Does Tulo Still Have a High Fastball Problem?

Toronto Blue Jays shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki has struggled at the plate early on in 2016. Does it have to do with the high heat?


Like many, I was optimistic about Troy Tulowitzki entering the 2016 season. My optimism was less grounded in the qualitative aspects of him being more comfortable as he gets settled into being a Blue Jay, and more focused on him regressing back to an ability to attack fastballs. My optimism was based upon two ideas:

  1. Tulo has been a fastball assassin for most of his career. Some of that may have been a product of the widely reported effects of playing at Coors Field, as pitchers struggle with throwing breaking pitches at altitude. He struggled with fastballs during his injury riddled 2012 season, which limited him to just 203 plate appearances in 47 games. Last season, he was basically league average, though he struggled more so once in Toronto than when he was in Denver. Otherwise, Tulo has been well above average against the fastball during his career.
  2. Tulo was reported to have worked with Bobby Tewksbary and adopted some of the techniques upon which Tewksbary has worked with Josh Donaldson and Chris Colabello – both of whom have really been fastball assassins since adopting Tewksbary’s methods.

During the first week of the season, Tulowitzki has been awful at the plate. Outside of his floppy glove issue, which now thankfully appears to have been addressed, he has played his typical stellar defense at shortstop. However, he struggled badly against fastballs, which continued the concerning trend which emerged from 2016.

According to Pitch Values data listed on Tulo’s Fangraphs page, his wFB/C (fastball runs above average per 100 pitches) during the 1st week of the season was -1.97, which is really bad. Obviously, one week is a small sample size and I think there is actually some good news in the remainder of his Pitch Values data over the first week – they are ALL AWFUL. This may seem counterintuitive at first glance, but I am heartened that Tulo has been so bad across the board. He’s been awful against sliders, change ups, curveballs and knuckleballs, and just average against cutters. I believe this suggests he is struggling generally and is basically in a slump to start the season.

The flip side of this perverse optimism is that the composition of his fastball data is still concerning and indicates that he continues to struggle the most against high fastballs – which are usually 4 seamers. PITCHf/x Pitch Values/100 data shows he has been a dreadful -5.62 on 4 seam fastballs so far this season, versus -.84 on 2 seam fastballs. For a more extensive analysis of this emerging high fastball issue for Tulo, please refer August Fagerstrom’s excellent analysis on the subject from last October.

With his poor performance/data against sliders, I would be shocked if Tulo doesn’t see a steady diet and mix of high 4 seam fastballs with sliders playing off that pitch. My optimism about Tulo in 2016 will likely shift to pragmatic realism of a player in “normal” decline, if he is unable to reverse his success rate versus 4 seam fastballs once his current slump ends. If the pre-2015 Tulo returns, his power to all fields may lead to an MVP-caliber year in the Rogers Center and small AL East parks.



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