Drop-off between Tulowitzki and Diaz negligible for Blue Jays

Troy Tulowitzki has reached the point where he’s not a significant upgrade over his backup. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Troy Tulowitzki has reached the point where he’s not a significant upgrade over his backup. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

When the news broke Tuesday that Troy Tulowitzki wouldn’t be ready to open the season it invited a great degree of eye rolling and “here we go again” sentiment in Blue Jays land.

There is definitely a “same old, same old” aspect to this as Tulowitzki has struggled with injuries throughout his career, and especially in 2017. However, there’s also a new element that makes the Blue Jays’ current predicament completely different: Aledmys Diaz.

In previous years, when the club lost Tulowitzki that meant enduring an extended period of Ryan Goins or Darwin Barney. Now they can turn to Diaz, who is well-equipped to handle the shortstop position for as long as required and might not be a downgrade from Tulowitzki at this point.

Diaz had a very poor 2017, but taking the average between his two big-league seasons, he’s been almost precisely as valuable as Tulowitzki over the same time period:

Source: FanGraphs
Source: FanGraphs

While Tulowitzki has hit more home runs, Diaz’s total power output has been better thanks to 14 more doubles and three triples. Across the board, he’s been significantly better offensively, hitting in a more difficult park in St. Louis. Even last season, when Diaz’s bat went cold enough that he was sent to the minors, his wRC+ of 78 matched Tulowitzki’s.

On the defensive side of the ball, Diaz is no one’s idea of a Gold Glove candidate, and while Tulowitzki isn’t either at 33, the veteran is still the steadier presence. It’s easy to imagine Diaz drawing the ire of Blue Jays fans with one too many defensive miscues, but he has so much more to offer offensively than a Goins or Barney that his value is incomparable to theirs.

The early-season absence of Tulowitzki will be noticeable because Diaz plays a very different style to the former all-star — and lacks his name recognition value — but there’s a very good chance he has just as much to contribute at this point. Projection systems like ZiPS and Steamer tend to prefer Tulowitzki’s bat on account of his extended track record of success, but it’s worth asking how relevant that is today given how many injuries he’s suffered since he was a middle-of-the-lineup hitter.

No one is expecting Diaz to be a star, but the reality is that right now he might be as good as the man he’s replacing. That is a bit of an indictment of where Tulowitzki is at in his career, but it also speaks to the offensive potential of his understudy.

When Opening Day rolls around the fact the Blue Jays will be missing their starting shortstop certainly qualifies as disappointment, but it doesn’t figure to significantly hamper their chances in 2018. A 33-year-old Troy Tulowitzki is unlikely to be a huge difference-maker this season even if healthy, and his club has a more-than-competent replacement on hand.

Tulowitzki’s health in the year to come will have a bigger impact on his career path and what the Blue Jays do about his contract from here on out. Those are certainly important issues, but when it comes to 2018 wins and losses, the Blue Jays’ position hasn’t meaningfully shifted.

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