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Monday Rockpile: Can The Rockies Survive Michael Cuddyer in RF?

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 17:  Infielder Michael Cuddyer #5 of the Minnesota Twins catches a fly ball against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on April 17, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 17: Infielder Michael Cuddyer #5 of the Minnesota Twins catches a fly ball against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on April 17, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
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One of the core values of the Colorado Rockies organization from roughly 2005 through 2010 was to play good, solid fundamental baseball and to play good, solid defense. 2007 it worked, too, as the Rockies had the highest season fielding percentage of any team in MLB history. It was no wonder, too, given the cast of characters the Rockies played: the multiple Gold Glove winner Todd Helton at 1B, the speedy and defensively strong 2B Kaz Matsui, the fleet-footed Willy Taveras patrolling CF, and a young rookie shortstop named Troy Tulowitzki marveled us with his ferocity at SS, making plays that wowed even seasons veterans such as Dodgers' longtime broadcaster Vin Scully.

What didn't play into this ultimate equation were two first basemen who were forced out of position by the 1B mainstay, Todd Helton. So it began that Rockies fans got to watch some of the worst, and generally unrecognized, awful awful defensive play at RF and 3B in Rockies history.

Now, that's a bit of a loaded statement. Vinny Castilla held down the 3B position for the Rockies for many years, in solid if not slick fashion. Everyone who watched the Rockies in the 90s knows that you don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, and you don't run on Larry Walker. That being said, the contrast from what was to what is now is relatively big, in a manner of speaking. You see, at 3B, you want to see smooth backhand scoops and sidearm throws rifled across the diamond to Helton. From RF, you want to see that cannon on the shoulder nailing ambitious runners trying for 3B.

See, with Garrett Atkins, he had a strong enough arm, and OK hands. There wasn't much slick or smooth about his fielding; it was good enough to get the job done. His fielding percentage numbers weren't that bad simply because a lot of the balls Scott Rolen or Pedro Feliz would've gotten to and made an out on ended up singles into LF for Atkins - not a lot of errors on balls you don't make a play on. Similarly, Brad Hawpe is an outfielder, a position which isn't terribly prone to errors, as most plays that can be converted to outs are fly balls. The big difference is that in 2006, a year when Atkins and Matt Holliday had their offensive breakouts, Hawpe also had an offensive breakout as well as built himself a reputation as someone you don't want to run on: 16 outfield assists is a large number.

Off Topic

Interestingly enough, that was the same year that Michael Cuddyer began getting serious reps in the outfield and rewarded Ron Gardenhire with 11 outfield assists of his own, 19 in 2007. Neither Hawpe nor Cuddyer broke 10 OF Assists again in a season. Both had solidified their reputations as "guys not to run on" (as suggested by the drop in OF assist numbers), but it also laid bare their questionable fielding range.

We can probably drop the formalities: Neither Hawpe nor Cuddyer are really good RF. They both have the arm strength which I guess makes them more SUITED for RF than LF, but neither really has business playing 162 games out there, regardless of age. But arm strength will do that to a manager, as well as a fanbase, and after Jim Tracy sees Cuddyer nail his first ambitious baserunner trying to stretch 2 bags out of a single, it's going to be hard to sub him out.

Just remember that at least Cuddyer has the strong arm, and while his defensive range may be awful in general, he did have an unexpected UZR spike (all the way up to slightly-below-average, all right) last season, and more importantly, the Rockies did make the playoffs twice in the past several years with Brad Hawpe in RF and Garrett Atkins at 3B. We're just asking to make it with Michael Cuddyer in RF, that's all. As long as Cuddyer holds runners with that cannon of his, I think he'll do just fine.

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