The Rockies’ Outfield Dilemma
As problems go, it’s a good one, but the Rockies may have too many outfielders.
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Kris Bryant is back!
On one hand, it’s excellent news. Bryant should improve an uneven Rockies offense. Besides, as Bryant has reminded us, he has never played on a losing team, and right now, the Rockies could use some of that winning mojo. On the other hand, the Rockies will finally have to confront a deferred dilemma: How do they ensure adequate playing time for five outfielders?
I’m going to approach this question in two parts. First, I want to examine the remarkable season one of those outfielders, Yonathan Daza, is having, and, then, I’ll look at Daza in light of his fellow outfielders.
The New-and-Improved Yonathan Daza
It’s taken some time, but Yonathan Daza has come into himself as a baseball player. His defense was never in question; the issue was his offense. Given the Rockies’ need to add power, they gave Daza an offseason assignment: Get stronger. As Thomas Harding explains:
In addition to the standard weightlifting for baseball, Daza said, his trainer in Venezuela, Aquiles Monteverde, introduced him to exercises in the pool. There was running and weighted activity in the water, but Monteverde -- who worked with former American League Most Valuable Player Jose Altuve and former longtime MLB utilityman Martín Prado in their younger years -- had him do freestyle swimming for power.
The work paid off as Daza reported to Spring Training noticeably bigger, going on to slash .464/.516/.464 in 28 at-bats. Offensively, he was transformed, a change that has continued into the 2022 season.
Even though the Rockies traded Raimel Tapia for Randal Grichuk, the more interesting comparison is between Tapia and Daza, given their similar styles of play. It’s worth taking a moment to examine their respective seasons, Daza in Colorado and Tapia in Toronto, even though the comparison is admittedly imperfect.
At this point, Daza is the better player — by a lot. (Did I mention he currently has an 11-game hitting streak?) Even though Tapia has appeared in more games and has significantly more plate appearances, Daza is by far the more valuable player. He walks more; he strikes out less; his slashline is significantly higher; and he has a positive fWAR. For players with at least 70 plate appearances, Daza’s OBP is fourth, behind Taylor Ward, Mike Trout, and Manny Machado. (The next highest Rockie is Connor Joe, who’s 36th.) Daza also has the second lowest K% in baseball.
Whether Daza continues to play at this level remains to be seen, but he has been a key offensive player for the Rockies, and his placement in the lineup — before CJ Cron, the first NL player to hit 10 home runs — puts the Rockies in a position to score runs. Here he is on Wednesday against the Giants:
“I can’t say enough about Daza. He’s been great,” Black said earlier this week, Kevin Henry reported. “He’s putting the ball in play, getting hits, and playing good defense. Currently, he’s making a statement, which is great to see. He’s playing really well.”
According to fWAR, Daza is the Rockies’ third most-valuable player, behind only CJ Cron and Ryan McMahon.
All of this is a long way of saying that Yonathan Daza has emerged as an unexpected key player for the Rockies. I initially thought Daza would be the most expendable — in fact, I expected him to be traded before the season began. Reader, I could not have been more wrong.
Outfield Traffic Jam
Now consider the Rockies’ available outfielders — and I’m going to include Kris Bryant because even though he had a slow start and hasn’t played much, the Rockies will certainly make him a lineup fixture.
Yonathan Daza is the Rockies’ most valuable outfielder right now. Obviously, he lacks the power of Grichuk and Blackmon, but in terms of getting hits and not striking out, Daza has been stellar. One problem is that Daza is hitting singles and not doubles, which would make him a more valuable player and one of Ken Rosenthal’s “action guys.” MLB’s decision to deaden the ball in an attempt to force more action may not have helped the Rockies’ sluggers, but it’s been perfect for Yonathan Daza.
He’s also the Rockies’ best outfield defender, and it’s not close. Daza has 1 Out Above Average, making him 36th in baseball. The next closest Rockie is Sam Hilliard at 76 with an OAA of -1. (The defensive play of Charlie Blackmon and Randall Grichuk is a story for another day.)
Even clean-shaven, Sam Hilliard has not yet emerged as the player the Rockies have hoped he would become. He and Daza have had almost equal plate appearances, so they’ve both been given similar playing times. His K% is still high (though Grichuk’s is higher yet). That said, he’s walking more, which is good, but walks aren’t hits, and the Rockies are looking to Hilliard for power.
Another positive sign for Hilliard is that he’s stolen two bases, tying him with Connor Joe for the lead in that category among the Rockies. However, before Hilliard can steal more bases, he has to get on base, and that’s not happening consistently.
The best way for Hilliard to improve is to see consistent playing time. Now the Rockies will need to figure out how to do that while balancing a very crowded outfield and trying to win games.
Down on the Farm
During Kris Bryant’s rehab stint with the Isotopes, he got to experience the automated strike zone MLB is exploring.
More good news from the Rockies’ farm system. First, Spokane’s Tony Locey was named the Northwest League's Pitcher of the Week, tossing six hitless, scoreless innings while striking out 10 on May 11. Hunter Goodman was also recognized.
Sam Howard’s time with the Orioles has ended.
Rockies fans never doubted it for a minute, but Trevor Story’s slump has ended in a big way. He also, apparently, didn’t give away all of his Rockies gear.
What I’m Reading, Watching, & Listening To
Owen Perkins’ “‘He’s Just Really Fun to Be Around’: Cron Making His Mark” (Rockies.com) — The Rockies should have pursued Cron years ago.
Thomas Harding’s “These Rockies Embrace Being AAPI Role Models” (Rockies.com) — It’s great to see Joe and Stephenson getting attention for this in addition to their playing.
Manny Randhawa’s “‘It Worked’: Blackmon Homers Early, Bunts Late” (Rockies.com) — Although Randhawa doesn’t mention this in the story, Bud Black said in the post-game media availability that Blackmon, Hilliard, and McMahon have been practicing bunting as a way to beat the shift. We should probably expect to see more of this. (The power guys are bunting?)
Ben Brown’s “April’s Nastiest Pitches” (PitcherList.com) — Justin Lawrence made the cut, and you can vote for him.
Looking for a quick history of the Colorado Rockies as measured by WAR? Greg Harvey has you covered.
I’m off to Denver to brave Winter Storm Tad to cover a messy Rockies-Mets series this weekend. One thing you learn when you live in Wyoming: Never put away your Carhartts.
Thanks for reading —