With everything going wonky in 2020, it should come as no surprise that the Colorado Rockies’ most consistent, productive and clutch player has been, well, none of those things so far this season. Nolan Arenado — the face of the franchise, the perennial All-Star, the do-everything cornerstone of Colorado’s baseball club — is struggling.
Arenado made national headlines this offseason with his criticism of Colorado’s front office — specifically General Manager Jeff Bridich — and its lack of additions to the roster. But Arenado himself is mired in a slump unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed from the star third baseman, and his lack of production is at least partly why the Rockies have found themselves losers in 12 of their past 15 games.
Take these season statistics for proof (all as of Monday, according to Baseball Reference): Arenado is batting .223, with a .732 OPS. He’s hitting .065 with runners in scoring position. He’s currently riding a 5-for-36 streak at the plate, and that was predicated by a 4-for-31 slide earlier in August.
Not to pile on... but there’s more. Arenado has grounded into five double plays, which is tied for second-most in the National League. And here’s the most glaring stat of all: Arenado’s offensive bWAR is -0.2.
Let that sink in for second. Even with a respectable seven home runs and 16 RBI, Arenado is worse than the average replacement this season, according to advanced metrics. It’s simply unfathomable. For reference, Arenado’s lowest offensive bWAR season came in 2013, his rookie year, when it was 0.5. His offensive bWAR has been more than 5.0 in each of the past three seasons.
Call it a small sample size (27 games played), but nearly half of the 2020 season is in the books. Every game and every stat is amplified in this 60-game campaign, and Arenado’s struggles can be easily correlated with the Rockies’ sub-.500 record. Despite an 11-3 start, Colorado (14-15) currently sits just 1 1⁄2 games ahead of last-place Arizona (13-17) in the National League West.
Twice so far this year, Rockies manager Bud Black has felt compelled to give Arenado a day off. This is a rare occurrence even in a normal 162-game season, but Black clearly recognizes that Arenado is pressing at the plate and could benefit from some time off. But can the Rockies afford it?
In one of those off days, specifically, Arenado’s defense was sorely missed. His replacement, Chris Owings, made some costly mistakes at third base that led to a Rockies loss. But to give credit where it’s due, defense is one area that Arenado has not slacked this season.
The seven-time Gold Glove Award winner has been his usual brilliant self at third base this year, with spectacular plays nearly every game. According to Baseball Reference, Arenado has a 0.8 defensive WAR this season, which is fifth in the Majors.
WHO DID IT BETTER?— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) August 2, 2020
2020 Nolan OR 2015 Nolan pic.twitter.com/QxShwaBAsA
But his stellar defense alone isn’t why Colorado gave Arenado a $260 million contract prior to the 2018 season. For the Rockies to have a chance at the postseason—one which will see an unprecedented 16 teams make the playoffs—it will take a rebound effort from Arenado’s offense in the second half to propel them.
While most fans seemed to be on Arenado’s side when he vocalized his displeasure with the organization this offseason, how long can that support last if he continues to underperform while his team keeps losing? This is a “what have you done for me lately” league, and if the Rockies miss the playoffs in a season where half of the teams make it — due in large part to its highest-paid star’s failures — can that be forgiven? Let’s hope we don’t have to find out.