Thursday, April 19, 2012

Colorado Rockies: What's wrong with Troy Tulowitzki?

Tulowitzki is one of the best in the game.
In recent days, the question mark for the Colorado Rockies has swung from the starting pitchers, to the team's best player. When people talk about the Rockies, they are asking what is wrong with Troy Tulowitzki.

The answer to that question is complicated. Baseball is such a game of highs and lows. It is a game where physical talent can quickly be dwarfed by the mental side of the game. A player can forget how good he is in a hurry and start to believe that he doesn't belong at that level.

What is concerning about Tulowitzki's struggles have been that it isn't just limited to the offensive side of the game. He isn't only struggling with the bat and still bringing his gold glove into the field.

Tulowitzki has played in 11 games so far in 2012. He has committed six errors, matching his total for the entire 2011 season. He has committed two errors in a game twice, matching his career total. Everyone knows about offensive slumps, but defensive slumps seem a little strange.

The shortstop has had his fair share of offensive slumps in his career, but what is concerning is that his defense usually puts him squarely on the top of the highlight shows at least once a week. Tulo's defense never takes a night off.

Occasionally, a player in the midst of a slump at the plate will bring that slump with him into the field. They will  boot a ball, or make a bad throw because they are thinking so much about what is going wrong at the plate that they can't focus on defense. However, the opposite rarely seems to happen.

In this case, it seems like Tulowitzki's defensive struggles have effected his ability to hit as well, the opposite of a normal slump.

It all started on Saturday night in the windy, cold rain. After a long rain delay, the Rockies quickly squandered a 5-1 lead. In the process of blowing the lead, Tulo made two errors on routine throws to first base. Routine probably isn't a fair description with the weather the way it was, but Tulowitzki clearly made concessions for the weather.

Instead of picking up the ball and firing it to Todd Helton at first base, Tulo looked like he was worried about the ball slipping out, so he pushed it, almost shotput style on both errors. Both times Helton had to come off of the bag to catch the ball.

The few fans left in the seats may have seen it, but the cameras didn't catch something very important for those watching the shortstop.

It was incredibly clear that the errors were eating Troy Tulowitzki alive. He was so upset about it that he almost couldn't get in position to be ready for the next few pitches. He was staring at his cleats and kicking dirt. The disgust was so evident even from hundreds of feet away from him.

It looked as if Tulowitzki was bound and determined to make up for both errors with one swing of the bat. Sure enough, in his next two times at the plate, he found himself waving at sliders in the dirt. His swings got bigger, and his plate discipline got smaller.

The trend continued at the plate for the next three nights, which resulted in a dreadful 0-for-10 at the plate.

Earlier in the young season, Tulo's approach at the plate was something that Rockies fans could point to as an area of growth for their superstar shortstop. No longer did it seem like he was trying to yank every pitch deep into the seats. Instead, he was going with the pitch. In fact, on April 11th, Tulowitzki had three situations with a runner on third base and less than two outs. In 2011, it seemed like the shortstop never came through in those situations, always getting himself out. In all three of these situations, however, he worked the count, twice scoring runs on ground outs. The other time the run scored on a wild pitch.

For Tulowitzki, his passion is his best friend, but it is also his worst enemy. Most would agree that Tulo is one of the games best players, not just best shortstops. Much of that is due to his determination and drive. It never seems like he is satisfied with where he is at. He is always looking to get better.

With that drive, however, comes a lack of balance. He is always trying to do things better, so when things go poorly, he is even more motivated to fix them. Instead of trusting his skills to even the score, he tries to force it, as if he is trying to make up for the shortcomings.

His greatest attribute also seems to be his greatest weakness.

For Tulowitzki, he needs to learn how to turn the page. If he is indeed going to be the leader of this team, he needs to figure out how to be happy with a bad night that includes a team win. He has gone as far as admitting that in spring training. Instead of sulking, or being mad when he goes 0-for-4, he needs to be happy that the team won. Instead of being focused on an error, he needs to look at the final score and realize that his teammates picked him up.

When he teammates see that, it will help them gain even more respect for him. It will show that he is a team player, and not just concerned with his own stats.

That isn't to say he can't get mad when he fails. Tulowitzki needs to be himself. He is a guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve, and he does not need to change that. Instead, he needs to figure out a way to let himself get angry, but then turn the page and get over it. He must find a way to rest his mind from the traps of trying to be absolutely perfect.

If Troy Tulowitzki wants the Colorado Rockies to be his team, he needs to figure out how to not let his ups and downs effect who he is as a leader.

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  1. Tully we know you will work through this and be as good as always.

  2. Some great points David.

    As soon as Tulo gets off of the FEELINGS that are associated with the errors and waiving at the sliders and latch back onto the FEELINGS of when he is playing at his best, good things will come his way. This is how all "slumps" work and the definition of mental toughness is how often a player can stay focused on the positive feeling and how quickly they can shift back to positive feelings when negative results show up.

    He'll be fine as deep down he knows what a great player he is. He just needs something good to come and shift his focus (in terms of what feelings he is focusing on).