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Tulowitzki is a Defensive Upgrade Over Reyes

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July 31, 2015

Prior to the Blue Jays trading for David Price, they surprised the baseball universe with the first major deal of this year’s trade deadline period by snagging Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins from the Rockies in exchange for Jose Reyes and several prospects. The reason for everyone’s shock is that the Blue Jays already had the best offense in baseball. The conventional wisdom was that they needed to upgrade their run prevention via their pitching staff. However, not only does Tulowitzki help set the Blue Jays further ahead of the pack on offense, but he also improves the Blue Jays’ run prevention by being a significantly better defender than Reyes.

In the table below is a year-by-year breakdown of Tulowitzki’s and Reyes’ Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) totals starting with Tulo’s first full year in the big leagues.

Defensive Runs Saved at Shortstop, 2007-15
Season Tulowitzki Reyes Difference
2007 31 11 20
2008 2 -2 4
2009 13 -1 14
2010 16 -5 21
2011 12 -14 26
2012 -6 -16 10
2013 6 -4 10
2014 7 -16 23
2015* 0 -9 9
Average 9 -6 15

*Through July 30

Back in 2007, Reyes was one of the better shortstops in baseball, when his 11 DRS ranked him eighth among all shortstops that year. The same was actually true in 2006 as well, when Reyes saved nine runs defensively, which ranked him sixth among all shortstops in baseball. However, since then, his defense has seen a fairly significant decline.

Tulowitzki’s defensive abilities have also declined from the lofty heights that he entered the league at, but he is still generally an asset in the field. Even this season, when Tulowitzki has just been average defensively, that is still significantly better than Reyes has been. In fact, during the time period shown in the table above, on average Tulowtizki has been about 15 runs per season better than Reyes. Using the general rule of thumb that 10 runs translates to one win, Tulo has been about 1.5 wins per year better than Reyes based on their defensive abilities alone.

Furthermore, there is some past research that shows infielders generally perform consistently on grass and turf—i.e., if they are good on grass, they’re good on turf. If they are bad on one, they are bad on the other. Reyes himself has performed about the same on each surface—poorly on both. Tulowitzki has barely ever played on turf, but in the few opportunities that he has had, he has performed well. Therefore, at the very least, we should not expect the change in surfaces to affect the ability of each player to make plays.

It remains to be seen whether the moves that the Blue Jays have made at this year’s trade deadline will benefit them with a playoff berth in the short term or sustained success in the long term (especially with all the prospects they gave up to acquire Tulo and Price). However, it can be said with certainty that the Blue Jays have substantially upgraded their defense at the shortstop position for the foreseeable future.

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