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Tuesday Rockpile: Defense May Be Quickest Way to Improve

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Much has been written about the Rockies beleaguered rotation and the potential for upgrade they carry from improving upon their 2012 performance. But it might not be starting pitching that has the greatest room for improvement.

Jordan Pacheco carried a .300+ average and winning smile in 2012, but he was a big problem defensively at third and first base.
Jordan Pacheco carried a .300+ average and winning smile in 2012, but he was a big problem defensively at third and first base.
Scott Boehm

Starting pitching was historically bad for the men in purple in 2012 - so bad, in fact, it nearly eliminated attention to horrifying performance after they released their pitch.

Defense has not been un-scrutinized at Purple Row or even by beat writers, but much of the attention has been focused at third base and catcher. That attention is fair, as those two positions highlighted a very poor defensive performance across the board. But it was, indeed, a very poor performance across the board.

2012 Defense UZR (Fangraphs) TZ (B-Reference) Players
LF -3.8 21st -6 25th Gonzalez, Blackmon
CF -7.1 22nd -6 21st Fowler, Colvin, Young
RF -0.3 15th -9 27th Cuddyer, Colvin
3B -22.3 30th -30 30th Nelson, Pacheco
SS -8.2 23rd -6 22nd Rutledge, Tulowitzki, Herrera, Scutaro
2B +1.9 15th +10 6th Scutaro, LeMahieu, Nelson
1B -1.9 16th -2 16th Helton, Pacheco, Cuddyer, Colvin
C -11 28th -9 26th Rosario, Hernandez
P -7 23rd -7 23rd
Overall -41.6 29th -59 28th

Above are the Rockies' UZR and Total Zone by position in 2012. The principal players playing those positions are listed at the right, with the biggest defensive offenders in bold and silent strong defenders in italics.

If not for DJ LeMahieu at second base, the Rockies would have been below average at every position.

Granted, there is a symbiotic relationship between pitching and defense. Poor pitching leads to more baserunners and harder hit balls to flat-footed and weary defenders. Strong defense covers up pitching mistakes to make ERAs look better. Some of this defensive data may be due to the pitchers; coversely, some of the poor ERAs put up by the rotation could be a result of the defense.

So how can this best be improved? Third base and catcher shine as the two positions improvement could be seen the easiest. Wilin Rosario helped the Rockies rank 29th in passed balls in 2012, and he has reworked his catching stance to address this. Rosario, and other catchers, are also working on creating more outs on the basepaths with his arm.

Jordan Pacheco (172) and Chris Nelson (175) each had more chances at the hot corner in 2012 than their entire minor league careers (Pacheco 136, Nelson 62). Their inexperience was obvious, but more experience may lead to dramatic improvement. If not, other options could surface sooner rather than later.

Shortstop was also a very surprising problem in 2012. Troy Tulowitkizi showed much less range and dependability than expected before missing the final four months of the season with an injury. Josh Rutledge got the bulk of the time there the rest of the season and graded out poorly.

Those three positions figure to have a strong improvement defensively from added experience and the return of a solid glove starter.

First base was a plus with Todd Helton manning the bag, and Tyler Colvin and Michael Cuddyer graded out near average. Jordan Pacheco was the culprit there.

Improved team defense is a stated priority for Rockies, but it extends to the outfield as well. Carlos Gonzalez publicly stated his desire to take less chances defensively in 2012 in order to stay healthy. He still landed on the disabled list, and while he won a Gold Glove on reputation, eyes and statistics suggest he left plenty of runs on the field with conservative play. Also, we have this quote from his new manager:

"When the ball is hit to our outfielders, we want them to charge it. We want to get to the ball quickly...It's an aggressive mindset in all aspects." - Walt Weiss, via Thomas Harding

There is potential to pick up runs and wins from defense all across the diamond, and improvement in that area can be the quietest, yet most effective way to climb the standings. Whether that will translate to reality remains to be seen.


Renck: Can Drew Pomeranz provide Rockies hope? - The Denver Post Troy Renck compares Pomeranz to Chris Sale, as both were drafted high in the 2010 draft. Sale signed a long-term contract with the White Sox while Pomeranz is still trying to prove he's a major league caliber pitcher. Renck did not mention this, but Sale was also drafted in 2007 the Rockies. The tapped him in the 21st round, one round after they selected Matt Reynolds. Sale did not sign and went to Florida Gulf Coast University for three years.

Rockies count on veteran craftsman Jeff Francis to stabilize rotation - The Denver Post Pomeranz' inability to blossom quickly as Sale did has the Rockies relying on a wily veteran whose days as the hotshot strikeout southpaw are long gone.

Jhoulys Chacin's next outing TBA; Rockies make first wave of cuts Chacin will throw a simulated game today in his first action back with the club, then pitch in a real live Spring Training game Saturday. Also noted, nine players were sent to minor league camp. None were unexpected, which is not shocking in the first cuts, but there are big names:Chad Bettis, Parker Frazier, Dan Houston, Tyler Anderson, Erick Threets, Lars Davis, Cristhian Adames,Rafael Ortega and Kyle Parker.

Chris Volstad has allowed 1 run in seven innings in three appearances, with three strikeouts, no walks and six hits. He is now being considered for the seventh spot in the bullpen with Daniel Rosenbaum and Tyler Chatwood.

Inside Major League Baseball's Dominican Sweatshop System | Mother Jones - If you read any link today from beginning to end, read this one. It chronicles the death of Nationals prospect Yewri Guillen as caused partially by insufficient medical personnel at the Nationals' Dominican facility and an extended stay due to increased scrutiny on identity fraud. The path to become a Wilin Rosario in MLB is one we are not familiar with.