At what point do we start to believe it? We know all of the reasons why this won't last. He's injury prone. He has a .393 BABIP. Coors Field is weird. He's presumably a human being. There's really no logical reason to expect Troy Tulowitzki to continue to hit .393/.494/.764 (227 wRC+) while also playing elite defense at the second most demanding defensive position, but we're more than forty games into the season and he's not slowing down. This probably won't last. It certainly won't last. But one quarter of the way through 2014, Troy Tulowitzki is on pace to have the best season in the history of baseball (all stats entering Monday).
I think there's a collective fear among baseball analysts, and especially Rockies fans, that if we talk too much about Tulowitzki that we're tempting fate. We recognize how insane his numbers are, but Coors Field is crazy (Tulo has a .696 wOBA at home) and forty games isn't enough of a sample to throw regression to the mean out the window. He's a great player. There's no argument. We all knew that if he could find a way to be fully healthy, he'd be great. Heck, before this year he had already had five 5.0+ fWAR seasons even though he's only played 140+ games three times.
So for now we have a healthy Tulo and he's delivering. But he's delivering at a preposterous pace. His peak offensive seasons have been in the 130-140 wRC+ range. This year he has a 227 wRC+. That's not just better than his career bests, that's the 6th best offensive season in history. The names ahead of him are Ruth and Bonds, and that's using a statistic that controls for park effects. Only Ruth, Bonds, and Gehrig have ever finished a season with a higher slugging percentage than Tulo has right now.
And unlike Miguel Cabrera's hot start in 2013, Tulowitzki isn't just doing it with the bat. He's playing Andrelton Simmons level shortstop. Of course, we know about defensive numbers in small samples, but he's always been very good at the position, so it's not like these numbers are impossible. He's at 12 DRS and a 6.3 UZR (21.2 UZR/150). Over a full season, that's something like 20 to 50 runs above the average shortstop. The upper bound is a little outlandish, but Tulo has a +19 and +31 season at short by DRS already (and a +11 and +13).
Right now, even taking the low end with UZR, Tulo already has 4.0 fWAR. If you go with the simple "on pace for" methodology, that settles in at 15.4 WAR for a full season. Yes, that would be a record. A quarter of the way through the season, he's 1.1 fWAR ahead of second place. He's Mike Trouting Mike Trout. And that's the WAR formula that sells him short. Baseball-Reference already has him at 4.5!
ZiPS and Steamer both project that he'll finish the season with more that 8.5 WAR and pretty much career highs in everything. Certainly, an injury could change things, but there's no particular reason to expect he's going to get cold otherwise. He's not going to hit like Ruth while playing defense like Ozzie for an entire season, but it's not that much of a stretch to suggest he might be the best player in baseball this year.
There isn't really analysis to be done here. Tulowitzki isn't a fundamentally different player this year.He's hitting more line drives, but we know batted ball data distinctions are a little hazy. He's getting more hits to fall and more home runs to carry, but that doesn't seem to be the result of a meaningful difference in anything he's doing. He's a great player having a great stretch.
This is more about putting Tulowitzki in context rather than explaining why Tulowitzki is what he is. There was a baseball video game some years ago (maybe it was High Heat Baseball?) in which you could unlock special stadiums. One of them was the Moon. You could play baseball on the Moon, and as you would expect, the ball carried really well. That's basically what's going on with Tulo right now. He's a great player going through a great stretch in an awesome context for his style of play.
This is not going to last forever, but we might finally be getting a completely healthy Tulo and that's pretty great even after you strip away the good fortune and good park. We all assumed Mike Trout was going to run away with the "best player in baseball" title again, but a healthy and locked in Tulowitzki is going to make it a race.
. . .
Neil Weinberg is the Associate Managing Editor at Beyond The Box Score, a contributor to Gammons Daily, and can also be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. Follow @NeilWeinberg44