For the first time in many years, the Rockies face a huge question mark at shortstop. They’ve been fortunate enough to have someone like Troy Tulowitzki or Trevor Story man the position for the majority of the time since 2007. However, without any ready-made options heading into 2022, the team may once again try to get creative and move Ryan McMahon to yet another infield position. We’ve only heard rumors about the move, but would it really be as bad as it sounds?
2021 saw Ryan McMahon spend the majority of the season manning the hot corner. Despite starting the first couple of months at second base in lieu of an injured Brendan Rodgers, McMahon ended up with 13 Runs Saved at third base to go along with his 9 Runs Saved at second base. McMahon has proven himself with the glove at two positions so it wouldn’t be out of the question that he can provide quality glovework at another infield position.
According to StatCast, McMahon has an Ultimate Zone Rating of 2.7 in his career across the three positions he has played in the big leagues. This cumulative UZR rates McMahon as a slightly above-average defender, while his Range Runs ranks roughly around average for major league fielders. In 2021, McMahon had a UZR of 6.1 at third-base which is a helpful indicator of how his skills might transition over to shortstop.
For comparison, Trevor Story had a UZR of 3.6 at shortstop in 2021. The position is objectively more difficult to captain, but Story is an elite shortstop defensively and he commands the position with grace and an ability to range over to balls that a normal shortstop wouldn’t be able to get to. McMahon would have to improve his range up the middle, which he managed to do during his time at second when he posted a Revised Zone Rating of .847 in 368 1⁄3 innings.
Is it absurd to believe that McMahon would be more than competent enough to handle yet another new position defensively? He’s proven himself on the diamond with his play at first, second, and third but it’s that transition to an unnatural spot that will be the defining factor.
When McMahon transitioned to second base full-time in 2019, his errors hit a drastic spike. He committed 13 errors that season, seven fielding and six throwing, which is less than ideal for a Rockies defender. The totals came down in the following seasons, but that first year of full transition showed the growing pains, and it could be safe to assume that we’d see some similar growing pains, but less drastic. But, Ryan McMahon wouldn’t be a terrible option to handle the position defensively, in fact, he would provide the same amount of stability that other options would provide. The key to his inclusion is his bat.
We have yet to see Ryan McMahon’s bat reach its full potential. While 2021 was a nice bounceback year at the plate from 2020, McMahon is still lacking in that area. In 151 games in 2021, McMahon slashed .254/.331/.449 with 23 home runs and 86 RBI. He managed to get back to his production in 2019 and showed good signs of continued improvement.
McMahon managed to lower his strikeout rates to improve his BB/K ratio while lowering his groundball rate. He also improved his launch angles and made better contact in all aspects of the plate. FanGraphs and its projections show McMahon continuing this quality of production in 2022, which would be a welcome addition to the 2022 Rockies.
He has grown into a consistent bat in the lineup, but I suspect that there is more for McMahon to provide at the plate. It doesn’t matter where you put him defensively, McMahon will find a way to hit the ball. There may be a bit of a drop-off if he leaves his natural position, but it shouldn’t be anything that makes you pull your hair out. He only needs to cut down on strikeouts and try to prove those power numbers a bit more because McMahon has the potential to be a 30 home run hitter.
Is moving McMahon to shortstop the ideal move for the Rockies in 2022? No, it is not. The Rockies need to look elsewhere for an established shortstop before converting their Gold Glove-worthy third baseman. However, if McMahon proves the best option defensively and offensively while opening a spot for Colton Welker to play, then we might have to make the move and hope for the best in 2022 because the Rockies will always try to think outside the box in their own absurd way.
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