The Toronto Blue Jays, with a middling 50–50 record through Monday, July 27, made their intentions known by acquiring Colorado’s five-time All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki—Toronto is officially buying at the deadline hoping to make a run at the New York Yankees.
Despite outscoring their opponents by an AL-best 95 runs on the season, Toronto is seven games behind the streaking Yankees in the AL East.
In exchange for the 30-year-old veteran Tulowitzki and veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins, the Blue Jays sent their starting shortstop, 32-year-old José Reyes, rookie pitcher Miguel Castro, and minor-league pitchers Jeff Hoffman and Jesus Tinoco to Colorado.
But the real story is how Tulowitzki, who’s finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times, will hit outside of Colorado’s famously thin air.
If his extreme home/road splits are any indication, Tulowitzki’s years of hitting .300 (he’s a career .299 hitter) are probably done. The two-time Silver Slugger has an impressive .321/.394/.558 (average/on-base/slugging) batting line in 526 career home games. On the road though, he’s a much more average hitter at .276/.349/.468.
To be fair, Tulowitzki’s road numbers are pretty good for a guy who plays a premium position at a high level. The two-time Gold Glove winner would look decent in any lineup with those road splits, but it’s all relative to salary, and Tulowitzki is owed just over $100 million through 2020—a year in which he’ll be 35.
Should he post less-than-stellar numbers outside the Rocky Mountains, though, he won’t be the first to do so.
Larry Walker was named MVP with Colorado in 1997, played 17 years in the majors with three different teams, but never fared better than he did in his decade in Colorado. Walker hit an astounding .334/.426/.618 during his high-altitude years, but was a more above-average .281/.357/.483 in six years with the Expos before signing with the Rockies. The five-time All-Star then hit .286/.387/.520 in his final year and a half in the majors, in St. Louis.
Current St. Louis outfielder Matt Holiday had a similar experience. The seven-time All-Star spent his first six and half years with the Rockies, posting an impressive .319/.386/.552 batting line in Colorado. But he struggled during his half-season in Oakland in 2009 (.286/.378/.454) before putting together a solid .299/.388/.500 batting line with the Cardinals ever since.
Former Rockie Andrés Galarraga at age 31 revived his career by hitting .370/.403/.602 in his first season in Colorado, way back in 1993. Three years later he finished sixth in the MVP voting after hitting .304/.357/.601 with 47 home runs and 150 RBIs and then followed that by hitting .318/.389/.585 with 41 home runs and 140 RBIs at age 36—all in Colorado.
But Galarraga was able to continue his hitting exploits in his next stint with the Braves (a .303/.384/.562 batting line) before time finally caught up with him.
Age-regression is of course a near-certainty in baseball and at age 30, Tulowitzki isn’t likely to hit better than his near .300 career average. If history is any indication, his performance will at least fall well short of his exorbitant salary.