2013 Colorado Rockies starting position player review

Doug Pensinger

A lot of words have been written this off-season already about how the Rockies need to improve their supporting cast - but what about the starters? Here's a brief recap of how the starting position players did in 2013 and what we can expect from them in 2014.

There's been quite a bit of coverage in this corner of the internet about the deficiencies of the Colorado Rockies's bench in 2013, and why not? After all, the 11 players outlined in Kevin's bench review this week were worth a pathetic -5.1 rWAR in 2013. In fact, the Rockies gave 30% of their plate appearances to below replacement-level players in 2013, nearly double the amount given to such players by every other team the NL West this year.

It's important to remember when framing that discussion that one of the reasons the 11 bench bats were given so many opportunities to be so bad was that the starters were not very durable. Nolan Arenado, a late April call-up, led the team in games played with a mere 133. Troy Tulowitzki, much maligned for his health issues, still managed to be in 3rd place with 126 games played. Any way you slice it, the Rockies didn't get the lineup they expected to get coming into the 2013 as often as they would have liked.

Still, it's the production (or lack thereof) of the eight position player starters that had the bigger say in Colorado's last place finish this year - the eight starters had 66% of the plate appearances the Rockies gave to position players. Here's a table to quickly summarize how those players performed in 2013, including links to each player's Purple Row 2013 review article:

Player PR Reviewer/Grade 2013 Rank rWAR Age Games PA BA OBP SLG wRC+ DRS
Wilin Rosario Bryan Kilpatrick, B 9 2.3 24 121 466 0.292 0.315 0.486 107 -2
Todd Helton Bryan Kilpatrick, C 27 -0.4 39 124 442 0.249 0.314 0.423 89 0
DJ LeMahieu Andrew T. Fisher, B 12 1.4 24 109 434 0.280 0.311 0.361 70 11
Troy Tulowitzki RhodeIslandRoxFan, B 2 5.3 28 126 512 0.312 0.391 0.540 143 6
Nolan Arenado Bryan Kilpatrick, B+ 4 3.9 22 133 514 0.267 0.301 0.405 79 30
Carlos Gonzalez Greg Stanwood, A 3 4.9 27 110 436 0.302 0.367 0.591 149 10
Dexter Fowler Andrew T. Fisher, B- 11 2.0 27 119 492 0.263 0.369 0.407 106 -3
Michael Cuddyer Jay Tymkovich, B+ 10 2.0 34 130 540 0.331 0.389 0.530 140 -16

A few things jump out at me when looking at the table above.

  1. The Rockies had six starting position players who, despite their issues staying on the field consistently in 2013, were at or above league average in terms of rWAR. Of the two not in that club, one is sitting contentedly at a Cracker Barrel right now and the other produced at a 2 rWAR pace over a full season's plate appearances. That's a really strong position player core...but as has been stated before, that core has proven to be injury-prone and needs competent back-ups when that does occur.
  2. Of the seven players from the group that are currently slated to return in 2014, only Michael Cuddyer will be on the downside of his career. This is a young core that still has room for growth. I look forward in particular to see if Nolan Arenado's bat comes close to matching the impact provided by his stellar glove.
  3. DJ LeMahieu is a great glove man, but his lack of power/OBP means that he will be an anchor on Colorado's offense again in 2014, especially if he consistently hits in the two hole. If Arenado's bat doesn't improve as I believe it will, he belongs in this category too.
  4. Re: defensive numbers. I really think the defensive metrics misread Rockies outfielders due to Coors Field's large OF dimensions. I think Cuddyer's season was more valuable than rWAR would indicate...but I also think it's unlikely to be repeated in 2014 even with improved defensive numbers from a move to 1B.

To conclude, I've selected a money quote from each review article that sums up the season each player had and added a short thought of my own as they head into 2014

Rosario

Greater sophomore slumps have happened, and Rosario was one of the few core members of the Rockies to remain healthy for most of the season. He's just entering his prime, and a couple of 25- to 30-homer seasons are on the horizon.

I think the talk of moving Rosario from behind the plate is very premature, as he showed great strides year over year in his receiving/game-calling and is still quite young. I do however support the initiative to get Rosario a robust back-up so that his bat gets in the lineup more often.

Helton

Sure, baseball might not be a 40-year-old guy's game, but Todd Helton certainly made it his -- and ours -- in 2013, regardless of how the season finished.

Thanks Todd.

LeMahieu

LeMahieu was not a fully impactful player, but the best word that describes his contributions to the 2013 Rockies is undoubtedly "stability."

DJ's skill set really fits best as a super-utilityman, covering all the infield positions as a key reserve. However, given Colorado's lack of depth at the position he's been pressed into a starting role. He's a player I want on the Rockies for sure - I'd just prefer for him to be supplanted by a better player at second base given his offensive limitations.

Tulowitzki

For the first two and a half months of 2013, Troy Tulowitzki was the best player in baseball...[then he] adopted an insanely patient strategy at the plate down the stretch in 2013, maybe to point where it worked against him.

RIRF went all-out on this review (read it if you haven't please), there's not much to add here to what Tulo might do to be even better in 2014. I just want to add that I'm a believer in the idea that Tulo WILL put it all together in the next three years and have a MVP-caliber campaign.

Arenado

When all was said and done, Arenado was the second-most valuable rookie in baseball at 3.9 rWAR, trailing only polarizing Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. The Rockies' rookie third baseman enjoyed a phenomenal defensive season any way you look at it.

Arenado has the potential to be a perennial All-Star at third base, but he'll only be considered to be a star by the majority of baseball fans if his bat reaches the potential suggested during his climb through the minor leagues. He's got time to figure it out - he'll be just 23 next year.

Gonzalez

[CarGo's] slugging percentage, on base percentage and WRC+ were all comparable to his best campaign, with his improved walk rate bolstering the OBP to balance out the thirty point lower batting average.

When healthy, CarGo showed off his prodigious power, dangerous speed, and his laser of an arm - arguably at the highest level of his career. If he can recover from the lingering finger issue that sidelined him for the end of the season, CarGo could be in for a 30/30, All-Star campaign (if not more) in 2014.

Fowler

Fowler ended up with a season worth roughly 2.0 WAR, which is slightly below what he has been over the last two years. Given 2013 was Fowler's age 27 season, that is a bit of a disappointment, but he still managed to be quite valuable.

Fowler might have already played his last game for the Rockies - his contract and potential replacements in Charlie Blackmon or Corey Dickerson make it more likely. The trade return for Colorado if they chose to deal Fowler would be nice, but I do think that Fowler's OBP ability and defense are underrated and would be tough to replace. Even now Fowler feels like an unfinished product with room to improve further...but will he?

Cuddyer

It feels weird to give a guy with a batting line that pretty less than an A-, but I think the defensive issues are too substantial. When you play one of the easiest positions, and play it that poorly, you're going to lose a lot of value. Cuddyer ended up being that offensive rock the front office was looking for; unfortunately, it wasn't enough to pull the team out of the NL West cellar.

As stated above, I think it's highly unlikely that Cuddyer will come anywhere close to replicating his 2013 season at the plate - and if he's pressed into regular outfield duty he'll be hurting the team. Still, Cuddyer can be a valuable offensive contributor to this team and a leader in the clubhouse.

Conclusion

If the Rockies don't end up adding any major pieces on offense this off-season, they'll still have a pretty great core of starting position players...when healthy. It's probably wisest for Colorado to surround this core with better support and hope for the best on the injury report.

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