Recently, balls have been flying around and out of Coors Field like the cards at the end of a Solitaire game.
One big reason is that the best player in baseball (no, not Mike Trout), has been unleashing hell all spring. That player is an unstoppable force of Polish descent at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Troy Tulowitzki, the Colorado Rockies’ “large” shortstop in the grand tradition of his idol Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken, has quietly been putting together one of the greatest starts in decades. And although the Rockies don’t tend to get much press on the coasts, it has become impossible to ignore the greatest shortstop of his generation. At least, while he stays healthy.
His offensive numbers are comical. After the Rockies’ win over the Texas Rangers last night, Tulowitzki sat as the league leader in batting average, runs scored, on-base percentage (.522), slugging percentage (.794), OPS (naturally), OPS+, and total bases. He sat in second in home runs and runs batted in. He is batting .421. His OPS is an unheard-of 1.317. He gets on base more than half the time he steps to the plate. His Wins Above Replacement, widely considered to be the best measure of a player’s all around contributions, was a major league best 3.6, which is miles ahead of second place Trout (2.3) and the mere two others in the majors at 2.0 or higher.1 Earning a WAR of 3.6 in only 31 games (he has missed or sat out on a handful) is simply mind-boggling. Tulo is basically the best Fruit Ninja player ever, only his katana is a baseball bat, and each cherry is actually a baseball flying at him at 95 damn miles per hour.
His batting at his home park of Coors Field are even more video game ridiculous. A .608 batting average. A 1.775 OPS. 22 RBI in 15 games. 16 for 19 with four home runs with men on base. The .608 home BA is the highest by any player in his first 15 home games in baseball’s modern era, which began in 1900. He has about as many extra base hits at Coors (13) as he does swings and misses.
Here’s a dramatization of Tulowitzki’s average swing against both righties and lefties at Coors this year:
So we’ve established that the man can hit. But the fact that he is a shortstop, not a traditionally potent position at the plate, means that his offensive value is even more magnified in relation to his peers. He has also benefited greatly from a stellar Rockies lineup this season — it’s much harder for a team to pitch around Tulo when they are faced with Carlos Gonzalez, a rejuvenated Justin Morneau, or the streaking young star in the making Nolan Arenado after him, and when leadoff phenom Charlie Blackmon is probably already on base.
Beyond the plate, he is a clubhouse leader as well, and interesting accomplishments seem to follow him like magnets. In the first few years of his career, for example, he had already turned the 13th ever unassisted triple play and hit for the cycle.
His defense, though, is what sets him apart from the few other hitters in the game who are capable of such dominant offense. In his seven years in the league, plus the current fraction of the 2014 season, he has led the league four times in double plays turned among all shortstops, led the league six times in range factor1 for shortstops, led the league three times in total zone runs2 among shortstops, and, incredibly, has led the league seven times in the all important fielding percentage3 category (including the current season, in which his FP is a not-too-shabby 100%). That kind of all-world defense is enough to command respect and meaty contracts. Combine it with the kind of historic offensive potential described above, and, well, you have yourself an MVP candidate, like, for reals. The knock on Tulo has always been his durability — he has missed dozens of games during all but two of his seasons — but he has seemed spry so far this spring.
I still remember being shocked that Ryan Braun beat him out for Rookie of the Year in 2007, given his nearly-as-good offense and vastly superior all around game. It’s now looking likely that Tulo will have the last laugh.
Not surprisingly, Tulo was named the National League Player of the Month for April. So far, it appears that he is still feeling grabby and wants the May trophy as well.
- The WAR listed does not take into account his game last night, on the evening of May 6, during which he reached base four times (an RBI double, two singles, and a hit-by-pitch).
- Range factor is putouts plus assists per game or per nine innings.
- Total zone runs is the number of runs above or below average that a fielder is worth based on the plays they make.
- Fielding percentage, in essence, reflects the number of plays made discounted by errors.