There is a perception that the Rockies are a defensive minded team. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard members of the organization speak about how they pride themselves on playing great defense. Unfortunately, this is a misnomer. In 2007, they were a truly great defensive team, but they’ve been well below average since then. That’s including last season, when they had two players win Gold Gloves.
According to Fangraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating, the Rockies ranked as one of the worst defensive teams in baseball last year. Obviously, they did quite well at the shortstop position, but they had a below average UZR at every other position. The ratings on right field and third base were particularly ugly.
What about Cargo you say? It’s not that Cargo is a bad outfielder, it’s just that he’s probably not a Gold Glover. When playing left, he’s very good — 11 UZR/150 in 2010. While that’s a solid figure, it ranks far below the Yankees’ Brett Gardner. In 2010, his UZR/150 was 45.7 — the gold standard for left field defense. Also, Cargo is just an average defender in center and right. Regardless, he’s not their problem. I only bring him up because he won a Gold Glove last year and his metrics indicate that he didn’t deserve it.
Without getting too deep into a debate that has been going on for years, I realize that numbers don’t tell the entire story. However, there is no disputing their worth when it comes to big picture evaluations and I’m curious if Dan O’Dowd was aware of these defensive inefficiencies this past off-season. While he locked up the team’s two best defenders for a long time, his main acquisition put the Rockies in a far worse defensive position.
Ty Wigginton is an awful defender. He plays many positions and he plays them all very poorly. His UZR is far below average at all of them. He’s probably better off as a designated hitter. Of course, other than the occasional home run, he can’t really hit, so trading him to an AL team is pretty much off the table. This is nothing new. He’s been bad in the field for a long time. So, when the Rockies signed him, they either didn’t care or they’re the most oblivious franchise in all of baseball. I can’t come up with any explanation for why they would want a guy that can’t hit or play defense. But, hey, he’s a gamer, right? Whatever that means.
Well run organizations don’t ignore opportunities to improve their team. In baseball, the differences between the best and the worst are slight. Unless you’re the Red Sox, Yankees, and maybe a few others, you have to win by searching out every little advantage you can find. Teams with limited payrolls can’t waste space with players that don’t produce. It’s called dead weight and it drags on the productivity of any business.
Right now, the Rockies are carrying a ton of dead weight. They are paying players to play for other teams. They have guys signed to multi-year deals that are performing at or below replacement level. You can point to an inconsistent offense and bullpen as reasons for their poor season, but, ultimately, it’s an overall inefficient roster that’s keeping them from realizing their full potential. This falls on the shoulders of Dan O’Dowd. The blueprint for running a successful franchise on a mid-market budget is available, but he’s seems content to build mediocre squads season after season.
The future for the Rox is anything but bleak. They have one of the best young cores in baseball, but they haven’t appropriately supplemented the rest of the roster and it’s cost them dearly the last couple of seasons. I doubt the Rockies will fire him, so I’m going to recommend a piece of reading to O’Dowd — The Extra 2% by Jonah Keri. If he read it, I’m certain that he would learn a lot.
Disagree or have something to add? As always, comments are welcome.