The re-emergence of Troy Tulowitzki

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Tulo flashing his defensive skills at shortstop. (Icon/SMI)

Some players cause me a great deal of frustration as a fantasy owner; not necessarily because they are on my team and not playing up to expectations, but in this case because they played poorly while on my team and later had their career season while off of it. An example of one of these players is Cliff Lee, who I owned in most leagues for his terrible 2007 season and then, when I had given up on him, he comes back in 2008 to win the Cy Young Award. Similarly, I owned Aaron Hill in 2008 when he batted .264 with two home runs; in 2009, when off of my team, he bats .286 with a whopping 36 home runs.

I have never owned Troy Tulowitzki on a team yet, but I would imagine the people that drafted him on average with the 45th overall pick in 2008 drafts hold similar feelings.

+--------+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | Season | AB | R | HR | RBI | SB | AVG | +--------+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+ | 2007 | 609 | 104 | 24 | 99 | 7 | 0.291 | | 2008 | 377 | 48 | 8 | 46 | 1 | 0.263 | | 2009 | 543 | 101 | 32 | 92 | 20 | 0.297 | +--------+-----+-----+----+-----+----+-------+

After a tremendous rookie campaign in 2007 that would have earned him a Rookie of the Year Award in almost any other year had it not been for an equally impressive Brewers third baseman named Ryan Braun, Tulowitzki flopped hard in 2008.

He struggled throughout April, until on the 29th he tore a quadriceps muscle and was out until June. After returning from his injury, Tulowitzki played almost at his 2007 level, steadily raising his OPS from .448 to his season-ending number of .732 throughout the second half. Because he played well in the second half, I said that he was “not necessarily someone to avoid in 2009.”

In 2009 people were not as high on him as last year, but Tulo certainly was not avoided being drafted around pick 80 in drafts as the sixth shortstop selected. For the people who owned him in 2009, Tulowitzki rewarded them nicely by not only matching his 2007 numbers but by raising them by six points of batting average, eight home runs, and 13 steals.

Tulowitzki had a great 2009 season—no one can deny that—but whether or not he can have a similar 2010 remains a question. In his three years in the majors, Tulowitzki has had his fair share of injuries but has at least avoided any major injuries. Although he probably will not play 150-plus games in a season, he is not too high an injury risk to justify not picking him due to concern for his health.

Power

In the power department, Tulowitzki experienced a major surge, bringing his home run total and HR/FB percentage into new territory.

+------+-----+-----+----+-------+--------+ | YEAR | AGE | AB | HR | HR/FB | OF/FB% | +------+-----+-----+----+-------+--------+ | 2007 | 22 | 521 | 24 | 15 | 34 | | 2008 | 23 | 406 | 8 | 8 | 33 | | 2009 | 24 | 536 | 32 | 21 | 35 | +------+-----+-----+----+-------+--------+

Tulo achieved his power numbers not by hitting a ton of fly balls, but by making sure that the ones he did hit left the park. His 21 percent HR/FB rate ranks around such slugger-type players as Jayson Werth, Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun.

Tulo could post similar power numbers next year, but the more likely path is for him to regress slightly and hit a more reasonable 26 home runs. He clearly possess power potential but is not quite at the level where he can be expected to hit 30-plus home runs perennially. Overall I would expect him to hit somewhere in the range of 20-30 home runs next year, and that range can be made more specific once the True Home Run numbers are calculated for 2009.

Speed

Surprisingly Tulo stole 20 bases this year despite getting caught 11 times. That equals a 65 percent success rate, and most players with rates that low steal less bases next year since their base stealing is actually hurting their team’s chance to win. For Troy this was not even a fluke running year; his career success rate is 57 percent and in the minors it was even lower, so Tulo should definitely be getting the green light less and less in the future.

At most, he should barely reach 10 steals, but the high single-digits are where I see his 2010 steals totals hanging around.

Plate discipline

Since joining the majors, Tulowitzki has been able to maintain a decently low strikeout rate while adding a few points to his walk rate.

+------+-----+----+----------+------+-------------+-----------+ | Year | BB% | K% | Judgment | A/P | Bat Control | Bad Ball | +------+-----+----+----------+------+-------------+-----------+ | 2007 | 9 | 21 | 105 | 0.21 | 87 | 67 | | 2008 | 9 | 15 | 104 | 0.15 | 89 | 72 | | 2009 | 12 | 21 | 109 | 0.12 | 88 | 73 | +------+-----+----+----------+------+-------------+-----------+

As the other stats show (for a refresher on them click here), Tulo has increased his pitch judgment slightly over the past few years while also getting better at making contact with the pitches outside of the zone. His A/P shows that he has become progressively a more passive hitter in his three years in the majors, explaining the increase in BB percentage. He has, overall, above-average plate discipline that should allow him to continue to post solid batting averages in the .290s to low .300s.

Final thoughts

In 2009, Troy Tulowitzki emerged again as a premier shortstop, and he should be drafted in 2010 leagues accordingly. The last time he was coming off a good season he did disappoint in the next one; however, no logical reasoning points to why that would happen again.

An injury is much more likely to ruin his upcoming season than anything else, and Tulowitzki is only a marginal injury risk compared to other shortstops like Jose Reyes and Rafael Furcal. My feeling, however, is that Tulowitzki will be taken too high for my liking in most drafts since people may expect another 30/20 season from him when really 25/7 is a more likely line. Tulowitzki is a great ballplayer, but the home run/steals combination he flashed in 2009 was likely a one-hit wonder.

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Comments

  1. JDSussman said...

    He was one of the guys I was able to target during the 08 season. I try to find guys like this, so I traded Nathan, Moustakas, and Sheets for Tulo, Ryan Zim, and Bonofacio.

    A good player to look at for 2010 is Soto. I traded for him and Jordan Zim mid-season for Bedard. I think he is a strong bounce back candidate too.

  2. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Good subject, Paul.

    Tulo has caused me a bit of angst. I invested in him heavily in 2008 and got burnt. I was able to land him for a song after an owner had given up on him earlier in the year. The fact that he hit like .180 in April and was coming off a disappointing campaign bottomed out him value giving him huge ROI-potential for somebody wanting to risk trading for him.

    I’ve been questioning myself a bit as to whether I should consider keeping him over Nick Markakis in one of my leagues. I don’t think I’m going to do it though, and your piece isn’t convincing me to.

    Overall, I agree that he’ll be one of those guys who will have to fire on all cylinders to justify where he gets selected in a number of drafts. This often happens with MIs, in my opinion at least.

    For years, Derek Jeter was ranked along the lines of what he could do vs. what was actually expected of him. Frankly, ditto for J-Roll. And, while we’re at it, ditto for Furcal during his heyday.

  3. Peter said...

    I think it’s pretty reasonable to project/expect a line of:  .290 27 100 100 15

    He has an upside of 300+ 32 110 110 20

    What I really like about Tulo is that he is now the COL #4 hitter fulltime, with a great OBP guy in front of him.  Barring injury he should be a lock for 100/100, and coming from a SS, that’s awesome. 

    A 2nd round pick this year IMO.

  4. Paul Singman said...

    Peter, I agree that your line for Tulo of .290, 27, 100, 100, 15 is reasonable, except I would knock the steals down to around 8. From a shortstop that production is still fantastic, though the second round is a huge investment and Tulowitzki would have to play as Derek said, “fired on all cylinders” to justify the pick.

    See if you can wait till the third round to snag him and take a safer player instead, like Markakis for example, in the second. Even though the two will put up similar numbers, Markakis is clearly the safer pick. Unless MI is unusually scarce in your league, Tulo in the second round is somewhat of a reach.

  5. R M said...

    Derek, are you saying you would keep Markakis over Tulow? Markakis in his best year has not been better than Tulow’s conservative projection for next year, and Tulowitzki is a shortstop.  How could that even be a contest?

  6. Peter said...

    I like Markakis as much as the next guy, but how can you really rank him as a top 10 OF at this point?  He sorta is what he is at this point, which is very good in real life, but frankly average in fantasy baseball.

    Kakes can’t really have a projection much north of 300 20 100 100 10.  He has a floor of 290 15 95 100 5, which isn’t bad, but is hardly worth a top 3 round pick.  He has the ‘potential’ to hit 25+ HR, but frankly hasn’t done it yet, and the SB’s have dropped for 2 straight years.  His regressing walk rate scares me some as well. 

    Tulo is just the better fantasy player across the board at this point..  and this is coming from a die-hard O’s fan.  Love me some Kakes but he is likely the #3 fantasy player on the O’s behind Roberts and AJones, who at least flashed elite talent in the first half.

  7. Derek Ambrosino said...

    And, three years ago, you might have told me Brittany Spears or Lindsay Lohan is a keeper over Halle Berry…

    I need track record at the top of a draft, especially if we aren’t talking keeper. Adam Jones as a top round pick is nice to think about, but for every Ryan Braun there are at three Russel Martins (this is not a formula, just a rhetorical point). Coming off of last year’s season, I might be able to get Carlos Beltran for the price some will want me to pay for Adam Jones. I’ll tell you this, I’d make sure I took a good look at B.J. Upton’s BBR page before taking the plunge on Jones.

    As easy as you could tell me Markakis never outproduced Tulo’s most recent season, I can tell you that Markakis has never missed significant time and that he’s never put up anything like the .260/.330/.400 stinker that was Tulo’s 2008. (I know, there were injuries involved)

    Also, depending on how your league is set up, I don’t think OF is as deep as many assume it to be. Markakis’s last season is a bit offputting. But, after 2008, he looked as if he was on his way to breaking out as a truly elite hitter. Was last year a blip on the radar or a signal to temper long term expectations; that’s the big question that’s worth looking into.

    IMO, it’s likely Markakis outproduces his 2009 in 2010. It’s also somewhat likely Tulo regresses. That’s important to keep in mind.

    If I felt I could comfortably pencil in Markakis for 12 – 18 steals, I wouldn’t think twice. As of now, I’m still leaning toward Markakis.

  8. Peter said...

    I agree there is more track record with Kakes at this point, but Tulo’s track record isn’t exactly poor. 

    His rookie season in 2007 was one of the best rookie seasons we’ve seen from a SS, his 2008 was a clunker, but some obvious injuries were at play there too.  He came back at the end of 2008 and put up great numbers, with post break #‘s of .327 with an OPS of .850.  Those post injury #‘s led me to go after Tulo very hard in 2009 (same thing with Vmart). 

    I owned both Kakes and Tulo in my main league this year and its a 5 player keeper league.  I’ve gotta say, I’m not even considering Kakes in my top 5 keepers for next year.  Tulo was a no-brainer IMO.

    I see Markakis as a solid 5th round pick (really what is much different about kakes and abreu/choo/hunter/etc), and Tulo a late 2nd rounder.

  9. bk said...

    Arguments can be made for both players. I think Markakis has a safer floor than Tulo, as he seems a pretty safe bet health-wise.
    You could probably pencil him in on production close to: (.300/20/100/100/10) which is pretty awesome.

    Tulo, does however have a higher ceiling (at least to me). Like Markakis, you can expect pretty much similar production across the 5 categories, but with more hrs and less sb. Which, assuming he is healthy, grades him higher even if he produces a bit less than Markakis b/c of position differences. However, he seems to be more injury prone.

    If you’re making a run for a championship in a league you need to be able to balance players who are more volatile in production (especially if there are some really good owners) to separate you from the pack, with guys who will be healthy and offer “safe” production (Tulo can outproduce Markakis during the regular season but if he’s out during your playoff run then it doesn’t matter does it?)

  10. Paul Singman said...

    I’m actually kind of on the fence for this one and I think who the right choice is depends almost entirely on league setup. If it is a 12-14 man league with only one SS spot and maybe an MI spot, then Tulo’s extra value derived from playing shortstop becomes minimal. On the flip side, if MI’s are scrambled over in your league, then Tulo would probably make the better choice… It also depends on whether your league has 3,4, or 5 OF spots.

    You can make the case for either one, though I think the consensus is that “Kakes” presents the safer pick while Tulo provides more upside with slightly more risk attached.

  11. Derek Ambrosino said...

    In my main league, I only keep three, and I’m leaning toward Markakis over Tulo. But, really, we may not be as far off you think, we’re just off at both ends. I see Tulo about 10 spots behind where you do, and Markakis about 10 spots. Because of Tulo’s upside and his more sordid history, I see a greater range of reasonable draft position. Just guesstimating, I’d assume Tulo is probably defensible anywhere from 25-50, and Markakis maybe from 30-45.

    It certainly not unreasonable to say that Tulo is worthy of being picked at this first point one might consider Brandon Phillips. But, then again, I’ve been doubtful that Phillips deserved his rankings the past few years too. His breakout was great, but then he was ranked so high that he would have had to replicate it to produce value. Then, he underperformed it pretty substantially and it wasn’t much adjusted at all the following year. I’d feel much better about Tulo that high if I didn’t think it was basically even money that his steal total drops by more than half.

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