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Monday Rockpile: Rockies Free Agent Bat Targets Aren't Really Upgrades.

The MLB Free Agent crop is always an interesting bag. You have your topheavy classes and huge name players, you have some above average guys, and then a lot of scraps who are hoping for a bounceback or something. The Rockies right now are tied to Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham, and frankly, I'm not all that excited for either.

I'll give you my thesis right now for the rest of what I'm writing: None of the guys the Rockies are seriously looking at are any better than Seth Smith paired with an appropriate platoon partner (read: Jonny Gomes or similar; not Ryan Spilborghs).

Before I continue with the details, let me put this fact out there: in 2011, there were nearly 3 times as many PAs against RHP than against LHP. By this logic, we want a guy who can hit RHP well, regardless of their prowess against LHP, as they'll have 3 times as many chances to be awesome and productive. That said, we shouldn't just pretend that batting against LHP isn't important, but finding a platoon partner is going to be FAR cheaper than landing a 3-year deal for a guy who is "meh" against 75% of the pitchers he faces and dominates 25%.

I mean, think about it. The Rockies want a RHB because we're a lefty-heavy lineup. But why do we want a RHB? Because they hit LHP well, and lefties tend to shut down our lefty-heavy lineup. Essentially, it's not that we actually want a RHB, per se, but more that we want to not get dominated by LHP. So let's move forward.

I'm not thrilled with Michael Cuddyer. He's a plus bat, that's for sure, but we're not playing him at a position that's been a black hole in the lineup. With Nolan Arenado apparently already penciled in for the Rookie of the Year award and at least 2 MVPs over the next 5 years, Cuddyer is going to be playing a decent amount of RF. Maybe even some 3B while we wait for St. Arenado, then he'll take a little 1B time to spell Helton... yeah, he'll be Ty Wigginton with a better bat. There's something about bad fielders that just upsets me. Yeah, Cuddyer will add another plus bat to the lineup, but he's going to nullify some of that value with his poor defensive play. The Rockies are going to have to overpay for his production.

Cuddyer is roughly a league average bat against RHP and pretty awesome against LHP. Like, 160 wRC+ awesome (at least 60% above average). That all balances out to roughly a 25-30% increase above the league average bat. Which happens to be Smith's line against RHP. So assuming that Cuddyer faces a 3:1 R:L split, that means we can expect 75% of his batting production to be roughly "average" and the other 25% to be just skull-splittingly dominant. If we put Seth Smith in there only against RHP, we can expect 100% of his batting production to be solidly above average. Jonny Gomes, then (and it doesn't have to be Gomes, I'm just throwing him out there as a good example), only faces LHP, and 100% of HIS batting production is at a similar level.

Yes, Smith just had a poor year in the field. But this is why we look at muti-year samples with fielding. He just came off of 2 positive seasons in the field and then had a negative one. Gomes isn't a great fielder, that's just a fact. Cuddyer is arguably worse than both of them, and he hasn't had a season that graded out as positive since roughly 2005.

How about Josh Willingham? Well, he kind of makes sense for the Rockies in that he could... uh... play a corner OF slot. Badly. Again, not a defensive upgrade on Smith. His platoon splits are far more balanced in that he hits LHP at a 30% above average rate for his career and RHP at about 20% above average.

Great, right?

Well, Willingham also strikes out a lot. Didn't we just ship out two of our biggest strikeout perpetrators in Iannetta and Stewart? The two of them aren't exactly the same situation, but the team is clearly moving away from the "low AVG/High BB/High SLG" guys and looking at more contact guys who can move baserunners better and have a lesser chance of killing all them rallies with strikeouts.

How about Carlos Beltran? Yeah, he's a pipe dream, thanks to his dry-rubber-band knees, but his platoon splits are strong in all the right directions. He's a switch hitter who still hits both handed pitchers at an above average rate. Downside: he's apparently super expensive (is he?), he's a major injury risk (yes), he can't really field (also true), and there's a strong chance he wouldn't even want to come to Colorado.

Why are we so insistent of throwing Seth Smith out the door and welcoming in a marginal upgrade at his position for like 2-3 times as much money? 2B and 3B are still going to be a black hole, but oh boy, we added MAYBE 1 win to the season by having a different corner outfielder.

Honestly, and I'll conclude with this, the Rockies picked an absolutely AWFUL season to have to force hands and make a big move. The FA options that "make sense" for Colorado are redundant and don't really help the team all that much. But it's pretty much been declared that the Rockies are going to make that big move, to PROVE that they're committed to improving themselves. They're going to end up overcommitting to a marginal improvement and we'll once again be strapped for cash to fix the areas of the team that actually NEED help.

I know I keep talking about taking that risk, making that signing, but only do it if there's a legitimate shot that the player we take the risk on is actually going to fill a hole and not just add another couple of inches to the top of a hill. If we can't do that, go get a platoon partner for Smith and just fill in any other gaps with the best glovemen available. I don't care if that even means Herrera. Hell, if Arenado and Josh Rutledge tear up ST, maybe just throw the New Rockies out there (you know, the handpicked Tulo team) and let them gel for awhile.