Troy Tulowitzki Hangs Up His Spikes

Like Nomar Garciaparra before him, Troy Tulowitzki had the primary attributes of a Hall of Fame shortstop. He dazzled us with his combination of a powerful bat, good range, sure hands, the occasional spectacular leap, and a strong and accurate arm while making a case for himself as the position’s best. And like Garciaparra, Tulowtzki has been forced away from the game in his mid-30s after a seemingly endless string of injuries, leaving us to wonder what might have been. The 34-year-old shortstop announced his retirement in a statement released by the Yankees last Thursday.

Tulowitzki’s Yankees career lasted just five games, a blink of an eye compared to the 1,048 he played for the Rockies, or even the 238 he played for the Blue Jays. He wound up a Yankee after being released by Toronto in November 2018, that following a full season spent on the sidelines recuperating from surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels. The Blue Jays cut him while he still had $38 million in guaranteed salary remaining on the 10-year, $157.75 million deal he signed back in November 2010. Given that he would cost his next employer no more than the minimum salary, interest in him was heavy following a December showcase, with as many as many as 16 teams reportedly interested.

The mere chance to secure a version of Tulo that might be even 80% or 70% as good as the player who made five All-Star teams and won two Gold Gloves in 10 seasons with the Rockies (2006-15), at a bargain price — that was a no-brainer. The Yankees signed Tulowtzki in early January, needing to fill a temporary void created by Didi GregoriusTommy John surgery and unwilling to enter the Manny Machado sweepstakes. Given that Tulowitzki had worn uniform number 2 in honor of his boyhood idol, Derek Jeter, it wasn’t hard to understand the appeal of those pinstripes.

On February 25, in his first at-bat as a Yankee — facing former Blue Jays teammate Marcus Stroman to boot — Tulowitzki hit a home run. Admittedly, it was a short-porch special in an exhibition game, but the shot provided some optimism that he could recapture his form.

On March 28, having survived spring training and secured a spot in the Opening Day lineup, Tulowitzki played in his first regular season game in exactly 20 months. He capped it with an eighth-inning double off the Orioles’ Paul Fry. Two days later, he homered off Richard Bleier.

Alas, that home run turned out to be the last of the 1,391 hits of Tulowitzki’s major league career. He played in just three more games, going 0-for-5 before a left calf strain forced him to the injured list on April 4. He re-strained the calf during a rehab assignment on May 1, and even after he agreed to play other positions besides shortstop for the first time in his career once he returned, his stalled progress led the Yankees to send him home to Southern California in early June to reevaluate his options. Ultimately, he decided he was done:

Tulowitzki’s retirement brings to a close an often spectacular, occasionally heartbreaking 14-year major league career. The number seven pick of the 2005 draft out of Long Beach State made his debut with the Rockies less than 15 months after being selected, and in 2007 finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting while helping Colorado to its lone trip to the World Series. From 2007-14, he recorded at least 4.9 WAR six times, even though he played in more than 126 games only three times. His 33.1 WAR for that stretch tied Joey Votto for 17th in the majors; only one other player among the top 24 played in fewer games in that span. Prorated to a 650 plate appearance basis, his 5.44 WAR ranked 12th for the stretch:

WAR per 650 Plate Appearances, 2007-14
1 Mike Trout 2195 .305 .395 .549 165 29.2 8.6
2 Jonathan Lucroy 2346 .285 .343 .437 113 31.0 8.6
3 Buster Posey 2455 .308 .374 .487 141 31.0 8.2
4 Brian McCann 4196 .264 .337 .456 112 43.6 6.8
5 Yadier Molina 4013 .296 .351 .418 110 40.7 6.6
6 Russell Martin 4172 .256 .354 .395 106 41.1 6.4
7 Chase Utley 4529 .284 .373 .479 128 43.3 6.2
8 Evan Longoria 4119 .271 .351 .494 130 37.9 6.0
9 Andrew McCutchen 3819 .299 .385 .498 144 34.9 5.9
10 Alex Rodriguez 3570 .286 .380 .526 140 30.7 5.6
11 Miguel Cabrera 5419 .324 .402 .577 158 46.5 5.6
12 Troy Tulowitzki 3956 .300 .375 .524 128 33.1 5.4
13 Joe Mauer 4294 .318 .401 .456 132 35.9 5.4
14 Joey Votto 4062 .310 .417 .533 154 33.1 5.3
15 Albert Pujols 5179 .305 .391 .557 151 42.0 5.3
16 Ben Zobrist 4280 .266 .358 .435 121 34.0 5.2
17 Hanley Ramirez 4570 .301 .376 .503 136 36.2 5.1
18 Adrian Beltre 4852 .299 .347 .502 125 38.2 5.1
19 Matt Holliday 5154 .307 .391 .519 144 40.4 5.1
20 Dustin Pedroia 5059 .301 .368 .447 118 39.0 5.0

Tulowitzki averaged just 117 games per year during that span, and 105 per year over the 2008-18 span, which excludes the incomplete seasons that bookended his career. The litany of injuries is painful to recount, its sheer volume numbing:

Troy Tulowitki’s Performance and Injuries
Season Team G PA HR wRC+ WAR Days Lost Injury
2006 Rockies 25 108 1 46 -0.5
2007 Rockies 155 682 24 109 5.2
2008 Rockies 101 421 8 83 0.5 67 quad strain (51), thumb laceration (16)
2009 Rockies 151 628 32 132 5.3
2010 Rockies 122 529 27 140 5.5 39 hamate fracture
2011 Rockies 143 606 30 133 5.4
2012 Rockies 47 203 8 113 1.3 126 groin strain (surgery)
2013 Rockies 126 512 25 141 4.9 28 rib cage fracture
2014 Rockies 91 375 21 170 5.1 71 hip labrum (surgery)
2015 Rox/Jays 128 534 17 101 2.4 20* scapula fracture
2016 Blue Jays 131 544 24 104 3.0 21 quad strain
2017 Blue Jays 66 260 7 79 0.1 99 hamstring strain (34), ankle sprain (65)
2018 Blue Jays 0 0 0 0 0.0 189 bone spurs in heels (surgery)
2019 Yankees 5 13 1 117 0.0 115 calf strain
Total 1291 5415 225 119 38.2 775
SOURCE: Baseball Injury Consultants
* = September injury, no disabled list

Tulowitzki believed that his large stature for a shortstop (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) contributed to his ailments, as did playing at altitude. From a 2014 Sports Illustrated profile by Ben Reiter:

Tulowitzki became convinced that the source of at least some of his maladies was the same thing that, for 22 years now, has caused baseballs to travel farther at Coors Field than in any other ballpark: Denver’s mile-high altitude. “You hear guys on the bases say, ‘My body feels like crap today,’ ” Tulowitzki says. “I’ll say, Man, try to play 81 games here. It’s known: You play in Colorado, you’re going to be extra sore. There were times when I had slight pulls here and there that I played through, but it wasn’t the smartest thing to do. I just ran it out there every day until it broke.”

In an attempt to keep himself healthy, Tulowitzki “focus[ed] maniacally on a daily routine that he has designed not just to keep him on the field… but to operate each night at nothing short of his peak. It involves hours of scripted workouts, stretching, video study, ice baths, hydration and a hyperbaric chamber,” the last of which was installed in the first floor of his Denver home. “Every other night, when the Rockies are in Denver,” wrote Reiter, “[Wife] Danyll zips Troy into the hyperbaric chamber he installed on the first floor of their house, before heading upstairs with [son] Taz. Troy spends the next eight hours dreaming about how he is going to make the next day precisely the same as the last.”

Alas, so much of the same-ness during Tulowitzki’s career in Colorado involved losing. Despite winning the pennant in his rookie season, the Rockies made it to the playoffs just one other time during his tenure, and finished above .500 just two more times. They won 92 games and claimed the NL Wild Card in 2009, but lost the Division Series to the Phillies, then went an unspectacular 83-79 in 2010. It was after that season that Tulowitzki signed his 10-year deal, which at the time was the eighth-largest in major league history. The Rockies promptly squandered his prime; from 2011-15, they managed just a .426 winning percentage and an average of 69 wins per year, worse than any team except the rebuilding Astros.

In mid-2015, after making the NL All-Star team for the fifth and final time, Tulowitzki was traded to the Blue Jays along with reliever Latroy Hawkins, with shortstop Jose Reyes and right-handed pitching prospects Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman, and Jesus Tinoco going to Colorado. While the then-30-year-old shortstop claimed to have been “blindsided” by the trade, and while he didn’t hit particularly well down the stretch for Toronto, his arrival, along with that of David Price, helped the Blue Jays snap a 22-year postseason drought and make it all the way to the American League Championship Series; he hit big three-run homers in both the Division Series against the Rangers and the ALCS against the Royals. His 24-homer, 3.0-WAR 2016 season wasn’t vintage Tulowitzki given his 104 wRC+, but he helped the Jays return to the ALCS.

There isn’t much more to the arc of his career other than the injuries and the waiting. He played 66 games in 2017 before spraining his ankle while running the bases; in August of that year, it was revealed that he had sustained ligament damage as well. In April 2018, he had the bone spurs removed from his heels, but it wasn’t until late August that a return was ruled out; at the time, I noted the grim history of shortstops over 30 who missed a season. This past November, the Blue Jays, who had gotten decent work out of Aledmys Diaz and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. at shortstop, released Tulowitzki. According to Cot’s Contracts, they will have paid $107 million of that contract — for just 4.3 WAR.

Given his traditional counting stats, Tulowitkzki doesn’t stand a chance of election to the Hall of Fame. He’s far short of 2,000 hits, and both BBWAA and committee voters have roundly avoided electing any player short of that mark whose career took place in the post-1960 expansion era. Yet despite his short career, he hardly stacks up badly in my Baseball-Reference WAR-based JAWS system:

Some Shortstop JAWS Rankings
Rk Player Career Peak JAWS
Avg HOF SS 67.0 43.0 55.0
22 Luis Aparicio* 55.8 32.7 44.3
23 Nomar Garciaparra 44.2 43.1 43.7
24 Joe Tinker* 53.1 32.9 43.0
25 Dave Bancroft* 48.5 37.2 42.9
26 Troy Tulowitzki 44.2 40.3 42.2
27 Miguel Tejada 47.3 36.6 41.9
28 Art Fletcher 47.0 36.8 41.9
29 Hughie Jennings* 42.3 39.0 40.7
30 Vern Stephens 45.5 33.6 39.6
31 Travis Jackson* 44.0 35.1 39.5
32 Jimmy Rollins 46.3 32.4 39.3
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
* = Hall of Famer

Tulowitzki’s JAWS is within one point of two enshrined shortstops, and ahead of four others (Phil Rizzuto and Rabbit Maranville aren’t shown), not to mention current candidate Omar Vizquel. He had everything needed to climb even higher on that list — everything except the necessary luck to stay healthy. Still, Tulo was one hell of a player, an icon while with the Rockies and a key figure in the Blue Jays’ recent renaissance. We can all wish that we’d gotten more of him, but what we did get was pretty special.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and Mastodon @jay_jaffe.

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3 years ago

Who will be the first SS to get the Hall Call post-Jeter?

A-Rod seems unlikely unless Bonds/Clemens breakthrough in year 10.
I’m a NO on Omar, but he has time on his side & is already over half way to 75%.
Rollins seems solidly in the HoVG.

After that Lindor? Andrelton if he keeps up the glovework & Omar makes it?

Mean Mr. Mustard
3 years ago
Reply to  grandbranyan

I considered that Jose Reyes has an outside chance (over 2k hits, 500+ steals, almost 44 WAR), but he’s right there with Rollins in the HoVG.

3 years ago

& Reyes has some off the field baggage (spousal assault) that will make it easy for writers to discount his candidacy.

Mean Mr. Mustard
3 years ago
Reply to  PC1970

Absolutely; it’s a whole laundry list of problematic behavior but I didn’t really want to rehash all that – I was looking only at what happened on the field.

3 years ago

Fair enough. For a time, it sure looked like he had the goods, but, he peaked at age 23. There’s a similarity with Garry Templeton if you look closely.

One thing about those 2005-2010 Mets is the large # of near HOF guys or guys that appeared on pace at one point, but, fell short for one reason or another- Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Delgado, Sheffield, Santana, Billy Wagner, maybe Beltran. & while they weren’t HOF caliber, guys like Shawn Green & Moises Alou were damn good ballplayers that were better than some VC choices.

3 years ago
Reply to  PC1970

Maybe, but the character clause hasn’t really ever been used aside from PED users and the guys kicked out of baseball for gambling related issues. I personally think it’s a joke that it’s cited as reason to keep out guys like McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, and A-Rod; yet known cheaters like Gaylord Perry, amphetamine abusers, and huge jerks (racist or not) are all allowed membership.

CC AFCmember
3 years ago
Reply to  grandbranyan

I’ll bet A-Rod as the analytical writers start to replace the traditional voters in the body of the electorate. Vizquel via veterans committee would be my next guess.

After those two, who knows? Probably jimmy rollins doesn’t get in. Bogaerts, Lindor, Correa, and Seager have all started their careers early and strongly enough to have a basis for building a case, but they’re all a million miles away from finishing the job. I can’t wait to see, though. I’ll be rooting for Son of Dante, too, if he promises to have “Son of Dante” as his nickname on his plaque

3 years ago
Reply to  grandbranyan

As active, established players go, Lindor really seems like the only choice that projects out that well. I don’t see it with Andrelton even if Vizquel gets in, though. He’s the standard-bearer for the current generation (in terms of defense), but if you look at the evidence, he’s doesn’t quite meet OVs defense and his offense isn’t enough ahead to make up for it.

For already retired players, I think you’re right on. MAYBE ARod and MAYBE Vizquel, for very different reasons.

I’m going to throw a name out that that will be interesting to watch, though: Baez.

He’s been bounced around, but he has most of his games/innings at SS (and might be able to stay there now) and he has the balanced game to make a case if he keeps producing at a high level. Not quite the offense of ARod (or Lindor, even), and obviously not the steel-trap defense of AS or OV, but he seems to be hitting a stride that might provide a nice peak from which to make a case if he can play into his late 30s.

3 years ago
Reply to  Rich

I am trying to figure how Simmons doesn’t meet OV’s defense? Using B-REF, thru age 29, Simmons current age, OV had 13.6 dWAR & 4 GG’s. Simmons is already at 26.4 dWAR & also has 5 GG’s. In fact, Simmon’s dWAR is a;ready within 3 of OV’s career total.

Obviously, Simmons has a long way to go & who knows how the 2nd half of his career will unfold, but, he is certainly on a HOF pace if he can keep his defense at a similar level for even 3-5 more years,

3 years ago
Reply to  PC1970

dWAR isn’t meant to translate across different eras. They didn’t have any overlap, so that’s really not the best number to throw out there.

3 years ago
Reply to  Rich

I am curious..What is the best #? I am not one to say dWAR is perfect, but, when I look at historical #,s it matches up pretty well (not 100%, but, pretty well) with they players that were considered good or bad fielders.

I think the other question is what will voters use? I think accessible stats like dWAR, UZR, GG’s, etc. will play a large part in how Simmons is viewed by the voters.

Jetsy Extrano
3 years ago
Reply to  PC1970

If Simmons had played in Vizquel’s era, Simmons’s defense would not measure out to as many runs saved as we can measure now.

There wasn’t the detailed batted-ball data back then so we just can’t measure historical defense like current defense (not that that’s perfect but). The practical effect is that extremes get regressed because the data doesn’t exist to document the extremes.

So in the pre-batted-ball era there’s a clump of “defense measures as good” players; some of them were in fact just good, and others were great, but the data can’t distinguish. You might weight reputation and Gold Gloves more than you would prefer, or you can just accept a good deal of uncertainty…

3 years ago
Reply to  grandbranyan

Wow, I hadn’t thought about this. Unless Machado shifts back to SS full time, it very well might be Lindor (or Correa, who is at 20.1 bWAR already).

Simmons is interesting because he’ll probably finish ahead of Vizquel in WAR, but will he have the longevity to approach Omar’s 2800 hits? I think as the game skews younger and younger, Simmons may not be able to find playing time the way that Vizquel did into his later 30s and that’s really going to hurt his counting numbers.

3 years ago
Reply to  dcweber99


I almost threw Correa in the mix, and I should have mentioned why I didn’t.

He’s looking like Tulo already, injury-wise and production-wise. Unless he can string together a long healthy period, he’s not going to have a clear case. 5 seasons and only one over 110 games doesn’t look promising.

3 years ago
Reply to  grandbranyan

It’s a surprising fact because it seems like shortstops have been better than ever lately. It’s probably just that they are all young now so none of them are likely to be hall-of-famers yet.