There’s good news and there’s bad news today.
I’m not altering my stance on that; however, I am willing to turn my focus away from the ugliness of this deal for a moment as I can only stay sane for so long being a "Negative Nancy". So while this post is going to come off sounding as though I support the Cuddyer signing scores more times than I actually do, it’ll probably ruin far fewer people’s weekends than me talking about how much of a mistake it was in the Rockpile. So with that…..
The Good News: The addition of Michael Cuddyer will make the Rockies a better team in 2012, especially offensively.
Now to prove this, we unfortunately have to delve into some of last year’s repulsive numbers. So if you want to take this journey, it’s probably a good idea to have a barf bag on hand. You have been warned: Now take the plunge.
"Why were the Rockies so bad offensively last season?"
Stop!!! Take a moment and really think about this question. Why were the Rockies so bad offensively last season? In the Spring, most thought the bats would be a strength of this team. And why not? – The Rockies had Cargo and Tulo anchoring their lineup, a distinction that makes them enviable in the eyes of most in the National League. Think about it - Is there another 3-4 combo in N.L. that you’d rather have going into 2012 than Cargo and Tulo?
Yet last season, the Rockies (with a score of 90) ranked a disappointing 11th (out of 16 teams) in the N.L. in the OPS+ category; just barely beating out a three way tie for 12th between the Astros, Giants, and Nationals at 89.
(Note: OPS + is a metric that park adjusts the OPS stat and then adjusts it above or below 100 depending on if the performance was above or below average – Higher than 100 = good, Lower than 100 = bad)
Now, along these same lines, take the two following pieces of information and then try to answer our original question of "Why were the Rockies so bad offensively last season?"
1)Cargo and Tulo combined for 1,148 plate appearances last season and averaged an OPS+ of 130
2)The Rockies as a team had 6,275 plate appearances and had an OPS+ of 90.
The answer is nothing new: There was a colossal pile of trash in the Rockies lineup last season. There simply had to be to end up 10% below average offensively when nearly 20% of our total plate appearances were taken by two guys who together averaged 30% above league average.
Now for the really fun part. We get to dive straight into this garbage dump and pick out the stinkiest, most rancid, foul smelling trash of the season. Namely those who posted an OPS+ lower than 70, also defined as more than 30% below league average. Why less than 70? That’s the point at which each of the following collection of Rockie plate appearances was more of a choke hold on our offense than an equal number of Cargo/Tulo plate appearances was a boon to our offense. (Remember, Cargo and Tulo gave us 1,148 PA’s of 30% above average offense) Here's what we find.
|Player||# of PA's||OPS +|
Notice that the 1,506 number for total PA’s of garbage far exceeds the 1,148 PA’s Cargo and Tulo managed. What’s even scarier however is that these 1,506 PA’s don’t even include the 446 Ty Wigginton had in 2011. Granted he did post an OPS+ of 87, but when you consider that it came attached with utterly horrendous defense and some of the most astonishingly inept numbers you’ll ever see with RISP, it’s fair to note that we’re not far from adding this to the towering pile of junk listed above. So while in reality the true number of trash PA’s that need to be taken out is probably closer to 1,952 (The 1,506 PA’s listed above + the 446 Wigginton had), we’ll stick with 1,506 for now so we can perform the next step in our exercise.
Listed below are the total number of PA’s and percentage of PA’s that were taken by players with an OPS+ below 70 for each team in the N.L. (Note: These percentages do not include PA’s from pitchers for any team. They have been eliminated. If they were included, the 368 PA’s from Rockies pitchers for instance would push the total to 30%)
|Team||# of PA's with OPS+ < 70||% of PA's with OPS + <70|
There’s some very interesting numbers here. As expected, all the playoff teams are on the correct side of the board. The Cubs and Mets may a bit of a surprise but once you remember how atrocious their pitch was last season, it’s easier to see how things ended up the way they did. It doesn’t paint a perfect picture, but it certainly reveals some interesting nuggets – Most notably, the best explanation I’ve seen yet as to why the Arizona Diamondbacks won the division so easily last season. Despite having only one real superstar in their lineup (Justin Upton), they didn’t have the glaring holes that the other N.L. West teams did. I guess the lesson here (while it all seems painfully obvious) is minimizing the number of automatic outs in the batting order makes life much tougher on your opponents. Recent Rockies history reflects this as well…..(Below are the percentage of PA’s each of these Rockies teams had taken by players with an OPS+ below 70)…..
2007, 2009, and 2010 all stick out as better years in this category, and probably not coincidentally, they all turned out better in the standings too. While 2007 and 2009 produced playoff berths, 2010 had other problems that included Ryan Spilborghs ranking third on the team in OPS+ at 102 – In fact, had Helton, Smith, and Iannetta had their 2011 season in 2010, there’s a very good chance that the Rockies would have won the division that season since they were able to hold their garbage PA’s in check around 10%.
So now the obvious question is how do the Rockies get their 2012 numbers in this category down to a reasonable number? – Let’s say 700 PA’s / 12%. To see if this is possible, we need to separate our trash into categories. (I’ll include Ty Wigginton’s 446 PA’s here as even though they were not part of the under 70 OPS+ group, they were clearly 446 PA’s that had to go)
Category #1 (Trash that’s been taken out)
1) Ty Wigginton (446 PA’s) – Traded to Philadelphia
2) Ryan Spilborghs (223 PA’s) – Non-tendered
3) Ian Stewart (136 PA’s) – Traded to the Cubs
4) Jose Lopez (129 PA’s) – DFA last June
5) Eliezer Alfonzo (79 PA’s) - Not gone yet but I’m very hopeful he doesn’t get any PA’s with the Rockies next season.
6) Alfredo Amezaga (38 PA’s) – DFA last May
7) Cole Garner (10 PA’s) – Non-tendered
Total = 1,061 PA’s (54% of the trash)
Category #2 (Trash that could become treasure)
1) Charlie Blackmon (102 PA’s) – I would expect improvement this season
2) Thomas Field ( 51 PA’s) – Not as sure as I am with Blackmon but I could see an acceptable performance with improvement here too (He’s just not a starter)
Total = 153 PA’s (8% of the trash)
Category #3 (Trash that still needs to be taken care of)
1) Jonathan Herrera (320 PA’s)
2) Eric Young (229 PA’s)
3) Chris Nelson (189 PA’s)
Total = 738 PA’s (38% of the trash)
This is where the problem with the 2012 offense surfaces. None of these players have career numbers that give me any hope that there’s a realistic chance to see dramatic improvement in their performance this season. All are at least 26, and all have a career OPS + below 70. As far as I’m concerned, the fewer PA’s these men have in 2012, the better things will be for the Rockies.
So how does Michael Cuddyer fit into this puzzle? Well the last six years, Cuddyer has averaged 574 PA’s a season with an OPS+ of 115. Since he can play all over the diamond, his 574 PA’s could eat a significant chunk of the garbage PA’s we saw last season.
1) He could end up taking some of Wigginton’s PA’s. An OPS+ of 115 is significantly better than Wiggy’s 87 that came attached with a boatload of other issues.
2) The Rockies have a solid bat they can stick wherever they need in order to improve other holes in the lineup. Taking a combination of the PA’s from players that were below an OPS+ of 70 could be a large first step to curing what ailed this offense most in 2011.
3) There’s also the possibility, if not probability now, that Cuddyer allows us to shop Seth Smith and get return value somewhere else on the field. If this turns out to be the case, we’ll have to wait and see the details of the move before passing judgment but it should also improve the team. The drawback on the surface here would seem to be that Cuddyer is just taking Smith’s spot, but even that provides additional value for two reasons
A) The Rockies can have Cuddyer in the lineup regardless of what hand the opposing starter uses to throw the ball
B) Cuddyer still gives the Rockies options to fill infield holes if Charlie Blackmon and/or Tim Wheeler surprise.