Player Profile: Troy Tulowitzki

Rockies Tulowitzki Waits in On Deck Circle in Denver

Well, Phil Hughes was the true winner of the poll, but his fantasy value seems to have taken a hit with the New York Yankees’ signing of Javier Vazquez, which significantly hurts Hughes’ chances at locking up a rotation spot in 2010. So, instead, we’ll focus on Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

That’s what we call a rebound year. After turning in a paltry 2008 in which he burned plenty of fantasy owners, myself included, Tulo came back in a big way, blasting 32 home runs in 543 at-bats on his way to a .297/.377/.552 line. Though he was also quite good in 2007, this was a breakout year of sorts for the young shortstop, as he improved in a number of facets of his game, which substantially improved his outlook for the future.

Troy Tulowitzki was drafted seventh overall by the Colorado Rockies in 2005 out of Long Beach State. He premiered that season at High-A ball, where he acquitted himself nicely, showing decent power and strike zone judgment, slugging four home runs in 94 at-bats to go along with a 1/2 BB/K rate. Scouts loved his tools and upside, as Tulo ranked as Colorado’s second-best prospect and 25th in the majors.

To begin 2006, the Colorado brass promoted Tulo to Double-A Tulsa. There, he impressed again, hitting 13 home runs in 423 at-bats, with 46 walks against 71 strikeouts. His .291/.370/.473 line got the attention of the big club, who promoted Tulo for a 25-game stretch. Not surprisingly, the young shortstop struggled in his first taste of the bigs, posting a .240/.318/.292 line, with 25 strikeouts in 96 at-bats. Still, the optimists couldn’t be drowned out, as Tulo topped the charts in the Colorado system while also placing 15th in MLB. With the big league job available, Colorado promoted Tulo to the majors for good, where he would begin 2007.

The 2007 season was a banner one for Tulowitzki. The pride of the Colorado system, Tulo exploded onto the scene his rookie season. Through 609 at-bats, the shortstop slugged 24 home runs in 609 at-bats, with a .291/.359/.479 line. His 57 walks weren’t the best—and neither was his 130 strikeout total. Still, he was quite the rookie—and at shortstop no less. As a result, the team signed him to a six-year, $31 million contract in January that would carry him through the 2013, with a team option for 2014. With the sky the limit, the Rockies headed into 2008 with their prized shortstop locked up for the long term and hopes of an NL West championship. The results would be much different.

The 2008 season was not kind to Tulowitzki. Battling injuries and a sophomore slump, Tulo struggled to put up a respectable stat line. His power disappeared, as he hit just eight home runs in 377 at-bats, while his OPS sagged over .100 points, as he posted a .263/.332/.401 line. On the bright side, his walk rate improved, from 8.6 percent in 2007 to 9.2 percent, and his strikeout rate dropped to 14.9 percent. There was not much else that could be salvaged from the season, however, as quadriceps and a hand injuries slowed his season and he played just 101 games. As a result, all the team could do was look forward to 2009 and greener pastures.

Looking for – or, perhaps, desperately needing – a big rebound, Tulowitzki set out to prove that 2008 was a fluke. And prove he did, with the best season of his career and one of the best of any shortstop in 2009. Besides the obvious power and speed surge witnessed last year, Tulowitzki matured at the plate in a number of ways.

For one, he became more selective at the plate. His 73 walks in 628 plate appearances was a great step forward for the hitter, as he was able to reach the 10 percent walk rate milestone. His 20.6 strikeout percentage was also an accomplishment, given his increases in walks. Many hitters see a substantial increase in strikeouts as they become more selective. However, Tulo’s strikeout rate was right in line with his career rate of 19.9 percent, and his 0.65 BB/K rate was above his career rate of 0.55.

His selectivity showed in his plate discipline indicators as well, as his O-Swing percentage dropped over 2 percentage points from 2008 (23.7 percent in 2008 to 21.5 percent in 2009), while his Z-Swing percentage remained relatively steady, dropping just 0.3 percentage points from 2008. This suggests that his strike zone judgment improved, as he swung at a higher proportion of the pitches inside the zone.

Though his contact rate decreased from 2008 by 1.2 percentage points, an 83.9 percent contact rate is a fine number and should be adequate going forward. In addition, his Zone percentage dropped 4 percentage points from 2008 (54.8 percent in 2008 to 50.8 percent in 2009) as pitchers began to respect his power. This bodes well for Tulo’s walk totals. Should his batting eye continue to develop the way it did in 2009, Tulo could become quite the walk machine with a drop in his O-Swing percentage.

Still, besides his obvious power increase and improved plate discipline, there was not much of a change in Tulo’s game between the 2008 and 2009 seasons. His batting profile stayed quite constant, as his GB/FB ratio stayed right above 1 (1.13 GB/FB in 2008 versus 1.05 in 2009) and his infield flyball percentage remained almost constant (11.7 percent in 2008 versus 11.6 in 2009). Though his line drive percentage dropped between 2008 and 2009 (20.5 percent in 2008 versus 18.4 percent in 2009), his BABIP showed no ill effects, actually climbing by over 30 points, to .323—up from .291 in 2008. In a way, it almost goes to show how unreliable line drive percentage can be on its own as a predictor of BABIP.

For 2010, there are a few keys to watch. The most important part of Tulo’s game will certainly be his improved power output. This was the big key to his 2009 reclamation, as his HR/FB rate almost tripled, climbing from 6.7 percent in 2008 to 18.5 percent in 2009. It is a bit tough seeing him repeat these numbers, though he does play half of his games at a high altitude. Like every other Rockies hitter, he plays far better at home, with a .326/.403/.597 line at Coors in 2009, versus a .267/.352/.507 line everywhere else. Still, with his youth and favorable contract, you won’t have to worry about him being traded midseason and losing half his value like many other Colorado hitters. His 18.5 percent HR/FB rate puts him right above Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun, Kendry Morales and Mark Teixeira. While it’s certainly possible that Tulo carries that kind of thump in his bat, it may be a bit optimistic. Expect some regression in this category.

If there’s room for more optimism, it may lie in his left/right and pre-/post-All-Star splits. He had a bit of a reverse platoon split last season, with a .269/.382/.519 line against lefties versus a .307/.376/.566 line against righties. Should that line begin to favor the opposite hand as it does most other hitters, it will be a nice little bonus to his overall line. As for his post-All-Star explosion, he batted a blistering .344/.421/.622 after the break last season, with a 34/48 BB/K ratio. If you’re into that sort of thing and like the good vibrations coming off his bat late in the year, than you can take comfort in that stat.

For 2010, watch Tulo’s HR/FB rate, his O-Swing rate, and his Zone percentage. If his HR/FB rate is high, which it should be, he’ll be in line for another season like this past one—though don’t bank on 30+ home runs. In addition, his O-Swing rate will have a lot to say about whether he drives the ball in the upcoming season, so whether he can maintain or improve on his 2009 figure is a key factor in his success next year. And, rounding it out, his Zone percentage will help you gauge his walk and strikeout rates. Tied to his HR/FB rate and his O-Swing rate, if he can slug home runs out of the park on a regular basis, while laying off pitches outside the zone, he’ll find himself in frequent hitter’s counts and taking a free pass to first. This will help considerably, especially in OPS leagues.

Overall, think of Tulo next season as a 25-homer guy, with a shot a 30 bombs, who can post upwards of 100 runs and 100 RBIs. A .280-.290 average seems about right, though his stolen base numbers are tough to predict since this is his first season where he showcased his speed on the basepaths. Twenty steals may be a bit optimistic, though 10-15 is certainly plausible. All told, Tulo looks like one of the best options at shortstop for 2010. Even with his poor 2008, he looks like a very good bet to produce in 2010. Draft him with confidence.

And if I’m lucky enough to come across him next season in Colorado Springs, I’ll ask him to put in an extra bomb or two for the readers.

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Comments

  1. Ed said...

    My browser won’t let me vote in the pole for some reason without an error message, so here is a write-in vote for Reimold.

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