Troy Tulowitzki and his battle against a declining age curve will be a key factor in the Blue Jays success for 2017
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.
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.
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.
|162 Game Avg.||162||683||604||99||176||29||100||65||.292||.364||.501||.865||120|
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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