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Colorado Rockies spring training 2017: David Dahl and Gerardo Parra should compete for the left field job

It’s a dumb idea, but it’s not quite as dumb as it sounds

Sometimes a headline communicates everything. In a profile on David Dahl for the Post yesterday, Patrick Saunders got some complimentary quotes from CarGo and an update on how Dahl is training for the long season. But really, it’s all about the headline here.

Rockies’ Dahl ready to grow, challenge Parra for left-field job

The “party line” is that Dahl and Parra are competing for playing time this spring. And where there once seemed to be no (major) positional battles, there is now a controversial one.

Saunders acknowledges that this comes as a surprise to those who had eyes to see Parra last year, but manager Bud Black wants to set the record straight:

“Parra has proven at the big-league level that he has been a productive player. Last year, he wasn’t at the top of his game. But with the pride factor, I’m sure he wants to prove to everyone the player that he can be.”

Black is understating things a bit: Parra was one of the worst players in baseball last year. Only Alexei Ramirez (who somehow earned enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title despite a .241/.277/.333 line and -2.4 fWAR) was worse than Parra. The only problem is that it doesn’t look to be an aberration:

Gerardo Parra, 2013-2016

Season, Team Games PA AVG/OBP/SLG K% BB% fWAR
Season, Team Games PA AVG/OBP/SLG K% BB% fWAR
2013, ARI 156 663 .268/.323/.403 15.1% 7.2% 4.5
2014, ARI/MIL 150 574 .261/.308/.369 17.4% 5.6% 0.1
2015, MIL/BAL 155 589 .291/.328/.452 15.6% 4.8% 0.5
2016, COL 102 381 .253/.271/.399 19.2% 2.4% -2.8
Courtesy: FanGraphs

Fortunately for Parra he had a slight uptick in BABIP in 2015 (.325, which was closer to the .334 BABIP he posted from 2009 and 2012) just in time to hit free agency and for the Rockies to give him a 3-year, $27.5 million contract. Unfortunately for the Rockies, it seems that 2013, not 2014, seems to be the aberration now.

If we want to be charitable to Gerardo Parra—and we should all seek to be as charitable as possible with others—we could easily chalk up a lot of his poor performance to an uneven recovery from a sprained left ankle that caused him to miss 46 games in 2016. He is an eight-year major league veteran so, the thinking goes, he deserves the opportunity to prove he is still the best man for the job.

And it’s the right move on the part of the Rockies.

I say this fully believing that Dahl will win the left-field job outright. Last year he went 4-for-28 with one home run in major league spring training games before going on to tear up the minor leagues to the tune of .278/.367/.500 in 76 Double-A games and .484/.529/.887 in 16 Triple-A games. He slowed down in September/October thanks to the grueling nature of his 2016 campaign but still finished at .315/.359/.500 in 63 big league games. When you also consider his first-round pedigree, Dahl likely is the more talented player than Parra right now.

But there are warning signs. A .404 BABIP and 24.9% strikeout rate are pretty high and even 237 major-league plate appearances aren’t very many in the grand scheme of things. And last year was the first time he didn’t miss significant time due to injury (which is pertinent, considering he is currently sitting out of games). There is always the chance that PECOTA and other projection systems are right about him and the league adjusts to expose these holes in his offensive game. Baseball, a game of adjustments, demands that players do not rest on their laurels. Telling David Dahl that he has to earn the spot out of spring training is an effort to put him in the mindset that nothing is given, everything is earned in this game.

Internally, Dahl must (?) be the presumptive favorite despite claims to the contrary, and Parra, despite his big contract, is probably destined to the fourth outfielder role. But to keep both players on board with that plan, the Rockies need to tell both of them that they will have the opportunity to earn the starting spot.

As long as this is that sort of posturing, then the left-field competition is fine. If either of them “check out” because of that, you have your answer. But consider me a believer in the man who came back to play baseball mere weeks after having his spleen removed.