Ryan Raburn is a 35-year-old journeyman who, after signing with the Colorado Rockies at the start of spring training, might have found a new home on a major league roster.
Raburn has made a name for himself as a lefty-masher, posting an OPS of 1.004 in 151 at-bats with the Cleveland Indians last year against southpaws. He’s looking to replicate that success in one of the most hitter-friendly situations in baseball for a team that needs his specialty. If the Rockies are ready to fully buy into optimizing their lineups, Ryan Raburn should be on the Opening Day roster.
A traditional bench in the National League usually has five spots: backup catcher, backup infielder, fourth outfielder, super-utility and top pinch hitter. The Rockies have replaced the pinch hitter role with a first-base platoon so Mark Reynolds is the first guy on our bench. One spot is for the backup catcher, leaving the backup infielder, outfielder and super-utility roles for the taking.
Trevor Story is proving that he belongs in the majors and should be on the Opening Day roster, leaving Cristhian Adames and Rafael Ynoa to battle for the backup infielder spot. We’ll go with Adames, who has proved himself enough to warrant a shot, as the backup infielder. Ynoa fits better elsewhere.
These last two spots – the fourth outfielder and super-utility guy – are full of potential candidates. Brandon Barnes has the leg up on Raburn for the outfield job because of his defense, locker room presence and, frankly, incumbency. The Rockies know they’ll get energy and effort out of Barnes and, more importantly, he can cover the grass ocean that is the Coors Field outfield. There are serious concerns about Raburn’s defensive ability and that’s enough to give Barnes the edge.
It comes down to the super-utility guy. It’s between Raburn, Ynoa and Daniel Descalso, who is at a major disadvantage after injuring his hand on a hit-by-pitch early in Cactus League play. We’re eliminating Descalso by placing him on the disabled list, so it’s really between Ynoa and Raburn. Ynoa is a solid utility guy who gets on base, played solid defense across the infield and is a consummate professional, but Raburn provides something that Ynoa can’t: offensive potential.
Let's be clear: the Colorado Rockies were awful last year against left-handed pitching (Matt Gross went into detail about it here), so Raburn fits a need. His wRC+ against lefties from 2015 was 173, more than doubling Nolan Arenado’s wRC+(79) in those situations. Areando won a Silver Slugger last year and brings a complete game to the table, but Raburn specializes in what the Rockies struggle with.
Raburn is a versatile defender as well, logging innings at third, second, first and in the outfield over his career. He’s even made two appearances on the mound, lasting 1.2 innings without giving up an earned run (he’s given up two unearned runs). The guy has made his way around the baseball field and is flexible defensively, making it easier to plug him into a lineup.
The Rockies took a big step into the 21st century last year by fully committing to using analytics for defensive alignments. That’s only part of the puzzle; analytics can optimize a team’s offensive capabilities by utilizing their roster’s strengths and the Rockies are doing so at first base. That strategy isn’t limited to one position; why not optimize the entire roster to mitigate an obvious weakness?
If the Rockies are truly intent on using analytical optimization to improve the club’s chances, Ryan Raburn belongs on the Opening Day roster.