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Monday Morning Rockpile: Stuff, and an Embryonic Second Base Breakdown

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This month has been slow, but I've let a couple of informative links go by the wayside. So today might be a good chance to catch up. Tracy Ringolsby's Q and A with Rich Lederer at Baseball Analysts doesn't involve the Rockies, but he does talk about the BBWAA, and what went down in the infamous Nashville meeting and talks about his rationale for his Hall of Fame votes.

More Rockies related would be Lisa Winston's profile of Dexter Fowler that came out a few days before Christmas.

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Barack Obama is so hot right now

Or, why this primary season I'm siding with Jayson Nix -despite his success coming only recently in a small sample- as the man for second in 2008.

Our second basemen last season saved us more than twenty runs on defense according to Dan Fox's SFR, the bulk of that coming from two players who aren't going to be with the team in 2008. Take note that this puts second as the best defended position on the diamond for the Rockies in 2007.

From all accounts I've read, and having seen him in person on numerous occasions, Jayson Nix is a better defender at that position than Kaz-Mat was, and probably better than Carroll also. Ian Stewart and Jeff Baker are brand spanking new, but it's hard for me to imagine either bringing any positive defensive value, a considerable loss of runs is a far safer bet. Clint Barmes will probably be a plus with the glove, but he's not in Nix's class, and I have my doubts that he's better than Matsui.

In baserunning, both Matsui and Carroll were very good, and I'd say it's safe to attribute more positive production from our second basemen in 2007 in this category than any other position as well (Fox has also been tracking this, at Baseball Prospectus, but the site's down this morning so I can't provide the link). Stewart and Baker run well for corner players, but they aren't going to add anything on the bases. Nix and Barmes might add some value, and again I have more confidence in Jayson in this category than Clint. None project to be the kind of dramatic difference maker that Matsui was, but Nix and Barmes are both very good at taking an extra base on hits, much like Carroll was.

Batting-wise, Matsui and Carroll were sub-mediocre in aggregate, with Kaz being close to average, Carroll far below. Here's where we have to decide if Stewart or Baker can bridge the gap that their presumed defensive liability at the position will cause, and I have to say that I think they still fall considerably short. Consider that after you add his defensive and baserunning contributions to Kaz-Mat's performance -and consider the negative defensive value of the following- his 2007 passes the output of Ronnie Belliard, Rickie Weeks, Mark DeRosa, and possibly even lead footed sluggers Jeff Kent, Dan Uggla and Brandon Phillips. He'd be in the 4-7 range in the NL, as far as I can tell, depending on where you got your numbers from.

I think the best we could hope for from a Stewart or Baker second base in 2008 is similar to what Weeks brought the Brewers in 2007, with maybe a little more pop. I really have a hard time projecting either giving Uggla or Kent like offense next season and I think when their defense is subtracted, it's going to hurt too much. I'm seeing us losing as much as three wins from 2007 at that position in this scenario. Believe me, I love Stewart's bat as much as anybody, but the thought of having an infield that extends innings when our pitchers are on the mound at Coors, rather than shortening them, frightens me.

Which brings me to a Nix/Barmes comparison. Last year, their stats at AAA look similar, with Barmes coming out a little ahead:

Nix
Barmes

But let's look a little closer at how they both at and away from Colorado Springs:

Home:
Nix .274/.325/.392
Barmes .300/.371/.494

Away
Nix  .308/.350/.507
Barmes .297/.355/.400

A couple of things here, Colorado Springs had even more inflation in offense last season than its three year trend, but that might have had to do with the relatively weak personnel we had there the prior two seasons. At any rate, Barmes took advantage of the thin air, and both at Security Service Field and in Coors he proved that he's a very good hitter at altitude. He's learned to use the environment apparently. He doesn't do so well elsewhere, and his stats might be masking an advantage of experience over the pitchers. Barmes will be 29 years old on Opening Day, Nix will be 25.

Nix's line is a little more confusing -but promising- showing some surprising pop on the road, with an ISP of .199 away from Colorado Springs. I don't believe anybody else on the team could boast one as high. What's more, charting a his three season trend in isolated slugging shows a fairly distinct upward progression when league context is taken into account. A more significant acceleration takes place after June last season -which would jive with reports of Carney Lansford's intervention at that time. This seems to me to be a case of power developing late, and the fact that he flashes it in a variety of parks is a distinct advantage over Barmes or even Stewart. But what should we make of the relatively abysmal performance at home? I'm going to suggest that similarly to what happened to Brad Hawpe in 2006 and 2007, that a natural order returns in 2008, but the road power won't dip as far as the home power rises.

Power is just part of the offensive equation, however, and where Nix typically falls short is in the contact/pitch selection departments. Despite showing improved patience with Team USA, I have a hard time believing that this was more than an aberration until I see a more long term trend. In fact, since Lansford helped his approach at the plate, Nix's BB% has gone down significantly. He's going to have to somehow layer this back into his game without losing the pop if he wants out of the bottom of the lineup. I'm going to guess his BABIP takes a hit in the transition to the majors, and a .250/.310 average/OBP that projections seem to be giving him seems about right to me, but my worry is that OBP will drop further. I think I'm hoping Nix redeems himself somewhat with a substantially higher slugging percentage than projected, right around the .440-.450 range would be ideal, but .420 is probably a bit more realistic.

In this scenario we'd have a .250/.310/.420 second baseman who adds an additional 20 runs of value with his glove and on the basepaths. That's still less than what Kaz brought us and certainly nothing to get too excited over, but it's closer than what I see any of the other internal or available free agent candidates bringing to the table when all the parts are put together.