Colorado Rockies: Grading the 2016 Middle Infielders
The Colorado Rockies sported one the National League’s best middle infields in 2016. Obviously, as a form of catharsis, we should relive and evaluate the performance of the Rockies’ 2016 middle infield corps.
DANIEL DESCALSO: 2016 GRADE B-, fWAR 0.4
Colorado Rockies utility specialist Daniel Descalso had a much-needed bounceback season in his sophomore campaign in Denver. By almost all statistical measures, Descalso played the worst baseball of his career in 2015. Flipping the script in 2016, Descalso stepped up to get the Rockies through tough times when the injury bug hit.
Ultimately, Descalso would play 254.1 innings at shortstop in 2016, but he also collected over 100+ innings at second and first, and playing another 40+ in left field. After hitting .205 in 2015, Descalso drastically improved on that mark in 2016, ending the season with a .264 average and a respectable .349 OBP.
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Considering Descalso’s role with Colorado is to provide depth, we can conclude that he handled that role perfectly in 2016. Utility players don’t receive a lot of praise at the end of the day, much like an offensive lineman in football. On the subject of his deserved praise, Descalso’s fWAR of 0.4 matches his career high.
Currently, Descalso is a free agent. Here’s to the Rockies hopefully being able to replicate Descalso’s versatility in 2017.
PAT VALAIKA: 2016 GRADE C-, fWAR -0.2
September call-up Pat Valaika got his first taste of the Majors in 2016. In a very limited role, Valaika performed as you’d expect … overwhelmed at times and letting his talent shine through at others.
Not considered a top prospect in the Rockies farm system, Valaika is an uncertainty, to say the least. In a like manner to Descalso, Valaikia is a guy that does whatever is asked of him. That is to say, that although he is a shortstop by trade, Valaikia can handle multiple positions when called upon.
As a ninth-round pick of out of UCLA in the 2013 MLB Draft, there were not a lot of expectations of Valaika. And frankly, there still aren’t, but there is some interesting potential in his game. In regards to that potential, Pat hit for a .263 average in 19 MLB plate appearances. It’s clearly way too small of a sample size to make a determination on Valaika’s future but one thing is clear, he’ll definitely need to continue developing.
Valaika comes from a deep baseball family. Pat’s older brother Chris Valaika played briefly in the Bigs. Pat also has a younger brother who is currently playing baseball at Pat’s alma mater. Incidentally, looking at the 2017 season, Valaikia figures to be involved in the reserve infielder mix heading into Spring Training.
CRISTHIAN ADAMES: 2016 GRADE D-, fWAR -1.0
Rockies rookie Cristhian Adames had a season to forget in 2016.
At any rate, Adames played in 121 games in 2016. The reason being that the injury bug hit the shortstop position the hardest. It was all said and done, Adames finished the year with an underwhelming .216 average, and .306 on-base percentage. Clearly, those are two statistics that Adames and the Rockies alike hoped would be better.
Despite lackluster numbers, Adames’ track record insists he will improve for two main reasons. The first being that Adames was a minor league All-Star at one point in his young career. The other reason being that Adames has consistently been, at the least, two years younger than average at any level. Both of these facts are encouraging that Adames will continue to develop.
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Statistically speaking, there is one other good reason to hope for Adames’ improvement in 2017. Adames finished in the top quarter of the club’s players in both walks and strikeouts. Specifically, the percentage of walks he takes per plate appearances, and the low amount of times he strikes out per appearance is healthy signs Adames will be better.
Prior to 2016, Adames wasn’t considered a top prospect but projects to be an average big leaguer. In fact, Adames had a chance to win the starting shortstop job in Spring Training, but due to no fault of his own (and hard play from Trevor Story), Adames was restricted to a reserve role. More on that later!
DJ LEMAHIEU: 2016 GRADE A, fWAR 4.2
As the hardest out in Major League Baseball, DJ LeMahieu led the universe in hitting in 2016.
Consequently, LeMahieu was crowned Major League Baseball’s batting champion. In regards to batting champs, DJ is the fifth Rockie to bring the hardware home to Denver in the last nine seasons. That’s an impressive measure for any club.
In what is stacking up to be a very great career, DJ put together the best single season of his career in 2016. As fantastic as he is at offense, DJ is also an elite defender at second base. To illustrate this point, DJ ranks first among active second baseman in range factor. No doubt his great range has attributed to the fact that he led all second baseman in assists and putouts in 2016.
As an All-Star in 2015, it’s troubling to think LeMahieu wasn’t selected in 2016 considering he more than doubled his wins above replacement from 2015. Cleary, LeMahieu isn’t phased by the lack of national attention. In fact, given his very laid back demeanor, he would probably prefer it that way.
Even though LeMahieu established himself as an elite second baseman, there are holes in his game. Critics are quick to point to DJ’s lack of power. Certainly, lacking the sexiest of the long ball has hurt LeMahieu’s respect among national fans. A legitimate gripe, DJ ranked 17th out of 21 qualified players at second base, despite the fact that his 11 dingers last season was a career-high.
In total, DJ has managed to flourish by nourishing the “non-sexy” aspects of the game. Looking back on the 2011 trade to acquire LeMahieu, the Colorado Rockies clearly got a steal as he has now propelled himself to be an All-Star caliber second baseman.
TREVOR STORY: 2016 GRADE B+, fWAR 2.8
As one of the exhilarating players in baseball, Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story established himself as one of the great young talents in the league.
Before he was setting the baseball world on fire, Story was an unknown prior to 2016. For example, MLB.com didn’t even have story listed as a Colorado Rockies top 10 prospect (he was ranked 11th, but still!). On the other hand, Story did represent the Rockies at the Futures Game, but heading into Spring Training, the starting shortstop job was up for grabs.
Looking back, we should have all taken Story’s monster Spring Training more seriously. Clearly, Story won the starting shortstop job, but no one expected him to make himself a tour-de-force from his first Big League hit.
Specifically, first consider that Story played in only 16 games after the All-Star break, then know that he STILL finished second among MLB shortstops in home runs and overall slugging percentage. Above all, had Story been able to play all season, it’s truly scary what kind of rookie campaign he could have had.
All that being said, Story has a few areas he needs to improve heading into 2017. Namely, Story needs to try and not set an all-universe record in strikeouts. Last season, Story ranked fifth out of all MLB players with 400+ plate appearances, striking out over 30% the time he stepped to the plate.