August 17, 2015
By Brendan Kennedy
As dazzling as he can be on the field, Troy Tulowitzki betrays little emotion off it. In fact, the Blue Jays’ new star shortstop has a baseball cyborg quality about him. Efficient and banal. So when the topic of his current slump is broached, he is neither defensive nor particularly forthcoming.
“I mean, it’s baseball,” he said. “You’re going to go through stretches when you’re not swinging the bat particularly well. It’s one of those things you just keep on working, showing up to work every day and putting in the work and hoping that pays off.”
If you hadn’t noticed, that’s three variations of “work” in one sentence. The work is what Tulowitzki seems to love more than the game itself. He said as much at his introductory press conference three weeks ago (“As soon as the game’s over it’s not time to celebrate,” he said then. “It’s time to look forward to the next game.”)
As Sunday’s questions persisted beyond a minute or two, his answers became more curt and clipped, a clear sign he was growing impatient. Like when he was asked how he feels hitting in the leadoff spot, something he had never done in his career before joining the Jays, he says: “It’s good. I enjoy it.”
His eyes searched for the next question, while his clenched expression suggested he wasn’t being entirely truthful.
But who could blame him for being less than thrilled with his unfamiliar spot in the batting order? He is still searching for his first hit when leading off a game. In 16 tries, Tulowitzki has reached base all of three times on a pair of walks and one hit-by-pitch.
Aside from his stellar debut on July 29 — when he homered and added a pair of doubles — Tulowitzki hasn’t hit much at all since arriving in Toronto a few days before the July 31 trade deadline. Since Aug. 1, he’s hitting just .180, and if you remove Sunday’s sun-aided double, he has just two extra-base hits this month, both homers. He has struck out 16 times in 75 plate appearances since joining the Jays and his strikeout rate for the season is higher than it has been at any point in his career.
Make no mistake, Tulowitzki is still putting together decent at-bats. He is drawing walks at a fair clip and has reached base one out of every three trips to the plate since the trade. He may not have been rewarded for his efforts on Friday night, but his epic, 12-pitch duel with Yankees’ closer Andrew Miller to end the game was a master class in how to battle a tough pitcher. So he hasn’t looked out of place or overmatched by any means. And his batting average on balls in play this month is a paltry .200 — nearly 100 points below the league average — which suggests he has been at least partly a victim of bad luck. “There’s some hits out there I haven’t got because there’s some good defence,” he suggested Sunday.
That said, his quality of contact stats, as calculated by Baseball Info Solutions, tell a different story. Tulowitzki’s rate of “hard” contact is at just 25 per cent since the all-star break, compared to 42 per cent in the season’s first half. His hard-contact rate for the season is still at 38 per cent — which is right around his career norms — so perhaps this is, like he says, just a bad stretch.
Manager John Gibbons has thus far preached patience with respect to Tulowitzki’s slump, pointing out that it often takes time for players to adjust to new teams, particularly when they switch leagues and must learn a new cast of opposing pitchers. Jose Reyes, the Jays’ former shortstop who was dealt to Colorado as part of the package for Tulowitzki, has similarly struggled since joining the Rockies.
Tulowitzki’s lengthy track record — an .882 OPS over the last decade — suggests he won’t slump for long. Jays’ fans are hoping he breaks out sooner rather than later.