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Considering the Rockies’ outfield (so far)

The outfield looks different than it did a year ago, but has it improved?

The 2022 season is roughly, one-third, complete, so we’re in small-but-growing sample size territory. The 2022 Rockies outfield looks different than it did a year ago, but have those changes been effective? Here’s what we know so far — and I should add that analysis here is based on play through the end of the Atlanta four-game series.

How Is the Rockies’ Outfield Contributing Offensively?

It’s not awesome. The best offensive outfield in baseball is the Astros with a wRC+ of 131. The Rockies come in 27th with a wRC+ of 89. (They fare better in terms of wOBA where they rank 11th with a wOBA of .317.)

As for the Rockies individually, here’s what FanGraphs shows at this point in the season:

This table shows FanGraphs data describing the offense provides by the Rockies’ outfield players.
Source: FanGraphs

You’ll notice that Yonathan Daza is the Rockies’ most valuable outfielder in terms of offense, followed by Connor Joe. In terms of fWAR, the two are tied though Daza has earned the higher wRC+.

While it’s too soon to evaluate Kris Bryant — he’s simply seen too little playing time — he has not yet made a positive contribution to the Rockies. Also, Randal Grichuk, acquired for his power, has yet to make a consistent offensive impact. In fact, Charlie Blackmon has hit more home runs — the most of any Rockies outfielder.

In terms of offense, then, at this point in the season, the Rockies’ outfield has been ineffective, despite the front office’s attempts to improve its performance in terms of offense.

Where Are They Defensively?

As an admittedly imperfect comparison, in 2021, the Rockies had an outfield DRS of 11, which made them 11th in baseball. They also committed only eight errors, so last year’s outfield defense was solid.

Now consider the 2022 outfield defense. The In terms of old-fashioned errors, the Rockies outfielders are tied for second with with seven errors. (The current league leaders are the Diamondbacks and Nationals with eight.) Charlie Blackmon, Randal Grichuk, and Yonathan Daza have each committed two errors; Kris Bryant has one. Victor Robles leads the league with four.

Let’s, then, look at more advanced metrics. In terms of DRS, the Rockies outfielders are ranked 28th with a DRS of -15. (The Astros have the highest DRS with 16. Only the Braves have a lower DRS score than the Rockies.)

As measured by Outs Above Average, the Rockies are a miserable -9, making them 29th in baseball. (The White Sox are 30th in this category.)

Takeaways: Defensively, this is not a good outfield.

(In case you’re interested, Raimel Tapia has a wRC+ of 66. He’s also spent 336.2 innings in Toronto’s outfield, committing two errors and earrings a DRS of -2 and an OAA of -1, so it’s not like his presence on the Rockies would have much effect.)

How Do Individual Players Stack up?

The data is not terribly promising. Here’s what FanGraphs shows in terms of the Rockies outfield defense:

This graph shows defensive metrics for the Rockies’ outfield players.
Source: FanGraphs

A few takeaways:

  • Randal Grichuk has logged more innings than any other outfielder — It’s not especially close, either. Grichuk has significantly more innings with 364 than Yonathan Daza’s 270 or Sam Hilliard’s 258. I knew the Rockies were giving Grichuk significant playing time, presumably to keep his bat in the lineup, but I didn’t realize it was that much. Also clear is that Charlie Blackmon is playing fewer innings with the NL’s adoption of the designated hitter.
  • The outfield defense is not good — Only one outfielder, Sam Hilliard, has a positive DRS. Although Yonathan Daza was seen as the Rockies best outfielder, currently, he and Randal Grichuk have proven to be equal defensive liabilities. And notice that Grichuk and Blackmon have the worst rating in terms of Outs Above Average. For years, Rockies fans have complained about Charlie Blackmon’s defense; however, at this point, Grichuk’s is equally bad, and both are among the worst outfielders in baseball. (Andrew Vaughn has an OAA of -7.)

Remember: Grichuk has gotten attention for catches like this one:

In fact, the catch was so dazzling that it was converted to art.

But plays like this obscure the fact that Grichuk’s defense has been marginal at best.

  • The Rockies’ best outfielder (at this point) is a surprise — Sam Hilliard is the best outfielder defensively, though he does better in terms of DRS than OAA. However, Hilliard’s struggles at the plate inhibit the Rockies’ ability to play their best defensive outfielder.
  • A marginal outfield puts pressure on pitching — When defenders fail to make plays, the real victims are the pitchers who must pitch more and risk making more mistakes. Bud Black likes to say baseball is all about pitching, which is true, but good pitching relies on an effective defense. Right now, the Rockies don’t have that in the outfield.

Final Thoughts

Currently, the Rockies are 23-31, and they need all the help they can get, especially as they head out on a West Coast road trip.

To be fair, there’s time for the Rockies to correct their course. In addition, they have yet to see what a healthy Kris Bryant can contribute.

However, right now, that help is not coming from the outfield.