Ever since Major League Baseball instituted the second Wild Card, the game has come with a distinct quirk. It’s a postseason series, and, as such, teams can make a 25-man roster for just one game. The most notable decisions come in deciding how may position players and pitchers to carry. Unlike the regular season, the team doesn’t need to have a full starting rotation. But it might be wise to have more than one starting pitcher. Also, unlike the regular season, there’s an opportunity to carry actually useful bats off of the bench.
On the surface, it would make sense for a team to carry as many as 16 position players. If two of the nine pitchers are starters who can handle a few innings, that’s more than enough to get through a game, even with playing matchups. But there’s a question of diminishing returns. Most teams don’t have five capable bench bats, let alone eight. Those seventh and eighth guys on the bench probably won’t add much. It’s probably better to reserve extra spots for pitchers, just in case the game goes deep into extra innings.
There’s still another way the Wild Card game is different. In the regular season, a team needs some utility off the bench more than they need someone capable of hitting a periodic pinch-hit home run. The Wild Card roster allows the team to have that. And that’s why it’s wise not to go too far in the other direction and just carry 12 or 13 position players and 13 or 12 pitchers. Given all that, let’s say 14 is the preferred number of position players, leaving us with 11 pitchers. With those parameters, here’s how the Rockies Wild Card roster may shake out.
Position players (14)
There are nine no-doubt position players who will be on the Wild Card roster. They are:
Each one of these players is essential to the team for one reason or another. They will be there. That leaves five spots for the following eight players:
First things first, the Rockies will need to carry a backup catcher. The 37-year-old Hanigan has the least compelling argument. He filled in fine during the regular season while the Rockies dealt with injuries and ineffectiveness, but it’s clear that the Rockies don’t have plans for him. Hanigan hasn’t started a game since August 20 and has caught just two innings in September.
That leaves Wolters and Murphy. On the surface, Wolters has the advantage. He’s been a reliable backup for a while now, whereas Murphy hasn’t caught a full game since June. The major difference, however, is that Wolters is highly unlikely to run into one in a pinch-hit situation. Murphy has demonstrated major-league power, and that’s enough for me. Murphy should be on the roster as a pinch hitter who also happens to be a catcher. It only makes sense for a Wild Card roster, but that’s the situation the Rockies are in.
That leaves four spots for five players: McMahon, Tapia, Tauchman, Valaika, and Amarista. Valaika hit 13 home runs in 2017. He’s more than proven himself worthy of a roster spot. Despite not getting a lot of consistent plate appearances, the time Tapia has spent with the Rockies suggests he’ll secure a spot as well. Tauchman can round out the outfield depth, and he also brings some speed to the roster. He’s nicknamed Speedy Leg Boy, after all.
That means it comes down to McMahon and Amarista. Here, I have a strong feeling about what the Rockies should do and an equally strong, but less pleasant, feeling about what the Rockies will do. McMahon should be on the roster. He can play multiple infield positions, and, more importantly, he can hit. The only thing he doesn’t have is experience. Amarista has experience in that he’s been around for a little while, and he can also play multiple infield positions. But Amarista also happens to be one of the worst hitters in baseball. Nobody should want to see Amarista take an important at bat on Wednesday.
The Wild Card pitching staff has a lot more players for much fewer positions. There are a handful of no doubt names, the first one being staring pitcher Jon Gray. Pretty much all of the normal roster size bullpen should have a spot as well: Greg Holland, Jake McGee, Pat Neshek, Chris Rusin, Mike Dunn, Adam Ottavino, Scott Oberg, and Carlos Estévez. That leaves two spots for the following nine pitchers:
Anderson is easy to eliminate here because he’s starting Sunday’s game, and there’s no need to have him work on short rest. Rosscup and Carle are the least trustworthy relievers here, so they can also safely be taken out of consideration as well. That leaves us with five pitchers and two roster spots:
There’s one simple addition and one simple subtraction here. Freeland should be on the team so that the Rockies have a fourth left-hander available behind Gray. Having Freeland in that role is like having another Rusin. Hoffman shouldn’t be on the team. He’s had a bad September, and it looks like he’s suffering from a bit of dead arm. Hoffman’s thrown 1471⁄3 innings, which about matches his career high from 2016. Conversely, Bettis hasn’t pitched much this season. He’s been pretty good since returning from cancer treatment, but he doesn’t excel where the Rockies would need it. Length isn’t necessarily an asset in this game, and he doesn’t have the shutdown stuff the others have. That leaves one spot for either Senzatela, Márquez, or Chatwood.
Márquez’s argument is that, while a starter whom the Rockies may need in the NLDS, there won’t be an NLDS if the Rockies lose, and he’s the best pitcher of the three. He’d also be the third starting pitcher on the roster. Senzatela and Chatwood have also started games, but they’ve worked out of the bullpen more frequently. The case for Chatwood is the 98 mph fastball with movement he seems to have out of the bullpen. It makes sense to leave Senzatela off. He’s thrown about 100 more innings in 2017 than he did in 2016, and he hasn’t thrown more than two innings in an outing since August.
Between Chatwood and Márquez, who do you take? They both have the ability for length, but that’s not necessarily a need given who else is on the roster. Both of them have great stuff, Chatwood more so out of the bullpen. There has to be a deciding point though. My eyes drift to walk percentage. Márquez has walked 7% of the batters he’s faced, while Chatwood has walked 12.2%. If most other things are equal, the fact that Márquez hands out fewer free gives him the final spot on the roster. Maybe he’ll even be a part of a more specific strategy.
That leaves us with the following roster, inclusive of the final decisions:
Tony Wolters/Tom Murphy
Ryan McMahon/Alexi Amarista
Tyler Chatwood/Germán Márquez
If you are the Rockies, who do you leave off the roster?
Update, Oct 1, 9:36 a.m.: Thomas Harding reports that the Rockies will start Kyle Freeland today instead of Tyler Anderson. That should mean the inclusion of Anderson on the Wild Card roster and the exclusion of Freeland.