Perhaps no other group summed up Colorado's 2012 better than the starting middle infielders. There was injury, there was awful luck, and there was hope for the future reflected in a young player.
When the 2012 season began, there were many question marks swirling around the Colorado Rockies. However, one thing that didn't seem in question was the middle infield. At shortstop, they boasted the best player in the game at the position in Troy Tulowitzki while at second base they had the more than serviceable Marco Scutaro to nail down the center of their defense.
Not only did it appear as though Colorado wouldn't struggle with their middle infield, but it also looked to be an opportunity to make up for deficiencies elsewhere on the diamond. Instead, the middle infield both presented problems, and in many ways served as a microcosm for their awful, unlucky, and injury filled season.
Troy Tulowitzki (1.5 fWAR)
Despite posting the 8th highest fWAR on the team (by pitcher or position player), the 2012 season can be classified as nothing less than a complete disaster for Troy Tulowitzki. After three consecutive seasons of finishing no lower than 8th in the NL MVP voting, Tulo wasn't even on the map this year as injuries wrecked his campaign.
The trouble began immediately. In the Rockies opening series against Houston, Tulo tweaked his left groin and it was later reported that he suffered the injury while turning a double play. However, that series also included this play in which Tulo appeared a bit uncomfortable after making a leaping catch - So it's at least possible that Tulo weakened his groin through a series of awkward plays closely bunched together.
From there, the details of the inury are a bit murky but it was clear that Tulo was playing through pain and was not 100%. On the 8th of May in a game against the Padres, Tulo reaggervated his left groin muscle while legging it out to first to keep an inning alive. Despite it being visually obvious that his leg was bothering him, Tulo stayed in the game.
Then six days later in San Francisco, Tulo took a line drive off his shin (just below the kneecap) while standing on the top step of the dugout in a freak accident. Again, Tulo would stay in the game despite the extreme pain that was visually obvious in both his face, and his gait - Only this time, he was removed minutes later after a gimpy run to first while beating out an infield single revealed just how hurt he really was.
Leaving injured wasn't the only troubling theme of Tulo's 2012. The usually automatic shortstop also suddenly became error prone. Coming into the season, Tulo had the highest fielding percentage of any shortstop in the history of baseball (minimum 500 starts), including making just six errors in all of 2011. However, he would make eight in just 47 games in 2012, including five in a shocking four game stretch against San Diego and Arizona in April.
At first (not wanting to make excuses for his poor play), Tulo attributed the errors to letting the bad throws get in his head and then over thinking plays when he threw to first, but after being on the DL for a few weeks, Tulo later admitted (when pressed) that he was guiding the ball the ball to first because of his leg instead of just firing it to its destination.
Tulo's last game of the season turned out to be May 30th against the Astros when he was forced to leave early again - This time tweaking his leg while exiting the batter's box.
He would later have successful surgery on his left groin in June and not return for the rest of the season. He did play in some minor league games down the stetch, but instead of rushing back to the majors for the final couple of weeks in meaningless games in which he'd be pushing his leg 100%, Tulo finally appeared to learn his lesson and refused to put himself in a position where there was a possibility of reinjury. Hopefully this decision results in a healthy 2013 and beyond for our shortstop. Baseball just isn't as much fun without him.
Marco Scutaro (2.5 fWAR- But Not All Of It Came With The Rockies.....)
Few things infuriated me more in 2012 than Marco Scutaro's season. After a 2011 that saw Mark Ellis, Jose Lopez, Chris Nelson, Jonathan Herrera and others split time at 2B and all of them fail to post an OPS higher than .717, Scutaro seemed like the perfect candidate to fill the hole. Even better was the fact that the Rockies had to give up virtually zero value to get him as Dan O'Dowd was able to swing a Clayton Mortensen / Scutaro swap last winter.
So on opening day, the Rockies had a 36 year old shortstop turned second baseman moving to the friendliest hitting enviornment in all of baseball while coming off a season in which he posted a .781 OPS. Surely Colorado couldn't lose here right?
In your classic "2012 will find any way possible to screw the Rockies" story, Scutaro posts just a .684 OPS in 95 games in purple. By itself, that was a tough pill to swallow - But it was very possible that at 36, Scutaro was just hitting that wall. It happens.
So with the Rockies being well out of contention in July and Scutaro bound for free agency at the end of the season, the Rockies did what any sensible club would do - They dealt him to the highest bidder. That meant a trade with the Giants for infield prospect Charlie Culberson.
It's what Scutaro did next that made my blood boil. After moving from the friendliest hitting environment in all of baseball (in which he didn't do much) to one of the least friendly hitting enviroments in all of baseball, Scutaro posted an .859 OPS in 61 games with San Francisco. As if that wasn't enough, the icing was put on the cake from hell when Scutaro played out of his mind in the NLCS and was named MVP of that series. I know that I'm supposed to be happy for the guy, and if I search really, really hard in the lollipops and sunshine part of my soul I can find it, but from a Rockie fan perspective, it's very difficult to walk away from that chain of events and feel anything but incensed.
Josh Rutledge (0.8 fWAR)
Amidst all the wreckage of the 2012 season, there were a few bright spots - And perhaps the brightest of them all was the story of Josh Rutledge. When the season began, the 23 year old had not seen an at bat above High A, but Rutledge would soon make that fact a distant memory as he instantly established himself as the best player on the AA Tulsa Drillers.
I was fortunate enough to follow the Drillers around for a few weeks in June and it seemed like Rutledge was doing something to help that team win every night. He could hit for average, and used almost every inch of the ballpark to do it. He could hit for some power, even though he his frame could lead you to the incorrect conclusion that he's nothing more than a "Punch and Judy" hitter - And he could burn you with his legs, piling up 21 steals while only being caught four times in both AA and MLB combined.
Rutledge's outstanding play in Oklahoma eventually earned him a ticket to Colorado midway through the season, and on July 13th, he made his major league debut against the Phillies going 2-2 with a stolen base and two RBI. He would keep right on hitting through the end of August when his OPS was still flirting with 1.000. Rutledge would finally slump down the stretch as well as battle a minor leg injury that diminished his final MLB offensive numbers, but the rookie went a long way in showing that he could hit at this level, especially when you consider where he started the season.
The biggest downside to Rutledge's time in Denver was his defense. With Troy Tulowitzki on the DL, Rutledge was given the chance to play shortstop and the position often seemed too big for him. The good news is that he's likely to play 2B next season when Tulo comes back, and at least in the small sample size of games I saw in Tulsa, Rutledge looks like a better defender at that position.
If all goes as planned, the Rockies could have one of the best middle infields in baseball next season. Nobody plays shortstop better than a healthy Tulo and there's plenty of reason to believe that Rutledge can be an above average overall second baseman. At the same time though, the potential does exist for both players to suffer setbacks next season due to injury (Tulo) and lack of experience (Rutledge). I'd classify myself as cautiously optimistic about our 2013 middle infield. If everything breaks right, it could be the best in franchise history.
Next, we'll review the starting outfielders.