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Jhonny Peralta is the best shortstop in baseball

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Jhonny Peralta is sometimes an afterthought when it comes to discussing the best shortstops in baseball, but since joining the Cardinals, nobody has been better.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
When I think about the best shortstops in baseball, Troy Tulowitzki is the first player that comes to mind. He is incredibly talented on both offense and defense, and despite his injuries still manages to put up great numbers. When I think of defense, Andrelton Simmons is naturally the first player I think about. He might be the best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith. When I think of other good shortstops over the last decade, Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes come up, and Ian Desmond has been a solid player for a few years now. Heading into the season, ESPN's poll of experts ranked Peralta sixth among shortstops behind Tulowitzki, Desmond, Simmons, Reyes, and Starlin Castro.

Jhonny Peralta does not feel like one of the best shortstops in baseball without gaudy offensive numbers, amazing defensive highlights, or a year with an MVP candidacy, but those feelings fail to appreciate Peralta's consistent above-average offense and his incredibly steady play at one of the most difficult defensive positions. As Tulowtizki and Reyes have struggled to stay healthy, Rollins has declined and Hanley Ramirez has been removed from the position, Jhonny Peralta has been one of the very best shortstops over the last half-decade. Joe took a look at the combined production of Peralta and Kolten Wong a few weeks ago, and the two players have continued to form an excellent combination. While Wong is still coming into his own, Peralta has been producing for years.

From 2010 through the present, here are the fWAR leaders, from the FanGraphs Leaderboards, at shortstop:

Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Troy Tulowitzki 2378 113 0.309 0.381 0.543 137 22.6
Jhonny Peralta 3040 88 0.271 0.332 0.434 110 18.6
Jose Reyes 3049 48 0.296 0.344 0.432 112 18.0
Jimmy Rollins 3181 75 0.249 0.320 0.388 95 16.2
Alexei Ramirez 3425 65 0.273 0.308 0.394 88 15.8
J.J. Hardy 2929 94 0.258 0.301 0.414 93 15.7
Ian Desmond 3256 91 0.268 0.316 0.425 102 15.5
Hanley Ramirez 2689 98 0.281 0.355 0.467 126 15.4
Erick Aybar 3163 37 0.274 0.315 0.382 96 14.9
Elvis Andrus 3635 16 0.271 0.334 0.339 83 13.5

Peralta has certainly received a little more attention of late, but he has put up solid numbers for quite some time. At one time moved from shortstop to third base, since his trade to the Tigers in 2010, Peralta has been a full-time shortstop and he has been one of the very best baseball. Five-plus seasons is a long time to look back when trying to consider the best players in the game right now. Moving forward one year from 2011 to the present, the leaderboard looks like this:

Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Jhonny Peralta 2425 73 0.276 0.337 0.444 114 17.4
Troy Tulowitzki 1849 86 0.308 0.381 0.536 136 17
Jose Reyes 2446 37 0.299 0.349 0.434 114 15.5
Ian Desmond 2682 81 0.268 0.317 0.432 106 14.7
Jimmy Rollins 2787 67 0.25 0.32 0.389 96 13.8

Peralta is actually on top of this over the last four-plus seasons, edging out Tulowitzki for the top spot. From 2012 on, a younger player unseats both Peralta and Tulowtizki.

Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Ian Desmond 2043 73 0.272 0.323 0.455 114 13.7
Jhonny Peralta 1849 52 0.269 0.335 0.433 112 12.6
Troy Tulowitzki 1243 56 0.31 0.385 0.533 137 11.6
Hanley Ramirez 1685 67 0.283 0.351 0.484 132 10.2
Jimmy Rollins 2156 51 0.245 0.315 0.387 94 10.2

Ian Desmond, 29 years old and a free agent at the end of this season, has put up very good numbers over the past few seasons, including more than 20 home runs in each of the last three years. Moving forward one more year, Tulowitzki moves back in front.

Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Troy Tulowitzki 1040 48 0.315 0.39 0.542 142 10.4
Jhonny Peralta 1264 39 0.283 0.348 0.456 124 10.3
Ian Desmond 1496 48 0.265 0.319 0.435 109 9.0
Hanley Ramirez 1018 43 0.300 0.370 0.516 150 7.7
Andrelton Simmons 1417 27 0.246 0.293 0.369 83 7.3

Despite averaging around 110 games per season over the past six years, Tulowitzki has managed to have five five-win seasons during that time. When completely healthy, he is an MVP candidate, although he has gotten off to a slow start this season. Since Peralta joined the Cardinals, here are the fWAR numbers for shortstops:

Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Jhonny Peralta 816 28 0.272 0.343 0.456 125 6.5
Troy Tulowitzki 528 23 0.318 0.39 0.543 142 5.1
Brandon Crawford 734 16 0.259 0.336 0.416 112 5.0
Erick Aybar 826 8 0.277 0.320 0.367 98 4.8
Ian Desmond 841 28 0.253 0.310 0.420 104 4.2

Peralta is on top, and it is not really close. His combination of offense and defense has made him the best shortstop in baseball over the last 14 months. His ZiPS projection for the rest of the season has him slightly behind Tulowitzki, but given the lead Peralta has, he will be tough to catch, although for 2015 only, Brandon Crawford is the current projected leader for the end of the season.

Moving away from shortstops, here are the most valuable players i the National League by fWAR since Peralta joined the Cardinals:

Name PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Andrew McCutchen 833 0.301 0.397 0.522 158 7.9
Anthony Rizzo 813 0.293 0.399 0.537 158 7.7
Giancarlo Stanton 836 0.275 0.378 0.544 150 7.6
Buster Posey 783 0.311 0.368 0.485 143 7.3
Todd Frazier 847 0.270 0.339 0.479 127 7.0
Paul Goldschmidt 669 0.311 0.409 0.567 164 6.6
Jhonny Peralta 816 0.272 0.343 0.456 125 6.5
Anthony Rendon 683 0.287 0.351 0.473 130 6.5
Matt Carpenter 893 0.284 0.378 0.421 127 6.3
Carlos Gomez 763 0.281 0.349 0.477 129 6.3

Jhonny Peralta did not come through the Cardinals' minor league system, they did not make a major trade for him, and although he was signed to a decent-sized deal as a free agent, he is not even in the top-3 in terms of Cardinals' salaries. Shortstop is a difficult position to fill, and based on his production and projections, he just might be the best shortstop in baseball. If you had to choose a player with the most talent and highest ceiling for the year, you might still take Tulowitzki. If you were looking at future production based on age, you might take Simmons, but for right now, you might want the guy who just did this: