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Thursday Rockpile: The Exciting, Ineffective Nolan Arenado

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Few would argue that the Rockies finally have stability at the hot corner despite the offensive struggles of their young third baseman

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Ian Stewart. Ty Wigginton. Melvin Mora. Chris Nelson. Jordan Pacheco. Since the Rockies last appeared in the playoffs in 2009 (Garrett Atkins), the hot corner has been mostly a black hole for the Rockies. 22-year-old rookie Nolan Arenado stepped in, and now the prevailing consensus is that stability has arrived at third base for Colorado. What is most amazing about this nearly unquestioned consensus: Arenado has been incredibly weak with his bat.

Arenado has had two important run-producing singles in recent days, but his season 71 OPS+ is still notably worse than what his predecessors did in purple pinstripes: Pacheco (80), Wigginton (86), Nelson (87), Stewart (89) and Mora (98). Of course, offense is only one side of the picture, and as Jeff pointed out yesterday, Arenado has been elite with the glove, so much so that he easily surpasses the butchers that came before. Still, with the Rockies' offense in a funk, they sure could use a better hitting line than .241/.283/.383. Should we worry?

Arenado's season 71 OPS+ is still notably worse than what his predecessors did in purple pinstripes: Pacheco (80), Wigginton (86), Nelson (87), Stewart (89) and Mora (98)

As many would be quick to point out, Arenado carries a well below league average BABIP (.259) despite playing at Coors Field and owning a well above average line drive rate. That would suggest Arenado is simply a victim of bad luck that will even out.

I'm not so sure.

With most prospects, there is a worry about the inability to hit major league breaking pitches. This is almost always tied to contact and strikeouts. Nolan Arenado has always exhibited very good contact skill, so that was never a concern for me. It wasn't chasing pitchers' pitches and missing that scared me, but chasing pitchers' pitches and hitting into an out. Despite his line drive rate, that worry seems to have manifested into early career struggles for Arenado. Pitches with less movement in the minors are now moving off the center of his bat.

With over 300 plate appearance, we can now start gleaning information from his discipline stats at Fangraphs. According to the good people there, the aggressive Arenado swings at 55.8% of the pitches he sees and 41.4% of pitches outside the strike zone, placing him in the top eight in both categories. Combined with his above average contact, the Rockies' third baseman ranks second to last in MLB in pitches seen per plate appearance:

MLB Rank Player Team PA P/PA OPS+
1 A.J. Pierzynski* TEX 303 3.22 101
2 Nolan Arenado COL 307 3.29 71
3 Alexei Ramirez CHW 419 3.33 76
4 Omar Infante DET 309 3.36 110
5 Yuniesky Betancourt MIL 290 3.37 51
6 Jose Altuve HOU 418 3.37 88
7 Vernon Wells NYY 348 3.41 79
8 DJ LeMahieu COL 220 3.43 82
9 Maicer Izturis# TOR 311 3.44 73
10 Ben Revere* PHI 336 3.44 90

The correlation between P/PA and OPS+ is fairly weak, but it is still not a stat you want to rank near the bottom. The extreme low end tends to be filled with below average hitters.With his approach, Arenado is setting himself up to get himself out on pitcher's pitches early in the count. (If that doesn't convince you that Arenado gets himself out semi-regularly, consider he's also 1-for-18 in 3-ball counts.)

Arenado's elite defense is covering a lot of warts offensively that are not just a result of bad luck. We do not have access to bat f/x, but if we did, it likely would show a lot of weak contact on ground balls and lazy flies. It is even possible he is not fully ready offensively for the MLB level Despite his poor offense, his presence is a significant boost to the lineup from defense alone, enough that he should remain the every day third baseman.

Despite a replacement level bat, Arenado is on pace for a 2.5 fWAR or 4.2 rWAR season on defense alone. Mild offensive improvements make him an underrated star. Large improvements make him Evan Longoria. Those improvements should start with patience. Arenado will never be Todd Helton or even close on the patient scale. A little more patience would go a long way, though, in bringing Rockies fans another superstar.


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