The Blue Jays are in the middle of a fight for a playoff spot…at the end of August. This is somewhat uncharted territory. At least, it is territory that is unfamiliar to us. It’s been so long that we can say this, we may have forgotten exactly what it feels like. In this time of meaningful baseball, should the club be looking to make moves to maximize performance, or should they leave things as they are in favor of what should work? How much do you tinker with your lineup in order to attempt to win all important games?
When your team is out of the race, you can afford to run out lineups in the hopes that players play their way out of slumps. Can you do that when you’re in a dog fight for a pennant? The Blue Jays are in a position where they need to answer this question: Is it time to move Tulo from the lead off spot?
When the Blue Jays shocked us all by trading for Tulo, a problem presented itself: where does he slot into the lineup. Our answer came quickly as he was put at the top of the order to hit in front of the modern day equivalent of “Murderer’s Row”. With Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion hitting behind him, Tulo looked to be set for quite a run. I mean, that is quite a top 4!
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Tulo is not what you’d call a prototypical lead off hitter. In any other lineup, he would be a middle of the order bat. But, in order to get him as many at bats as possible (as well as the other 3) putting him up first makes sense. His career OBP .370 suggests that it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. And, let’s be honest, he would really only be leading off once in a game. The rest of the time, he’d be a good bat to bring in the bottom of the order when they get on. It is a good idea.
Except, it hasn’t been working out as planned. If we look to Fangraphs.com, we see that Tulo hasn’t had a great amount of success at the top of the order. Batting first in 2015 has yielded the following: 19 games, 17 hits, 4 doubles, 3 HR, 17 R, 8 RBI, with 19 K and a .221 average and a .318 OBP all for a total wRC+ of 98. Now, 17 hits in 19 games isn’t so bad. Neither is 17 runs. But, the .221 mark isn’t exactly ideal. Combine that with a 21.6% K rate and a 8% BB rate and the decision to bat him first looks a bit more questionable.
But, it gets worse. August has not been kind to Tulo. His line of .190/.311/317 has led to a worse wRC+ of 80. He’s managed just 12 hits (2 doubles, 2 HR), 11 runs, 5 RBI, 8 walks and 16 strike outs. These are not typical Tulo numbers, I’ll grant you. But, they are also not typical numbers you’d like to see out of the leadoff spot. He’s struggling. It happens to lots of hitters. Donaldson had a second half of struggles last year. This is not to say that Tulo is terrible or anything like that. It is meant to suggest that maybe manager, John Gibbons looks at a possible shake up of the lineup.
I understand wanting to get the most at bats possible for Tulo. But, how long do you sit and wait for a guy to come out of his slump? Can the Blue Jays afford to do that? They’ve been on fire since the trade deadline, but they are in no way running away with the division. They’re competing. And as such, they need to think about putting out their best lineup every night. Does Tulo give them that hitting first?
Of course, the other side of that is who else is there? Some will point to Ben Revere. He’s hitting .298 (.333 OBP) out of the leadoff spot in 2015 and just .239 in the 9 hole. He certainly brings the speed element. Moving Revere up might allow the Blue Jays to slide Tulo into the 5th spot in the lineup where his power can be utilized. Maybe. This could work for a game or two. Maybe even a week. But, is it likely to happen?
Tulo’s struggles seem to have more to do with an August slump than hitting out of the top spot. Many feel that the best way to get out of a slump is to hit your way out. That means letting the player keep grinding until he comes around. Can the Blue Jays afford to do that? The answer is that they may not have much choice. Keeping Tulo where he is is their best option to get him the most at bats. His career numbers have earned him the faith. And, the club is not exactly flush with lead off options.
In a time where every game is important, a baseball team has to make decisions that will put their team in the best position to win. That means having to choose between sticking with the consistency that comes with letting a player work through their struggles and shaking up a lineup to adjust for hots and colds. The Blue Jays will likely stick with Tulo where he is; the potential benefits outweigh the current struggles. But, is that what you would do? Leave your thoughts below.