Troy Tulowitzki: Injury-Prone, Yet Still the Best

Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

Troy Tulowitzki has been bitten by the injury bug throughout his career, but he's a fantasy monster when healthy and worth the risk of a high draft pick.

In 2007, 2009, and 2011, Troy Tulowitzki played in 155, 151, and 143 games, respectively. In 2008, 2010, and 2012, he played in 101, 122, and 47 games, respectively. So it just stands to reason that in 2013, he'll stay healthy and break through the 140 game margin again, right? I mean, he's got the whole odd numbered year thing going.

Ok, so it's probably silly to go all in thinking Tulo has some sort of freaky Bret Saberhagen-ish on-again, off-again pattern going on, but for my money he's still the top shortstop in fantasy drafts. I say this as a man who got completely burned by him last year after spending a ton of money to get him in an auction draft (the amount I spent on Tulo was the most spent on any player in that particular draft). When healthy, Tulowitzki is hands down the top shortstop in fantasy baseball. I mean, do you understand how bad production at shortstop is these days? Tulo had an .846 OPS in his truncated season, and that constitutes a poor figure for him; he'd OPSed over .900 in each of his three seasons prior. However, that same .846 clip would have led all shortstops in 2012!

If groin pull-marred Tulo can still outproduce all shortstops, just imagine what that same guy could do given a full season's worth of health. Actually, we don't even have to imagine. In 2011, Tulowitzki finished with a .916 OPS; no other shortstop cracked .900. In 2010, Tulo OPSed .949 and was a complete monster down the stretch. Again, no other shortstop reached the .900 OPS mark, or came close, for that matter.

Need I go on? Fine. In 2011, he was the only shortstop to reach 100 RBIs and one of only two to hit 30 home runs. In 2010 he led all shortstops in home runs and RBIs, despite missing 40 games. Oh, and he plays in Coors Field, so if he suddenly decides to stop hitting on the road (it hasn't happened yet), he'll still be a worthwhile fantasy player. Bottom line, if he could be guaranteed to stay healthy, not only is he easily the best shortstop in fantasy baseball, but he's on the short list for first fantasy pick overall.

Ah, but the injuries. Tulo's groin injury is a scary one in that it seemed relatively minor when he first went down with it in May, but he then suffered setback after setback before finally being shut down for good. Groin injuries have a tendency to linger, and it can be especially deadly for a player who plays a position as demanding and active as shortstop. Tulo's 2008 and 2010 injuries were a bit freakish, but no matter how much we wish to dismiss his maladies as due to poor luck, we have to give him that dreaded "injury-prone" tag.

Despite all this, I think he's worth the risk and is still my pick as the top fantasy shortstop. Get Tulo through 130 games and you have a legit fantasy MVP, a guy who can give you premium power at a position where almost none exists. He's good at literally everything at the plate. He hits for average, he has a ton of power, he knocks in runs, he draws walks, and he doesn't strike out much. The only downside is that he probably won't steal 20 bases again, but if he's bashing 30 homers, who cares? If he were a first baseman, he'd be a legit top ten and maybe even top five. As a shortstop? He laps the field.

There are obviously concerns coming off the groin injury, but just because a player is injury prone early in his career doesn't mean he's going to stay injury prone. Paul Molitor and Larry Walker, for instance, were injury-ravaged wrecks early on in their respective careers, but went on to play forever. Once again, in two of Tulo's injury seasons, the DL stays were caused by freak injuries (one was a hand injury caused by a splintered bat). There is some talk of moving Tulo off of shortstop to keep him healthy, but he's such a good fielder at the position that I think the Rockies will keep him there until he proves he absolutely can't stay off the DL while playing there.

So when we go into draft day, I'm still targeting Tulowitzki. Shortstop is a very hard position to get good production at these days; we're a far cry from the Nomar/Jeter/Arod days of yore. Tulo is definitely a risk, but the reward is so high that I think he's worth the gamble. Other fantasy owners might be so freaked over his injury woes that he'll drop in drafts. If this happens, then pounce. The chance of getting a 30-homer, 100 RBI shortstop for a relative bargain should make any manager drool.

If not Tulo, the consensus runner up for first shortstop taken looks like Hanley Ramirez, who recovered his power nicely in 2012 and still steals bases, but who has seen his batting average tank in the past two years. Ramirez has been a pain in the butt for fantasy managers the past two years, and to his real managers for seemingly his entire career. Ramirez can still rock 20 homers and 20 steals, but his overall numbers have been declining for three seasons, and that's worrisome as he nears 30. His line drive percentages have been down while his strikeouts have gone up. Danger, Will Robinson (or, er, Will Smith, since we're in LA)! Maybe the change of environment thing will re-energize Hanley in 2013, but if you're going into the draft looking for a power/steals combo, go with upside and target Starlin Castro.

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