Welcome to the 2017 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the in-season contributions of every player to don the purple this past season. The goal wasn’t and isn’t to quibble with order. Instead, it’s to get a snapshot of a player along with a look forward. For that reason, we simply sorted by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (rWAR) and will start at the bottom and end up at the top.
No. 1, Nolan Arenado (7.2 rWAR)
There are only a few ways that the 2017 season could have gone better for Nolan Arenado. He could have hit better in the World Baseball Classic. He could (should?) have won the National League Most Valuable Player award. And the Rockies could have advanced further in the playoffs.
There was a lot more that went right.
First, Nolan cemented his place in the hearts of Rockies fans forever with a little comment in a Players Tribune article on the World Baseball Classic:
And, as a Colorado Rockie through and through, I still don’t like the Giants at all.
The way to (most) Rockies fans hearts: dissing the Giants. That Nolan would go on to have a tough tournament (though, he did go 2-for-5 with two runs in the final against Puerto Rico) ultimately mattered little. Team USA still brought home their first WBC title (and may have contributed to the Rockies landing Jonathan Lucroy and Pat Neshek—thanks to Nolan, of course).
Then the season started, and the Rockies started winning (and the Giants started losing). A lot. After long playing for an also-ran, Nolan finally found himself in the middle of a playoff race. The high water mark, both emotionally and for games over .500, came courtesy of Nolan (with a little help from Celine Dion):
Nolan Arenado's three-run walkoff home run to complete the cycle, My Heart Will Go On Edition pic.twitter.com/p3mFKJlMWq— reo☠️ (@reoisrad) June 19, 2017
It was but one of 37 home runs for Nolan, but there may never be a bigger one in his career, at least in the regular season. The walk-off blast secured his place in the pantheon of great Rockies moments with Eric Young Sr, Dante Bichette, Todd Helton, and Matt Holliday and sparked new debates about whether or not clutch is a repeatable skill. Whether it is or not, Nolan was certainly clutch in 2017: He finished second in the NL in FanGraphs’ Clutch score to Dansby Swanson (who had an otherwise forgettable year) and fourth in Win Percentage Added. Nolan came through and he had a penchant for doing it at just the right time.
But he also had a tendency to come through the rest of the time as well. Fueled by a career-low chase rate (and a career-high BABIP), Arenado led the league with 43 doubles and tacked on seven triples to set career highs in all the triple-slash categories slugging percentage (.309./.373/.586), which still helped him earn his third consecutive Silver Slugger award.
Then there was the defense. Oh, was there ever the defense.
The numbers back up the highlights. Nolan committed the fewest errors of his career (nine), and posted his best UZR (6.7) and DRS (20) since his superlative rookie season (30 DRS in 2013? Seriously?!). He rightly won his fifth consecutive Gold Glove award, the first player to do it in each of his first five seasons since Ichiro. He also won Wilson’s Defensive Player of the Year and Fielding Bible Award at third base, and the Platinum Glove Award for top overall defender in the National League. But those highlights.
Of course, all of that was building toward just one moment: clinching the playoffs.
No, they did not win the NL Wild Card Game, but don’t blame Nolan: he hit an eighth inning home run in his playoff debut.
It was the best season of Nolan Arenado’s career. It seemed that (almost) every good moment around the Rockies this season centered on Nolan. Sure, he got snubbed for the MVP award. But he’s on a Hall of Fame trajectory, and, most importantly, he’s ours.
In 2015, Nolan Arenado was an All-Star, won a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove, and finished eighth in MVP voting. In 2016, Nolan Arenado was an All-Star, won a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove, and finished fifth in MVP voting. In 2017, Nolan Arenado was an All-Star starter, won a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove, and finished fourth in MVP voting, and went to the playoffs. There is no indication that the trend shouldn’t continue. The only question is: When are the Rockies going to sign him to a long-term extension?