If you want to catch up on all the previous 2017 player profiles, check out my archive here.
Today’s topic is Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. You know, the guy that used to be a perennial first round fantasy pick and leader at his position offensively. Maybe his many, many injuries have taken their toll, maybe he is being hit hard by age-related decline. I don’t know, but look at what has been happening to him in recent years:
He has spent two seasons now as a league-average hitter by wRC+. This is after putting together an MVP-worthy first half in 2014, before getting injured (again). In case you missed it, a massive surge of young, talented shortstops have come into the league the last two seasons (Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, and on and on). This took Tulo from king of his position to an injury-prone afterthought. That’s not always a bad thing in fantasy because it might make his draft price so low that he’s a great bargain. As long as he can produce good value for his price, he could still be a savvy option next year. That depends on what kind of numbers he will put up in 2017. And that is the subject of the very post you are reading. Imagine that!
We can start by looking at what has fueled his decline. You can see that his batting average, once a lock for 0.300, has dropped hard for two years in a row. His BABIP has fallen along with it, so obviously there is some cause-and-effect there. I don’t believe that explains all of it, however. His 2015 BABIP of 0.331 was actually above his career average of 0.316 and yet he still only hit 0.280. In 2013, he had about the same BABIP, but a 0.312 average.
So, what did happen? First, his plate discipline has fallen hard. His K% in 2015 and 2016 were higher than any season since his second MLB season in 2007. His BB% set new career lows the last two years. That is all supported by near career-lows in swinging strike rate and contact %. He just isn’t identifying pitches like he used to, for some reason. And that poor pitch recognition is leading to poor contact (for him).
In recent years, his Hard% has been dropping. It’s not as low as 2006, 2008, 2011, or 2012 yet, but all of those years except 2011 were cut very short due to injuries. Of course he’s had injuries off and on the last two years as well, but the point I’m trying to make is that he isn’t hitting the ball as hard.
For a bit more on that, how about exit velocity? In 2016, he averaged 93.9 mph on fly balls and liners, good for 79th in baseball. In 2015, he was at 92.4 mph and 120th. If you prefer average home run and fly ball distance, per baseballheatmaps.com, here are his ranks in baseball from 2013 to 2016: 14, 34, 136, 109. Small numbers are good here. That means he showed some of the best power in baseball that season. Clearly, recent years have not been kind and his power is down.
His home run total in 2016 turned out ok mostly due to some good fortune. Nine of his homers were considered “just enough” by ESPN’s home run tracker. That was enough to put him on the “just enough” “leaderboard”. Also, keep in mind that the league hit the ball harder and farther in 2016 than in almost any season in recent memory, so his decline relative to his peers is even worse that his own personal decline would lead you to believe.
So, he clearly doesn’t have the same plate discipline or power that he used to and we shouldn’t count on those suddenly returning in 2017. Sure, you could say he wasn’t fully healthy in 2015 and 2016, but that’s a perennial issue with him so it’s kind of built into all of his numbers. Let’s put together a reasonable projection for his 2017, based heavily on the two most recent years. Keep in mind that he is 32 years old now and not likely to have a big rebound. I guess he could pull and Ian Kinsler or Robinson Cano and suddenly hit 30 homers at age 33-34 like they did, but I wouldn’t count on it.
0.270/0.335/0.465, with a 0.300 BABIP, 19 HR, 70 R, 75 RBI, and one steal in 520 PA.
For context, I looked at the ESPN player rater. Tulo finished at #26 among shortstops this year. Wow. I didn’t realize how high the bar was in 5x5 leagues for that position. He was one notch below Alcides Escobar! My 2017 projection would probably match Starlin Castro’s value from 2016, which was good for #20 on the SS Player Rater. Certainly an improvement over 2016 for Tulo, but not enough to make him a great sleeper.
He should be a solid middle infield option or deep league (20 teams or AL-only) starter at shortstop, but don’t expect much more than that. He’s just a declining, injury-prone former star that will give you solid, unspectacular results. Tschus!