Position Battle: Third Base in Colorado

When you look around the league at the various 40-man rosters, it’s hard not to be impressed by the position player depth the Rockies have accumulated, especially on the infield. Troy Tulowitzki is obviously locked in at short, and Todd Helton will be given every opportunity to show that he can still be a full-time first baseman The other two positions are a little more up in the air. Second base is another conversation for another time, so let’s discuss the hot corner.

The Rockies aren’t having an all-out battle for their third base job in Spring Training, so the title is perhaps a little misleading. Ian Stewart is expected to be the starter, but he’s been platooned quite heavily in his young career (77.1% of his 1,200 PA have come against RHB). It’s an incredibly small sample against southpaws (just 294 PA), but the platoon split really isn’t that big: .339 wOBA vs. RHP, .334 vs. LHP. Anyway, we should expect the platoon to continue in 2011 barring a big time breakout, which is always possible.

The right-handed complement of the platoon could be one of two players: Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez. Both were brought in over the winter, Wigginton as a free agent, Lopez in a trade, and both have plenty of experience at the hot corner (as well as some other positions). Let’s compare the two…

Wigginton

Everyone remembers Wigginton’s scorching hot start last season (ten homers in his first 26 games), but he cooled off in a big way and hit just .239/.298/.366 with a dozen homers the rest of the way. He’s a right-handed pull hitter (career .438 wOBA to the pull side) with better power (.189 ISO vs. .176) and walk (10.2% vs. 5.9%) rates against lefties, making him a fine choice for a platoon. Humidor or not, Coors Field is still a hitter friendly place, especially for righties (112 wOBA and 117 HR park factors according to StatCorner).

When I looked at his stats page in preparation for this post, I was surprised to see that Wigginton had hit at least 20 homers in three of the last four years. Even if it’s just 15 homers going forward, you’ve got a productive bench/platoon player when you couple that with an AVG usually in the .270′s and 60+ RBI’s. He’s bounced around quite a bit defensively, so he has 1B, 2B, and 3B eligibility in most leagues. The versatility is a definitely plus.

Lopez

The former Seattle Mariner is famous for a hacktastic approach, one that has resulted in a .297 OBP in 3,599 career plate appearances. Lopez is another pull hitter (.390 wOBA) that fares better against southpaws (.314 wOBA), though he doesn’t perform to Wigginton’s capabilities in those regards. His performance really cratered last year because of an abnormally low HR/FB (just 4.9%), something that should be helped by his new park.

Lopez isn’t all that different from Wigginton in terms of fantasy value, unless you’re in an OBP league. Both guys are capable of double-digit homers and similar RBI totals with mediocre at best batting averages. Neither will steal many bases, so that’s a non factor. Lopez lost his 2B eligibility last season, but it shouldn’t be long before he regains it this summer.

Wrapping It Up

Stewart is a decent option at the hot corner for your fantasy team, capable of 20+ homers about 60-70+ RBI with an albeit low AVG (.250-ish) as the dominant side of the platoon, and that’s without any improvement in his age 26 season. Because he’s more productive against left-handers and has more “name value,” Wigginton appears to be the safer bet to serve as the other half of the platoon and to see more playing time in general. Don’t laugh, managers make all sorts of weird decisions based on name value, especially someone like Jim Tracy, who’s known for the occasional head-scratcher.

It’s not the wisest move to carry both sides of a platoon on your fantasy club, but Wigginton’s versatility could really help your fantasy team as a bench option. There appears to be a better than 50-50 chance that racks up more playing time than Lopez, so even if he’s not playing third regularly, he’ll get at-bats elsewhere. Unless Lopez wins Colorado’s second base job outright, he’s not really worth a second look in standard leagues.




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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.


One Response to “Position Battle: Third Base in Colorado”

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  1. Resolution says:

    There’s a very high chance that Lopez is the team’s 2nd baseman, which would mostly remove him from the discussion for 3b. Wigginton is more for insurance at 1b than 3b so as you alluded to, there really isn’t a true position battle.

    I will say too that the Rockies added a new hitting coach (and removed Baylor) this offseason, and it was the hitting coach that Stewart worked with during some more successful times in the minor leagues. So there is a decent chance that Stewart can produce similar numbers without being a total liability in batting average.

    But to your concluding point, I’d say it’s almost a guarantee that Wigginton has more at-bats at 3b than Lopez throughout the season barring some scenario where both Helton and Stewart are injured/totally ineffective…

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