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Ryan McMahon doesn’t always make contact, but when he does, he hits the ball hard

It was a down year for McMahon, but he’s arguably the third best infielder on the Rockies

Welcome to the 2020 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2020. 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 lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 11, Ryan McMahon: 0.4 rWAR

Coming into spring training this season, Ryan McMahon was a popular breakout candidate. The 25-year old had just finished his first full season in the big leagues where he showed some power (24 home runs and an average exit velocity of 91.9 mph) and versatility in the field. With some adjustments, it’s easy to see how McMahon could have cut back a bit on strikeouts (29.7%) and improved his groundball rate (50.8%) ever so slightly to make big gains on his overall performance at the plate.

Rather than take a step forward in 2020, these numbers all went the wrong direction. Just watching McMahon at the plate, it never appeared that he was comfortable. If that’s the case, it’s understandable and I’m sure we can all relate to feeling uncomfortable at times (if not most of the time) in 2020. Most notably, his strikeout rate (34.2%) and batting average (down from .250 to .215) went in the wrong direction. That strikeout rate was sixth worst in all of MLB among qualified hitters.

His exit velocity, hard hit rate, and barrel percentage were all very impressive, however, and it doesn’t look like there’s an issue with his raw tools declining. In fact, McMahon was second only to Trevor Story with nine homers on the season.

Loving the glove

McMahon saw most of his action at second base this season, while also logging some innings at the corner infield positions. He earned 1 out above average (OAA), which placed him slightly above average among MLB second basemen in 2020. It’s a nice improvement from the -3 OAA from his 2019 fielding at second base. Even though he didn’t live up to expectations at the plate in the shortened 2020 season, it’s clear that McMahon has leaned into his role on the team at second base and put in the work to improve defensively.

Third best option in a crowded infield

We must look ahead, of course, at Ryan McMahon’s future as a cog in the Rockies’ infield. Let’s assume for the moment that Nolan Arenado and Story are everyday starters for the team in 2021. This leaves second base and first base open positions to be filled by the combination of McMahon, Josh Fuentes, Garrett Hampson, and Brendan Rodgers (also assuming the front office buys out Daniel Murphy’s contract). McMahon is the only left-handed hitter and will see a lot of playing time, if not maintain his role as the everyday second basemen with the occasional start at first base. We can’t assume a platoon approach with him because his splits actually favored hitting against left-handed pitching in 2019 and 2018. Offensively, the hype that surrounded him prior to this year will quiet down, but all the potential for a breakout still exists. Again, minor improvements to groundball and strikeout rates could lead to a 30-plus home run season for McMahon.