They say a manager wears a lot of hats. Coach, mentor, disciplinarian and liaison between the front office and the players are just a few. On Saturday, Bud Black spent some time adding a few more new Colorado Rockies caps to his locker as he spent time in the ticket booth encouraging fans to buy tickets. Also, at Charlie Blackmon’s request, Black threw batting practice to give Charlie some repetitions against left handed pitching. The ideas worked out well, as Charlie hit a home run and a triple off the left-handed Matt Moore, and the Rockies had a good turnout for Saturday’s game.
There’s been some suggestion that Pat Valaika, recently called-up from Triple-A, may be a better bench option than either Cristhian Adames or Alexi Amarista. Part of that idea is fueled by Valaika’s performance during spring training (hitting for the cycle at Triple-A Albuquerque might have helped, too). Valaika also credits mentorship from Nolan Arenado as playing a role in his success this season. He’s growing into his role as a utility infielder.
In this article, Jake Shapiro of BSN Rockies suggests that Valaika’s presence on the team could cause the Rockies to DFA either Adames or Amarista (neither of them have any options left). A basis of the claim is that Valaika “OPS’d [.749] in 11 games with the ‘Topes this year, which is pretty good for a utility infielder.” While that is a good batting line for somebody who will start once, maybe twice, a week, it is necessary to put it into context.
First, Valaika put up those numbers playing at a hitter’s park in Albuquerque. Second, we can’t expect minor league numbers to replicate themselves in the majors. They have to be adjusted downwards to compensate for the difficulty of hitting major league pitching. Third, we should ask how Valaika’s .749 Triple-A OPS compares to what Adames and Amarista have done at the same level. Adame’s Triple-A OPS of .808 is actually better. Amarista, meanwhile, never had the benefit of hitting in the Land of Enchantment, nor the Windy Confines of Colorado Springs, but he still managed a OPS of .773 over 143 games split between Salt Lake City and Tucson.
Even if you ignore OPS and take a glance at their career Triple A rate stats, Adames actually is the best among the three players in more than just OPS, he also leads the bunch in batting average, walk rate and strikeout rate. Valaika ranks the worst among the three in strikeout rate and batting average. The one edge that Valaika has over Adames and Amarista is a higher Isolated Slugging Percentage, which might be worth something if Valaika truly becomes better at making contact. Though Valaika, as a right-handed bat, could be used off the bench to hit lefthanded pitchers, it turns out that Adames has a history in his major league career of hitting lefties better than righties, and as a switch hitter might still be the more flexible option. Overall, as bad as Amarista and Adames have hit in the majors, there’s nothing really to suggest that Valaika would do much better.
Each of the players also have different defensive strengths, as Valaika noted in Shapiro’s article. Minor league numbers can get very wonky and using things such as range factor and fielding percentage can be even more wishy-washy. Yet, if we try to base a decision on those statistics, Valaika’s best position is second base. He seems a touch better in those metrics to Adames and both players appear better than Amarista. However, Adames and Amarista both rate superior defensively at third base and shortstop to Valaika. Amarista also has the added benefit of significant center field experience. None of the three are “bad” defensively and the numbers suggest that Valaika wouldn’t embarrass himself at shortstop, but the distinctions are there and the kind of defensive backup the Rockies want might determine their preference.
Now, there’s always the chance that Valaika’s bat “plays better” in the majors or that there is some other metric, rationale, or scouting insight that makes the Rockies value Valaika more than Adames or Amarista. Age probably isn’t a factor. Amarista is the elder statesman here at 28 years old. Valaika, at 24, is just one year younger than Adames. The major question whether the Rockies think giving Valaika a shot is worth permanently losing Adames or Amarista. Both are valuable enough pieces that they would likely be claimed if exposed to other teams, and Valaika is the only one of the three who can be optioned to Triple-A. No harm would be done if Valaika just remained in Albuquerque so that he got more playing time and experience. Maybe then, the Rockies can either get a better idea of who the best of the three are or, ideally, can buy time to find a real weapon off the bench.