Toronto Blue Jays News

Inside Troy Tulowitzki’s slow start

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Apr 14, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (2) gets out of the way of pitch as New York Yankees catcher Brian McCann (34) makes the catch in the eighth inning at Rogers Centre. Toronto defeated New York 4-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 14, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (2) gets out of the way of pitch as New York Yankees catcher Brian McCann (34) makes the catch in the eighth inning at Rogers Centre. Toronto defeated New York 4-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /
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— Note: First off, I want to caution readers that I am working with a small sample size. Although small, I feel this article still gives perspective on a possible cause to a slow start.

After a slow start to the 2016 season some Blue Jays fans may be wondering what exactly is going wrong with the hitters.

It is a reasonable thought, as last year Toronto scored more than enough runs and offence seemed easy. This year however, things seem a bit worse. One of the key acquisitions from 2015 is notably struggling. Troy Tulowitzki‘s performance has been anything but desirable, but let’s not take that at face value and rather look deeper into the why.

Troy Tulowitzki – .128 / .222 / .255

The Tulowitzki trade was a huge part of 2015 season. Solidifying the already potent offence with yet another guy who seemingly hits for as much power as you could want out of a shortstop without sacrificing the average or defence was almost too good to be true.

Tulowitzki added a leg kick in the offseason in an attempt to add some more power. Of course, with the success of leg kicks in the Blue Jays organization, why not try to make a strong part of your game even stronger.

So far in 2016, he has had an unimpressive start. Sure it is a small sample size, but pitchers are working him differently. It all started in Tampa, with pitchers working up in the zone on Tulowitzki. If we look at the numbers in 2015, Troy didn’t see many high pitches. Only 9.38% of pitches were up in the zone last year compared to 11.79% so far this year. This means he is seeing nearly a 21% increase in high strikes year over year.

Now historically Tulowitzki has handled high pitches, hitting .337 in the upper third over his career. This year he is hitting 1/8 or .125. Is it fair to assume he will return to his career norms?

Maybe. But also maybe not. Some might call a 95 MPH fastball a 95 MPH fastball, but in terms of its perceived velocity it may appear closer to 100 MPH to the hitter if up high.

Now one might argue even with perceived velocity, he’s hit high strikes well his whole career, so why would it suddenly become a factor this year? The answer is rather simple – the leg kick. Tulowitzki is still in a state of transition with that part of his swing mechanics, exiting the spring with a full leg kick, now using more of a toe-tap with the odd leg kick still thrown in.

The higher a leg kick, the harder timing becomes. It might seem weird to read this, because as a Jays fan we are used to guys who have tremendous success with leg kicks. But for every guy a leg kick proves successful, there are a few it just does not work for.

Whether or not perceived velocity is a factor is for you to decide, but it is worth noting the one of the first to adopt the approach, Jim Hickey, is the pitching coach for the Tampa Bay Rays, who the Jays started the season against. It is further worth noting Tulowitzki had 7 strikeouts that series in 16 PA with 11.84% of pitches being in the upper third of the zone.

I’m not necessarily saying this is all on the leg kick, but for now that can be chalked up at one of the possible reasons for Tulowitzki’s slow start. Either an improvement in timing or a mechanical change will end the drought. Troy Tulowitzki has shown the ability to adapt in the past, and will undoubtedly do the same thing here.

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