It's a bit surprising that DJ LeMahieu isn't a bigger lightning rod topic among Rockies fans.
It isn't often that the puzzle of a player's value comes into such clear perspective, but there is no question that LeMahieu's exceptional, Gold Glove-winning defense is the reason he is cashing that MLB check on the first and 15th of every month.
His offense could kindly be described as a work in progress. We knew that going into the 2014 season, and as if trying to prove the very best and worst of our expectations, DJ delivered extremes on both ends.
LeMahieu posted a slashline of .267/.315/.348 for a 67 wRC+ hitting eighth for most of the season in what was actually one of the best offenses in Colorado Rockies history.
His below average numbers but consistent playing time amounted to him leading the team in Purple Row's metric, Drag Factor behind even Charlie Culberson and Wilin Rosario with a mark of 2.95. Using this metric, LeMahieu hurt the offense more than any player on the team in 2014. Or really second because Culberson almost matched him in half as many at-bats.
But LeMahieu's defense is so good that despite all that, he still ranks as the tenth most valuable member of the team according to fWAR. Do they give out platinum gloves?
To quote Bryan Kilpatrick:
DJ LeMahieu turned in the best defensive season by any Rockies player in 2014, and was arguably the best they've ever had at his position. The 26-year-old played at four different spots but was lights out at second base, leading the NL (and setting a team record) with a UZR/150 of 11.0 and finishing five runs above average per Baseball-Reference.
I was lucky enough to chat with DJ, his manager, and fellow Gold Glove-winner Nolan Arenado in September about LeMahiue's defense and you would believe the stats were actually underselling him.
2014 Grade: A-
I would have kept him in the "B" range until I remembered that he should be given a congressional medal of honor for merely staying on the field this season. DJ's only detriment was his lackluster offense which is not this team's problem and if the rest of the team could live up to their end of the bargain, LeMahieu's production would have fit perfectly.
What to expect in 2015
I fully expect DJ to be the starting second baseman going into 2015 but I also feel like, in a strange way, him losing his starting job could turn him into the most valuable member of the team.
The name Asdrubal Cabrera has been bandied about and I would be very much in favor of the Rockies making that move or one like it. While I agree that it isn't a need position, I could argue that not falling completely apart if (when) Tulo (or Arenado for that matter) goes down is the team's biggest need.
It seems harsh to punish a guy after such a great season, but DJ would still get plenty of playing time when guys get hurt, need regular rest (especially Tulo), and late in games as a defensive replacement. Almost all contending teams have guys like that on their bench.
For the month-plus that Arenado missed, the shuffling infield defense was a nightmare that may well have cemented the Rockies fate in 2014. But going into 2015, I don't know how you could argue anything other than the Rockies having the best infield defense in the NL with DJ, Arenado, Tulo, and 2014 Gold Glove (snubbed) nominee Justin Morneau. Having a plan for that contingency should absolutely be a priority for this team, and if that means shifting DJ into a super-utility role, the Rockies should absolutely still consider it.