Toronto Blue Jays 2017 Key to Success: Troy Tulowitzki

 

Troy Tulowitzki and his battle against a declining age curve will be a key factor in the Blue Jays success for 2017

 

 

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The saying goes that there are only two things for sure in life: death, and taxes. Unfortunately for us, one thing else is for sure. Every year that passes we get another year older, and Blue Jays star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is no exception. Moving into his age 33 season, unfortunately, he is sitting on the downslope of the age curve. Whether or not Tulowitzki regresses, and if so how far, will have a significant impact on how the Blue Jays 2017 season goes.

 

Defense

Earlier, our Shaun Doyle wrote about the importance of defense moving forward. This rings true even more in the infield with the Blue Jays starting five. For comparison’s sake, the average groundball percentage for a pitcher sits at 44%. Obviously, a notorious fly ball pitcher Marco Estrada doesn’t come close (33.5%), but the other 4 are a different story. Aaron Sanchez (54.4%), Marcus Stroman (60.1%), and Francisco Liriano (52%) are well above league average. Even J.A. Happ is sitting right around league average (42.5%). With all of these ground balls blasting through the infield, the staff is going to rely heavily on the infield behind them to get outs.

 

That’s where the good news comes in with Tulo. Last year by most metrics, standard or advanced, he showed no signs of slowing down. Over the past five years, Tulowitzki’s standard stats have remained constant. His errors have fluctuated from in the 8-9 area (in 2014 he only had 4, but only played in 89 games). As for his fielding percentage, it hasn’t budged from in between .98 and .99. Even though these simple numbers don’t tell the whole story, his advanced stats show the same result.

 

In fact, not only has Tulowitzki held ground, he has actually seen an improvement in his ultimate zone rating and defensive runs saved. Last year, Tulowitzki posted one of his best defensive seasons in both main advanced defensive categories. Tulo posted an impressive 10 DRS (sixth among shortstops) and a 4.9 UZR (eleventh among shortstops).

 

As you can see, to this point Tulo has shown no signs of slowing down. This is great news for the Jays pitching staff. With all the ground balls potentially coming his way, there’s a better chance than not that they will turn into outs. If he hits the wall and loses a step or two defensively, however, it could mean disaster for the Jays pitchers and their subsequent ERAs.

 

Offense

Despite the big news of Jose Bautista returning to the Blue Jays lineup, they still lost a big offensive piece in Edwin Encarnacion. With Edwin gone, the Jays are going to have to replace that production throughout the rest of the lineup. As a result, our Roy Widrig took a look at Kendrys Morales as the key to Blue Jay’s success in playing a big part of replacing some of that offensive output moving forward. He’s not wrong, but as he points out  “Morales himself won’t replace the production of Encarnacion”. Others are going to have to step up and contribute to the missing offense as well. This is why Tulo is such a key piece to the order. A decline in his year would leave an even bigger hole for the Jays to fill, where a bounce back could contribute to filling that void.

 

Year Tm Lg G PA AB R H HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2006 COL NL 25 108 96 15 23 1 6 10 .240 .318 .292 .609 53
2007 COL NL 155 682 609 104 177 24 99 57 .291 .359 .479 .838 109
2008 COL NL 101 421 377 48 99 8 46 38 .263 .332 .401 .732 85
2009 COL NL 151 628 543 101 161 32 92 73 .297 .377 .552 .930 131
2010 ★ COL NL 122 529 470 89 148 27 95 48 .315 .381 .568 .949 138
2011 ★ COL NL 143 606 537 81 162 30 105 59 .302 .372 .544 .916 131
2012 COL NL 47 203 181 33 52 8 27 19 .287 .360 .486 .846 113
2013 ★ COL NL 126 512 446 72 139 25 82 57 .312 .391 .540 .931 139
2014 ★ COL NL 91 375 315 71 107 21 52 50 .340 .432 .603 1.035 170
2015 ★ TOT MLB 128 534 486 77 136 17 70 38 .280 .337 .440 .777 101
2015 COL NL 87 351 323 46 97 12 53 24 .300 .348 .471 .818 107
2015 TOR AL 41 183 163 31 39 5 17 14 .239 .317 .380 .697 89
2016 TOR AL 131 544 492 54 125 24 79 43 .254 .318 .443 .761 101
11 Yrs 1220 5142 4552 745 1329 217 753 492 .292 .364 .501 .865 120
162 Game Avg. 162 683 604 99 176 29 100 65 .292 .364 .501 .865 120
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/8/2017.

 

 

The news here isn’t as good as it is with his defense. Despite appearing to be an ageless wonder in the field, the shortstop has regressed at the dish over the past couple of years. Phenomenal years in 2013 and 2014 where he posted offensive values of 21.8 and 29.9 seems incredibly distant after following those seasons up with negative offensive contributions in 2015 and 2016 (-4.1 and -1.2). Almost every offensive category has taken a significant hit.

 

Even Tulowitzki’s wOBA and wRC+ dropped to league average numbers (.327 and 102). In conjunction to that, the “baseball card” numbers also took a hit. The shortstop posted two of his three worst batting averages and OBP in his career during his time with the Jays.

 

 

Looking into his peripherals, though, there’s still some wiggle room for him to bounce back towards a more positive offensive year. Tulo had his lowest BABIP of his career in 2015 at a rate of .272. What makes this even more intriguing is the fact his soft contact rate has remained constant floating around 15.5% through the last 4 years. Park factor could come into play a little, however, the difference being about 0.9 in favor of Coors field doesn’t explain such a significant dip. The chances of Tulowitzki fully returning to the monster at the plate he was in 2013 and 2014 are next to nil, but a little bit more luck with a BABIP closer to the league average number of around .300 could lead to an increase in offense from the aging shortstop.

 

All that being said, Tulowitzki still holds significant value at the position. A league average bat at short plays much better than it would at many other positions.  Getting a player at shortstop with excellent defense and a league average bat is still of significant value, and the point isn’t to question that value. The question is does Tulo bounce back towards 13/14 numbers and help supplement the Edwin loss, or fall back leaving a bigger hole for the Jays to fill. In the scope of the Blue Jays 2017 season, Tulo’s bat and old beat up glove could hold the fate of the Jays season.

 

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Credit:  Terry Foote  UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

 

 

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A group benefits consultant by day, Dustin is sports fanatic who loves talking sports more than anything. A self-glossed stats geek, he loves diving into the numbers behind the game. A proud father of 2 amazing kids, Dustin was born in Calgary, and now lives in Morinville.

Dustin Reddon

A group benefits consultant by day, Dustin is sports fanatic who loves talking sports more than anything. A self-glossed stats geek, he loves diving into the numbers behind the game. A proud father of 2 amazing kids, Dustin was born in Calgary, and now lives in Morinville.