So, Jayson Nix continues to gain momentum at second, reeling in endorsements from Davey Johnson and several current Rockies, according to Ken Rosenthal. Thomas Harding also spins out another positive treatment at the official site.
Since I'm now also on the Nix bandwagon, I've been looking for a well-constructed, easy access counterargument that I can refer you to so you can jump back off, or at least get an even understanding of the situation. It's been difficult, since everybody related to the Rockies has that well-constructed, easy access counterargument already well ingrained in their heads after watching him trickle up the system in the most uninspiring fashion for the past seven seasons. Basically, the sum of that experience says that Nix projects to being one of the worst regulars offensively in the MLB next season, if not the worst based on his statistical record if given the job. And yet here we have several people, including a few that usually ought to know better, wanting to see him as our starting second baseman come March 31 based on just three months of performance in late 2007.
Okay, that's not entirely true, as even though these folks -again myself included- are basing any sort of offensive hope on those three months, there's a defensive element to our hopes that has been accumulated over the full seven seasons.
So, in the interest of total disclosure, let's just lay out the bad news as we know it. In 2006, Clint Barmes was perhaps the worst position player in the majors. According to Baseball Prospectus he was 33 runs worse than an average shortstop at the plate, and average shortstops aren't that great offensively to begin with. The projections for Nix that I've seen have him putting up some very similar numbers to those that Barmes brought us that season. It would be essentially lopping off a third of the modest run production that Kazuo Matsui brought us to the position in 2007.
Let's be perfectly frank then, that leaving defense aside, not only does Nix have to exceed his projections, he has to make them look silly in order to be of real value to the team. So my own struggle this winter has been to justify my own expectations that Jayson will be successful in this.
Here are the essential aspects of offensive projection in no particular order:
1. outs produced
A. by strikeout
B. on balls in play
2. walks taken
3. power (extra base hits) generated
In order to have 2007 qualify as a breakthrough season, Nix had to be better than we have reason to think in at least one of these three categories, and he has to show that he can continue being better in that category going forward.
Q1a. Did Jayson drop his K% in 2007?
Q1b. Did Jayson improve his BABIP in 2007?
By having several more infield singles, and maybe by pulling the ball a little more. Most every other rate was about the same from 2006. Alright, so this isn't inspiring.
Q2. Did Jayson walk more?
A: No. In fact, he got worse as the season progressed.
Q3. Did Jayson have more extra base hits?
Here I think the shift to left field for more of his balls in play is more significant to look at, as I think it's indicating that he was getting his bat around faster and turning on pitches more, particularly since this left side rate increase coincides with a bump in his line drive rate and dip in fly balls and pop-ups for the last half of the year. Instead of swinging late and under pitches, he really does seem to be squaring up more frequently.
So I'm left with modest expectations here that Nix, similarly to Yorvit Torrealba, will be an out machine, but provide enough power to push him toward average territory. His defense is going to have to make up the difference. The real issue I have still is that at least at the beginning of the season, we'll have two players of this type at the bottom of our lineup, when we could only have one if we were to commit to the more well rounded and less out prone Chris Iannetta. Later, I'm going to be looking at how our team, and others in the NL West, have prepared themselves for the evolving season, and Iannetta's important in that regard.