Last Monday I evaluated the Rockies using Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement (rWAR) and concluded (among other things) that the Rockies really, really needed to best players on their roster to stay healthy. Ground breaking analysis right?
In any case, it got me thinking about the players they could least afford to lose to injury for any significant period of time. Essentially, the guys they need to stay off the DL the most.
So I started creating a list in my head, and then decided it would be more fun for a January discussion if I extended the topic to all the players in the minor league system as well so we could balance the importance of avoiding injury for both the 2014 and beyond.
Here's the game. Pick any ten players you want from anywhere in the organization (major or minor leagues) that you want to stay off the DL the most. I like this exercise for a couple of reasons. One, it really makes you prioritize what aspects of the team / farm system are most important, and two, it gives us a nice window to look back through at the end of the season to see how lucky or unlucky the club was in terms of injuries. It's real easy to look at total DL time at the conclusion of the season, but that's often inefficient because not all injuries are created equal.
In any case, here's my list of the ten guys I'd protect from the DL if I could. (I generally put this in order, but with more time I might slide a few guys on the bottom half of the list up or down a couple of spots)
1) Troy Tulowitzki
Picks don't get much easier than this. The Rockies are not as fun when Tulo is on the shelf. Also, I may have mentioned this before, but I just love watching this man play baseball.
Since the start of 2007, the Rockies are ten games over .500 when he starts, and 55 games under .500 when he doesn't. He's an anchor defensively at a position in the middle of diamond, the cleanup hitter of a lineup that's probably going to leave a little something to be desired at times, and there's a huge drop off in talent at the position behind him. In fact, it's arguably one of the two largest drop offs in the entire league.
If Tulo stays healthy, he's a threat to take the MVP. If he doesn't, Colorado's record is very likely to suffer.
2) Jhoulys Chacin
Here's a fun fact. Jhoulys Chacin's career ERA currently sits at 3.61. Ubaldo Jimenez's career ERA with the Rockies was 3.66.
Chacin remains one of the most underrated players in baseball. When he's healthy, he induces ground balls as well as any pitcher in the game, and on days when Nolan Arenado, Troy Tulowitzki, DJ LeMahieu, and Justin Morneau make up the infield defense behind him, things are bound to get entertaining.
3) Carlos Gonzalez
The reason he got bumped down a slot on my list (in addition to Chacin being awesome) is because I feel like the Rockies have some depth in the outfield. Between Cuddyer, Dickerson, Stubbs, Blackmon, Barnes and perhaps even Kyle Parker if things go really wrong (or really right for him), I feel like the Rockies can cover a bit more for a Cargo injury than they can for a loss at other positions.
It would still be devastating though, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I'm thanking my lucky stars Cargo's appendectomy occurred now and not in the middle of a crucial summer stretch of games. When he's on, he can win you a game at the plate, with his glove, and on the base paths, and boy is it a pleasure to watch.
4) Jorge De La Rosa
He's gotten better and better at learning how to pitch through situations. His raw stuff is not as good as it was earlier in his career but his approach to hitters is as good as it's ever been. Every once in a while you'll still see him get visibly frustrated and let a situation get out of hand, but he's become a very cool customer and keeps the Rockies in almost every game he starts.
I know pitching records are the most overrated thing this side of the Superbowl Halftime show, but I don't think it's a coincidence De La Rosa has a winning record for the Rockies in every season he's thrown at least 50 innings.
5) Brett Anderson
This may be asking quite a bit since he's started just 24 games over the last three seasons, but he's only going to turn 26 next month and absolutely has the stuff to give the Rockies a chance to win every fifth day.
If he can stay on the mound, fans are going to love this new acquisition.
6) Tyler Chatwood
I expect some regression from Tyler Chatwood in 2014, but not enough to keep him off of this list. When paired with the other arms I've already mentioned, Chatwood is a dangerous middle of the rotation pitcher who could provide enough above average depth in the rotation for the Rockies to put some sweeps together when they have everyone healthy. Running into any 75% of the Chacin, De La Rosa, Anderson, and Chatwood part of the rotation could make it a rough few days for the opponent.
7) Wilin Rosario
I actually considered putting him even higher on this list because the Rockies have ZERO depth at catching behind the baby bull. He can be infuriating to watch at times defensively, but he's got the most raw power of any hitter on the team and the Rockies simply can not afford to have what's behind him start on a regular basis.
If Rosario goes down, I'm sure it will only take a couple of weeks for whoever replaces him to appear at or near the top of my Drag Factor tables.
8) Nolan Arenado
Similar story to Rosario. There's very little depth behind Arenado at third. It's easy to forget that because Arenado started virtually every game once he was called up a month into the season last year, but make no mistake, the Rockies will have to stretch themselves very thin if his name appears on the DL this season. The team could move DJ LeMahieu over to third to cover, but then you lose his defense at second and still have to bring up some other inferior infielder. (Some of how bad this would hurt will also depend on how much Josh Rutledge bounces back this season)
Also, all of this is under the assumption Arenado's bat remains below average. There's a very real possibility he takes a significant step forward in that department this year and if that happens, he goes much higher on this list.
9) Jonathan Gray
I struggled with this one. I knew I wanted to include him, but I didn't know how high. I ultimately settle on this spot because I feel like the Rockies have a good shot at a playoff spot if the eight guys in front of him stay on the field.
Gray is a must in terms of staying off the DL though. If all goes well, this is not only a top of the rotation pitcher, this is a true ace. The type of guy who by 2016 will have opposing fans looking at the schedule a week in advance and hoping that Gray's turn doesn't come up in the rotation when they have to face the Rockies. I want zero setbacks with this guy.
There's also that chance he could tear up Tulsa so much that he's on the big club and making an impact on a team chasing a playoff spot by the end of the season.
10) Eddie Butler
He's on here for the same reasons as Gray. He just doesn't have quite the same upside.
* * * * * *
The cutoff point was tough. I wanted to include Rex Brothers because I feel like the bullpen could really take a hit without that dominating arm and all the shuffling that would be required.
Another part of me thought about about Corey Dickerson as a dark horse pick because there's a chance he could continue his assent and become a huge part of this team (But until that actually happens I can't give him a spot).
I also gave a long hard look at David Dahl, because after missing almost all of last season, another trip to the DL this year may mean that he's not as durable as we would like. This is a guy who could easily be one of the top 50 prospects in baseball next winter if he gets back on track.
That's my list. What's yours?