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What will the Rockies do at first base in 2024?

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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The Colorado Rockies have a traffic jam at first base — this is probably not news to you.

They began the season with CJ Cron and Mike Moustakas at first while Elehuris Montero scrambled for playing time. Meanwhile, Michael Toglia, and Hunter Goodman were on the farm waiting for their chance. When the Rockies traded Cron and Moustakas to the Los Angeles Angels, fans hoped this would give Toglia and Montero an opportunity to play first base and became more accustomed to hitting Major League pitching.

And then in August, the team announced Kris Bryant would be playing first as well.

“They have talked to me about it and I said it’s a great idea,” said Bryant. “I’ve played first base a fair amount and I played some in college, too. So I told them, sure, I’d love to play first base. I have a first base glove already broken in.”

The traffic jam was back.

But now that the 2023 season has ended, it also raises an interesting question: Which player has been the most effective first baseman based on what we’ve seen in 2023, and what should the Rockies do in 2024?

How do Bryant and Montero compare in terms of offense?

Here’s what FanGraphs shows:

This table gives data on Montero and Bryant. The specifics are discussed below.
A comparison of Kris Bryant and Elehuris Montero
FanGraphs

The two players had remarkably similar seasons, albeit for different reasons. They have played roughly the same number of games (Montero has five more games with Bryant seeing more plate appearances.) Montero slightly leads Bryant in home runs, runs, and RBI.

In terms of stolen bases, neither will be challenging Brenton Doyle anytime soon.

Bryant is better — much better — at taking a walk though that part of Montero’s game changed as he got more plate appearances. In the first half of the season, for example, Montero slashed .198/.223/.321; in the second half, he slashed .270/.328/.817. That is, he made the kind of progress teams expect of rookies getting regular playing time.

Still, Bryant’s experience and eye at the plate are apparent (.313 OBP) while Montero has more power (.426 SLG). They were roughly equal this year as measured by wRC+.

It’s also worth noting that, overall, Bryant was, in 2023, less effective than Montero though both were below replacement-level. To what extent that is the result of Bryant’s injuries cannot be known.

What is the comparison defensively?

It’s an interesting question. Here’s what the data shows, again according to FanGraphs.

This table compares the two players defensively. The relevant data is discussed below.
A comparison of Kris Bryant’s and Elehuris Montero’s defensive performance
FanGraphs

Montero spent 464.2 innings at first, earning three DRS and a (barely) positive UZR. Bryant played first base for 54.0 innings with -1 DRS and a -0.3 UZR. (While with the Chicago Cubs, Bryant spent 212.1 innings at first, so he’s had experience there, but Montero exceeded that just in 2023.)

Neither player is Matt Olson or Christian Walker, but this year, Montero had a slight advantage in terms of his defensive effectiveness at first base.

(One other point seems worth mentioning: Montero will not return to third. The Rockies found his -3 DRS in 89.0 innings to be unworkable. Consider FanGraphs top ten third basemen, and none of them has a negative defensive value. If the Rockies intend to put Montero in the lineup, it will be at first base or DH.)

Closing thoughts

None of this resolves the Rockies’ conundrum. As Skyler Timmins points out in our “Ranking the Rockies” series, Michael Toglia, the theoretical first baseman of the future, has his own issues while as Kenneth Weber wrote yesterday, Bryant’s contract has become increasingly problematic.

This is one of the issues a rebuilding Rockies team will need to address before the 2024 season.

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There’s a new Nolan in LoDo.

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