When Should You Draft Troy Tulowitzki?

In the fantasy baseball world, Troy Tulowitzki is the Lamborghini that is terrific when it’s on the road but spends too much time in the garage. Since becoming a regular in 2007 (eight years), Tulowitzki has had just three seasons in which he played more than 140 games and none of those seasons were in the last three years. He’ll be 30 years old during the 2015 season, so age is not on his side when it comes to health.

Last year was the most tantalizing and ultimately disappointing season of all. Tulowitzki was off to a tremendous start, hitting .340/.432/.603 through 91 games. He was hitting like a vintage Albert Pujols but at the shortstop position. In a little more than half a season, he accumulated 5.1 WAR and had a career-best 171 wRC+.

Then it happened—the yearly injury. On July 19th, in Pittsburgh, Tulowitzki strained his left hip flexor while running to first base and his season was over. Despite playing just 91 games, Tulowitzki ranked 73rd in Zach Sanders’ End of Season Rankings for 2014. Sanders had Tulowitzki worth $16.08, right in the same ballpark as Ryan Braun ($16.33), Jonathan Lucroy ($16.15), and Jimmy Rollins ($16.01). These rankings were based on a 12-team, 5 x 5 league with one catcher, so Tulowitzki’s placement at 73rd would make him the first pick in the 7th round, despite playing just over half the season. Of course, the pre-season consensus rankings of FanGraph writers had Tulowitzki anywhere from 12th to 20th, so 73rd was a big disappointment.

Over the last three years, Tulowitzki has averaged 88 games and 363 plate appearances per season, with a batting line of .316/.399/.551. You know he’s going to play well, you just don’t know how much he’ll play. So what do you do with Tulo on draft day?

First, let’s look at his injury history.

After a 25-game cup of coffee in 2006, Troy Tulowitzki became a Rockies regular in 2007, playing 155 games as a 22-year-old.

In 2008, Tulowitzki hit the disabled list twice. On April 29th, Tulo was not in the original starting lineup but was put in the game at the last minute when Jeff Baker broke a blood vessel in his throwing hand during pregame warm-ups. He then tore his left quadriceps on a defensive play in the first inning. He came off the DL on June 20th and played regularly until July 5th, when he went back on the DL with a cut hand. During the game on the previous day, Tulowitzki hit his bat against the ground in frustration, only to have the bat shatter and cut the palm of his hand up to his index finger. He would need 16 stitches and miss the next two weeks. With the two injuries limiting him to 101 games, Tulowitzki had the least-productive year of his career, other than the first-year 25 game stint.

In 2009, Tulo played 151 games and had 5.5 WAR, one of six seasons with 5 or more WAR in his career

The 2010 season saw Tulowitzki pick up right where he left off in 2009. Through 62 games, he was hitting .306/.375/.502. Then, on June 17th, he was hit by a pitch from Alex Burnett and fractured his left wrist. The injury kept him out for five weeks but he came back better than ever, hitting .323/.386/.634 after the injury. Despite playing in just 122 games, Tulowitzki had his best season in 2010, accumulating 5.9 WAR.

Tulowitzki played 143 games in 2011. Nothing to see here.

In 2012, Tulo was off to a slow start, hitting just .287/360/.486. On May 30th, he strained his groin while running out a ground ball and his season was over. He played just 47 games that year.

Two years ago, Tulowitzki missed nearly a month in the middle of the season with a fractured rib from diving for a ground ball. He still hit .312/.391/.540 and had 5.4 WAR in 126 games.

Last year, as mentioned above, Tulo was off to his best start ever but his season ended in July because of a strained hip flexor sustained while running to first base.

So, over the last seven years, Tulowitzki has been on the DL six times. Twice he was hurt while running to first base. Twice he was hurt while making a play on defense. And twice he was hurt through what I would call flukes—slamming his bat into the ground and getting hit by a pitch. He’s had a torn quadriceps, strained groin, fractured rib, strained hip flexor, cut hand, and fractured wrist. On the one hand, two of those were flukes and he hasn’t hurt the same body part more than once. On the other hand, the quad, groin, and hip flexor are all lower-body type injuries, which could continue to occur as he gets older.

So how much do you factor in the injury history when considering when to draft Troy Tulowitzki in 2015?

On his player page, Tulo is projected for 525 at-bats by Steamer and 467 by the Fans (23 fan projections). He hasn’t reached either of those totals since 2011. I have projections from other sources that are more conservative with his playing time:

Cairo: 352 AB

ZiPS: 381 AB

Marcel: 410 AB

Davenport: 417 AB

CBS: 466 AB

Average them all together and Tulowitzki is projected for 431 at-bats.

So let’s go to the spreadsheet. I created dollar values using the z-scores method for a 12-team, 5 x 5, one-catcher league and came up with the following.

Scenario #1: If Tulowitzki gets the 525 at-bats projected by Steamer, he would be a first-round pick, right there with Jose Abreu and Paul Goldschmidt. (525 AB, 159 H, 85 R, 28 HR, 91 RBI, 3 SB, .302 AVG).

Scenario #2: If Tulowitzki gets 431 at-bats (the average of the seven sources I’ve collected) and his other numbers are pro-rated to that total, he drops down to around the middle of the 4th round. (431 AB, 131 H, 70 R, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 2 SB, .302 AVG).

Scenario #3: If Tulowitzki gets 314 at-bats (his average over the last three years) and his other numbers are pro-rated to that total, he drops to the 18th round. (314 AB, 95 H, 51 R, 17 HR, 54 RBI, 2 SB, .302 AVG).

But that’s not the whole story because I haven’t factored in an injury replacement. When Tulowitzki gets injured, he usually goes all out and heads to the DL and generally misses significant time. He’s not like an aging Chipper Jones who would play 4 or 5 games a week and would be difficult to replace if you can’t make daily moves.

So let’s factor in an injury replacement for Tulo if he misses some time. I took the average of three “replacement-level” shortstops from my spreadsheet (Jordy Mercer, Wilmer Flores, and Yunel Escobar) and pro-rated them to the amount of time Tulowitzki would miss in the latter two scenarios from above.

Scenario #2, Adjusted:

431 AB, 131 H, 70 R, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 2 SB, .302 AVG—Tulowitzki

94 AB, 24 H, 10 R, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 1 SB, .258 AVG—Jordy Flores Escobar

525 AB, 155 H, 80 R, 25 HR, 85 RBI, 3 SB, .295 AVG—Tulo & Friends

Add in 94 at-bats from a replacement-level shortstop to Tulowitzki’s projected stats, which would bring his total to the 525 at-bats projected by Steamer, and Tulowitzki would drop from the middle of the 1st round to the middle of the 2nd round; still definitely worth having on your team.

Scenario #3, Adjusted:

314 AB, 95 H, 51 R, 17 HR, 54 RBI, 2 SB, .302 AVG—Tulowitzki

211 AB, 54 H, 23 R, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB, .258 AVG—Jordy Flores Escobar

525 AB, 149 H, 74 R, 22 HR, 77 RBI, 3 SB, .284 AVG—Tulo & Friends

Add in 211 at-bats from a replacement-level shortstop to Tulowitzki’s projected stats, which would bring his total to the 525 at-bats projected by Steamer, and Tulowitzki would drop from the middle of the 1st round to the middle of the 4th round. That’s the somewhat realistic downside risk.

Looking at the three scenarios above, we have:

  • A fully-healthy Tulowitzki is a mid-1st round pick.
  • A somewhat healthy Tulowitzki (using the average of 7 projection sources) plus a replacement-level shortstop used for the time missed and Tulo drops to the middle of the 2nd round.
  • A healthy-as-he’s-been-the-last-three-years Tulowitzki (using an average of his at-bats over the last three years) plus a replacement-level shortstop and Tulo drops to the middle of the 4th round.

In the Rotographs’ Top 300, the five participants had Tulowitzki with an average pick of 29th overall, just one spot behind Ian Desmond. In that Top 300, Zach Sanders had Tulo ranked 75th, which was quite the outlier (the others had Tulo from 15th to 28th). If you remove Sanders’ rankings, Tulowitzki would be the 17th player off the board, which would put him right in line with Scenario #2 from above—the middle of the 2nd round.

Everyone has his own appetite for risk, but I would go ahead and roll the dice on Troy Tulowitzki in 2015.



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Bobby Mueller has been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan as far back as the 1979 World Series Championship team ("We R Fam-A-Lee!"). He suffered through the 1980s, then got a reprieve in the early 1990s, only to be crushed by Francisco Cabrera in 1992. After a 20-year stretch of losing seasons, things are looking up for Bobby’s Pirates. His blog can be found at www.baseballonthebrain.com and he tweets at www.twitter.com/bballonthebrain.

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Joey
Guest

More like Tulohurtzski? amirite????

atroiano
Member
Member
atroiano

When you’re right, you’re right.

slowphenom
Member
slowphenom

He’s definitely an expensive lottery ticket, but if he can maintain his health, this man is the best shorstop in baseball bar none, so people will continue to go to the well for him.

Matt
Guest
Matt

So all I got out of this was that you wanted to highlight and reinforce the idea that Tulo gets hurt. Because the seasons in which he had 500+ PA, 2007 (682), 2009 (628), 2010 (529), 2011 (606), 2013 (512) you completely glossed over or ignored.
07- 1 whole sentence written (had 682 PA yet just referred to as a regular)
09- 1 sentence written (628 PA, over 5 WAR)
10- A broken wrist on a HBP (can you say freak injury) made to sound like he is fragile and missed just 5 weeks
11- 143 games played and you say “nothing to see here” other than a full season over .300 average 30 HR 105 RBI
13- Broken Rib suffered while diving for a ground ball (freak injury again) yet over 5 WAR in 126 games. 126 games is 3/4 of the season.

Sounds to me like either:
A) You are hooked on the regular narrative of him being injury prone
B) You want to dissuade others from drafting him so you can look like a genius taking him earlier than most.

Matt
Guest
Matt

to add to it… a fully healthy Tulowitzki is top 3 pick

Steve
Guest

One of the best analyses of “injury prone”-ish players I’ve seen. You could use the same logic in analyzing Gronk (football), Kobe (basketball) or anyone else who has been on IR frequently (Hanley Ramirez anyone?)

The key is your appetite for risk, and correctly valuing a suitable replacement player if things go wrong. The author gives a perfect way to analyze both. Given that any player can get hurt (Gio Stanton’s fluke injury last year comes to mind), its really risky to assume too much as far as injury history goes. Past injuries do not predict future. Gronk is a perfect example of this. If you passed on him in football, it likely cost you a championship.

I got Tulo last year at the end of the 2nd Round in a 12 team league. He was the key to some early season dominance, and late season struggles for my team. I ended up winning the Roto championship, but barely. Never really filled the gapping hole that Tulo left when he got injured.

But … if he’s there mid/end of the 2nd this season, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. The guy is JUST TOO GOOD to pass up! If others in your league aren’t correctly assigning value. Don’t make the same mistake!

bmiltenberg
Member
bmiltenberg

It’s all about Tulo+replacement level. Like Steve, I ante’d up for Tulo in the first and won my 12-team roto with alcides escobar off the wire.