Is Tulowitzki Following In Crosby's Footsteps?

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Is Tulowitzki Following In Crosby's Footsteps?
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

In 2003, just a year and a half removed from being drafted 25th overall out of Long Beach State University, Bobby Crosby stormed into the majors and won the American League Rookie of the Year award. 

Then a 24 year-old hotshot, Crosby mashed 34 doubles and 22 homers in his first full big league season, rapidly endearing himself to Athletics' fans, who were even willing to overlook his choice to walk up to the Backstreet Boys. Sure, there were warning signs—a .239 batting average and a whopping 141 strikeouts in 545 at-bats, to name a couple—but Crosby seemed well on his way to attaining stardom. 

Great things were expected, yet only mediocrity has ensued. 

Since that terrific freshman year, Crosby has faced myriad health issues, watched his power disappear, and receded into an overpaid utility-infielder role in Oakland. Last season marked the first time Crosby managed to compile 500 at-bats since his rookie year, but based on his .237 AVG/.296 OBP/.349 SLG line, his presence on the field did the A's more harm than good. And there doesn't appear to be any improvement on the horizon.

Now, consider the Colorado Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki. Like Crosby, Tulowitzki was a first-round stud out of Long Beach State, who—after being drafted in 2005—rocketed up through the minors, earning Colorado's starting shortstop gig in 2007. And their stories don't diverge at that point.

Although the Brewers' Ryan Braun stole his thunder by taking home the NL's 2007 Rookie of the Year award, Tulowitzki was the more valuable player by most accounts, authoring a .291 AVG/.359 OBP/.479 SLG line at the plate, and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at short.  That performance earned him a record-setting six-year, $31 million deal.

Just as Crosby became a fan favorite in Oaktown, Tulo stole the hearts of fans in the Mile High City. And yes, he too had to overcome a misfit entrance song choice.

The thrilled Coors Field fans threw out the same comparisons to Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken Jr. for Tulo that Bobby Crosby elicited in Oakland, but their excitement has yet to be rewarded. 

Tulowitzki's 2008 season was ravaged by injuries, leaving him with only 377 at-bats in 101 games. Between a torn left quadriceps tendon in April and a massive cut on his right hand from a shattered bat that shelved him in July, Tulo posted an uninspiring .263 AVG/.322 OBP/.401 SLG line. 

The two ailments were handy excuses for Tulowitzki's diminished production, and a full rebound was widely expected in 2009. But Tulo is showing no signs of returning to his 2007 tear. 

Through 150 at-bats, Tulowitzki's 2009 line reads .227 AVG/.318 OBP/.393 SLG. His road numbers, with the notorious Coors Field effect eliminated, are even worse: .213 AVG/.270 OBP/.348 SLG. 

Optimists will point to a small sample size (those road statistics include just 89 at-bats), blaming Tulo's April and May swoon on nothing more than a temporary slump. That's all well and good, but the 24 year-old's lowly 15 percent line-drive rate strongly suggests that his current woes are more than just a string of bad luck. 

Indeed, since their phenomenal rookie years, the two ex-Dirtbag shortstops have suffered from the same malaise. Crosby and Tulowitzki have both seen their line-drive and ground-ball rate decline, coupled with an uptick in their fly-ball rates. 

After posting respective home run per fly-ball rates of 14.3 percent and 13.1 percent in their freshman campaigns, neither has managed to send more than one out of every 10 fly-balls out of the yard. Put those two declines together, and you've got the perfect recipe for regression. 

The question, of course, is whether these are short-term, curable issues or ones that portend similar mediocrity for the rest of their careers. 

Crosby's clock has all but run out, as Athletics' general manager Billy Beane ran out of patience with the 29-year-old this winter, and inked Orlando Cabrera to supplant him in the everyday lineup, relegating Crosby to a bench role. Crosby, a free agent after this season, will need to vastly improve over the rest of the year to earn a decent contract when he hits the open market for the first time.

Tulowitzki, on the other hand, has time on his side. Still just 24, he has plenty of time to restart his bat and prove to the naysayers his 2007 breakout was not a fluke. But Crosby, too, once had a chance to silence his critics, and Tulo can't afford to follow in his footsteps. 

Unfortunately, Tulowitzki's similarities to his predecessor at Long Beach State are so uncanny that it's hard to foresee a much different career path for him. 

Both are 6'3", 205 pounds. Both enjoyed great success on the diamond at Long Beach State University. Both were drafted in the first-round by organizations with high hopes for them. Both rocked their towns with tremendous power and flashy glove work during their rookie years. Both came to bat to entrance songs that seemed intentionally chosen to make fans cringe. 

And both have done nothing but disappoint their fans since. 

Bobby Crosby has seen his stock plummet faster Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. 

Troy Tulowitzki's is on the verge of doing the same.

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