Wilin Rosario is the most interesting player on the Rockies' roster.
No other player combines such undeniable talent with such maddening flaws. If the Rockies were to have a longest home run challenge in batting practice, my money would be on Wilin. All due respect to Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, but Rosario has some of the quickest hands I've ever seen.
But ... well, we all know the "buts." Questionable blocking and framing skills. A microscopic walk rate. An inability to contact or lay off a good breaking ball. Stuff that would be just about fatal to a career if Wilin weren't so good at punishing mistakes.
And if Rosario could just show some improvement in those aspects of his game, he could be a very useful player indeed. So how is he doing in the early going of 2014?
Current verdict: not too bad. Let's look at defense first.
Rosario is fifth in the majors in innings behind the dish, so he's being relied upon as much as anybody. Eight wild pitches have been thrown under his watch, which is seventh in the league. We are used to him topping that list, so that's a good sign. As a rate stat, he has the ninth-highest rate of wild pitches per inning at .05. That puts him solidly middle of the pack of the 24 qualifying catchers, which is nice to see. As for passed balls, he only has one so far.
However, that .05 rate is actually barely better than his rate last year (.0516). That rate was last in the majors among catchers who logged at least 800 innings at the position. So it seems that wild pitches are a volatile stat in small samples, or maybe wild pitches are just up this year.*
*Further investigation: WP actually are up so far this year, with a .0411 rate. 2013's rate was .0379.
Rosario has also done well limiting base stealing, as only five bags have been taken with him behind the dish. That's second-best in the league. For some reason runners aren't testing him in the early going; even Yadier Molina has had more people run on him. It's hard to say how much credit goes to Wilin's reputation for a strong arm, which has caught three out of 11 attempted thieves. It could be that the pitching staff is holding runners well, or all of this could just be chalked up to small sample size.
As for framing; I can't find numbers on that yet. It's probably way too early to make any sort of judgments. In my subjective viewing, I think Rosario is stealing some strikes on the corners, but struggling with pitches low.
Offensively, it has been a weird year for Wilin so far. He has slashed his strikeout rate from 23.4% to 13.9%, which is probably a good thing (for some reason, multiple Rockies have cut their K rates drastically so far this year). His walk rate has risen from a putrid 3.2 percent to a still-bad-but-we-can-work-with-it 5.1 percent. But his 85 wRC+ is way below his career average of 104 (wRC+ is a catchall offensive statistic where 100 is right at league average, so this year he has been 15 percent below average at the plate).
Part of this can be laid at the feet of a .262 BABIP, the lowest of his career. His home run per fly ball rate is also the lowest of his career at 15.8 percent. If he gets those up to his career rates (.310 and 20.7 percent, respectively) his batting line will improve markedly.
It's fair to wonder if those career averages are actually sustainable though. A .310 BABIP from a slow-moving catcher is somewhat dubious. Rosario is notorious for expanding the zone; in 2013 Wilin swung at 41.4 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. That was ninth-worst in the league. He has improved marginally in that category so far in 2014, to 38.8 percent (Nolan Arenado "leads" the league with a 46.2 percent O-Swing percentage. He might want to stop doing that).
So basically it appears that Rosario has marginally improved the things he was bad at, while getting marginally worse at the things he was good at. I guess that's one of those "regression" things that stat-heads are always blathering about? Either way, Wilin Rosario is always an interesting player to observe, and 2014 is going to be an important year for him.