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What the starting lineup could (and should) be

Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Considering the Rockies seem truly interested in Kris Bryant and I haven’t heard a whisper about them and Kyle Schwarber, let’s go crazy here and assume they sign Bryant. First of all, that would be fun, and second of all, how would that leave the lineup? Bryant would slot in right field, you’d assume, so let’s see how this looks for every position:

Catcher - Elías Díaz

This one’s been set in stone since the Rockies signed him to a three-year extension, and it sounds perfectly fine for me. He improved in all aspects last season, and is projected to be a solid, average catcher in 2022. Dom Núñez should spell him against righties here and there, and catcher might actually be a solid enough position for the Rockies in 2022. By the way, did you fine people know that 2021 was the fourth-best season ever put up by Rockies catchers as a whole (2.1 WAR), and only the fourth time our backstops have amassed more than 1.5 WAR? That might be worth of a piece all by itself.

First Base - C.J. Cron

One of the best Rockies signings in a long time, and he was on a Minor League deal! Like with Díaz, the Rockies extended Cron for a few years. He mashes, and his plate discipline has massively improved the last few seasons. Like Díaz, he projects as a solid, average at worst first baseman. There might be some temptation to DH him, but that blocks other players I’d like to start, so let’s not do that right now and sub him out of games late instead if needed.

Second Base - Brendan Rodgers

I’m as big a believer in Brendan Rodgers as anyone else out there. The combination of bat speed, hand-eye coordination and natural power is too much for me to ignore. Last year, from June 3rd onwards, he hit .295/.334/.497, and I think he’ll do better than that this time around. Watch how his plate discipline trends this year. If it’s solid, he’s gonna have a big year. Rodgers has the best projections of any Rockies player currently on the roster, neck and neck with Ryan McMahon, and he has true breakthrough potential.

Third Base - Ryan McMahon

I think what Mac was last year is more or less what he’ll be moving forward: Gold Glove caliber defender, league average hitter with 25 HR pop. That’s a valuable player, folks. And thank god there’s no more silliness about moving him to shortstop. And always remember: a fantastic defensive player has more value to the Rockies than to any other team, especially an infielder with how many groundballs this pitching staff gets.

Shortstop - José Iglesias

The Iglesias signing confused me considering Andrelton Simmons, the ultimate (and better) version of Iglesias, signed for less. Hopefully the explanation is the Cubs snatched him away from Colorado’s grasp. Anyway, Iglesias had a rough year with the glove last season, but he’s been an excellent defender for basically his entire career. He doesn’t hit all that well, of course, and I’d argue his never-walk-ever style is kind of damaging to a Rockies team that really needs more discipline at the plate. There’s a path to an Iglesias who rebounds defensively, hits .290/.325/.400 and is a valuable player, however. We’ll see how it goes.

Left Field - Connor Joe

Here’s where we get into the interesting stuff. If you didn’t read Luke Hooper’s fantastic piece on Fangraphs about Joe’s skillset, I suggest you do, but the gist of it: Joe has fantastic plate discipline, a short, compact swing geared to crush velocity and pitches down and in, and proved himself a fine defender in left field (who could improve with extra reps). Joe slashed .304/.392/.552 since his July 20 return to the Majors last season, and while that shouldn’t be an expectation again, most systems have him projected as a good, well above average hitter with a good OBP. Hopefully his plate discipline transfers to some other guys on the team.

Center Field - Sam Hilliard

Personally, this is where I’d go. Hilliard to me is very much Joey Gallo lite: a tall, freakish athlete (Hilliard runs better than Gallo, though) with huge strikeout issues and light-tower power. Gallo surpasses his deficiencies with extreme plate discipline, and Hilliard hasn’t done that yet. Unlike Gallo, however, Hilliard has the speed to stick in centerfield, and according to Statcast, his outfield jumps last year were the best they’ve ever been. Hilliard was slashing .108/.154/.324 on May 4th when he was sent down, and then slashed .237/.322/.492 after his July 16th return via improved plate discipline, an adjustment to the positioning of his hands and a much clearer plan at the plate in general. If the improvements to his discipline stick and continue, there is a very clear path for Hilliard to truly become Joey Gallo lite and hit something like .240/.340/.500, with needless to say would play just fine in centerfield. He needs to be given that chance.

Right Field - Kris Bryant

You can argue about who you’d prefer for the Rockies to sign (I’d love Michael Conforto), but let’s assume it’s KB for the sake of the piece. The long-time Cub scuffled a bit after being traded to the Giants (though he still had a 113 OPS+ for them), but he still hit a very good .265/.353/.481 on the season as a whole. Originally a third baseman, Bryant has branched out as he’s gotten older and has played basically every position except for second base and catcher (he even had two innings at SS last season!), settling usually into the 1B/3B/OF space. He’s better suited for an OF corner, although he’s not a superstar fielder out there, and that’s where he’d slot in for the Rockies. I’d be a fan of the move.

Designated Hitter - Charlie Blackmon

The DH spot is usually employed as a way to rotate regulars and give them half days off, but Charlie Blackmon would definitely be the primary DH for this hypothetical Rockies team. His days of hitting 30 homers are gone, but he’s still a smart hitter who can get on base. Expect to see C.J. Cron, Connor Joe and others to see time here as well.

The Lineup

Here’s how I’d do it, and I’ll put the projected slash lines and wRC+ next to each name. Remember that Bryant’s projection is designed with a neutral run environment in mind. The slash line would be better if they knew he was a Rockie:

2022 Rockies Lineup (Hopefully?)

Bat Order Player Position Bat Hand Proj. Slash Proj. wRC+
Bat Order Player Position Bat Hand Proj. Slash Proj. wRC+
1 Connor Joe LF R .268/.358/.457 107
2 Charlie Blackmon DH L .280/.348/.459 103
3 Kris Bryant RF R .251/.343/.445 113
4 C.J. Cron 1B R .271/.351/.514 116
5 Brendan Rodgers 2B R .283/.329/.469 99
6 Ryan McMahon 3B L .259/.336/.457 99
7 Elías Díaz C R .268/.328/.440 92
8 Sam Hilliard CF L .234/.303/.442 83
9 José Iglesias SS R .292/.328/.428 89

This is a passable lineup, actually, especially when considering three of the guys with a projection under a 100 wRC+ (Rodgers, McMahon and Hilliard) have the potential or ability to outperform that projection.

How do you like it? It would be a fun lineup to watch, at least, and with the expanded postseason... do we dare dream?

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2022 Playoff Odds | Fangraphs

Fangraphs doesn’t believe in the Giants all that much considering what they did last season (49.2% odds), and that’s the first of some interesting results. Among other things, it might surprise you how much the computer likes the Marlins (19.4%) considering their recent track record.

Rizzo agrees to deal to return to Yanks (source) | MLB.com

More free agency moves. Rizzo signed a two year, $32M deal with an opt-out after the first season. Interesting move to say the least, and you have to wonder where the Yanks stand now on the shortstop front.

Braves lock up Matt Olson with eight-year, $168 million extension day after trading for him | CBS Sports

It’s a cold game, isn’t it? This is a move you might make on a videogame: let the face of your franchise walk and replace him with a younger version.

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