forward to 2011, and maybe age is catching up with the Japanese wonder, or maybe he's just having a down season for the first time in his career. Though his offensive numbers are down across the board, Ichiro brings his arm-cannon to the game daily.
Texas Rangers: Adrian Beltre
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For a while, I considered giving Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton the nod here, but after some thought and a close comparison with his teammate Adrian Beltre, I decided against it and chose the latter.
Playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Beltre slugged his way to a big free-agent contract with the Seattle Mariners in what seems like forever ago. Of course, we all remember how the story goes from there. Injuries and the spacious Safeco Field sapped his offensive prowess, and in order to regain some of his value, signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox.
It was at that juncture that we really saw Beltre get back into All-Star form. Not only was he dropping to one knee and hitting bombs over the "Green Monster," but he was showing great range at third base and a cannon from any fielding position.
That resurgence led to a rise in his value, and once again, he cashed in on a huge free-agent deal, this time with the Rangers. Beltre's return to the AL West has been much more pleasant, as he's been able to, for the most part, stay healthy and productive, showing off his gun whenever the opportunity arises.
Los Angeles Angels: Erick Aybar
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I think that Erick Aybar is one of those guys who flies under the radar, at least, on a national scale, but enjoys doing so—especially this season. He isn't going to wow anyone with offensive numbers, but he'll contribute a bit of everything to the club. He plays solid defense and if any specific "tool" is going to stand out, it has to be his arm.
Looking for a guy to represent the Angels, I spent a lot of time watching some video on Aybar, and boy, was I impressed. For a guy of his height and body size, I was legitimately surprised at how strong of a thrower he is from shortstop, be it deep in the hole, off-balance or whatever the situation.
Without a strong arm in the outfield to really give him a challenge, Aybar is the Angels' strongest throwing arm, with ease.
Oakland Athletics: Cliff Pennington
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Cliff Pennington is an interesting guy. After a very good 2010 campaign, I had him as an early favorite to be one of this year's best shortstops, but, statistically at least, that has not been the case. His range—which was among the best for shortstops in 2010—plummeted into the negatives, thanks in large part to injury.
One thing that has not changed and cannot change is his strong right arm. As long as he continues to make improvements both offensively and in the field, he should be a solid middle infielder for the Oakland Athletics for years to come.
Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmy Rollins
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I gave both Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino a lot of consideration before settling on Jimmy Rollins, but any of the three are good selections here.
In the long run, I decided that while both Pence and Victorino have strong, above average arms, Rollins is the guy who saves this team a lot of stress thanks to strong throws that I'm positive few others could make.
Even as an aging, offensively declining shortstop, Rollins is one of the most valuable commodities in the National League. Not only does he have a cannon for a right arm, but he has incredible range to both sides of his body and more often than not, gobbles up anything within striking distance.
Let's face it. Any kind of offense that Rollins provides is just gravy.
Atlanta Braves: Jason Heyward
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The Atlanta Braves surprised me a bit here. When researching for this slide, I almost expected a tough decision. This is a franchise that develops very good players with above average tools, but when you really break it down, there just aren't many "cannon" arms on this team.
One guy who does have an above average arm hasn't been playing a whole lost this season. Once heralded as the greatest thing since slice bread, Jason Heyward hit his sophomore season the same way a lot of good young players do—slumping.
Though his offensive numbers have regressed this season, Heyward has not taken that to the field. He still plays an above average defense in right field and has a strong arm to boot. Reigning in some accuracy will do his statistics a favor, but all in all, he is the best of a rather weak crop.
The good news for Braves fans? He's only going to get better.
Washington Nationals: Rick Ankiel
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If the first paragraph of your life story begins, "Once upon a time, I was a starting pitcher with a fastball that sat in the high 90s, but all that has changed. Now, you can put me in coach. I'm a center fielder," (completely fictionalized) you know that you have a strong arm.
That's exactly the case for Washington Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel, a former starting pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals who made the transition to slugging outfielder. Though injuries have limited his playing time in 2011 and by proxy, cut in on his offensive numbers, Ankiel's arm has been stronger than ever.
In just over 770 innings in the outfield this season, Ankiel has generated an rARM rating of nine, collecting nine outfield assists, including a candidate for play of the year, throwing a bullet from the center field warning track to nail a runner at third base.
New York Mets: Jose Reyes
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Not much has gone right for the New York Mets this season, but Jose Reyes has. Of course, you could make an argument that not even their All-Star shortstop has gone completely right this season, having spent two lengthy stints on the disabled list. Nonetheless, we have to keep some silver lining evident, so here goes.
By most standards, Reyes has played some of the best baseball of his life in 2011, posting an OPS of .857—the highest of his big-league career, with double digits in a number of offensive statistics like doubles, triples and runs scored.
Offensively, he has been the Mets' 2011 MVP.
Defensively, he has been just as good, improving his range from a poor 2010 season. What he has been lacking in range, so to speak, Reyes makes up for with a strong throwing arm. Whereas some shortstops would have to take a few seconds to gather themselves and throw a strike to first base, Reyes just winds back and lets it rip.
So if you're a Mets fan looking for some silver lining, know that Reyes not only has one of the game's best arms, but is having one of the best seasons of his career, if not the greatest.
Wait, what's that you say? Reyes is one of the best free agents on the market this winter? Shoot.
Florida Marlins: Mike Stanton
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Mike Stanton is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in baseball, and no, I'm not talking about the journeyman reliever of the same name. I am, of course, talking about the budding star of the Florida Marlins, who has used his extraordinary power to launch mammoth home runs, and to place him on this list, displayed a cannon for a right arm.
For a guy who is as big as he is, Stanton has surprisingly good range in right field and an impressive throwing arm. In more than 1,100 innings, he has generated an rARM rating of four, collecting nine outfield assists in the process.
Milwaukee Brewers: Yuniesky Betancourt
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I'm almost ashamed to write this slide (That was kind of sarcastic, but it feels so serious!). You mean to tell me that with all of the great players on these Milwaukee Brewers, from Ryan Braun to Prince Fielder, from Corey Hart to Rickie Weeks, none of them have what would qualify as a "cannon" for an arm?
After watching more video than I ever thought I'd need, the answer was obvious.
The Brewers don't have any arms that are well above average!
If you have to pick one guy for this list, I guess you go with Yuniesky Betancourt, a guy who I had never thought of originally because of his reputation as a dreadful defender. Looking over his numbers, that is a justified accusation! He has terrible range and an average glove, if that.
If dropping the ball does anything for his reputation, maybe it's something trivial like dropping the ball gives him more opportunities to make desperate throws to first base, showing off his arm!
No, he's just the best of a weak bunch for the Brew Crew.
St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina
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Make no bones about it. Yadier Molina is much more than the best defensive catcher in all of baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals backstop is arguably the best defensive player in baseball, period.
Like a lot of extraordinary defensive players, you'll be happy with whatever offense a guy like Molina brings to the plate, but the contributions he makes for the Cards defensively are more than adequate.
Not only does he do an excellent job of handling a tough pitching staff with a number of different types of pitchers, any batter who manages to reach base should think twice before running against him. Though the majority of his defensive statistics have fallen this season, there is no denying the success Molina has had in that regard over the course of his career.
Anyone who has ever seen him attempt to throw out a runner at second base or make that quick, snap throw back to first knows why he's on this list. Molina has an absolute cannon for a right arm.
Cincinnati Reds: Jay Bruce
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The 2011 campaign has been a disappointing one for the Cincinnati Reds. After winning the NL Central crown last season, the Reds believed that they had the personnel, especially the pitching, to win the division yet again this season, and achieve the more lofty goal of going on a run of NL Central dominance.
Obviously, that was not the case, and the Reds' streak of division titles will end at one.
Without a legitimate ace, the team's cast of average pitchers was not enough to conquer the tough offensive teams of the NL Central, and injuries limited its own offensive output. One man who regressed steadily from his 2010 totals signed a hefty long-term contract extension not too long ago. That of course would be Reds outfielder Jay Bruce.
One aspect of his game that has not suffered is his defense, however. Though statistics measuring his range dropped, the strength of his arm certainly did not. Playing in close to 1,300 innings, Bruce generated an rARM rating of two, collecting nine outfield assists thus far.
Chicago Cubs: Starlin Castro
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I won't mention how the Chicago Cubs are mired in yet another losing, World-Series-less season (whoops!), but I will attempt to provide a beacon of hope for the future. Sure, there are plenty of question marks about the future of the Cubs, from whether or not they'll make a serious run at Albert Pujols to who will be sitting in the general manager's chair this offseason, but one thing they won't have to worry about is shortstop.
Starlin Castro is going to be there for a long time.
We've watched the young Cubs shortstop develop from prospect to premier player, and he has all the tools to keep getting better. The offense will grow with experience, but one thing you can't teach is a strong arm, and Castro has that nailed down as well.
With good range, he gets to a lot of balls, and though his accuracy is shaky at times, I think he leaves little doubt as to whether or not he'll be able to make a strong throw to first base. If the Cubs want to turn things around for the future, they'll have to rely heavily on Castro and build around him.
Wouldn't hurt to sign Pujols, either.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Pedro Alvarez
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Pedro Alvarez is struggling mightily at the plate this season, and Pittsburgh Pirates fans are saying their prayers that the man dubbed their "third baseman of the future" is able to figure it out at the dish and return to his slugging ways. Needless to say, a ridiculous drop in power (.088 ISO) and OPS of just .546 aren't exactly encouraging figures.
He hasn't shown much improvement in the field either, if any at all. Despite that, he has the tools to be a good defender, including a strong arm that allows him to make tough throws across the diamond. There isn't much more to say about Alvarez (I won't kick him while he's down) other than if he gets his act together, he's going to be a very good Major League player.
Houston Astros: Jordan Schafer
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There has been a lot of obvious turnover with the Houston Astros' roster this season, and admittedly, I'm not familiar with all of the scouting reports on a lot of their younger players. I am going with Jordan Schafer for a couple of reasons, but mainly because I've seen him play and there isn't much competition here.
He doesn't have an arm that you would consider well above average, but Schafer is a very good defensive center fielder with good range. He won't be able to fill the shoes that Michael Bourn left behind, but is a solid replacement.
As I said, he doesn't have the greatest of arms, and a young player who has come up in recent months may be able to replace him here. If that's the case, I'm all ears!
Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton
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The Arizona Diamondbacks are easily this year's "feel good" story. After the San Francisco Giants took home the gold last season, baseball people everywhere left the D'backs for dead.
The excuses were the same. They didn't have the pitching. The offense was questionable, even in favorable Chase Field. The starting staff had no ace and, overall, the team's leadership was questionable.
Fast-forward to the end of September and all of the skeptics have had to bite their tongues. General manager Kevin Towers assembled a surprisingly good bullpen, while Ian Kennedy has emerged as a legitimate ace. Kirk Gibson is a candidate for manager of the year.
But most of all, Justin Upton has finally developed into the legitimate MVP candidate we all thought he would be, leaving us wondering where they'd be without him.
Offensively, the numbers speak for themselves. A .917 OPS and a new career-high in home runs (31) is certainly nothing to scoff at. However, it has been his defensive prowess that helped to complete his projection as a five-tool player. Upton has shown great range in the outfield and the arm speaks for itself.
Justin is quickly making brother BJ an afterthought.
San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey
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Imagine where the San Francisco Giants would be right now if they had this guy for the entire season. After making it to the big leagues in 2010 and leading the Giants to a World Series title, Buster Posey looked like he was on pace to help them back in 2011. After a collision at home plate against the Florida Marlins, Posey injured several areas of his leg and was done for the 2011 season.
Losing his bat was devastating for a lineup that was already struggling offensively, but losing him behind the plate was equally as painful.
Posey, despite being just a year removed from his rookie campaign, has already garnered quite the reputation for his game-calling skills and the drop-off between he and the likes of Chris Steward and Eli Whiteside is painfully obvious.
Baseball fans everywhere have missed him on the highlight reels he normally frequents with a cannon-like arm from behind the plate that few men attempt to run on. When he returns for the 2012 season, Posey will provide an instant boost for the Giants, both offensively and defensively.
Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki
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This guy can do everything. Some people were surprised that the Colorado Rockies would sign a guy already under contract for a few more years to an even longer extension, but when you have a shortstop who plays well above average defense and hits for contact and power, you lock him up and don't think twice about it.
That's what the Rockies did with Troy Tulowitzki.
He responded to the contract extension by kicking off the 2011 season like his pants were on fire. His torrid pace had him as an early favorite for the NL's MVP Award. Injuries and a return to the norm have cooled him off a bit, but Tulowitzki's "norm" is well above league average.
Speaking of well above average, have you seen his arm? This guy makes routine plays exciting with that cannon. Anything hit to the right side of his body and into the hole has potential for highlight-reel material.
San Diego Padres: Chase Headley
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The San Diego Padres don't really have a guy with an arm who jumps out and grabs your attention, so we'll go with the best of the bunch and give the honor to third baseman Chase Headley.
After somewhat of a good season in 2010, Headley has struggled with injuries in 2011, playing just 107 games thus far.
In my book, he is one of those undervalued guys where you don't know what you've got until it's gone. He won't be winning any awards any time soon, but he's a good offensive player who is going to give you a good at-bat, and defensively, he has good range and a strong arm to make tough plays across the diamond.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp
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Even through an abysmal 2010 season, baseball pundits around the world have always said that if Matt Kemp gets his act together, he's going to be a perennial MVP candidate for a long time. They were right.
With his 2011 season as the prototype, Kemp has once again become the guy the Los Angeles Dodgers thought they were running out to center field daily, hitting for contact and power, showing speed and, most importantly for this list, playing defense.
Kemp has never been the best defensive center fielder in baseball, but he's much better than his dreadful 2010 metrics show. He has improved his range mightily in 2011, which I'm guessing comes from a return of confidence, helping him generate an rARM rating of five in close to 1,300 innings to go along with 11 outfield assists.
What Do You Think?
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So what do you think? I'm sure this is going to be a topic with more than a few differing opinions, and I'm curious to see who you think are the best throwers in baseball? Agree or disagree with the guys that I've listed? Want to mention someone else?
Make sure to leave a comment below, and as always, thanks for reading!