Troy Tulowitzki is in the fourth-last season of a contract that will see him paid $20 million this year, $20 million in each of 2018 and 2019, and $14 million in 2020, with a $4 million buyout on a 2021 option. His wRC+ for the 2017 season so far is 65.
Those, as much as I can imagine none of us wants to hear them, are facts.
If I wanted to be a complete and utter dick I could point out a handful of other facts people will want absolutely nothing to do with hearing, too. Like the fact that, with a 60 wRC+, and a -0.5 WAR to Tulo’s -0.2, He Who Shall Not Be Named (José Reyes) hasn’t been a whole lot worse this year. On the field, that is. Or the fact that Reyes is now in the final year of the giant free agent contract he signed with the Marlins ahead of the 2012 season, and which the Blue Jays traded for a year later.
I have no intention of making this a full-on Tulo-Reyes post (because: gross), and I obviously am not pining for the one who used to be here. I just mean to say that this… uh… this Tulo thing isn’t going so well right now.
And as uncomfortable as those facts may be, we should probably be willing to at least look at them.
* * *
Since the trade Tulo has been worth 3 WAR, compared to 0.4 for Reyes, and the Jays have been to the ALCS twice, and Tulo seems to have demonstrated intangible value beyond anything that will show up on his FanGraphs page (for whatever little that’s worth), so let’s not go too nuts about similarities between the production offered by the two. But you could be forgiven for getting little comfort from such things as you stare blankly at this year on its own, or the difference between their contracts. You could be forgiven for taken even less comfort when you consider that — and you may want to avert your eyes for this — Jeff Hoffman has been worth 1.2 wins already this season.
But there is at least some comfort in the fact that we’ve been here before.
In the middle of last May at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron wrote about The Worrisome Trend for Troy Tulowitzki, zeroing in on a plummeting contact rate on pitches in the zone, and batting line that had produced a 65 wRC+. Cameron was measured in his concern, but it was hard not to find it all a little grim. However! From the time of Cameron’s piece until the end of the season Tulo produced a 116 wRC+ and an ISO of nearly .200. More than that, his exit velocity and contact profile looked very good. At the end of the season, Tony Blengino’s “adjusted contact quality” report on AL shortstops ranked Tulo the second most dangerous hitter at the position in the league, and the third best in all of baseball behind Carlos Correa and Corey Seager. He was striking the ball well, even if the results weren’t quite coming. According to Statcast, his 7.0% “barrel” rate per plate appearance put him in the top 50 of nearly 400 hitters with at least 100 batted ball events.
So far this season, we just can’t say the same thing. Right now his 2.8% Brls/PA rate places him just inside the top 200 of 259 big leaguers with at least 100 BBE. That’s… uh… not good.
Neither is this:
#BlueJays' Troy Tulowitzki
•striking out much less, just 11.7%
•exit velo ↓ to 86 mph from 90
•line drives ↓
•hard contact ↓
•weak contact ↑
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) June 21, 2017
It still feels a liiiiiiittle premature for the arrival of the Oh Shit, What Have We Done portion of the Tulo experience. I mean, I’d hate to get burned a second time by a guy who suddenly snapped out of his early-season funk somewhat dramatically last season. And yet… here we are. Or at least here we might be.
We’re a month deeper into 2017 than we were last year when Cameron wrote his piece, and the barrels, the exit velocity, and the ISO (currently at .098, compared to .164 at that stage a year ago), just aren’t there. And if we want to take a really dark turn, the defensive numbers — Tulo’s UZR on the season so far is at -2.6, last year it was 4.9; his DRS this year sits at -1, last year it was +10 — aren’t either.
Based on his history and the eye test, the defensive numbers aren’t terribly worrisome — and because of that he’s still going to have a home on the left side of the diamond for the Blue Jays for a long time. It’s just…
Denial is the first of the supposed stages of grief. After it comes anger, a stage a bunch of Jays fans may have understandably reached reached the second they saw the stuff about Reyes above (HOW DARE YOU TALK ABOUT OUR BASEBALL DAD LIKE THAT!!!!). Next it’s bargaining — maybe he’s secretly hurt! maybe there’s a way to trade him! maybe he’ll be OK as the world’s most expensive utility player! — before the inevitable depression — UGHHHHH, HOW MANY YEARS STILL LEFT ON THAT DEAL??? — which takes us all the way to acceptance
Could this really be the road we’re heading down with Tulo? Clearly there are some facts that are pointing that direction at the moment, unfortunately. And there is still a whole lot of contract left for our view of Alex Anthopoulos’s big summer of wheeling and dealing to sour real hard.
But things reasons to remain positive about this, too. Tulo was pretty incredibly great not all that long ago, and if the quality of his contact last year is to believe, there’s more of that player still in there than is always obvious. Also, though we’re a month deeper into the season than the time of Cameron’s piece last year, Tulo has only come to the plate three more times in 2017 than he had at that point in 2016. It’s maybe easy to forget, perhaps because he’s on the DL all the damn time, but Tulo has missed over a month of this season already.
He turned it around at precisely this point last season, so maybe he can do it again! Denial it is! But… uh… I’m not going to lie, it doesn’t feel great to have little more than that to cling to.