I’m generally suspicious of efforts to argue that the most valuable players in baseball are anyone other than the best players. That said, due to the way teams are constructed, there’s no denying that there always seem to be some guys whose presence and success is especially important to their teams, and right now there are very few players more critical to a team’s success than Troy Tulowitzki with the Rockies. Tulowitzki’s rise in 2007 coincided with the team’s meteoric run to the World Series, his injury-plagued 2008 coincided with the team’s equally dramatic decline, and now the Rox, counted out early, have the whip hand in the NL Wild Card race and are the last second-place team that’s really alive despite chasing a Dodgers team that looked for much of the season like the class of the game.
Jim Tracy, of course, deserves his share of the credit for the Rockies turnaround – they’ve played .646 ball under him after Clint Hurdle was sacked with the team 10 games under .500. And much of the credit goes to the pitching staff, with the revival of Huston Street leading a strong bullpen and Ubaldo Jimenez anchoring a more-than-adequate rotation. Despite his strong arm, Tulowitzki can’t claim a ton of credit for that: Colorado is (in part due to its park) below average in team Defensive Efficiency, and its pitchers have prospered more by allowing the 5th fewest homers and walks in the NL, as well as a league-average strikeout rate.
But the Rox catching fire also coincided neatly with when Tulowitzki started hitting 10 games into Tracy’s tenure. On June 7, the team was 23-32 and 14 1/2 games out of first place, and Tulowitzki was batting an anemic .216/.306/.377; since then, he’s hit .315/.396/.596, with 20 homers, 62 Runs and 60 RBI in 86 games played; the Rockies have gone 56-30 in those games. The Colorado offense has had only a few other real surprises – Seth Smith, the development of Carlos Gonzales, a respectable OBP by Dexter Fowler – but Tulowitzki has been the biggest difference-maker.
Anyway, I didn’t have time to do a really comprehensive rundown or figure out if somebody else has, so I’m sure I missed someone interesting or useful, but I thought it would be fun to run the record of the Rockies with Tulowitzki in and out of the starting lineup over the 2007-09 period against a comparison group of other stars (I left off people like Hanley Ramirez who haven’t missed enough games to be worth asking – as it is, there’s something of a small sample size issue with Pujols and Jeter). Here’s the result – the last column is the team winning percentage with the player in the lineup minus the team winning percentage without him in the lineup, with the difference multiplied by 162 games to give a value of the difference in wins:

Player W-In L-In % W-Out L-Out % Diff
J.Reyes 194 160 0.548 46 68 0.404 23.4
A.Rodriguez 244 160 0.604 32 37 0.464 22.7
C.Beltran 197 169 0.538 43 59 0.422 18.9
C.Delgado 175 145 0.547 65 85 0.433 18.4
D.Jeter 262 178 0.595 14 15 0.483 18.3
J.Mauer 190 169 0.529 49 61 0.445 13.6
C.Jones 189 180 0.512 42 56 0.429 13.5
T.Tulowitzki 206 178 0.536 40 46 0.465 11.6
A.Pujols 233 204 0.533 16 16 0.500 5.4
C.Utley 241 184 0.567 22 19 0.537 4.9
M.Ramirez 216 151 0.589 59 46 0.562 4.3
V.Guerrero 220 152 0.591 60 35 0.632 -6.5

Simply compiling a chart like this helps explain its limitations. Multiple Mets are atop the chart in good part because they were all injured at once this season, multiplying the impact of their absences. The same is partly true of Tulowitzki; it wasn’t just his absence that doomed the Rockies last season. On the other hand, for believers in the notion that one player only has so much impact, the size of the gaps here is pretty striking. It’s probably not wholly coincidental, either, that Vlad Guerrero’s numbers look so poor given that the bulk of his missed time has come this season, when he has been less than stellar (the Angels are 41-38 with Guerrero starting, 45-19 without).
As for A-Rod, well, until the Hated Yankees win in the postseason, nothing compiled on his behalf can answer his critics (and as long as he’s on the team, all postseason failures are charged to him and him alone). But, you know, the Yankees really are a better team with him in the lineup, and not just this season; in 2007-08 they were 12-20 without him.

5 thoughts on “Indispensable”

  1. What criteria did you use to select the players on the chart? Not trying to impugn the validity of anything you say, but was it more systematic or more of ad hoc selection by you identifying stars who have missed some time?

  2. It is always fun to take opportunities like this to mention that since Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS (aka The Greatest Collapse in Team Sports History) Alex Rodriguez is .148/.288/.262 with 3 RBIs and the Yankees are 4-13.
    Perhaps he and they will get the monkey of their backs this year when they enter the playoffs as a 105(ish) win team and the prohibitive favorites to win it all. No pressure there. Perhaps he will hit like the sure thing HOFer he is and not like a poorman’s Freddy Patek, perhaps CC won’t pitch like a AA pitcher like he usually does in the playoffs, perhaps AJ will pitch like a guy with dominant stuff and not like some Nuke Laloosh nutjob. Perhaps that will all happen. I’ll gladly (well, not gladly, but respectfully) tip my cap to them. Until then it is fun and highly appropriate to gloat over the utter failure experienced by the highest payroll team in baseball.

  3. This may shock baseball fans who do not live in the NY metropolitan area, but many Yankees fans do not care for Alex Rodriguez. Crazy, but true. As if some 3B could come out of nowhere to replace him and provide .400 OBP and .600 SLG.

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