If I were to describe Troy Tulowitzki in only two words, I would probably choose
disabled list talented and fragile. When Tulowitzki is healthy, he is easily the most dynamic hitting shortstop and one of the most exciting hitters to watch. He goes on tears like no other, and for his entire career (pre-2015) was trying to drag the dead weight of one of the most poorly run franchises into the playoffs.
So when Tulo got traded for Jose Reyes and some spare parts (the logic behind this trade, or really lack thereof, deserves its own separate piece) to the power hitting Blue Jays, it was a perfect match. Joining in with the tremendous trio of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, Tulowitzki was pegged to make them the, err, quaint quartet??? Regardless, the addition of another power hitter made the Jays the front-runner for the entire AL because no one could feasibly pitch through all of that power and contact ability (don’t tell the Royals).
But Tulo didn’t quite bring that spark the Toronto faithful were hoping for. Instead of dominating the opposition and feasting on all of the RBI opportunities the rest of this lineup was setting up for him, his first to second half wRC+ fell from 108 to just 88. In more familiar terms, both his batting average and slugging percentage dropped about 100 points each.
So what happened? Looking at his discipline numbers, there really isn’t a whole lot to know. His strikeout rate rose by 2% (a negligible increase considering the sample size),and his walk rate went up 2.7% (again not very much). But when we look at the bigger picture, just comparing his splits isn’t enough. We need to compare career marks, and looking at career trends, his entire production was way out of wack. His pre-trade numbers were already going to be the lowest marks yet not from his rookie season, and the strikeouts were especially bad. His career 16.4% is much better than league average, and miles better than the 22% he ended the year with. Already we have some suspicions over his real value.
Looking at his batted ball profile, again we see some concerning numbers. His ground ball rate jumps from last year’s 37% to 41%, and in turn his fly balls drop to below career marks, just 37%. While these may not be terrible profiles for some hitters, someone like Tulo who relies largely on his power to produce (.212 career isolated slugging percentage) needs to be putting balls in the air. No stadium caries balls like Coors does, but if anyone is close it’s his new home stadium in Toronto.
Going back to his swing effectiveness, it seems he’s really having a tough time connecting the way he likes, and in fact, just connecting in general. He whiffed on 9.4% of swings last year, his highest full season number ever, and well above the 4.6, 4.4 and 5.9 numbers he puts up at his best. We can attribute some of this to a more swing happy approach; seeing Tulowitzki at a 46.0% swing rate (on all pitches) is the most he has put up since being a rookie. Sometimes swinging a lot can help hitters out (this has been the case for guys like Kolten Wong), but for Tulo this has been alarmingly bad. His contact on all swings has dropped to 79.2%, a number he hasn’t even sniffed since his first 25 game stint at the show. Obviously if you can’t make contact it’s going to be hard to produce, and when he’s making contact is isn’t happening as often or as strongly as he would like.
Now the question centers around how his new organization is going to work for him. Let’s not sugarcoat things; Tulowitzki is 31 years old and his best days are clearly behind him. The Blue Jays have had success turning great talent into great production at weird ages (Bautista and Encarnacion both really broke out at 29), but a large part of their philosophy is to swing a lot. Baustista’s swing percentage was always high, around the mid 50s before his Blue Jays tenure, but when he broke out it was upwards of 60%. While Encarnacion’s numbers have not been as extreme as Joey Bats’, he’s still been showing more tendency towards swinging often over the past couple years as his bat speed has started to decline.
There is so much talent in Troy Tulowitzki it’s really hard to be swayed by anything (but his injury history). But although most will write off his poor campaign in 2015 as a fluke, as we’ve seen here it’s easy to build a case for why there is legit reason to worry about it. Tulo is at his best when he’s a more patient hitter, but the organizational trends up North don’t line up with this. Unless the Jays are willing to break their philosophy for him, this struggling version of Tulo might be here longer than expected.
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