Troy Tulo-WIN-zki

Without making an exhaustive list, a lot more has gone wrong for the Colorado Rockies this year than has gone right. But through it all, Troy Tulowitzki has been the team’s anchor, and he is well on his way to the best season in his still young career.

While he’s never had poor discipline, one of the reasons for the improvement in Tulowitzki’s game has been his judgment at the dish. In his four full seasons prior to this one, Tulowitzki’s strikeout percentage was 16.64%. His strikeout rate had dropped steadily from his abbreviated call-up in 2006 through 2008 before spiking in 2009. But taking this season into account, that 2009 spike stands out as an outlier, as his strikeout rates in the other three years are 13.3%, 14.7% and 10.9%. That 10.9% is this year’s mark, and it represents a career low. As a result, his walk-to-strikeout ratio is at a career-high 0.87, and it ranks 18th overall in the Majors among qualified hitters.

The improved discipline does not scream fluky either, as Tulowitzki’s approach has also changed for the better. One rate that has dropped or stayed nearly the same in every year of his career is his SwStr%. From 10.9% in his ’06 call-up, Tulowitzki has slowly but surely reduced his percentage down to its veritable nubs. This season, he is swinging less, and making contact more than he ever has before. As a result, his SwStr% is down to a measly 4.2%, which is a remarkable number for someone with his power. It’s the 16th-lowest mark in the game among qualified hitters, but most of the players who perform better in this area are featherweights — only Ian Kinsler qualifies as a bopper. Taken together, the 15 are slugging just .386, and have a lowly .105 ISO. Contrast that to Tulowitzki’s .540 and .238 marks, respectively, and you can see just how unique his skill set has become.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s perfect. One area where Tulowitzki’s game is ripe for criticism is his performance in high leverage situations. No Rockies fan is likely to ever forget how Tulowitzki waved at a Brad Lidge slider with the potential winning run on first base to end the 2009 National League Division Series. He is sometimes accused of trying too hard to succeed in pressure situations, and that is borne out in the numbers. For his career, Tulowitzki has a -2.94 Clutch score. He was next to last among qualified hitters in the metric in 2009, and only six hitters fared worse last season. He is performing better this season, but is still in the bottom 25. All things considered, it’s a minor concern, but it does show that Tulowitzki does have at least one aspect of his game that he can still iron out. Because the rest of his game is more than ironed out at this point.

Early in his career, consistency was a watch word with Tulowitzki. He was branded as a slow starter, and wRC+ marks of 77, eight (yes, eight) and 82 in April ’07, ’08 and ’09 supported that claim. Through May 2009, Tulowitzki had mixed spells of brilliance — like July of 2008, when he hit .418/.468/.582 — with periods of fallowness. For instance, the very next month — August 2008 — he hit .258/.336/.361. Up through May of 2009, he never had more than two consecutive months with a wRC+ mark of 100 or better. But in his 15 months of baseball since, he has only failed to produce a wRC+ mark of 100 twice — a 98 in April of last year, and a 64 in May of this year. Critics used that poor May to once again harp on Tulo’s supposed lack of consistency, but compared to earlier in his career, it’s a blip on the radar. While his performance may swing skyward from month-to-month, the matching downward swings have all but evaporated.

In fact, Tulowitzki may just be the best player in the National League. Using WAR, he and Roy Halladay stand atop the heap as six-win players this year. On the offensive side, his wOBA, wRC+ and ISO are all top 25, and on defense, he ranks fourth overall in UZR and is tied for eighth in DRS. He is poised to have just the 31st season with 30 or more homers by a shortstop in the Integrated Era (1947-present), and if he does so, he will become just the sixth shortstop in that time frame to do so in consecutive seasons, joining Vern Stephens, Ernie Banks, Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada. But, as Eno Sarris showed yesterday, seasons themselves can be arbitrary endpoints. What happens if we sort by the past calendar year? Well, the results are even better — the top two names on the leader board are Jose Bautista, 9.3 WAR, and Troy Tulowitzki, 9.2. And over the past two calendar years, Tulo vaults the top, as his 15.0 WAR in that timeframe is tied with Justin Verlander for number one in baseball. No matter how you slice it, Tulowitzki has put himself in rarified air.

To say that Tulowitzki is the best, or one of the best shortstops in the game has become cliché. In what may turn out to be his best season, it’s time to remove the word “shortstop” from the description. And when one considers that he’s still just 26 years old, and that he’s still getting better, we may be witnessing this greatness for many years to come.




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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


37 Responses to “Troy Tulo-WIN-zki”

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  1. eric says:

    I’m more surprised that Verlander has 15 WAR over the past 2 calender years. Damn, he’s good.

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  2. Tulo has 24.4 career WAR despite having a terrible 2008 season in which he posted .9 WAR. He’s 26 years old. If that’s not Hall trajectory, I don’t know what is.

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  3. Telo says:

    I’m fairly sure this is the correct answer to the “who do you start a franchise with” question.

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    • Telo says:

      Or, of course, Mike Trout. Six of one, half dozen of the other………..

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    • I think I’d take Justin Upton. Dude’s only 23 years old and he’s already a true talent 5-6 win player. Tulo’s probably second, though you could make a case for Longo as well. Can’t go wrong with any of them

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      • Welp says:

        Way, way, waaay harder to find that kind of production at shortstop — especially without giving up defense.

        The only knock on Tulo is his contract. And I am a Justin Upton fanboy.

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      • UmYeah says:

        Yeah SS vs RF is pretty easy, although Upton’s age is certainly tempting. If you had to choose from them at the start of their careers instead of starting right now, then it’d be Tulo no doubt.

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      • Mr. wOBAto says:

        I am always intrigued about why Upton’s Home/Road splits don’t get more press, weird how when Gonzalez had similar splits last year as a 24YO RF he was largely dismissed

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    • baty says:

      Tulo’s home/road hitting splits still leave me curious as to how he’d look somewhere else, but maybe that’s nitpicking. He’s a great all around player.

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      • Jaron says:

        This year, his home-road splits are nearly dead even. That obviously hasn’t been the case his entire career, but it’s worth mentioning.

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      • jim says:

        no jaron, every good rockies hitter has massive H/R splits and can never improve them and would be a total failure on another team, don’t you know the rules?

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      • baty says:

        @ Jim

        Don’t be ridiculous… I don’t remember making a statement of having no hope for hitting success elsewhere…

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      • jim says:

        (it’s a LOLCOORZ joke)

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  4. Hurtlocker says:

    As a Giants fan I’m glad Tulo is one of the few bright spots on the Rockies.
    That guy is scary good.

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  5. Joel says:

    Pedroia is only 1 year older than Tulowitzki, also having an impressive season.

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  6. Raul Ibanez says:

    Clap clap, clap clap clap, clap clap clap clap, TULO!

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  7. Tim says:

    Evan Longoria Is younger played 1 less season and has almost the same career WAR as Tulo. Tulo is obviously great though.

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  8. Sox2727 says:

    Does the fact the he comes to the plate to a Justin Bieber song have any negative impact on his WAR?

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    • alecthegreat says:

      I wish he’d change that song sooo bad. Whereas it clearly isn’t affecting WAR, I’m pretty sure that Hall voters reject players based off of terrible at-bat songs that they’ve had in their career; I think it’s early enough for redemption though.

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      • Sox2727 says:

        When I went to Coors Field this summer I couldn’t help but die laughing when I heard that the first time he came to plate.

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      • Mr. wOBAto says:

        Last year it was Hannah Montana, the guy definitely has a sense of humor

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  9. tom says:

    if tulo played on a playoff team, he would be the clear choice for MVP. but he plays on a sub 500 team, which nearly kills his chances. ths still doesnt mean he is not the most valuable player in baseball

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  10. Mr. wOBAto says:

    Not to mention he was just coming back from a broken wrist at this time last year, the idea that Tulowitzki is likely to improve should put the NL on notice for years to come

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  11. Nicholas says:

    It appears as though he only hit 27 homeruns last year, not allowing him to hit 30 in back to back seasons – he did hit 32 in 2009.

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  12. Neck says:

    i’m sure this is nitpicking but Tulo still has far too many weak pop outs for my liking

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    • Shin says:

      weak pop outs? really? The guy is an absolute stud and you’re asking for less ‘weak pop outs’? Would you like to nitpick about the WAR too? Is that high enough? He isn’t Bow or Barry Bonds, deal with the pop outs.

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      • Ryan says:

        This falls under the “clutch” observation from the main article. If you watch the team every day, which I’ve painfully managed to do this season, he just takes too many of the wrong swings in clutch situations. If he’s up with two outs, with runners in scoring position, I can almost always predict the pop-up to deep short by the look on his face — he puts so much pressure on himself.

        Yes, by every metric we have, he’s one of the best players in the game, but he still needs to learn how to shorten up his swing in clutch situations. There’s still improvement to be made with the other side of the plate too.

        It’s scary to think he actually should be better.

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  13. gtrweqry says:

    http :// www. buygreatshoes. org

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