MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 05: First baseman Todd Helton #17 of the Colorado Rockies follows through on his swing against the Milwaukee Brewers at the Miller Park on April 05, 2010 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Rockies defeated the Brewers 5-3.(Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
One of the major elements the Rockies have been trying to address in their player acquisitions over the past several seasons has been situational hitting, or more specifically, the lack thereof. There's never just one solution for that problem, and it's a problem that most teams that miss the postseason have to deal with every offseason. Some teams bring in new talent. Some teams will just wait for their players to take that next step. Some teams see it being a problem, but then also will look at metrics such as BABIP, LD%, and K% to try and determine if it is actually a problem or merely an issue of statistical fluctuation, or "bad luck".
The Rockies have opted for at least the 2 first options, for the most part, and I'd like to think that some aspects of the latter have been taken into consideration.
2010 saw the Rockies bring in 38-year-old Melvin Mora to bring some veteran blood to both help mentor the youth of the team as well as go ice-cold in big situations. To Mora's credit, he posted a .876 OPS in RISP situations, although a disappointing .755 OPS in High-Leverage situations (for those wondering, all of the numbers will be taken from Baseball-Reference today, unless otherwise noted). To be fair, a .755 OPS in High-Leverage situations was good for a 108 sOPS+ (meaning that Mora was 8% better than the park-adjusted, league average bat in High-Leverage situations), so he was hardly a detriment "when it counted".
2011's acquisition was Ty Wigginton. Wigginton's RISP numbers sucked (.495 OPS) and his High-Leverage numbers were nearly as bad (.624 OPS, 76 sOPS+). Next.
This season, the big acquisition was Michael Cuddyer, he of the .810 Career OPS w/RISP and .812 OPS in High-Leverage situations. He's hardly disappointed, either, posting a .974 OPS with RISP. His .784 High-Leverage OPS is 16% above league-average.
In fact, the Rockies are batting .289/.359/.500 in 2012 with RISP, and .285/.360/.466 in High-Leverage.
Cuddy's had a pretty poor June, batting .213/.250/.475, and it has dragged his season line down to .260/.314/.492, right near league-average. In his career, Cuddy's numbers have tended to have an uptick during the 2nd half, so I'm not terribly worried about June sinking his 2012 campaign. He's generally been one of the more consistent bats in the lineup, and we've never seen anything less than extraordinary effort in the field, acknowledging limitations. One of the first games I saw him in, the Rockies were up by a comfortable margin, and Rafael Betancourt gave up a solo homer in the 9th. Cuddy climbed the wall to try and get it. When's the last time you saw a Rockies RF climb the wall for a solo shot in a game with a comfortable lead?
The major complaints about Cuddyer are his age, cost, and the fact that Josh Willingham is posting a .920 OPS in Minnesota, with a .993 OPS with RISP and 1.009 OPS in High-Leverage situations. The fact is, however, that hindsight is 20/20, and regardless of how Willingham and Carlos Beltran are killing the ball (I don't think Beltran was ever going to sign with Colorado), Cuddyer hasn't been a bad player for the Rockies. Overpaid, probably, but so far in 2012, there hasn't been anything so bad about his performance in general that would suggest he's been a detriment on the offense.
Frankly, I like the guy. I don't know much about Josh Willingham, but I feel like I could drink a beer with Cuddyer and he'd just be a normal dude, and I like that.
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Past Cuddyer, one of the more puzzling players on the team has been Todd Helton. Helton's .240/.341/.422 batting line heading into Sunday's games is certainly confusing, even disappointing. When Helton's numbers began to take that expected dip a few years ago, we figured the power numbers would go first, and Helton would continue to be a decent AVG/OBP guy. Instead, Helton is batting .240/.341/.422 - showing a roughly .180 ISO - AKA, good power numbers.
Looking at Helton's peripherals is almost more confusing. Helton is sporting a line-drive rate above 25%, right in line with his career numbers (from Fangraphs). His BABIP, however, is a dismal .247, as compared to his career mark of .333. His punchout rate is right in line with career numbers, and his walk rate is better than career. More of his hits have gone for extra-base hits (by percentage) and he hasn't had a HR/PA rate as good as now since 2004.
What's even stranger is looking at his Line-Drive splits.
When hitting a line drive, Helton is batting .541/.541/.757, which looks nice, until you realize the league-average line on Line Drives is .725/.722/.979. That's nearly a .200 point drop from the league-average to Helton.
What could possibly drop the results of line drives as severely as Helton's? Well, there's a handful of likely things. Line Drives are at the discretion of the scorekeeping staff at MLB games that supplies sites such as Fangraphs or B-R, and there's always the chance that a long fliner was ruled more of a line drive than a fly ball. That could account for some of the discrepancy. Another is that they could have been softly hit line drives that ended up just on the outfield grass and were ultimately easy plays. Or it could just be miserable luck: failure to hit 'em where they ain't.
I mean, when even Fangraphs is coming to your defense, it's clear that Helton isn't washed up, he isn't just dead weight. That or we'd refuse to admit it anyway. But just running the numbers, Helton isn't cooked. He's still hitting the ball well, and he even still has power in his swing. I mean, we're talking about an elite-level career, and a lot of evidence to suggest that we're dealing with what looks to be an absurd run of bad luck.
Don't give up on Helton just yet.