This is the fourth and final article in a series on the Rockies batting and power struggles and what might be needed for improvement. Part one featured the roles of the front office and coaches. Part two focused on home runs. Part three looked at batting average champions.
There’s no avoiding it. The last few years have been hard for Rockies fans. After the first back-to-back playoff seasons in franchise history in 2017 and 2018, we’ve seen player departures replace playoff appearances.
DJ LaMahieu signed elsewhere after the 2018 season. Nolan Arenado begged for a trade before the 2021 season. Barring a miracle, Trevor Story will be playing for a new team in 2022 (if MLB and the MLB Players Association can figure out a way to make a season happen). The vacancies have left holes in the batting order and in the locker room.
When trying to figure out how the Rockies can replace these players, a scene from “Moneyball” popped into my head. Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane is sitting at a table with members of the Oakland A’s scouting and front office team. They have multiple big boards of players they are considering adding to the roster and they ask Beane which one he wants to talk about first. He stares at the board for 16 agonizing seconds and says, “none of them.”
Considering the film is showing what’s happening in the early 2000s, his next words define the shift to the analytics era:
“You guys are still trying to replace Jason Giambi. I told you, we can’t do it. We can’t do it. Now, what we can do is recreate him in the aggregate.”
Beane then makes his pitch about on-base percentage. What matters most is getting on base. He looks at three players the A’s have lost: Jason Giambi and his .477 OBP, Johnny Damon and his .324 OBP, and Olmedo Saenz and his .291 OBP. Using the quick calculations of Jonah Hill’s Peter (who is based on Paul DePodesta), Beane argues that the A’s just need three players to have an average OBP of the Giambi-Damon-Saenz trio, which is .364.
LaMahieu, Arenado, and Story were all great and unique players. The Rockies made mistakes in not getting them all to stay. But what’s done is done. They can’t be replaced. What the team has to try to do now is recreate them in the aggregate. You can agree or disagree with the emphasis on OBP, but we can all agree that the Rockies offense must be better. Having more guys on base is certainly not going to hurt and matching the homers of Story and Arenado is impossible.
If we look at the OBP of LaMahieu, Arenado, and Story in their respective final years, LaMahieu recorded a .321 in 2018, Arenado posted a .379 in 2019, and Story was .329 in 2021. That averages an on-base percentage of .343, which is .021 easier to meet than the task before Beane and Co.
In terms of the Rockies OBP as a team, they tied for 14th in 2021 at .317, which represented a big jump from ranking No. 25 in 2020 at .311. The Rockies finished 12th at .326 in 2019, they were 13th in 2018 at .322, and had a very impressive 2017 when they tied for fourth in MLB at .338. Like the other articles in this series, the 2021 team rankings show the Rockies in the middle of the pack, or even above, in many offensive categories. This is true for OBP too. But the Rockies won’t have success in the middle tier of the rankings. They have to be closer to the top to make up for their home-and-away and pitching challenges.
Individually, following the standard of having at least 502 plate appearances, C.J. Cron finished with the best OBP for Colorado at .375, Charlie Blackmon was second at .351, Ryan McMahon followed at .331, Trevor Story was third at .329, and Raimel Tapia, the final player to qualify with the 502 minimum PAs, finished with a .327 OBP.
Other Rockies have flashed potential, like Connor Joe who posted a .379 OBP in 211 plate appearances, and Brendan Rodgers who had a .328 OBP in 415 PAs; however, some Rockies have been depressingly low like Garrett Hampson (.289 in 494 plate appearances) and Sam Hilliard (.294 in 238 PAs).
While it would be lovely to have higher OBPs at every position, let’s focus on the second base-shortstop-third base combination. Last year’s OBP average between McMahon, Story, and Rodgers was .329. One of those players is unlikely to be back in purple, so we can count on McMahon, whether he’s at short or third, and Rodgers at second.
Ideally, McMahon and Rodgers will continue to progress next season and continue to bump up their OBPs. If they each boosted their OBP by .01, so that McMahon was at .341 and Rodgers improved to .338, that would put the Rockies close to the .343 mark, but only if the new shortstop brings in a slightly higher OBP than both. One available shortstop meets that criteria and that’s Carlos Correa and his .366 OBP, which is likely to command a long-term, $300+ deal. This is not even worth daydreaming about.
Other shortstop free agents are the versatile Jonathan Villar (.322 OBP in 2021 and .326 career), José Iglesias (.309 OBP in 2021 and .318 career) Freddy Galvis (.302 OBP in 2021 and .292 career), and Andrelton Simmons (.283 OBP in 2021 and .313 career). In any of these scenarios, McMahon, Rodgers, and the new Rockie SS would likely need to get on base more than they did in 2021.
Rockies fans have yet to see Rodgers play a full and healthy season. He posted a .375 OBP in three years of Triple-A ball and he could easily raise his .328 from 2021 as he increases his time in the big leagues. McMahon could do the same as he posted a .379 OBP in two years of Triple-A ball. The ceiling is high for both.
If they can lead the charge in improving on-base percentage, the Rockies could score more runs and win more games in 2022. This is especially if Cron can have another great season, Blackmon can get back to being Chuck Nazty and there’s some consistency with Joe and Tapia.
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When the Rockies haven’t signed a legit free agent in over three years, have three straight losing seasons, and with the MLB currently locking out the players, there isn’t a lot of reasons for hope when it comes to reading Colorado Rockies articles. This one actually accomplishes creating a spark of hope.
This is an interesting feature where Thomas Harding highlights changes in the front office under new GM Bill Schmidt with blurbs about new folks in the research and development department, as well as scouting and player development. The best part is a quote from assistant general manager Zack Rosenthal, who has been with the team for 15 years:
“You want to talk about bringing in different perspectives, just different ways of looking at things — it is something we were badly in need of in my opinion. This is as excited as I’ve been about [the] front office in a long time.”
Considering the historically mile-high gap between reality that fans see and perspective the Rockies front office, this has to be taken with a grain of salt. At the same time, the sheer increase on the analytics front is encouraging. Another bright spot is the diversity of the staff.
Sources: MLB makes first labor proposal since lockout, awaits union’s counter as threat of postponed spring training looms | ESPN.com
Good news: On Thursday, the two sides met for the first time since Dec. 2 when MLB locked out the players. Bad news: No signs of progress yet, which isn’t too surprising.
At least the two sides met and MLB pitched a proposal that includes “changes to the arbitration system for players with two-plus years of service, tweaked its proposed draft lottery and offered the ability for teams to earn draft picks if top prospects find early success in the major leagues, according to sources.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan and Jesse Rogers also report that the players were disappointed, but they are expected to respond with a proposal of their own. How quickly that happens, along with how quickly compromises and a new agreement can be put in place, will have a big impact on if pitchers and catchers can report to spring training in mid-February.
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