2B Battle Brewing in Colorado

Spring training isn’t too far away and when it finally does arrive, we are going to be treated to a host of position battles. Some of these battles will be quite relevant for fantasy owners, while others not so much. The majority of the Colorado Rockies infield is set though, and it will look essentially the same as last year with one major change.

Incumbent first baseman Todd Helton has retired, which left a gaping hole at the position. The team could have chosen to improve their defense by moving Michael Cuddyer there full time, but that wasn’t the direction they decided on. His offense is certainly good enough to provide positive value there.

Instead, the team signed free agent Justin Morneau, who hasn’t quite been the same since sustaining a concussion back in 2010. After typically posting ISO rates well above .200, he has only mustered as high as a .172 mark since returning. But aside from the missing power, the rest of his skills have remained fairly consistent. Though, his walk rate did plunge in 2011 and now sits at pre-2007 levels.

The move out of Target Field will be a good one for the lefty, as the park was the third worst for left-handed home runs last season. On the other hand, Coors Field was the best, which represents one heck of a swing. He could therefore enjoy a nice power rebound and earn some profit for fantasy owners.

Once again, Wilin Rosario will be handling catching duties. Although his batted ball distance dropped precipitously last season, he still possesses excellent power for a catcher. His putrid plate discipline is a concern though and he has swung at more pitches outside the zone each season. Even though it would seem that pitchers would figure this out and stop throwing him strikes, oddly his F-Strike% jumped this year and was well above the league average. He therefore isn’t without risk, but a power hitting catcher calling Coors Field home isn’t someone to ever ignore.

Second base is where all the drama is going to take place. Last season, Josh Rutledge was a trendy sleeper after his 2012 performance and power/speed display. But after opening the season with the job in hand, he proceeded to lose it and was demoted to Triple-A. DJ LeMahieu seized the opportunity and the light-hitting slap hitter ended up with over 400 plate appearances.

LeMahieu has just average speed, but he has still been a decent source of stolen bases. And with a solid contact rate and ground ball approach, his batting average is unlikely to hurt. But clearly his offensive upside reaches far below what Rutledge could potentially offer. The one advantage LeMahieu does have that could win him the job is his defense.

Rutledge was a poor defender in a rather small sample last year, and without the offensive firepower, convinced no one he was worthy of the starting job. But what was encouraging was a spike in walk rate, as he doubled it from 2012 (of course, his 2012 mark was so low, there was really nowhere to go but up). What also held back his performance was a .276 BABIP, compared to a .322 xBABIP.

Rutledge has now put together two half seasons that when combined, equal one full season’s worth of performance. Over that time span, he’s swatted 15 home runs and stolen 19 bases in 19 attempts. His full line actually makes for a pretty valuable fantasy second baseman. So fantasy owners should be rooting for Rutledge to win the job, as he would likely offer strong profit potential.

Over at shortstop is the brittle Troy Tulowitzki, who surprise, surprise, missed time once again due to injury. But, he brought the same old excellent skills he always has to the plate. The only difference now is that his speed has completely vanished. While we used to count on him for a handful of swipes that added a couple of bucks to his overall value, he is now just a four-category contributor.

At the hot corner will be the now sophomore Nolan Arenado, who was perhaps slightly disappointing with the bat during his rookie campaign. He was absolutely fantastic defensively though, which will keep him in the lineup. I’m a big fan of Arenado’s, as he makes excellent contact and posted a nice batted ball mix heavy on line drives.

The power didn’t materialize, but it’s often the last skill to arrive and his xHR/FB (from my soon-to-be published FanGraphs+ article) was over 12%, versus an actual 7.1% mark. With no speed and a ceiling this year of probably 20 home runs, a major fantasy breakout isn’t in the cards. But, he’s a darkhorse .300 candidate with 15-20 home run upside at the moment. That type of line is reminiscent of Billy Butler, but he’s going about 18 picks sooner in early NFBC drafts, while only possessing DH eligibility.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

15 Responses to “2B Battle Brewing in Colorado”

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  1. Simon says:

    It seems to me that LeMahieu is really the incumbent here, and Rutledge needs either a massive spring training or an injury to have much of a chance at a starting job. I get the feeling that fantasy players are obviously much keener on Rutledge, so they’ve persuaded themselves that this is a genuine open contest.

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  2. Lucky Strikes says:

    Where can I find xHR/FB? Only published in FG+?

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  3. Bryan says:

    Yeah, I can see that Rutledge holds more fantasy value, but LeMahieu is the better player and better fit for the Rockies in real-life baseball. Their pitch-to-contact strategy requires sound defense, and LeMahieu will do just enough on offense to keep his better glove in the lineup on an everyday basis.

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  4. rusty says:

    it’s kind of interesting that Rutledge hasn’t impressed defensively, considering he was a MiLB SS, and I don’t recall his defense being a significant concern when he was on prospect lists

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  5. Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

    Any chance Culberson works his way in there too?

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  6. phaddix says:

    The thing that is interesting to me about the Rockies is that they have selected a manager in Weiss who is clearly oriented around a defense first strategy. This certainly isn’t surprising given his 162 game career average is .258 / 68R / 42 RBI / 3 HR / 10 SB. That is replacement level offense, what kept Weiss in the league for 14 seasons was his defense. When you still hear rumblings about the poor defense of Rosario who is now, arguably, the Rockies best offensive weapon, it should come as no surprise that Weiss would go with the more stable 2B in LeMahieu despite the limited offensive upside. It’s an interesting way to manage especially in such an offensive environment. I am still high on Rutledge if he wins the job but agree with Simon that it’s DJ’s to lose.

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    • Toucan says:

      What on earth do you mean by “[Weiss' defense first strategy] isn’t surprising given his 162 game career average is .258/ 68 R/ 42 RBI/ 3 HR/ 10 SB?”

      You honestly think how a manager did as a player affects his strategy?

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    • gorillakilla34 says:

      “…Rosario who is now, arguably, the Rockies best offensive weapon…”

      And you’re basing this on what exactly? Rosario has managed a 109 & 107 wRC+ the last 2 years. Unless I missed it, Troy Tulowitzki (143wRC+) and Carlos Gonzalez (149 wRC+) are still on the Rockies’ roster. Also Cuddyer (140 wRC+) had a pretty decent year himself.

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      • phaddix says:

        I never said “is” I said “arguably” and I do think an argument can be made in his case. I think with regards to Tulo and Cargo two factors come into play – spot in the batting order and injury history.

        Rosario typically hit in the 5-7 spot. If Rosario bats 4th or 5th more consistently his wRC+ would climb a notch or two even with the understanding that wRC filters out the batting order spot to an certain extent.

        One also needs consider the injury history of both Tulo and Cargo. Rosario was healthier than both but Weiss sat him quite a bit.

        Cuddyer is a different story. He obviously had a great year but it was largely fueled by a BABIP 70 points above his career history.

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  7. locutus says:

    aren’t the rockies employing massive platoon strategies this season elsewhere on the field?

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