Throw the ball. Hit the ball. Field the ball. It’s this third component, fielding, that, while such a fundamental part of this wonderful game, usually takes a backseat to pitching and hitting. Since Spring Training is the time of year when position battles are decided it seems like an appropriate time to assess the Rockies’ ability to field the ball.
The Rockies led all of MLB in team Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in 2020. UZR, an advanced fielding statistic developed by Fangraphs, estimates “each fielder’s defensive contribution in theoretical runs above or below an average fielder at his position.” Another leading defensive statistic, Outs Above Average (OAA), ranked the Rockies defense seventh overall in 2020.
If we focus on more traditional statistics, the Rockies committed 43 errors in 2020 which was fifth most and a fielding percentage of .981 which was in the bottom half of MLB. However, they converted 78 double plays which was best in all of baseball by a pretty large margin (the Miami Marlins were second with 60).
It’s easy to write off statistics from last season due to the small sample size of 60 games and impact of COVID-19, but the left side of the Rockies infield has been excellent for some time now. In what was otherwise a forgettable season, in 2020 the Rockies played exceptional defense.
Of course, the team’s cumulative UZR is made up of the sum of its individual player contributions.
Rockies 2020 Fielding
Obviously, Nolan Arenado’s name jumps out as the top contributor by far. While he struggled at the plate in 2020, he put up big numbers in the field yet again earning him his eighth straight gold glove. Ryan McMahon, however, did an admirable job of filling in with a UZR of 1.3 in 84 innings at the hot corner. In fact, he’s averaged a UZR per 150 plays (UZR/150) of 11.0 in 291 ⅓ innings in his career at third base. This level of performance is on par with the elite defenders (Arenado and Matt Chapman are the only full-time third basemen with a UZR/150 above 10 dating back to the beginning of the 2019 season) at the position with the only question being whether or not he can do it for a full season.
Charlie Blackmon and Josh Fuentes were both defensive standouts for the Rockies last season. Blackmon ended up being a Gold Glove finalist in right field, although it would be fair to expect some regression due to age and how much he improved over his UZR from the 2019 season (-10.6). Fuentes was lauded for his defense at first base last year. On top of that he was also one of the best hitters for the Rockies in the short season. Despite all this, he’s got competition in Spring Training because first base is a position where defense tends to get overlooked for power. Fuentes managed to hit only two home runs in 2020 to go along with a slugging percentage of .439.
Solid fielding is possibly more important for Colorado than other teams. Last season, Antonio Senzatela had somewhat of a breakout season achieving his best career numbers. Senzatela’s success is a testament to the defense behind him as he has one of the highest ground ball rates in 2020 (ninth among starting pitchers) at 50.8%. Kyle Freeland and Germán Márquez both ranked in the top ten in ground ball rate in 2020 with rates of 51.5% (sixth) and 50.6% (tenth), respectively.
A top-notch defense could really make or break the performance of the core of the starting rotation in 2021. If the Rockies are going to exceed expectations this season, great defense will likely be part of the reason.
★ ★ ★
After a fine season in 2020, rather than locking up first base, Josh Fuentes has returned to camp fighting to maintain his role as an everyday starter. According to Thomas Harding, Fuentes is excited to focus on being a starter rather than just scratching the active roster. The criticism against Fuentes is that he is too aggressive at the plate, strikes out too much, and doesn’t draw enough walks. He’s ready to prove the naysayers wrong, stating “people forget that I’ve only had 150 at-bats in the big leagues.”
According to David Hill with Call to the Pen, the Rockies front office has not approached Trevor Story about signing him to an extension. Story is the best player on the Rockies roster at the moment, but the front office is short of the cash they would need to make such a deal. If true, this comes as a great disappointment to Rockies fans.
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!