We've spent plenty of time hypothesizing on this website about the trade value and possible destinations of various Colorado Rockies, including much of the club's outfield. But one off-the-radar member of the Rockies that could potentially fetch a return is Nick Hundley.
Now in his final year with the club, the catcher is set to make just $3.15 million on the expiring contract. He's fresh off a phenomenal season at the plate after being given the second-most playing time of his career. Obviously, the trade market for catchers is slightly different than that for pitchers or what we see developing for outfielders this winter, but Hundley's value is strong, and he's a capable, consistent catcher over his eight-year career.
A productive, well-respected veteran playing for a losing team on an extremely affordable expiring contract ought to draw contender interest, right? But the more I look at Hundley's production — especially when paired with the Rockies' catching situation — the more I think the club might be wise to hold on to the veteran at least through 2016... and (gulp) possibly even beyond that.
I know, Tom Murphy is waiting in the wings, and the Rockies have backup options like Dustin Garneau, Ryan Casteel, and Jackson Williams that would give a cushion should Hundley be traded (or leave in free agency) as Murphy takes his place as the starting catcher. That's fine, and if Muphy is the catcher of the future, let's give him a look this year to prove that. It just may be wise to retain Hundley for a few million bucks depending on how Murphy takes to the job.
Bluntly, Hundley is more valuable to Colorado than any other Major League club; his home/road splits in 2015 were radical, even by Rockies' standards:
|Hundley — 2015||G||PA||AVG||OBP||SLG||OPS||TB||BABIP||BB%||K%||wRC+||wOBA||ISO||HR/FB|
Obviously, the catcher had significant disparities in batting average (118 points higher than on the road), on-base percentage (118 points), slugging percentage (208 points), OPS (327 points), BABIP (93 points), wRC+ (57 runs), ISO (90 points), and wOBA (133 points).
Those splits haven't been there his entire career:
|Hundley — CAREER||G||PA||AVG||OBP||SLG||OPS||TB||BABIP||BB%||K%||wRC+||wOBA||ISO||HR/FB|
Over eight seasons, his home success hasn't been nearly as pronounced in batting average (33 points higher than on the road), on-base percentage (44 points), slugging percentage (84 points), OPS (128 points), BABIP (19 points), wRC+ (39 runs), ISO (51 points), and wOBA (52 points) as it was with the 2015 Rockies. (To be fair, he's played the majority of his career with Petco Park as his home field.) Hundley's better-at-home splits are pretty typical, of course, but even he put that to the extreme at Coors Field.
The catcher was one of seven Rockies to get at least 350 plate appearances in 2015; here are the home/road split differences for those players. (All stats are compiled from home/road splits, with the greater the value in the table meaning the larger disparity of the home number compared to when playing on the road. A negative number indicates the road stat is larger than home by that amount. The biggest splits in each category are in bold.)
|Rockies 2015 home/road differentials||G||PA||AVG||OBP||SLG||OPS||BABIP||wRC+||wOBA||ISO|
|2015 Rockies (TEAM TOTAL)||162||6,071||74||75||114||189||70||19||78||41|
What to make of all that? Well, Hundley has the most pronounced disparity between his home (better) and road (worse) splits in every one of those categories — often by quite a significant amount — except for ISO (isolated power), where CarGo has him beat by a few points, and BABIP, where he and Blackmon are tied.
There are some shortcomings to this table, namely a significant sample size issue. Obviously, 350 plate appearances across a single season does not a full sample make. Second, these numbers ultimately may not be important for 2016, since 2015's season alone can't and won't serve as the perfect predictor of the immediate future for Hundley or any other member of the Rockies. It's not likely, but Hundley theoretically could hit better on the road than at home in 2016, thereby changing his trade value a bit, too.
Third, while Coors Field inflates offensive numbers, road trips ultimately deflate numbers to a similar degree, perhaps making these splits less significant for all seven players. And fourth, some of these stats are cumulative; of course Hundley's OPS difference is the biggest in the table, because he has the biggest differences in both OBP and SLG in the first place.
But the table is, I believe, important: Hundley — by far — had more success at Coors Field relative to his road splits than any other member of the Rockies in 2015, and home cookin' was the reason he put together such a strong year. Even assuming Mike Petriello's strong point about home/road splits stabilizing when players leave Colorado, the fact that Hundley's are the greatest of the Rockies' top seven players by a significant margin shouldn't be ignored.
All this is to say that Hundley — at 32 years old and not a particularly special receiver behind the plate, anyways — is probably going to regress significantly if (when) he leaves Colorado. (He's probably due to regress with the Rockies in 2016, anyways!) Every other front office should expect this, and considering how significant the split differences are, it'd seem Hundley holds much more value to the club that plays half their games at Coors Field than any other team in baseball, making him a poor trade target.
★ ★ ★
Then there's Tom Murphy, whose career is at least for the foreseeable future intertwined with that of Hundley. All the home/road splits in the world won't matter to the Rockies if Murphy asserts himself as the club's primary catcher, because Hundley will immediately become expendable. At that point, a lesser minor leaguer in return for Hundley is easier to stomach if Murphy truly (and quickly) proves himself to be the catcher of the future.
This works the opposite way, though, if Murphy fails to become the Rockies' primary catcher, and/or if Murphy begins 2016 in Triple-A (which is a safe bet, if only for service time reasons). At his age and contract, Hundley would be a cost-effective move for even another year (or two?) beyond 2016 if Murphy were to spectacularly fail or be set back for whatever reason. Behind Hundley and Murphy, after all, the Rockies don't have much in the way of quality catching depth close to the big leagues.
Like most of you, I hope the reins are handed to Murphy soon, but Hundley provides a proven, consistent insurance policy and he's not going to price himself out of the Rockies' market. Hundley has been so strong at Coors Field that if he came relatively close to that level of production again in 2016, he's worth the $3.15 million he's due. Beyond that, I'd even be amenable to having him return in 2017 for another few million dollars if Murphy's development would still work best with a platoon partner/safety valve.
We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, I suppose, but the main point of the let's-keep-Hundley argument stands: he's more valuable at Coors Field than not, and thus, more valuable to the Rockies than probably any other MLB franchise right now. Yes, that may be true of many hitters that call Coors Field home, but remember those differentials above; Hundley's splits are by far the most pronounced among a group of players that all deal with Coors Field. Considering those splits, and Hundley's age, position, and career, it's a safe bet to assume he'll be the least productive of those seven hitters on any team other the Rockies. That makes for uninspiring trade offers.
Sure, a 32-year-old backstop covered in the stink of the Coors Field effect isn't going to fetch much on the trade market anyways, unless a contender gets desperate after an injury to a catcher. But if the game is about maximizing value — to, ya know, get the best chance to win — the Rockies might be able to maximize Hundley's value more by keeping him in their hitter's haven as a mentor and safety valve for Murphy than to be overeager to move him for a likely irrelevant return.
★ ★ ★
I'm interested to see what you think of this; the stat tables are fraught with the small sample size problem, and 2015 is such a specific window that my entire perspective on Hundley's trade value may well shift a few months into 2016. (And that's OK!) One note: a huge hat tip to Purple Row community member ljcallister, who reached out to me in the first place about looking at Hundley's future. Thank you! (If you would like to reach out about story ideas — or to call me horrible names — and Twitter isn't doing it for you, you're always welcome to email me! And there's always Fan Posts, too, you guys.)
OK, enough housekeeping. Am I crazy for this Hundley thing?