Tulowitzki has been better than ever this year
Shortstop, who strives to be best in MLB, benefits from playing at Coors Field
Troy Tulowitzki has had the kind of season so far that invites comparisons, from the masters of WAR, to Babe Ruth and prompts speculation, from one opposing radio announcer, that only a guy stealing signs could do this much damage at the plate.
That's what you'd call a pretty darned good season.
It's a season that has lifted Tulowitzki back into the "best player in baseball" conversation that he only exited by entering the trainer's room.
A healthy Tulo has always been a productive Tulo, particularly given the context of the physically demanding shortstop position. But the 2014 model has been the best yet, with off-the-charts offensive numbers and defensive value that can't really be calculated.
"I'm trying to be the best player in the game," said Tulowitzki, the National League's leading All-Star vote-getter thus far. "It's something I expect of myself. It's nothing cocky or anything. It's just that I know I worked that hard to be that caliber of player."
Now, before we get too carried away with the WAR mark (4.5, per Baseball Reference) that gives Tulo an outside chance of besting Babe Ruth's record 1923 (14.1), let's just state the obvious: Coors Field has undoubtedly increased his offensive caliber.
Tulowitzki's 2014 output, which entering Monday includes the best batting average (.350) and on-base percentage (.450) and the second-best slugging percentage (.661) in baseball, is heavily weighted in the home splits. After going 6-for-30 on the Rockies' just-completed nine-game road trip, he has an .804 OPS on the road vs. a ridiculous 1.559 mark at Coors.
The rest of Colorado's offense follows suit, with a .952 team OPS at home compared to .687 on the road. Not too coincidentally, the Rockies have a 16-7 record at home and a 12-21 record on the road, putting them on track to become the 21st team in the franchise's past 22 years to post a losing record on the road.
So the Rox are basically a team full of Todd Heltons in one environment and a team loaded with Yorvit Torrealbas in another.
(And come to think of it, had the Babe played a mile high, who knows what heights he'd have hit?)
Tulowitzki doesn't deny the help of home cooking on the offensive front.
"It's a good place to hit, no doubt," he said. "It's a big outfield, so a lot of hits fall there. To be honest with you, I've been to a lot of different parks that play smaller than that park. So I think it gets a bad rap when it comes to power. But no doubt it's a great place to hit."
Giants radio man Mike Krukow was so aghast at Tulowitzki's home splits that he outright suggested that Tulo must be getting help in the sign-stealing department. Tulo responded beautifully, with a dash of early 1990s Swedish power pop -- Ace of Base's "The Sign" -- as his temporary walk-up music against San Francisco.
The sign-stealing stuff got a lot of headlines. What probably does not get enough attention, though, is the negative impact of playing half your slate in Coors' oxygen-deprived environment.
Tulowitzki's adaptation to those elements is, in his eyes, as much a part of this 2014 tale as anything.
"If you talk to any player that's been in there for a three-game series, their body feels different," he said. "We're constantly trying to find ways to get people to feel better there. I think I have a better understanding of what I need to do there to prepare myself and get my body to recover probably better than anybody because I've been there the longest."
Tulowitzki won't divulge the details of his revised routine, lest he give an undue advantage to opponents. What we know for sure is that he has a hyperbaric chamber at home to help boost his red-blood cell levels (Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who used to train in Colorado Springs, was also a big believer in the practice), he's incorporated elements of tennis star Novak Djokovic's diet and conditioning program into his own, and a foam roller, used to loosen up his muscles, is his constant companion in the clubhouse.
"He's in tune with his body and what he needs to do to go out there every day," manager Walt Weiss said. "He's had some injury history in the past [260 days on the disabled list, to be exact], and he's doing everything he can to stay out in front of that. He's a very committed player, and he wants to win as much as anybody I've been around."
The wins mean more to Tulowitzki than the WAR, but he does pay attention to all of it.
"The defensive side of WAR is what gets me [to the level it's at]," he said. "But I take pride in that, too. Playing on both sides of the ball. I work just as hard offensively as I do defensively, and I try to be a complete player."
Tulowitzki's trust in his physical condition seems to have only aided his intensity and derring-do on the defensive end. Again, it's really difficult to put a number on defensive value (especially with all the defensive shifts taking place in the Majors), but Tulo is generally regarded by scouts and statheads alike to be one of the game's premier defenders.
We're so far removed from the peak of the A-Rod, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra era that shortstops providing this complete a package are rare currency. If Colorado considered using that currency in the trade market this past winter, the discussions never gained enough steam to be taken seriously. And in the time since, Tulowitzki has only further solidified his spot as the face of this franchise while simultaneously asserting an argument for best all-around player in the game.
Yes, that argument is significantly augmented by Tulowitzki's home splits. But here's the scary thing: The Rockies, who have -- along with the Cubs and Orioles -- played the fewest home games in baseball this season, will play 16 of their next 22 in Coors.
If Tulo's home numbers are any indication, the argument that he's the best player in baseball is about to pick up steam.