Is Troy Tulowitzki Worth the Risk in Fantasy Baseball?
"Half of life is about showing up." - Hunter S. Thompson
There is no more talented a shortstop in baseball than Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki. The guy can do it all, when he's been able to show up and actually play, that is.
And there's the rub. Troy Tulowitzki has not been able to show up all that much in recent years, missing significant chunks of each of the last three seasons due to a variety of injuries.
In 2012, he missed 113 games due to groin surgery, which allowed him to play in just 47 games that season. In '13 he was around a little more often, missing 26 games because of a broken rib. He managed to play 126 games for the Rockies that season. Then, there was 2014, when his MVP campaign was derailed by a labrum tear that caused him to miss the team's final 64 games. And it was a shame too, when you consider the type of season he was having.
Even though Tulo played 91 games last year and accumulated only 375 plate appearances, he generated a FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) that was second-highest among all MLB shortstops last year (5.1), and hit .340/.432/.603, with 21 home runs, 52 RBIs and 72 runs scored. His nERD of 2.99 was still 9th-most in all of baseball, despite missing more than the last two months of the season.
When healthy, Tulowitzki is the best shortstop in fantasy baseball, and just might be the second best player in the entire sport.
Unfortunately, he just hasn't been able to stay healthy.
So, how early is too early to take him in fantasy drafts this season? Do you roll the dice and take a risk, picking him in the first round? Or do you play it safe and decide the risk is too great to throw away a first or second round pick on him?
Even with his injury history, it's hard to imagine drafting any shortstop ahead of him. There are some decent players out there but, really, Tulo is the only one who is going to single-handedly win the week for you at that position almost every single week. Here is what the top-15 shortstops, as calculated by fWAR, did last season (minimum 350 PAs).
Jhonny Peralta had a nice season for the Cardinals, and he's been a very solid fantasy performer in three of the last four seasons. Ian Desmond has power to burn, hits in the middle of what could be a very talented lineup, and also fills up the stolen base category as well. But unless some young player steps to the forefront in 2015, those two players are the closest to Tulo in terms of production.
And they're not even all that close.
It's also fair to note just how good Tulowitzki has been when he has been healthy.
When he has stayed healthy for an entire season, he's been a sure-fire first-round pick.
As I wrote last week when trying to identify which position player should be drafted second overall (after Mike Trout), I included Tulo in the conversation because of the scarcity of impact hitters at the shortstop position. This isn't the late '90s/early '00s anymore, with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and other impact shortstops were coming through and reinventing the position.
A healthy Tulowitzki at shortstop is like having Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski as your fantasy tight end. To have a player who is that much better at a position of scarcity can sometimes single-handedly win you your fantasy league for that week. The impact is felt greater in fantasy football, but it's extremely valuable in baseball as well.
That's why I would roll the dice and take Tulowitzki in the top half of the first round of the draft. On my board, he's going sixth, after Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton, Paul Goldschmidt, and Clayton Kershaw.
Of course, if Tulo hurts himself again and misses half the year, you've thrown away your first-round pick. But fantasy titles are won with superstars, and when healthy, Tulo is perhaps the best overall player in baseball after Trout. That kind of talent is worth a gamble.
Half of life is just showing up. Hopefully, for Tulo owners in 2015, they won't have to worry about the showing up part.