There is a belief -- not held by everyone in the Colorado Rockies community but still prevalent belief -- that the single biggest factor in the club's lack of success since 2010 has been the combination of injuries sustained by their best players and a lack of depth to minimize the negative impacts of those injuries.
If you are not in this camp, the off-season signing of utility infielder Daniel Descalso likely means very little to you. If, however, you find yourself agreeing with the sentiment that the Rockies could easily improve by mitigating poor performance at the bottom of the lineup, the Descalso signing could mean everything to you. Or, at least something.
This belief is best evidenced by a statistic invented and kept by Purple Row's Matt Gross.
Drag Factor = ((100 - wRC+) * Plate Appearances) / Team Total Non-Pitcher Plate Appearances
In the simplest terms, Drag Factor measures the negative contributions (or Drag) of a team's worst hitters. The more at-bats those players get without producing, the higher their Drag Factor score goes.
You can read more about the stat here and also note that the history of the Rockies shows that an argument can be made that the biggest difference between contention and not hasn't been a difference in the performance of players at the top of the roster, but rather in the play of those at the bottom.
So, who have been the worst offenders for the Rockies over their last four seasons? Matt was kind enough to put together these tables:
What does all of this have to do with Descalso? First, you may notice how many infielders are on this list. There are 11 in total out of the 15 worst individual Drag Factor scores over the last four seasons.
But wait: it is important to remember both that Drag Factor is an offensive stat only and that DJ LeMahieu's massive contributions on defense means that he is still a positive WAR player and will remain in the lineup ahead of Descalso. So we will put aside his two appearances on this list.
We can also pretty much ignore the Nolan Arenado numbers. which are entirely the product of a rookie figuring things out at the MLB level. He seems to have taken the next step.
What remains is a steady diet of Charlie Culbersons, Josh Rutledges, and Jordan Pachecos. And [REDACTED] NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro. This is the role now filled by Descalso.
Is this any better?
The obvious answer is "no" in 2012 and 2013 and "yes" in 2011 and 2014. Remember that Drag Factor is a cumulative stat so the fact that his lowest mark here also comes with his lowest number of plate appearances is expected. But it is also still somewhat encouraging as 184 is likely around the number he should see this season. Steamer projects 187.
His bad seasons come with 358 and 426 PAs, which are higher than anyone other than the two players we put aside (Arenado and LeMahieu) on the list of the Rockies' worst Drag players over the last four years.
Even if he matches his worst season over the time frame in question, Daniel Descalso still won't match the Drag of the worst offenders: Culberson, Rutledge, Pacheco, or even Jonathan Herrera, and it's unlikely he even gets the plate appearances to do so.
If he can -- in his sixth MLB season, right in the middle of his prime at 28 years old -- simply repeat his performance from last season, Descalso stands as a pretty remarkable offensive upgrade over players who have had to step in due to injuries in recent years.
Another thing that each of those players (sans Herrera) have in common is that they were all unproven commodities at the big league level trying to step in when an All-Star caliber player went down. Nothing is going to change about the All-Star player bit, but Descalso has played 531 games in his career (and 44 in the playoffs) while Culberson, Rutledge, Jordan Pacheco have a combined 733. And none in the playoffs.
Descalso is not likely to be intimidated by playing in any regular-season Rockies games whereas most of the guys in this discussion were playing for the life of their careers.
And Herrera is the only player on that list who matched Descalso's defensive utility.
Double-D plays every position on the infield, rating below average only at shortstop in his career, but more importantly he avoids the big mistakes that can kill both the team's and pitcher's confidence and momentum, especially in a place like Coors Field. Descalso sports a .970 career fielding percentage.
Few things are more frustrating on the mound, particularly in an offense-heavy environment, then feeling like a should-be out resulted in a baserunner, or worse, a run. Descalso will make the proverbial "play he's supposed to make" at four different spots on the infield. Much like Nick Hundley behind the plate, a great deal of Descalso's value comes in the confidence he inspires that even if he does make a mistake, he has been around long enough and proven that he will get the next one.
At best, Descalso is a significant upgrade both defensively and offensively at a spot the Rockies have desperately needed the last four years. At worst, he is Jonathan Herrera. With the way the rest of this lineup is constructed, that may be enough.