Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was never himself in Toronto last season. In a relatively quiet winter, his healthy return cannot be understated
Toronto fans only got to see Troy Tulowitzki’s true ability in bursts over the final two-plus months of the 2015 season. From batting leadoff to an unfortunately-timed slump and eventual injury, Tulowitzki was never right. Neither were his numbers, so a return to normal for Tulowitzki in 2016 should come to represent one of the most significant offseason boosts to this roster.
This notion admittedly parallels the groans resulting from a general manager saying that a star player returning from injury “is, really, our trade deadline addition”. We’ve been quick to glance over the starting nine quickly and call it the same, “it is what it is”, but after giving Toronto 41 regular season games of a fairly replacement-level bat, Tulowitzki can raise that bar.
After posting a WAR of 5.2 or higher in four of his past five seasons entering 2015, the only exception being an injury-shortened 2012, Tulowitzki managed just 2.3 WAR between Colorado and Toronto. After making the move north, the 31-year old produced a slash line of .239 / .317 / .380 with five home runs and 17 RBI.
When we look at that stretch with the bias of a very narrow scope, we see a starting shortstop with a .697 OPS and excellent defense. A sentence more easily linked to a Ryan Goins type than a five-time All Star. The Blue Jays offense produced with Tulowitzki performing at that level, however. Toronto doesn’t need any sort of career-awakening breakthrough from him in 2016, just a return to average.
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Tulowitzki will also benefit from a full season of familiarity with the SkyDome turf, not to mention an increased level of off-field comfort after the suddenness of his deadline move left him admittedly shook. While we don’t like to accept the ‘human’ factor impacting our on-screen entertainment machines in uniform, it does. With that foundation, how strongly can his bat play in Toronto?
From 2012-2014, Tulowitzki posted a mammoth .950 OPS across 264 games. This eclipses his career average of .877, while his batting average of .316 over that span tops his career total of .297. Steamer Projections are forecasting a 2016 line of .260 / .334 / .441 with 21 home runs. As is often the case with these projections, that’s too conservative for my liking.
Assuming that he would slot back in to the number five spot behind Ben Revere, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, a .290+ batting average and OPS in the neighborhood of .900 are entirely within the realm of possibility. Again, health will be the primary factor here, but stack a full season of normal offensive Tulowitzki on top of his glove and you’re left with a ~5.0 WAR player. Next to Donaldson, it’s conceivable the left side of the infield pushes or exceeds 12.0 WAR.
It’s equally likely that the regression monster creeps up on someone in Toronto this season, so rostered players with the ability to increase production from their 2015 level will be critical in keeping the league-best offense afloat. Improvements in left field that will no longer necessitate the likes of Ezequiel Carrera and the potential of Devon Travis upon his return only heighten these chances.
So while this is ten miles from the improvement that fans are looking for, it can’t be dismissed as swiftly as it has been. A fully functioning Tulo will get it done at the dish, but also help to buoy whichever starting rotation and bullpen staff Toronto is able to tape together come April.