2014 rankings update

Can Troy Tulowitzki maintain his wild early-season success?

Updated: May 7, 2014, 6:32 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

On-pace numbers are effectively meaningless in fantasy baseball analysis. But that doesn't mean they aren't fun.

We've got a new No. 1 name on our Player Rater this week, Troy Tulowitzki, who has registered some staggering statistics. Consider his paces: .421/.522/.794 in the triple-slash numbers, 42 home runs, 139 RBIs, 153 runs scored, 100 walks.

Only two shortstops in the history of baseball hit more home runs in a season (Ernie Banks on four occasions, Alex Rodriguez three times) and only one player at any position managed at least .400-30-125 numbers (Rogers Hornsby twice). And besides Hornsby, Ted Williams was the only other batting title-eligible player to manage .400/.500/.600 numbers in a single year.

Tulowitzki's weighted on-base average is .549. Five-forty-nine! Since any fantasy baseball owner should be familiar with that statistical category -- it measures a player's overall offensive contributions per plate appearance accounting for the observed run values of various hitting events such as singles, doubles, triples, home runs and non-intentional walks (among others) -- consider that in the modern history of this game, only two players ever managed a wOBA higher than .549: Babe Ruth (on five occasions) and Williams.

But enough about Tulowitzki's past accomplishments -- and that's all seasonal statistics are, anyway, performance in the past -- what are his prospects of retaining that No. 1 Player Rater spot going forward?

Pretty good, I'd say, judging by his healthy jump in the Week 6 going-forward rankings. There's essentially one potential obstacle he must hurdle: His checkered injury past, which accounted for 290 absences in 1,135 Colorado Rockies games during the first seven seasons of his big league career (or 25.6 percent). Evaluating Tulowitzki's candidacy is a mere matter of projecting his absences.

Consider a few relevant Tulowitzki stat lines:
• His per-162-game career stats: .299 AVG, 29 HR, 105 RBI, 10 SB, 103 R.
• His past 162 games played: .334 AVG, 36 HR, 115 RBI, 2 SB, 109 R.
• My rough rest-of-year projection: .310 AVG, 23 HR, 78 RBI, 5 SB, 69 R.

Most importantly, here are my projected games played for Tulowitzki: 118, or 92.9 percent of the Rockies' remaining 127.

After all, what right do we have to judge that Tulowitzki is inevitably going to miss a significant chunk of the season's remainder? He has appeared in 97 of the Rockies' past 105 games, 93 of them starts, since recovering from fractured ribs; those fractured ribs were suffered as a result of a somewhat fluky play diving for a ball. That Tulowitzki has remained relatively healthy in recent memory, coupled with his outstanding level of production, grants him the benefit of additional trust. Well, from me at least.

How you rank him should come down to only your projected games played from him. Will he fall short of my forecast of 118? A 98-game projection would drop him approximately 15-20 spots in my rankings. A 78-game projection? Well, that'd cost Tulowitzki as many as 50 spots. That's the mathematics behind going-forward rankings; these also help explain the downward movements of players like Mark Trumbo and Bryce Harper in recent weeks.

I'm standing firm, though: Tulowitzki stays (relatively) healthy.

He's not the only one. Scrolling through the rankings, a few other historical injury risks either enjoyed significant bumps (or enjoyed them in recent weeks).

Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: He hasn't necessarily drawn the level of concern of Tulowitzki for his injuries in recent years, but the fact remains that he appeared in 149, 92 and 118 games the past three seasons. Still, examining Bautista's numbers to date, he's walking more than ever before (22.5 percent rate), making more contact (14.6 percent K rate) and chasing fewer pitches than in the past (17.6 percent rate). Then there was that story about him beginning his offseason workouts earlier this winter than in seasons past; between that, his torrid spring and now this hot regular-season start, he looks like a borderline contender for top-10 overall status.

Johnny Cueto, SP, Cincinnati Reds: Between Oct. 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013, Cueto made three early exits from starts due to injury, and made three visits to the disabled list (the final one lasting beyond June 30, that is), with what seemed to me at least a distressing pattern of lat and oblique issues. What's worse, he made 24, 33 and 11 starts from 2011 to 2013, and has only once in his career tallied greater than 185 2/3 innings in a year. Cueto's numbers between injuries have been outstanding -- he's one of those classic "per-game performers" I've discussed in the past -- and in his defense, he was entirely healthy just two short seasons ago, when he finished the year as the No. 10 starting pitcher on our Player Rater. Cueto certainly looks like his 2012 model thus far, including his small uptick in fastball velocity (93.0 mph on average, highest since 2011's 93.1), so he warrants our trust at this point.

Justin Morneau, 1B, Colorado Rockies: He tends to fall into the injury-risk classification due to his concussion history, but how many people recall that he appeared in 152 games last season? Morneau has stayed relatively healthy since June of 2012, and he's playing his home games in the most hitting-friendly environment in which he has ever played (not to mention his first even remotely good one since 2009). Rockies hitters might always have wide home/road splits, but even in Morneau's example, he has .328/.333/.586 rates on the road. He might not be a top-10 fantasy first baseman anymore, but he's one of the safer mixed-league corner infielders around.

Scott Kazmir, SP, Oakland Athletics: Besides the rib cage issue that sidelined him for the first two weeks of this season, Kazmir hasn't missed a day due to injury since he began his 2013 comeback with the Cleveland Indians. He has been outstanding thus far in 2014, going 5-for-7 in quality starts and posting the lowest walk rate of his entire career (5.0 percent). Fantasy owners might remember him as a high-walk, injury-risk pitcher, but the Kazmir of 2013-14 has actually been pretty reliable, on the lower tiers at least.

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