A healthy Troy Tulowitzki gives the Rockies far and away the best shortstop in the league. However, an injury to Tulo is likely to take them from the top of the league at shortstop to somewhere near the bottom, making it a critical position for the team.
Troy Tulowitzki is, of course, the Rockies starter at shortstop. There’s obviously an elephant in the room with him, so I’ll just get that out of the way before moving on to how awesome he is. Tulo has been very injury prone throughout his career. In his eight full Major League seasons, he has only been able to play in 140 games three times, the most recent coming in 2011. His MVP-caliber 2014 season was cut short after just 91 games due to a torn labrum. The corrective hip surgery he received will also hopefully help to prevent other lower body injuries, something he’s experienced in the past. The good news is he’s ahead of schedule in his recovery; he started playing in spring training games about a week earlier than expected. Still, he’ll need to make it through a full season before most people are convinced that his injury woes are really behind him.
Now, let’s move on to the fun part. No matter how you slice it, Tulo is really, really good. There isn’t another shortstop in the game who can match the elite offense AND the elite defense that Tulowitzki brings to the Rockies. Since 2009, he leads all MLB shortstops in wRC+ at 139, fWAR at 28.7, and rWAR at 30.5. Defensively, he’s second among MLB shortstops in DRS with 50, and sixth in UZR/150 at 5.7 over that same time frame. His 6.3 fWAR/150 since then is second in all of baseball. Since his first full season in 2007, Troy is the only player in baseball with six different seasons of at least 5 fWAR and 5 rWAR. When healthy, he’s the best player in baseball not named Trout.
Last season, Tulo was at his absolute best before his injury with an insane slash line of .340/.432/.603. That was good enough for a 171 wRC+, the best mark in baseball (min. 350 PA). Remember, wRC+ is park-adjusted, so Tulo wasn’t getting help from Coors Field. He was on pace for what would’ve been career highs of 8.4 fWAR and 9.1 rWAR at the time of his injury, but he was still able to put together great marks of 5.1 fWAR and 5.5 rWAR. All this to say, a healthy Tulo makes the Rockies a much better team. His ability to hit in the middle of the lineup and also be a defensive asset is unmatched at the shortstop position. He should be no different in 2015, with the combination of ZiPS and Steamer projecting him for a 141 wRC+ and 5.8 fWAR.
Just like second base and third base, Daniel Descalso projects as Tulowitzki’s primary backup at shortstop. As a quick recap, Descalso has been replacement level in his career, has a career wRC+ of 81, and projects for a 79 wRC+ in 2015. Shortstop is the position where Descalso would likely be the biggest liability for the Rockies, as his defense here in his career has not been good at all. Over 782 defensive innings at shortstop, Descalso has posted -19 DRS and -22.7 UZR/150. This isn’t quite large enough to be a definitive sample size, but it gives a pretty strong indication that he is well below average here defensively. Despite that, he’ll likely be the first option on Tulo’s days off or if he is injured.
Minor League Options
Options in the Minor Leagues are probably going to sound familiar, too. As was the case at second base and third base, the additional options here are Charlie Culberson, Rafael Ynoa, and Cristhian Adames. Here’s a quick overview of all three.
Charlie Culberson has the most Major League experience of the trio, with 360 PA and 148 games played. It hasn’t been good for Culberson, with a 43 wRC+ and -1.2 fWAR in his career. That’s the bad news. The good news is that he’s just 25 years old and still has time to improve. He projects for 72 wRC+ in 2015 and would almost certainly be a defensive upgrade over Descalso at short.
Rafael Ynoa is another option here. Ynoa was good in limited time in 2014 with a 121 wRC+ in 71 PA in September. A lot of this was probably thanks to a .397 BABIP, but you have to give him credit for taking advantage of the opportunity when it came. Rafael is also enjoying a nice spring right now, further improving his standing within the organization. I still expect Culberson to be a step above him on the totem pole, but you never know. Ynoa projects for 69 wRC+ this year.
Finally, we come to Cristhian Adames. Shortstop is Cristhian’s natural position, so this is where we’re most likely to see him in 2015. He had limited Major League action in September last year, getting into seven games and making 15 PA. If Tulo were to get hurt this season and the team decides Descalso isn’t the guy to play there every day (he isn’t), there’s a decent chance they’ll give Adames an extended look to see what they have in him. Projection systems are having a hard time deciding what to think of him, with Steamer projecting him at 60 wRC+ while ZiPS thinks he’ll be at 75 wRC+.
That does it for our early look at shortstop, a critical position for the Rockies. As always, feedback and comments are welcome. Also, be sure to subscribe, like View from the Rooftop on Facebook and follow on Twitter, and check back on Thursday, March 19, for the next installment of the Rockies 2015 Position Preview Series: Outfield.