For the Colorado Rockies there is at least one solemn truth: their best player -- Troy Tulowitzki -- does not have reliable health.
The conundrum is that even while playing in only 91 games this season, Tulo was still good for 5.1 fWAR, making him the 12th most valuable player in the National League. He was on pace for an MVP season before being shut down in August, which surprised precisely nobody.
This means that Colorado, if they intend to keep their superstar -- who is still a full win more valuable in 91 games than Ian Desmond was in 154 -- they absolutely must employ a reliable backup who can at least break even in the WAR department.
Josh Rutledge was given the chance to be that guy this season and posted a -.90 WAR in 105 games played.
Tossing out WAR totals an moving on is ill-advised but I'm afraid a combination of other stats, and a thorough eye examination, show that WAR is perhaps being a bit kind.
His .269/.323./.405 line might look at least okay, but for a player whose main contribution is supposed to be on the offensive side of the game, those numbers just aren't enough for an every day player at Coors Field. Rutledge burst back onto the scene early in the season, but as he became needed at third and second base, his lack of defensive prowess at third and second base became a story line in several Rockies losses.
Maybe the poor defense sapped his overall confidence and his hitting suffered as a result. Maybe pitchers just figured him out. Maybe Rutledge just can't hit at this level. But his numbers declined steadily until he went into a tail spin in August, emerging as the worst hitter in that month. As Jeff Aberle put it:
Rutledge hit .159/.202/.205 in 96 PAs, which gave him an astoundingly bad -5 wRC+, 30 points worse than the next worst player.
Rutledge walked only 5.8 percent of the time, he struck out 24.3 percent of the time and hit only four home runs in 342 at-bats this season.
His propensity for ill-timed defensive miscues lessened when he took over at short stop upon the inevitable Tulo shut-down but the offense just never came and he ended the season with an 88 wRC+. If the Rockies can't get to at least 100 wRC+ at the backup/utility infield spot, they would be much better off going with a defensive wizard and hoping for the best in the batters box.
This is is one of many reasons why the Rockies strategy (or lack thereof) for Cristhian Adames in September was maddening. Going into 2014, Colorado's best hope for in-house solutions at the much needed "guy-who-will-start-as-a-bench-player-but-will-be-needed-heavily-when-Tulo-goes-down" position were Josh Rutledge and yesterday's dubious entry into this series, Charlie Culberson.
I like to think of this as the Tulo handcuff.
Reading through RIRF's piece you'll notice both players were significant drags on the lineup, meaning that the Rockies need a new answer at the Tulo handcuff spot on the roster. Adames should have been given a serious look here in September.
Josh Rutledge is still only 25 years old and he could get better. Though, the Rockies have to ask themselves where he fits on this team. If he is most effective while playing short stop and he is negative at any other spot, then he is a player whose minimal value will only come when the team's best player is hurt and he is hitting, which he did not do this season.
His lack of production at third and second base severely limit his usefulness to this team, but someone willing to take a flyer on him as a project short stop, and maybe an AL team that can try to have him revitalize his bat by focusing all his time there as a DH, could find use for Rutledge.
Maybe the Rockies can get a mid-level prospect or a bullpen arm out of him.
2014 grade: D
He wasn't completely without value in moments, but miserable stretches left a black hole in a spot where the Rockies should be able to have a huge advantage by simply employing a league average back up. Rutledge was well below league average.
What to expect in 2015
For him to be on another team or in a very limited role. As a right-handed bat off the bench, Rutledge could still contribute to a competitive team, though his base running numbers were way down this season, including stealing a paltry two bases.
He may be on another team as a reclamation project. He may be in the Charlie Culberson role next year (25th man) if the Rockies are smart and bring someone in to fulfill the Tulo handcuff role. My hope is that either Adames or an off season acquisition takes over that spot and Rutledge is traded but I could still see him having a bounce-back year in 2015.