2011 Rockies Player Review: Ian Stewart

What a difference a year makes. In February, I spent an insane amount of time breaking down Ian Stewart's 2010 season. It turned into a 3-part 5,000 word series, complete with six tables and nine graphics that broke down scrutinized eight strengths and weaknesses of Stewart's game. The conclusion was not that Stewart would finally break out - but that there were identifiable areas in which Stewart could improve, and in fact, he was improving on them by reports at the time. Guarded optimism abounded.

I spent so much time on Stewart because I saw him as the key to the Rockies' season:

His potential to fulfill that (stud) role means Stewart represents the biggest key to the Rockies 2011 season. If he blossoms into that fearsome 5-hole hitter, the Rockies should make the playoffs. If he languishes as a fringe starter as he has so far in his career, the Rockies' lineup will be missing a lot of production behind Troy Tulowitzki.

I never entertained the thought of a full-blown implosion, not after years of consistently average production. It is true - Stewart ended up being a key to the Rockies' 2011 season. While Ty Wigginton became the symbol of the disaster season, Wigginton was pushed into the starting role because of Stewart hardly showed up to the park, whether he was in the lineup or not. Number nine suffered through arguably the most disappointing season for a Rockie ever, and the Rockies endured a similar fate as a team. They were intertwined indeed. Should you find yourself on a masochistic streak, enjoy the bubbling optimism of last year's review of Stewart. (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)

There will be no fancy graphs or plots this year. Half of this is due to his small sample size of at bats. The other half is that nothing fancy is required to illustrate the horrendous failure that was Stewart's 2011 season. There are no shades of grey at the bottom of a mineshaft. He did appear to change his stance in accordance to the graph's suggestions, but it was a small change, and sample size eliminated all chance to grade him otherwise.

G AB H 2B 3B HR RBI fWAR wRC+ BB K LD% BABIP AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Ian Stewart 48 122 19 6 1 0 6 -0.6 13 14 37 11.9% .224 .156 .243 .221

Just weeks after my trilogy, Ian Stewart collided with Carlos Gonzalez in a spring training game, injuring his knee and setting him out for most of Spring Training. The injury no doubt killed his preparation for the 2011 season:

"Missing so much time in spring training I think really set me back the whole year. ... Injuries, they do play a part on a guy's season and how ready they are for the season to start and how things go throughout the season." - Ian Stewart

For some reason I still do not understand, Stewart was placed on the Opening Day roster despite 25 sparse at-bats in Scottsdale. He was to somehow get into game shape...from the bench. The results were disastrous. Stewart was finally sent to AAA to get regular at-bats April 18 after starting just five games. In 28 plate appearances, Stewart had struck out 11 times and managed just two hits. One hit was a bunt single against an infield shift, and one was an excuse-me swing resulting in an infield single to shortstop. Zero of his 15 batted balls were line drives. Small sample or not, he appeared totally lost.

After piling up strikeouts and home runs in Colorado Springs, Stewart resurfaced just two weeks later on May 3. That cameo was arguably worse. In 30 PA over six starts, Stewart managed 7 K's and just one hit - a high flyball to right field that Justin Upton misplayed into a double. Again, zero of his 14 batted balls were line drives. With the short leash always jingling in Jim Tracy's hands, one could practically see Stewart doing all he could not to fail. The pressing did not work. Stewart again exchanged his Rockies uniform for Sky Sox duds, this time for six weeks.

His return in July was better, yet still not good. He hit just .210 in July, but did manage to piece together a 7-for-15 stretch with three extra base hits over four starts in the middle of the month. That was the peak of Stewart's season. His batting average never exceeded .157. It was a complete disaster by anyone's definition.

The Rockies' handling of Stewart's injury in the spring certainly deserves some questions. Why put him on the Opening Day roster when he wasn't up to speed? Why let him collect rust once he got there? Why call him up after just two weeks in which he seemingly had still not gotten fully worked up? There is some blame to be shouldered by the organization to be sure, but there is just no excuse for a .156/.243/.221 season under any circumstances. Slugging third baseman should not have a lower OPS (.464) than Kevin Millwood has a slugging percentage (.474).

Grade

Objectively, subjectively, blindly, creatively, even nepotistically - no matter how you choose to grade Ian Stewart's 2011 campaign, there is no grade to give but an F. That is, unless you want to invent a grade lower than that. Stewart's on-field production compared to expectations, hopes, dreams and league standards were as poor as any season for a player to ever wear a Rockies uniform. If Dan O'Dowd's non-specific quotes this off-season are to be believed, Stewart's on-field performance might not have even been his most negative contribution to the team.

2012

There are plenty of rational arguments that Ian Stewart should have been kept as the Rockies' starting third baseman in 2012, on paper anyway. He had multiple years of league average production, he was still cheap, his defense was an asset, and the possibilities to replace him were every bit as uninspiring and unreliable. His ceiling easily surpasses all other options. Then there is the reasonable argument that Stewart's 2011 season was sabotaged by his spring training injury, and he never got enough latitude to work his way into a groove. On paper, Ian Stewart remained a logical choice to join Troy Tulowitzki on the left side of the infield.

The problem with Stewart, not only in 2011 but in his career, however, is what is found off of the paper. Without directly pointing his finger at the Rockies 2003 1st round pick, Dan O'Dowd has essentially made Stewart the face of this offseason's roster purge of nefarious characters. Preaching the need for accountability and proper focus, O'Dowd sold "low" on Stewart by sending him with Casey Weathers to the Cubs for outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder DJ LeMahieu, neither of whom are guaranteed a roster spot in 2012.

O'Dowd isn't the only prominent name in the organization who has indirectly pointed the finger at Stewart. In early August, Troy Tulowitzki unleashed this quote:

"We have outside distractions. Guys are worried about arbitration, and other things that are important to them, but don't necessarily help us. Winning has to be the most important thing." - via Troy Renck, Denver Post

That quote doesn't necessarily scream Stewart. It takes some connecting of dots, and even then, it would fail to get a conviction in court. Few guys were eligible for arbitration after the season - (Stewart, Smith, Fowler, Hammel, etc), but Stewart was one of probably three players who might be worried about arbitration due to limited playing time; Stewart fits the bill as much as anyone.

We will never know the specific reasons or full extent of character issues that led to Dan O'Dowd giving up on Stewart. Stew/Kobe/Beef was no Milton Bradley or Denny Neagle, but he seemingly has gotten that treatment. The evidence is prevalent that it was off-the-field issues even more than his horrendous 2011 season on the field that led to his departure. In Chicago, he will be the favorite to succeed Aramis Ramirez as the Cubs starting third baseman. I wish him well.

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