Colorado Rockies All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has every intention of remaining an All-Star shortstop.
Though he clearly had more than a passing interest in the Roger Federer–Novak Djokovic match that served as the soundtrack to our conversation, he was gracious enough to take some time to talk to me about the evolution of his game; modern standards when evaluating defense; his relationship with Cal Ripken Jr.; and his big reason for wanting to stay at his position on the diamond despite a lingering belief in some corners that a move to third is inevitable.
DC: I wanted to ask you some questions about defense which arose after noticing that DJ LeMahieu's defensive stats are down this season, which does not match up with anything I've seen from him. What stats do you use to evaluate your own defense?
Tulo: The number one stat that is most important to me is fielding percentage -- whether or not you are fielding the balls hit to you or a ball that you can get your glove on. I know there are other stats like range factor and UZR but the bottom line is that I think it's getting harder and harder to tell on those with all the shifts that are going on.
If I were to take a look back just for me personally as far as my stats are concerned from this year to the rest of my career, I'd have to put a note down that this is the first year of my career that I've done massive shifts.
My numbers aren't going to add up, DJ's numbers aren't going to add up maybe to what people are used to seeing. We're being put in spots that maybe aren't the most comfortable for us so therefore you aren't going to read the ball as well off the bat. So I think that's probably why you see a difference in those numbers, especially for middle infielders where the shifting is more dramatic.
DC: Which is interesting because as we note that some individual numbers are down, the team numbers on converting ground balls are up from last year.
Tulo: Take injuries into account there. Nolan missed a good portion of time, I missed almost half the year. We had some different things going on, a lack of consistency last year.
DC: How has the presence of an elite third baseman in Nolan Arenado changed your defensive approach?
Tulo: Yeah, it's changed. Obviously Nolan gets to a lot of balls in the six-hole and if anything there have been a couple of times where it's messed me up because balls that I thought he would get [but doesn't] and all of a sudden I'm not able to charge because I'm used to him running in there and I don't want to run into him.
It's been an adjustment. It's fine. He's a heck of a player. With how good he is he has all my respect. You let him do his thing out there you don't say, "You're messing me up" that's just a part of the game.
DC: Where do you feel like you are now as opposed to the rest of your career?
Tulo: I think you look at any shortstop or middle infielder as the years go on, obviously they are going to get a little bit slower, maybe not be all-out as much. That's the case with me. I still feel like I'm an elite shortstop, personally. My positioning is better, I'm better mentally, I'm smarter so all those things come into play.
Cal [Ripken Jr.] has been the number one guy for me to talk to about that stuff. He says [the key to getting better as you age is] your positioning gets better, you understand the game better, you better understand what you do good versus bad, and you put yourself in better positions to have success.
He is really the model guy for me. Height wise, weight wise, he is a guy I can compare myself to. Another thing is for all the guys I've talked to -- A-Rod, Nomar, Cal, guys that were big playing shortstop and ended up moving to third -- they all told me they would never do that again. That's what pushes me to stay at short. They all thought they should have stayed there.
DC: Do you feel like you are in some ways a better defender than you were as a rookie in 2007?
Tulo: Smarter. I take care of the ball better especially on double-plays. I'd always let it go to first even if it had caused an error before. I knew I just wanted to try to turn every double play but now I hold onto the ball and get less errors that way. I think early in my career my game was erratic at times, I was diving all over the place, making all kinds of crazy throws, running the base-paths like crazy. I'm more in control now.