For a long time, Troy Tulowitzki was like the McRib. One day he was here, making people giddy with joy. Then he was gone, spirited away, hopefully to return sooner rather than later. The good people of Denver would often wait for the other shoe to drop whenever Tulo was raking. They knew that somehow, some way, injury would steal him from their loving arms. Such is life as a Rockies fan. The stars get hurt, the pitchers get rocked, and the offense may never really be as good as everyone thinks it is.
That's why Tulowitzki's trade to Toronto last year felt like something of a fitting conclusion to his tenure with the Rockies. After the usual April surge, the team fell back into the depths of irrelevance and Tulowitzki was traded while having only posted a 104 wRC+ to that point. He was traded at one of the lowest points of his value in a Rockies uniform, instead of years earlier when he was youthful and dangerous and it was already clear that the team was stuck in neutral. So it goes.
Tulo struggled during his playoff run with the Blue Jays, but part of that could be attributed to the collision-induced that, lo and behold, placed him on the disabled list for a short period of time. What's truly mystifying is that he's been even worse this year.
Over 120 plate appearances, Tulo is hitting .163/.267/.317. Troy Tulowitzki, who hit .340/.432/.603 as recently as 2014. Troy Tulowitzki, who once had an argument to being a top-5 player in baseball. Troy Tulowitzki, who is sporting a 61 wRC+. How did it come to this?
Let's take a gander at his plate discipline figures for starters. Tulo has a career average swing rate of 42.8 percent, per FanGraphs. This year that figure is down to 40 percent. He's swinging less both in and out of the zone. In fact, he's offered at pitches in the zone at the lowest rate of his career.
When he has swung, he's missed at a career high rate (2006 was only a cup of coffee). That's a recipe for disaster no matter how it's sliced, diced, and served over a bed of mixed greens with a balsamic glaze. It's part of the reason that Tulo's strikeout rate has jumped more than seven points.
It also helps to have a bit of luck when putting the ball in play. Relying on BABIP to tell the story of a hitter is dangerous and often more than a little lazy, but it's telling when a hitter like Tulowitzki has a .179 BABIP against a career mark of .318. The ball is being put in play, and nothing is happening. What's the deal there?
There hasn't been a dramatic change in the pitches that Tulo is seeing, but it's there. Pitchers are giving him fewer fastballs and more off-speed and breaking stuff. Here's the data from Brooks Baseball, not including Thursday's game.
That's helped lead to a lot of weak contact. FanGraphs classified 37.5 percent of the balls Tulo put in play in 2015 as hard-hit. He's only at 30.9 percent so far. In addition, Tulo has been shifted on 18 times so far this season, and only gotten a hit twice. In 534 plate appearances in 2015, he only saw the shift 54 times. If he keeps seeing shifts at a higher rate, he may find his way into trouble. Since the start of 2015, Tulo has only hit a small handful of ground balls between first and second.
Is Troy Tulowitzki going to hit poorly for the rest of his career? Probably not, no. Tulo is only 31 years old and has the talent of one of the best hitters of his generation. Unfortunately, that talent seems to have been hidden away in a baseball by cartoon aliens. He likely won't need to enlist the help of Bugs Bunny to get it back, but there's some hard work ahead of him. The good news is that Tulo's power hasn't totally evaporated (5 home runs so far, but only one double), and he isn't the focal point of the offense as he was in Colorado. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion do a fine enough job on their own.
That all being said, the trend is a slightly worrisome one, and it may be that all of those injuries have taken their toll on Tulowitzki. Only time will tell, of course, but eventually, the McRib does return. The same will be true of Tulo's bat.