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PECOTA 60-game projected standings are here!

Player Background

Just like his team’s name, Tulowitzki is a mountain of sorts, not in immobility or derivation from plate tectonics, but in a sense that he is a large, majestic figure that inspires awe from onlookers. We all know why the onlookers look on with awe, they do so because Tulowitzki mashes and the absurdly hitter friendly environment that is Coors Field only compounds the extent of his mash. Beyond being one of the game’s best hitters, Tulowitzki plays one of the weakest offensive positions, shortstop, and plays it well. Health is the only thing that is stopping Tulowitzki from MVP consideration and being a potential top-10 fantasy baseball draft pick. Figuring out how to factor health into Tulowitzki’s 2015 projection and how we make decisions based on uncertain variables such as injury proneness will determine whether we make the right decisions surrounding the shortstop in this year’s auctions and drafts. But first, we will take a quick look at what happened last season.

What Went Right in 2014

Tulowitzki was probably the most prolific hitter on an at-bat basis in 2014. Stolen bases are three years back in his rearview, but Tulowitzki was and is elite in every other possible way when healthy. While he has always been elite, Tulowitzki managed to improve on a per game basis in 2014; putting up a .340 batting average and 21 home runs in only 91 games. He did so by posting career highs in BABIP (.355) and HR:FB (20.6 percent) in 2014. While the BABIP improvements, at least against right handed pitching, seemed to be driven by good ol’ variation, the HR/FB gains were driven almost entirely from an obscene 30 percent HR:FB mark against lefties over 99 plate appearances last season. While that mark is probably unsustainable, Tulowitzki’s 2014 was easily his best season against left-handed pitching as he posted career highs in each triple slash category with a .397/.515/.833 (compared to a .317/.405/.558 career average). His .436 ISO was best in baseball for players with at least 75 at bats against left-handed pitching (Steve Pierce was the next best at .378). This was not just luck either; Tulowitzki was more selective than ever and pulled the ball more than ever against southpaws last year, which led to fewer groundballs and more flyballs, which looks like a pretty great adjustment in retrospect.

What Went Wrong in 2014

He got hurt, again. A torn hip labrum led to surgery, which led to Tulowitzki missing 64 games. As a result, the world only received 91 games and 375 plate appearances from its most offensively talented shortstop. That is the end of what went wrong for Tulowitzki in 2014.

What to Expect in 2015

Year

PA

Games

AVG

HR

R

RBI

SB

2015 (PECOTA)

520

0.305

25

72

83

3

2014 Season

375

126

0.340

21

71

52

1

2013 Season

512

91

0.312

25

72

82

1

As we can see from the above table, PECOTA expects Tulowitzki to replicate his 2013 numbers in 2015. Compared to his 2014 season, the projection expects Tulowitzki’s BABIP and HR/FB to regress negatively and his playing time (health) to regress positively (both regressing to his career norms). Given the changes he has made against lefties, I am expecting Tulowitzki to perform slightly better than his career norms, and might put him at .310 with 1-2 more home runs and 5-10 more total runs and RBI. As far as the health projection is concerned, I think it is spot on. Tulowitzki has averaged 494.5 plate appearances per season since breaking in full time in 2007, but there have been some fluke injuries along the way. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let us look at all the injuries that caused him to miss games. Injuries that resulted in 10-plus missed games:

Injury

Games

Year

Torn left hip labrum

64

2014

Fractured right rib

26

2013

Scar tissue near nerve removed (left groin)

113

2012

Left wrist fracture

33

2010

Right thumb laceration

13

2008

Strained left quadriceps

46

2008

Injuries that resulted in less than 10 missed games: right thigh strain (x2), left shoulder strain, left groin soreness, left hip inflation (bursititis), right thigh tightness, right groin tightness, groin strain (x2), back soreness, medical illness (x2), left hand contusion, left thigh strain.

If we put some part of the rib fracture, thumb laceration, and wrist fracture in the “fluke/non-predictive bin,” while putting the thigh, groin, back and hip injuries into the “possibly predictive bin,” then projecting Tulowitzki to play about 25 more games than his career average in his age-30 season seems reasonable.

So what is an all-world player with injury problems worth? Per PECOTA, 4.7 WARP; pretty good for a $20M cost in 2015. For fantasy baseball, however, we go to valuation expert Mike Gianella for what his projected .312/25/72/82/1 roto-slash would have been worth in an NL-only in 2014. Mike’s answer (calculation): $25.76. Given Tulowitzki’s history of high end performance (as opposed to first-time or out of nowhere high earners in 2014) and given the potential for his improvement against lefties to stick, I would probably put a $29-$31 NL-only value on him for 2015.

The trickier question is where to draft Tulowitzki in redraft leagues. His currently has the 15th-highest NFBC ADP at 16.67, and 15 is the highest I could imagine selecting him; the only player being selected ahead of him that I might pull behind him is Felix Hernandez, if only because of the depth of the starting pitching. After that, I am fine with taking Tulowitzki; I would personally prefer Robinson Cano or maybe Jacoby Ellsbury, but I could see myself flipping my preference on these three many times throughout the offseason. Those taking Tulowitzki earlier than 15 are clearly framing the decision in terms of upside. It is tempting in this situation bet on the player that is a healthy season away from being a top five talent, but the odds are just not in Tulowitzki’s favor given his health history; thus, we should be taking the player that has the highest value proposition (any of the players with higher current ADPs), rather than the player with the most upside. (Note: Tulowitzki gains value in really shallow leagues with very high replacement level, but this is usually overstated as there is strategic cost to carrying a backup on our bench all season and there is risk that productivity will exist as expected on the waiver wire.)

The Great Beyond

For Tulowitzki and really every player, each year is another data point to add to the player’s career dataset. The key for an injury prone player like Tulowitzki is to not overreact to the most recent season. Part of the reason he is probably properly valued going into 2015 is that he did not hit a playing time extreme last season, thus giving us something to overreact to, but going forward this is something to watch out for. While I would like to say that I have any idea what the future holds for Tulowitzki’s problematic thigh and groin muscles, I do not have a better guess at his future playing time than using his past playing time as we did above. As far as performance goes, he has the approach and skills that are pretty much optimal for an aging player; thus, we should be betting on him continuing his prolific production (absent health) until he is no longer doing so.

Lastly, I am not concerned with a future team change and/or positional switch—two things that could be fretted about—going forward. Sure, not playing half his games in Coors would hurt, but I would much rather be the owner getting Tulowitzki at a discount from the owner worried about such a change than be the owner selling him. The same thing goes for a positional switch because Tulowitzki (i) still fields a very good shortstop, (ii) has the bat to be a fantasy asset anywhere, and (iii) will have a one year lag on shortstop eligibility. On top of that, if a move to a less strenuous position leads to better health, I would prefer 150 games of Tulowitzki at third base to 120 games of Tulowitzki at shortstop. Ultimately, keep grabbing Tulowitzki for whatever the value of 520 PA of elite shortstop production is going for that particular season, while making sure to adjust that 520 PA mark as new data comes in each season.

Thank you for reading

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kolbotn
2/06
What would his value in a mlb 5x5 trad roto 12 team league?