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.
★ ★ ★
No. 40, Pat Valaika (-1.3 rWAR)
2017 was a season to remember for Pat Valaika. The Colorado Rockies had found a pinch-hitter extraordinaire. Among players with at least 50 pinch-hit at-bats, Valaika bested all of them, slashing .328/.344/.672. This earned Valaika the affectionate nickname of “Patty Barrels.” Heading into 2018, it appeared Valaika would play largely the same role, or perhaps an expanded one.
Before the Rockies re-signed Carlos Gonzalez during Spring Training, Ian Desmond seemed destined to be utilized more often in the outfield. The Rockies were uncomfortable completely handing the first base reins over to rookie Ryan McMahon, so Valaika made sure to get acclimated to the position. Ultimately, the Rox re-signed CarGo, and Desmond returned to first base. McMahon and Valaika were left competing for at-bats once the regular season got underway.
For much of the months of March and April, Manager Bud Black frequently worked Valaika’s bat into the lineup against left-handed starting pitching. Valaika saw his fair share of starts at first base and at second base when DJ LeMahieu suffered a right hamstring strain in late April and early May. Unfortunately, the ball was not finding Patty’s barrel. On May 8, LeMahieu was ready to be activated from the disabled list, and Valaika’s slash line of .103/.175/.155 made him the logical choice to join the Albuquerque Isotopes in Triple-A. Valaika continued to be shuffled between the majors and minors, but he would never see as much playing time as he did in his first stint with the team.
In the postseason, Valaika made the position player-heavy Wild Card Game roster, but was left off the 25-man for the National League Division Series in favor of McMahon and Garrett Hampson, whose right-handed bat proved to be more potent.
Valaika was never expected to be an everyday player, but his struggles were only magnified by a Rockies’ offense that collectively struggled out of the gate in 2018. Valaika finished a disappointing season slashing .156/.214/.246 for a 16 OPS+ that nearly made him the least valuable player on the roster.
★ ★ ★
Early in the 2018 season, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic brought us the story of the Valaika family. Pat and his siblings Briana, Matt, Chris (a former big leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds, Miami Marlins and Chicago Cubs) and Nick (who plays in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization) saw their father Jeff go into a coma in January of 2015. It is a story that few knew outside of the family. Even Pat’s teammates knew very little about the situation. Over three years later, the family still maintains a positive outlook. “There is absolutely a chance [for a positive outcome],” said Pat. “Miracles happen every single day.”
If you haven’t had the opportunity to read Rosenthal’s article in its entirely, it is highly recommended.
Pat has done something very special on each of the last two Father’s Days, homering with the Rockies in 2017 and launching a grand slam for the Isotopes in 2018. While Valaika had a disappointing year in terms of on-field production in 2018, there are some moments that simply can’t be quantified.