In Wednesday’s game between the Dodgers and Rockies, Colorado led 2-1 heading into the 8th inning. The Dodgers scored two in the top of the 8th, the Rockies answered with three in the bottom of the inning, and the game went to the 9th with the Rockies up 5-to-3. L.A. had runners on first and second, with two outs, and Dee Gordon at the plate. On a 2-2 pitch, Gordon hit one into the gap in right center field. Rockies right fielder Michael Cuddyer fielded the ball and threw it to cut-off man Troy Tulowitzki, who then made a weak and off-line throw home. Both runners scored and the game was tied.
After the play, I remarked on Twitter how surprised I was by the weak throw home from Tulowitzki. Yes, Tulowitzki’s made six errors so far in 2012, matching his season total from 2011. But the two-time Gold Glover has tremendous range and a very strong arm. He caught the ball cleanly and with plenty of time to get off a good throw, but didn’t. Here’s the video of the play.
Immediately, several Rockies fans and bloggers responded to me on Twitter with “whether on offense or defense, Tulo freezes up in the clutch” or words to that effect. Those comments surprised me more than Tulowitzki’s poor play. To the FanGraphs leader board and, behold, Tulowitzki has been the least clutch hitter in baseball over the last three seasons. My colleague Paul Swydan wrote about Tulowitzki’s clutch problem last August, but noted that Tulo was moving in the right direction, improving his hitting in high-leverage situations. So far this season, however, he’s heading in the wrong direction, with a -.10 clutch rating, ranking him 112th out of 184 qualified batters. Of course, clutch ratings will have big swings at this point in the season, with fewer high-leverage plate appearances per player. Just a look at Matt Kemp‘s -.12 clutch rating so far tells you it’s too early to form a judgment.
But what about Tulowitzki’s defense? Does his glove freeze up in the clutch, too? We don’t have a clutch rating for defense, so firing up the leader board will do us no good.
Optimally, we’d review the play-by-play of each game Tulowitzki plays to see whether he shows any tendency on defense in high-leverage situations — in the later innings, with the game close or tied. The question isn’t just whether he makes any errors in high leverage situations, but whether he gets to a ball late or rushes a throw or fails to make a play in some fashion when the game is on the line. That’s a time consuming task, but an interesting one. So that’s exactly what I plan to do over the course of the season.
So today’s post is the first of several. And today I focus on the less time-consuming task: looking at the six errors charged to Tulowtizki through the Rockies’ first twenty-four games to see if they came in high-leverage situations. It’s a very small sample size and, therefore, not conclusive of anything. Just the beginning of the inquiry.
Tulowitzki’s first error came on April 9, in a game against the Giants at Coors Field. The Giants were leading 4-0 in the 5th inning. Not early, not late. And while a 4-0 lead on the road is typically a nice cushion, that’s never the case at Coors. San Francisco had two runners on with no outs when Angel Pagan hit a ball to Tulowitzki, who made a throwing error and all runners were safe. The next batter, Brandon Crawford, hit a bases-clearing double, putting the Giants up 7-0. That was the final score.
On April 14 in a game against the Diamondbacks, Tulowitzki made two errors in one inning, again costing the Rockies a run. The Rockies led by one run in the top of the 6th. Getting late, close game. With one out and the bases empty, Tulowitzki erred on a throw to first, allowing Aaron Hill to reach. The next batter, John McDonald, hit a double, scoring Hill. Tulowitzki fielded the next ball cleanly, keeping McDonald at second, for the second out. But he erred on the next play, another throwing error, sending McDonald to third. The Rockies got the third out, so no further damage from Tulowitzki’s errors. Colorado went on to win the game 8-7.
Tulowitzki’s next error came on April 16 in a game against the Padres. San Diego was leading 3-1 in the 4th inning. Early in the game, but still close. With runners on the corners and one out, Tulowitzki erred in fielding a ball to short, allowing the runner on third to score. You can see the play in the game recap video here. The next batter singled, scoring another run. When the inning was over, the Padres were up 5-1. They won the game 7-1.
Errors five and six came on April 17, also against the Padres. Tulowitzki’s first error came in the 3rd inning, with the pitcher, Anthony Bass, leading off. An errant throw allowed Bass to reach first. With one out, Tulowitzki turned a double play to end the inning. (He was involved in four double plays on the day). But in the 7th, with the Rockies leading 3-0, Tulowitzki was again on the hot seat on defense. The Padres had runners on first and second with one out, Andy Parrino hit a routine grounder to shortstop, and the ball went right through Tulowitzki’s legs. You can see the play in this game recap video. The Rockies went on to win the game 5-3.
In their first twenty-four games, the Rockies have played twelves games decided by two runs or fewer. Four of Tulowitzki’s errors came in two of those games, but only one error came in the 7th inning or later. Looking only at the errors, Tulowitzki hasn’t been particularly unclutch on defense so far this season. But, as I noted, the errors, are the beginning, not the end of the inquiry. I’ll be back later in the season with several posts looking at Tulowitzki’s overall defense in high-leverage situations. Stay tuned.