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Tony Wolters bounced back on defense in 2018

Now about his offense...

You’re reading the 2018 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the season had by every player to play for the Rockies in 2018. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the least amount of rWAR and end up with the player with the most.

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No. 21, Tony Wolters (0.3 rWAR)

There are a number of images you could take away from the 2018 season for Tony Wolters. You could remember the clutch hit to win the NL Wild Card game, a legitimately good swing where he stayed in on an off-speed pitch. Or you could take away the hope that he is truly a good defensive catcher, with his 2017 struggles behind the plate appearing to be a fluke caused by injuries and fatigue. Or if you’re the glass-half-empty-type, you might focus on how bad his offense was overall.

And it was bad. His 48 OPS+ puts him down with Noel Cuevas and ahead of only Pat Valaika and Daniel Castro. His .170/.292/.286 slash line is unsightly, and as the non-adjusted OPS comes into style as a mainstream statistic, you can note that his .577 OPS is better than only the aforementioned Valaika and Castro. You can look at it any way you want — Wolters was a bad hitter in 2018, and it’s probably who he really is at the big league level unless you really try extra hard to convince yourself that his pleasantly good 2016 wasn’t an outlier.

The good news for the Rockies was that Wolters bounced back with his glove. Elite in 2016 and bad in 2017, Wolters proved that he still provides value on defense. Catcher defense is notoriously hard to measure, but the soft receiving that made him a pitch-framing wizard appeared to be back. Between that and the rapport he appears to have with this young pitching staff, Wolters clearly can provide value.

But where does that value fit? The underwhelming offense from Chris Iannetta and Tom Murphy this past season combined with Wolters’s struggles made catcher a black hole in the lineup. For a team that was ultimately undone by bad offense, that’s a position where they could upgrade.

Wolters fits the profile of a solid back-up catcher in a lot of ways. He is good defensively. He is versatile. He’s clearly well-liked in the locker room and appears important to team chemistry. There’s a place for him, but ideally in a scenario where the Rockies are getting much better offense from their other catcher. If they aren’t, Wolters is likely to be part of another catching group that nets the team negative value over the course of a long season.

But hey, who wants to end on a negative note when we’re talking about TFW? Let’s watch that game-winning hit again.