Before the season began, we broke down the National League West position-by-position based on FanGraphs’ projected WAR rankings. The exercise is useful because it shows that positional production is more than the position’s regular starter. Because of injuries, the fact that multiple players contribute to a given team’s productivity at each position is especially stark at this time of year for many teams, and especially for the Rockies. Near the halfway mark of the season, it’s worthwhile to take a look at where the Rockies rank at each position as measured by WAR (for a nice explanation of the varieties of WAR, see Ryan Hammon’s excellent recent post). Doing so will not only confirm where the Rockies have excelled and where they have been miserable relative to the rest of the league, but it will also help us understand the various effects injuries have had on the Rockies. As a reminder, a WAR of 2.0 is generally considered league average over the course of a season, while 0.0 signifies a scrap heap player that can literally be purchased for a dollar. Because we’re about halfway through the season, in-season adjustments are necessary.
All stats current through June 23
We’ll start with the position players. As I wrote last week, the Rockies have been weak at the catcher spot because of Wilin Rosario’s struggles offensively and defensively. The weakness behind the plate isn’t just a matter of unmet expectations; rather, the Rockies catchers so far have been among the worst in all of baseball. Rosario, Michael McKenry, and current Diamondback Jordan Pacheco have joined deficiencies to produce 0.1 WAR. It’s essentially zero. And it ranks 27th in the league. If the Rockies keep Rosario around, in February we’ll be hoping for a rebound season for him.
The Rockies have been middling at first base. Justin Morneau and associates have accrued 0.7 fWAR. However, that mark is pretty close to both 12 (1.2) and 21 (0.4), so it’s best viewed as third tier. That is, below the elite and the very good, but not in the dregs of the position. Similar to the catching position, the total value produced at first base is less than the value produced by the regular starter. Justin Morneau has produced 1.0 WAR so far this year, but Kyle Parker and Ryan Wheeler have unproduced -0.3 WAR. Still, first base has been one of the Rockies greatest improvements from last year, and it looks like Morneau will be serviceable again next year. If Rockies’ first basemen produce no more WAR for the rest of the season, it would still be an improvement of about three wins from last year’s -2.8.
Second base has been another position where the Rockies have hovered around the third tier. D.J. LeMahieu and Josh Rutledge have joined to produce 0.5 WAR thus far, which ranks 19th in the league. As Ryan Hammon wrote last week, we may still be in the midst of a position battle at second base. We’re sure to be in one heading into next season. LeMahieu has produced all of the 0.5 WAR, but that is only because he has played more. Second base is the only position so far—and as we will see, the only position in the infield—where there is a semblance of depth. Both players are capable of being full time starters, and the one you prefer probably depends whether you prefer the bat or the glove. However, I think that what I wrote in my season preview still applies. Whoever starts between D.J. LeMahieu and Josh Rutledge will be one of the least valuable starters, but whoever is the backup is one of the better bench options.
The hot corner has been the site of Rockies glee and despair for Rockies fans so far this season. At the time of Nolan Arenado’s injury, he had accrued 1.8 WAR, among the best in baseball. Since then, the Rockies third base production has been on a slow decline. It currently sits at 1.2, which is 17th in the league. Charlie Culberson and Ryan Wheeler are responsible for the negative value at third base. As Adam Peterson has written in the digital pages of Rockies Zingers, there were really no great options at third base with Arenado on the disabled list. His stint on the DL has shown two things: first, the value Arenado offers at third base cannot be overstated. He was starting to look like one of the best third basemen in baseball. It also demonstrates that the Rockies have an infield depth problem. With LeMahieu and Rutledge frequenting the starting lineup together, the Rockies haven’t had anyone else even at replacement level behind them. The same story applies to shortstop. A healthy Troy Tulowtizki is one of the best players in all of baseball, so it’s unsurprising that on the strength of Tulowitzki Rockies’ shortstops lead the league in WAR. However, the Rockies total production at shortstop is 4.3, while Tulowitzki himself has accrued 4.8 WAR. Depth for the left side of the infield is below replacement level.
The infield’s depth issues don’t extend to the outfield. The Rockies outfielders have been outstanding so far this year without getting anything from either Carlos Gonzalez or Michael Cuddyer. The Rockies rank fourth in left field, with 2.1 WAR produced. This is clearly second tier, as the Orioles, A’s, and Royals have are the top three and have each produced over four WAR from left field. It’s unsurprising that the Rockies rank highly in left field, but the way they are getting there is. Corey Dickerson has accumulated 2.2 WAR on the strength of his emergent bat, while Carlos Gonzalez has been just below replacement level at -0.1. Corey Dickerson isn’t going to take Carlos Gonzalez’s job, but he is showing himself to be more than just depth not only because of what he is doing for the Rockies, but how his positional contribution compares to the rest of baseball. As opposed to left field, there were minimal expectations for the Rockies in center field. Part of this was due to the fact that it was unclear who the starting centerfielder would be. Yet, the Rockies rank fourth in baseball at center field as well, with 3.0 WAR produced thus far. Even though the production from each hasn’t come from a strict platoon strategy, they have the chance to combine into a potent platoon in 2015. Blackmon has also contributed to right field production for the Rockies, which also ranks high (second in baseball), and is also a product of multiple contributors. Namely, Blackmon, Michael Cuddyer, and Brandon Barnes. Barnes is the most important of the names. He has exceeded my expectations in that he has been quality outfield depth rather than a Triple-A outfielder. That is all he needs to be. As the infield situation demonstrates, depth is at a premium.
The positional situations are a mixed bag, but pitching is not. The Rockies pitching this year has been an unmitigated disaster. The staff’s WAR ranking is just another way of illustrating the misadventures of Rockies’ mound-dwellers. It ranks last in all of baseball at 2.3. Wins above replacement isn’t a particularly good metric to evaluate relief pitchers. It’s an accumulative statistic, and relievers generally don’t pitch enough innings to accrue a meaningful number. Troy Tulowitzki, for example, currently has more career WAR than every individual reliever in the history of baseball with the exception of Mariano Rivera, who he will likely pass next year. Despite this, Adam Ottavino, a relief pitcher on a cold streak, is currently tied for second among Rockies pitchers in 2014 WAR at 0.5. The Rockies current WAR leader is Jordan Lyles, who has 1.0 WAR, but erstwhile starting pitchers Franklin Morales, Juan Nicasio, Christian Bergman, Christian Friedrich, have collectively accounted for -1.0 WAR. Injuries have undeniably played a central role in the terrible pitching output this year. Even Morales was fine as a depth option. However, depth options shouldn’t have the fourth most starts on a team despite bullpen stints, as Morales does, and they also shouldn’t be second on the team in innings pitched, as Morales is. In a perfect alternative season, Morales never would have started a game, and Eddie Butler would have been the attempted antidote to Juan Nicasio’s recent troubles. Finally, it was just announced that Yohan Flande will make his major league debut on Wednesday. He will be the 12th pitcher to start for the Rockies this year. In case you were wondering, the Rockies started 14 different pitchers during the dreadful 2012 season. We are one Pedro Hernandez and a Brett Tomko away from reaching that level.
We are getting a better sense of where the Rockies’ strengths and weaknesses lie. The Rockies strongest area of depth is the outfield, while the lack of infield depth, especially for the left side. It might be unfair to call the Rockies starting pitching depth a weakness. Any team would be grasping for functional arms after options one through nine are exhausted. If there’s one optimistic takeaway from this review of WAR ranking by position, it’s that the Rockies already have a strong core, and that an addition of infield depth, possibly a personnel change at catcher, and a healthy pitching staff can make a huge difference.