Jays From the Couch brings you the player Highlights & Lowlights from the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2017 season. This time: Tulo!
Overall, 2017 was Troy Tulowitzki‘s worst season as an MLB regular. Given his importance to the Blue Jays, it’s no surprise that the Jays underperformed as well this season. With three years remaining on his contract, Tulo’s future production is an important question mark heading into the 2018 season. While only time can give us true clarity, you and I are impatient. So let’s dig into some stats.
Tulo was an average defender at the second most premium position in baseball, after catcher. This likely represents the best source of optimism for his potential going forward, as a full-on age-based regression would surely have affected his defensive skills to a greater degree.
In this vein, Tulo’s sprint speed has remained quite consistent over the last three seasons. This is a very direct measure of (a specific) physical ability, and gives further credence to the idea that Tulo’s hitting issues may not be entirely physical.
There are even a couple of points of optimism in his hitting itself. A strong sign of a hitter regressing are falling contact rates and rising swinging strike rates (a la Jose this season). Neither of these apply to Tulo. In terms of both of these rates, Tulo improved upon his 2015 and 2016 performances, returning to his career averages.
Unfortunately, Tulo’s 2017 season had a lot more lows than highs.
The biggest problem was his ineffective contact. His slash line (.249/.300/.378) says it all. Batted ball luck doesn’t seem to be an explanation, as the exit velocities and launch angles he generated were not conducive to productive contact. Out of 281 batters with at least 200 batted balls, Tulo ranked 266th in xBA and 253rd in xwOBA.
A big worry is the unusually weak contact he generated. According to Fangraphs, from 2013-16 Tulo generated soft contact on only 15% of his balls in play. In 2017, 25% of his balls in play were considered soft. This was the largest jump in Soft% (from 2016 to 2017) among the 234 batters with 250+ PA in each season.
Tulo seemed to struggle most against off-speed pitches. He had his worst season yet in terms of wCH/C, wSL/C and wCU/C. On the other hand, compared to 2016, he was as good or better against all types of fastballs. He saw notably more off-speed stuff this season than last.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2018
Father Time gets everyone and, with his 33rd birthday just passed, Tulo’s days of 5 WAR seasons are very likely in the rear-view mirror. However, with a salary of $20 million, a 2 WAR season would be just fine. Tulo can get there with average hitting + below-average baserunning + average fielding at SS, while obviously remaining healthy enough to get into 130 or so games. Basically, by producing a slightly worse version of his 2015-16 seasons.
Is this realistic? Yes and I’d bet that, given his track record and the aging curve, his pre-season projections will be right around 2 WAR. There are certainly reasons to worry, as discussed above. But he also had an injury-shortened season (on what was a fairly freak rolled ankle), so 2017 is probably too small a sample size to completely write off a previously productive player.
In particular, if given more plate appearances in the second half of the season, the cerebral Tulowitzki might’ve been able to adjust to the increase in off-speed pitches. The approach pitchers use against him next season, and the ways in which he adjusts, will play a key role in determining whether he can have a productive season in 2018.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.