Troy Tulowitzki 2016 spring training

Photo credit: By Arturo Pardavila III [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The postseason is picking up steam, and we are starting to get some distance from the 2016 fantasy season. Seems like as good of a time as any to start looking into keepers for 2017. I have taken an early look at some tough keeper dilemmas at each position at Today’s Knuckleball. Here are the links to each installment in the series.

Starting pitcher: http://www.todaysknuckleball.com/fantasy-baseball/fantasy-baseball-keeper-conundrums-starting-pitchers/

Relief pitcher: http://www.todaysknuckleball.com/fantasy-baseball/keeper-conundrums-relief-pitcher/

Catcher: http://www.todaysknuckleball.com/fantasy-baseball/fantasy-baseball-keeper-conundrums-catcher/

First base: http://www.todaysknuckleball.com/fantasy-baseball/fantasy-baseball-keeper-conundrums-first-base/

Second base: http://www.todaysknuckleball.com/fantasy-baseball/fantasy-baseball-keeper-conundrums-second-base/

Third base: http://www.todaysknuckleball.com/fantasy-baseball/fantasy-baseball-keeper-conundrums-third-base/

Shortstop: http://www.todaysknuckleball.com/fantasy-baseball/fantasy-baseball-keeper-conundrums-shortstop/

Outfield: http://www.todaysknuckleball.com/fantasy-baseball/fantasy-baseball-keeper-conundrums-outfield/

While the landscape at each position has changed over the last six months, keeper choices at shortstop could be especially dicey, because several players unexpectedly rose to the upper ranks at the position in terms of fantasy value. The shuffling of the shortstop rankings this season requires us to reconsider how we value long-time elites and near-elites as well as those who have broken out.

One player who needs this sort of scrutiny is Troy Tulowitzki. In 2015, his power declined along with his walk rate, and those levels rebounded only mildly in 2016. After posting six straight seasons with an OPS above .840, he has fallen below the .800 mark in back-to-back years. Tulowitzki’s own decline in combination with the rise of several shortstops has left him out of the top 20 on ESPN’s Player Rater and in CBSSports.com’s Rotisserie value and fantasy points rankings at the position. Yet, he finished the season with a 94 percent ownership rate in ESPN leagues and a 97 percent ownership rate in CBS leagues.

In the first half, Tulowitzki looked as if he was on the way to a near-complete reclamation of his power skills and a more patient approach. However, he entered the All-Star break with a .239 batting average due to elevated strikeout, flyball and pull rates. Then in the second half, Tulowitzki started to look more like his old self, except that he wasn’t hitting with all that much power. His Isolated Power from Aug. 1 forward was .143, which was two points below the major league average for shortstops this season. Just a year ago, that mark would have been 24 points above the average for shortstops, but that just goes to show how much the position has changed.

He just turned 32 on Monday, so it’s far too early to assume Tulowitzki is on the express train to Oblivionville, but he does find himself at a junction. He can pursue pitches that are high in the zone or on the inner third of the center, with which he typically generates more power. He is also more prone to whiffing on these pitches as well as hitting for a lower BABIP.

For the most part, this is the approach that Tulowitzki pursued in the first half, chasing after pitches up in the zone at a higher frequency. He did, however, take a more aggressive approach with pitches on the inner third of the center in the second half.

Alternatively, he could exercise more restraint on high pitches and be more aggressive with lower pitches and those on the outside third of the zone. That would likely result in a higher batting average but with less power, just as had been the case in the second half.

Unless Tulowitzki can find a way to produce more power on pitches that are down and away, he is likely left with these choices. Not many hitters are good power sources on low-and-away pitches, but some, like Matt Holliday and Logan Forsythe, have pulled it off.

Next spring, I won’t be counting on Tulowitzki to radically change his strengths and weaknesses. He could be a slugger with a low batting average in the mold of Marcus Semien or a good contact hitter with moderate power like Didi Gregorius, and it could really go either way. In either scenario, Tulowitzki would fall short of being a top 10 shortstop and would only be worth protecting in leagues with at least 10 protection slots or in deep leagues.