Auditing the 2010 Colorado Rockies: Shortstop

So far, I've discussed the chaotic situations the Rockies had in 2010 (and will likely continue to have in 2011) at catcher, first base, second base, and third base (there's hope for that last one). This time, it's nice to write about a successful this year, stable going forward position in shortstop. That's because one of the Rockies' two primary offensive studs, Troy Tulowitzki, manned the position at which defense usually comes at the expense of offense.

Shortstop, according to Tom Tango's positional adjustment scale, is given a +7.5 adjustment when calculating WAR. This is due to the fact that shortstops receive the most fielding chances, by and large, requiring excellent fielding technique, quickness, speed, and a strong, accurate arm. In other words, it is a physically demanding fielding position that his historically been manned by weak Punch and Judy hitters. Several Rockies' shortstops have fit this mold (Walt Weiss and Neifi Perez come to mind). Troy Tulowitzki is certainly not one of them (a weak hitter, that is).

Tulowitzki's fielding technique is a little unorthodox but has thus far proven to be exceptionally effective. He won his second Fielding Bible Award this year and it looks like he's in good shape for his first Gold Glove Award. His great 7.9 UZR in 2010 supports the eye test that Tulo possesses great range and an excellent arm.

As for Tulowitzki's hitting, much has already been written about it. I've already written a little about his season this year, so the results and analysis sections will be a little shorter than usual. In addition, Clint Barmes was Tulo's injury replacement this year, so I'll touch on his stats as a SS too.

For those of you who missed it, here is the premise and methodology of this series. These links will help you if you have questions about statistics that I reference: sOPS+wOBAWAR (and wRAA), and wRC+.

Shortstop

Expectations

Coming into 2010 it was clear that Troy Tulowitzki had the potential to be a MVP-type player, posting two separate seasons of 5+ WAR before the age of 25. The problem was that wedged in between those two excellent seasons was an injury-plagued 0.9 WAR disaster of a 2008. In addition, Tulo had started 2009 slowly offensively, waiting until the second half of the season to erupt (.344/.421/.622, 174 sOPS+, and a wOBA well north of .400 with 16 HRs and 55 RBIs in 297 PAs).

So while the Rockies were pretty sure that Tulowitzki was going to be a big contributor for them going into 2010, there was certainly some doubt as to whether he could replicate his great power/speed numbers from 2009 (32 HRs, 20 SBs). In addition, UZR had rated Tulo as only a slightly above average defender (2.4) in 2009, while other metrics had rated his defense as sublime.

In any case, Tulo was entering the third year of a 6 year, $31 million contract signed after 2007, making $3.5 million. Colorado had thus far received quite a return on its investment: a middle of the order bat who also played excellent defense at a premium position. That's what almost everybody expected of Tulo going into 2010.

Results

Tulowitzki started 2010 well enough, putting up sOPS+ months of 113 in April, 162 in May (.319/.418/.543, .423 wOBA, 160 wRC+), and 138 in June (first half total sOPS+ of 138) before his hand was broken when he got hit by a pitch in mid-June. In other words, he'd been having a fine year that was a little behind the pace he set in 2009 in terms of counting stats (only 9 HRs, 34 RBIs, and 7 SBs), even when taking the injury into consideration. However, considering the slow start he'd gotten off to so far in his career in the first half, that 138 sOPS+ first half mark was the best of his career. In fact, it was good enough for Tulo to garner his first All-Star game berth.

In the interim, Clint Barmes slid over to shortstop. Barmes, if you recall, was in the midst of a nightmarish season, but as a shortstop he was a success for the Rockies. Over 156 PAs, Barmes hit .279/.355/.382, which when compared to other MLB shortstops was above average (113 sOPS+). In other words, Barmes actually did a pretty good job of substituting for Tulo.

When Tulowitzki returned (pretty quickly) from injury in late July, many worried that the hand injury would sap his power. Tulo put those concerns to rest with a hot August (.351/.417/.521, .407 wOBA, 149 wRC+, 159 sOPS+). Going into September, Tulo was hitting over .300 but had only 12 HRs and 55 RBI to show for it. September was pretty darn epic. Here's what I wrote about it a few weeks back:

Entering September, Tulowitzki wasn't really on anybody's MVP radar despite stellar play and his first All-Star selection. However, from September 1st on, Tulo hit .303/.366/.754 (that's a .468 wOBA and 190 wRC+) with 15 HRs -- only 14 singles (92 TBs) -- and 40 RBIs (second all-time only to Babe Ruth's 43) and a 208 sOPS+ in 122 PAs. 31.3% of Tulo's flyballs in the month left the yard.

Those are the sorts of numbers that will get you into the MVP discussion. Had the Rockies made the postseason, Tulo would have been a pretty strong candidate in the minds of voters. The crazy thing is that Tulo's September wasn't even the best offensive month by a Rockie in 2010 according to rate stats (in counting stats, it was historic). I'll have more on that next week.

Here's what I had to say about Tulo's season as a whole:

Tulowitzki's 2010 season will be remembered for both his ridiculous September and for what could have been had he not spent 39 days on the DL in June/July. Considering his counting stats (27 HRs, 95 RBI, 11 SB), we are left to wonder if Tulo could have matched CarGo in offensive prowess. Injury or no, Tulowitzki's rate stats (.315/.381/.568, .408 wOBA, 150 wRC+) are incredibly impressive for a shortstop. Tulo's 171 sOPS+ when compared to shortstops (158 sOPS+ overall) reflects this. He mashed at home (172 sOPS+) and on the road (142), against righties (159) and lefties (165), in the first half (138) and the second (179).

Yes, compared to his peers, Tulowitzki was an incredible 71% better offensively in 2010. When Barmes' contributions are added in, Rockies SS were still 57% better offensively than league average in 2010.

In addition, Tulo posted a great 7.1 UZR (12 Rfield at BB Ref) and won his second Fielding Bible Award, with a great chance of winning his first Gold Glove Award. Combining his offensive and defensive contributions, Tulo posted a career best 6.4 WAR season per Fangraphs (though BB Ref had him at 5.6 this year and 6.8 last year).

Analysis

In my opinion, Tulo had a better offensive (and perhaps defensive) year in 2009 due to his injury, but the fact that he was able to come close to that sort of production in 2010 despite his injury is really quite encouraging to me. Before the season, I would have taken Tulo over every shortstop in MLB besides Hanley Ramirez. After this season, I might take Tulo even over Hanley due to his superior slugging and OBP potential. With other positions on the Rockies there are questions, but at shortstop there are none.

On a larger level, when you look at BB Reference's top 10 comparable players for Tulowitzki through age 25, five of them are in the Hall of Fame (including his top match Ernie Banks) and three of the others are Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Hanley Ramirez. That's some pretty heady company, indicative of the skill possessed by Tulo. I'm looking forward to see what he can do in the next few years as he enters his physical prime.

Next up...Left Field

I'll be writing that up after I post my preliminary payroll projections for 2011 on Thursday.

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