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2012 Rockies Player Review: The Starting Outfield

When your team loses 98 games, there are very few bright spots. With the exception of the back end of the bullpen, the Rockies' outfield play in 2012 was perhaps the biggest exception. That is not particularly a surprise.

No one hit more line drives in MLB than Dexter Fowler
No one hit more line drives in MLB than Dexter Fowler
Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

Carlos Gonzalez is one of the most talented players in the league . Dexter Fowler hit .288/.381/.498 in the second half of 2010 and seemed primed to blossom in 2012. Michael Cuddyer was signed to the most guaranteed money of any free agent position player in franchise history. The starting outfield was not a concern going into 2012, and while it turned out to be a team strength, the route to get there was a little surprising.

Including reserves, Rockies outfielders combined for a .357 wOBA, the best figure in MLB. Even including park factors and fielding (UZR) numbers that traditionally greatly discredit Rockies outfielders, Colorado finished with the 9th best fWAR in MLB, clearly far from a problem area. Let us see how that came to be.

Carlos Gonzalez - LF

Gonzalez earned a long-term extension in 2010 after chasing a Triple Crown, winning the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove and finishing 3rd in the MVP voting. His effectiveness was significantly sapped in 2011 from a wrist injury that also contributed to 21 missed games due to injury. His solution was to be much more conservative defensively, a plan that backfired in more than one way. Not only did Gonzalez nearly miss as many games due to injury in 2012 (17), his defensive effectiveness was also significantly compromised.

Gonzalez ranked dead last in UZR in MLB among left fielders, and only bested Jason Kubel, Matt Holliday and Andy Dirks in Baseball Reference's Total Zone. He was statistically a terrible fielder due to his conservatism, and it appeared to most fans his effectiveness dramatically decreased. He still managed to win the Gold Glove on reputation alone.

Gonzalez hit .303 with a .371 OBP thanks to the best walk rate of his career, but his bat took a quiet step back yet again. His 122 wRC+ and 119 OPS+ were only slightly better than his 2009 season. It isn't a large step back from 2011, but it is a disappointing trend that leaves legitimate questions about whether Gonzalez will be a star going forward, or just a very good player.


Dexter Fowler - CF

Fowler has traditionally been a strong second-half player, leading to annual forecasts he has turned the corner to become a great player. Dex finally made good on those suggestions in 2012, nearly doubling his career home run total in one season. His swing finally ironed out over the long term, helping him to turn his batted balls into line drives 27.2% of the time, better than every other player in the majors. That gave him his first .300 batting average of his career and 13 home runs, which helped make him a more effective hitter (by wRC+) than Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan and BJ Upton, who lead a particularly hot CF free agent market this offseason.


Michael Cuddyer - RF

Most felt the 3 year $31.5 million contract given to Cuddyer in the offseason was an overpay, but Cuddyer was expected to fit into the clubhouse, provide relief for Todd Helton at first base and be an effective right handed hitter for Colorado in right field. In fact, he did do all of these things, and it appeared he was doing all of them better than expected, at least initially. Cuddyer hit .299/.365/.519 in the season's opening month. His bat slowed down though, and an early-August abdominal strain sidelined him for the season, robbing him of all but 19 second-half games.

The end result was a a shortened average season, leaving the Rockies paying eight figures for a player worth around one win on the field thanks to a league-average bat. Despite calling Coors Field home, he produced the worst walk rate and OBP since his rookie season in 2002. Colorado hopes to get more playing time and production out of Cuddyer in 2013.


Tyler Colvin - 4th OF

The Rockies acquired Colvin, who hit an impossibly bad .150/.204/.306 in 2011 with the Cubs, for Ian Stewart in the offseason. Given his poor season prior, Colvin was not expected to make the roster in Spring Training, but he never saw an inning in the minors. His return to 2010 form was a bright spot for the Rockies, and his versatility was of great assistance in an injury-riddled season at 20th and Blake. Colvin started 44 games in right field, 32 in center, 5 in left and 18 at first base, playing effectively in the field at all four.

As I wrote Tuesday, Colorado has an interesting player in Colvin, who was very nearly the Rockies' best position player in 2012 according to Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. Colvin demands starter time if he is effective as he was in 2012, putting Bill Geivett in an interesting position while constructing the 2013 roster.


Looking forward to 2013

Colorado had four effective starting outfielders in 2012. Three of them were almost equally effective, with the highest paid of the four being least effective. According to Heltonfan's NEIFI projection system, Tyler Colvin is projected to be the Rockies' 5th most effective position player in 2013, with only the three starting outfielders and Troy Tulowitzki ahead of him. That makes for a very outfield-heavy roster. Thus, following a 98-loss season for a team in need of pitching, much speculation has been made that one of the four outfielders will be dealt for pitching.

Gonzalez won't be dealt, though a sensible argument can be made for it given his career trends and significant potential return. Cuddyer probably has too large of a disparity between talent and money owed to get much valuable. Colvin is still a bit of a wild card, and would return a wild card in trade. That means Fowler is the most sensible, but it looks as if that is unlikely as of now. Geivett may choose to keep all four, with Colvin and Cuddyer as proven insurance at first base for when Todd Helton gets injured.