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In 2021, Ryan McMahon owned the hot corner (and second base, too)

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In addition to elite defense, he made progress at the plate

Welcome to the 2021 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2021. 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. 2, Ryan McMahon: 3.9 rWAR

A year ago, I wrote the Ranking the Rockies article for Nolan Arenado (No. 5, 1.4 rWAR). Here’s a sentence from that essay: “Defensively, he was masterful, earning a DRS of 15, the best in baseball and almost twice that of the closest Rockie, Josh Fuentes with a DRS of 8.” Although Arenado’s defense was, literally, second-to-none in terms of DRS, he struggled at the plate (76 wRC+), and his desire to leave Colorado had become clear.

One year ago, Ryan McMahon (No. 11, 0.4 rWAR) was still figuring out second base, earning a DRS of -1, and hitting for a wRC+ of 77.

But that was then.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Colorado Rockies Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

In 2021, McMahon came into his own. That he was the second-best Rockie according to bWAR shows just how far he’s come.

The Glove is for Real

Back in February, Arenado was traded to St. Louis, and McMahon — it was assumed — would move to third, his natural position as a player. It turns out, that assumption was wrong, at least partially. McMahon would spend 2021 toggling between second and third — and doing well at both positions. At third, he earned a DRS of 12 (the highest DRS on the Rockies), and at second, he earned a DRS of 9 (tying for third with Elias Díaz and Trevor Story). Ryan McMahon was by far the Rockies’ best defensive player, and his Gold Glove nomination was hard earned.

In terms of all third basemen, Ke’Bryan Hayes had a DRS of 16, and Austin Riley had a DRS of 14, placing McMahon third. Arenado, in case you’re interested, earned a DRS of 6, even as the Gold Glove followed him to St. Louis. If there are questions about McMahon’s ability to fill Arenado’s spikes, defensively, they have been answered. McMahon has held his own. The Colorado Rockies were good enough to compile his highlights, and, well, there are a lot of them.

Surely, it is not coincidence that the Cardinals appear in a number of them.

Yes, McMahon received attention for his defense at third, but let’s not move on just yet from his play at second. As Joe Lemire wrote, after McMahon was drafted as a third baseman in 2013, he began asking Zach Wilson about giving second base a try given that he was positionally blocked by Arenado.

“I just kept throwing it in there, kind of trying to be funny, but then it happened,” McMahon said, adding more seriously: “At that point, I was just trying to do anything I could to get to the big leagues. I felt like if I could play more positions that make me more valuable to the team.”

He got his wish, and he played well at both positions.

The Bat is Evolving

Offensively, the power is undeniable — his HardHit% is 68% while his Average Exit Velocity of 73 moves him into the low end of “great.” Moreover, McMahon was better at the plate in 2021 than he was in 2020, but he remains a work in progress.

In the offseason, McMahon shortened his swing, which gave him more control. He started the season strong, but slowed as the year wore on. He slashed .254/.331/.449 for a wRC+ of 95 and an OPS+ of 98. He hit 23 home runs (16 in the first half). His BB% was 9.9%, but most notable, his K% dropped, 24.7%, down from 34.2% in 2020. His patience paid off with his OBP going from .295 in 2020 to .331 in 2021. Offensively, McMahon is on the right track, but he’s not there just yet.

Still, a RyMac Jack remains a thing of beauty.

The Rockies just need more of them. They are a team starved for power — as in the lowest wRC+ in baseball in 2021. They need McMahon to find that part of his game.

Final Thoughts

One of 2021’s joys was watching Ryan McMahon and Trevor Story play some gorgeous defensive baseball, like this:

Our friend @RoxGifsVids kept a season-long Twitter thread of RyMac & Trev Moments, and it’s pretty delightful.

As much as I appreciated the Arenado-Story combination, I came to enjoy the McMahon-Story team. Not only were they exceptional infielders, but they also seemed really to like each other. I realize that “besties” isn’t a measurable or even particularly important baseball category, but I always appreciate it when players are having fun. Enthusiasm is infectious, and that matters, especially when a team is having a tough go of it. Plus, RyMac always seems like a whole lotta fun.

It’s fitting, then, that the Ranking the Rockies series will end with Trevor Story and Ryan McMahon in the first and second spots. I just wish the Rockies had done more to keep from breaking up that infield.

Reader, they were good.