In the Rockies’ 3-2, extra inning loss to the Padres on Thursday night, David Dahl and Ryan McMahon had two plate appearances off the bench. They resulted in a single and an intentional walk. Conversely, Nolan Arenado, DJ LeMahieu, Ian Desmond and Gerardo Parra combined to go 0-for-20 with a walk (also intentional).
If the Rockies are going to succeed in their quest to make the playoffs in the last month of the season, they will need their best players on the field. That group that includes Dahl and McMahon — two players who aren’t getting a lot of opportunities to help the team.
The good news for the Rockies is that it isn’t too late. There are still 29 games left in which Dahl and McMahon can have an impact.
Since his most recent recall on July 29, McMahon is hitting .295/.386/.475 with a pair of late home runs against the Dodgers in mid-August. Despite the .861 OPS and strong performance in the clutch, McMahon has started just 14 of the 30 games since his call up, getting 70 plate appearances in that stretch.
Another big plus for McMahon is his versatility. He can play any of first base, second base and third base. No one is going to quarrel with Nolan Arenado playing every day at third, because he’s Nolan Arenado.
At second base, DJ LeMahieu is great with the glove and probably the best overall second baseman in Rockies history, but he has hit just .271/.310/.430 since returning from the disabled list on August 2, so maybe McMahon could have gotten more than the one start he has there since LeMahieu’s return, especially against right-handed pitching.
The egregious situation with McMahon is at first base, where McMahon has gotten eight of his 14 starts since being called up. Desmond has started at first base 21 times since McMahon’s return, hitting .177/.250/.313 in 108 plate appearances. But Desmond has been excellent against left-handed pitching in 2018. He’s hit .293/.344/.551 against southpaws this season.
With McMahon hitting left-handed and Desmond from the right side a first base platoon should be very easy for the Rockies to utilize, but they have chosen not to do so. In the words of former manager Jim Tracy, it would behoove them to use that first base platoon down the stretch.
Dahl came up from Triple-A Albuquerque a week later than McMahon on August 5. In 20 games sine his call up, he has hit .265/.342/.471 with three home runs in 76 plate appearances. Dahl has started 17 of the 23 games since his return, 10 of those in left field. Gerardo Parra has started eight games in left field since Dahl’s return, hitting .195/.250/.195 in 44 plate appearances.
Bud Black must have reasons why he’s making these lineup decisions, but the numbers don’t support them. In fact, given the numbers, it seems fairly obvious that McMahon and Dahl should be the every day starters in front of their veteran counterparts, and probably batting near the top or middle of the lineup. If Desmond and Parra are the good guys and team players I think they are, they’ll understand that the young guys have earned the lion’s share of the playing time. If not, maybe that whole concept of “veteran presence” the media loves so much is overrated.
Even former Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd, who made an appearance on MLB Network Thursday, made an observation about the team he used to be in charge of: “There are younger players for the Rockies—McMahon and Dahl—that I just don’t like the development of at the big league level,” O’Dowd said. “The Rockies might be in a different situation right now if those kids got a chance to play”:
Should Dahl and McMahon remain, to use Bud Black’s term, backup players and the Rockies miss out on the postseason, they should reflect on whether or not these decisions were right. There is something to be said for easing rookies (or young players, in Dahl’s case) in at the highest level, but those players can succeed right away when thrown into the fire. Just look at Trevor Story, Germán Márquez and Kyle Freeland and what they have done over the past two or three years without first learning how to be a bench player. Dahl and McMahon have the talent to follow in their footsteps, all they need is the chance.