The Yankees released a statement by Troy Tulowitzki announcing his retirement, who has played only five games for the Bombers this season due to a strained left calf. It brings to an end a career that started in 2006, and while it was a career that many players could be envious of, you would be hard pressed to find someone who did not wonder how much better it could have been had Tulo’s body not constantly betrayed him.
Tulowitzki finishes with a career line of .290/.361/.495. Coincidentally, his 119 wRC+ is the same as his boyhood idol Derek Jeter (who did it in over twice the number of PA, of course), and is tied for seventh-best all time among shortstops in the live-ball era with at least 5,000 PA. His 44.2 WAR is tied with Nomar Garciaparra for 33rd all time, and not that anybody is clamoring that he should be a Hall of Famer, but he falls well short of the JAWS standard.
It is a perversely comical coincidence that Tulowitzki and Garciaparra finished with identical WARs, because one also has to wonder what Nomar’s career could have been had it not been for injuries. He debuted in 1996 and was clearly on a Hall of Fame track through 2003, having hit .323/.370/.555 and accumulating 41.2 WAR, but accumulated only 3.0 WAR in the six following seasons.
The big difference between Tulo and Nomar is that had Nomar been able to stay healthy, he would be a Hall of Famer. A healthy Tulo would not only have been a Hall of Famer too, but possibly an all-time great among the likes of Cal Rikpen and even his favorite player, Derek Jeter. I don’t think it is unreasonable to claim that he could have at least doubled his career WAR had he been able to stay on the field.
Like Ripken, Tulo was big for a shortstop, and also like Ripken, he was able to field his position very well despite that. Of course it is always important to park-adjust stats when talking about Rockies hitters, so going by wRC+ in their primes, those two also compared favorably as shortstops who could really hit. All this stands as another comically perverse coincidence given Ripken’s iron-man career compared to Tulo’s injury-riddled one.
Tulowitzki’s last great season was in 2014, when he hit .340/.432/.603, good for a 170 wRC+. He would have run away with the NL MVP award that year if it were not for the fact that he only played in 91 games that year, basically missing the second half of the season due to undergoing labral repair surgery. Still, it was amazing that he was able to accumulate 5.5 WAR that year.
The Rockies traded Tulo to the Blue Jays near the 2015 trade deadline, and he was reportedly very upset about it. He was pretty good for them through the 2016 season, hitting .267/.327/.442 while continuing to provide plus defense at shortstop, and he accumulated 4.7 WAR in that season and a half.
Unfortunately, it fell apart after that. He it a lowly .249/.300/.378 in 66 games with the Blue Jays in 2017, and then missed the entirety of the 2018 season due to needing surgery to remove bone spurs from his right ankle. Given his injury history and the fact that he was going into his age-34 season this year, the Blue Jays decided to release him in December and eat the the remaining two years and $38 million left on his contract.
The Yankees needed someone to fill in at shortstop while Didi Gregorius finished recovering from Tommy John surgery, so they decided to take a chance on Tulowitzki, especially since it would only cost them the league minimum. He only played in five games this season before suffering that calf strain, which was bad enough for the Yankees to put him on the 60-day IL.
It is clear from Tulo’s statement that he truly loved the game of baseball and felt very grateful for being able to “live my dream.” He will still be a part of the game he loves as a volunteer coach for the Texas Longhorns.
Tulo would have been an all-time great had his body not betrayed him. However, it was still a great career, and he is definitely an all-time great Rockie, ranking third all-time by WAR behind Larry Walker and Todd Helton, though Nolan Arenado is likely to surpass him within a year. I believe that he is very deserving to join Helton as the only Rockies’ players to have their number retired. If it happens, I am sure he will feel delighted and honored.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.