If Rutledge is the second baseman, he will need to show some leather. Image:

Josh Rutledge And The Defense Up The Middle

Let’s not forget something about the abysmal season that the abysmal Rockies had: it wasn’t just the pitching that made them surrender what seemed like 8 runs a game for stretches for what seemed like weeks at a time. Sure, it was partially pitchers giving up too many flyballs which is turn became too many gappers and home runs and yes, it was the failure of the front office to build anything close to a pitching staff that can feasibly compete playing half its game at Coors Field. But when the ball was put in play where the men wearing gloves could make a play to help a struggling pitcher out and ease that pitcher’s burden, if even for just a moment, they often failed to do so. It cost the Rockies a lot of runs. Add that to the fact the pitching cost the Rockies a lot of runs and you have a bad baseball team.

I would like to take a moment to point out, as I write this on Christmas Eve, what this team has done to me. The holidays encourage reflection, a look back at the big picture of the year that was and the year that lies ahead. Often this type of reflection is kind to even the most mediocre sports teams. But not the Rockies. At this point, reflecting on the Rockies only produces a space for ramblings like the one you find in the paragraph above.

Anyhow, the Rockies defense was terrible. I would interpret the team defense stats found on a wonderful site like FanGraphs, but that much math makes me sleepy. Look at it this way: there are a whole bunch of negative numbers in the respective team fielding categories next to the Rockies and their consensus 29th ranking from the 2012 season. That’s probably bad, right?

What is encouraging and also possibly frightening about the team’s defense for the 2013 season is the fact that there are numerous possibilities for what it will look like and how it might be different. With good health for Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler it would seem that the outfield defense is poised to be strong, no matter who plays right field. With good health for Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki they have two gold gloves in the infield. That’s not a bad start. From there you find numerous scenarios where the team’s defense can improve immediately.

And yet there are so many ways the defense looks like it will be just as bad or worse. Michael Cuddyer and his admittedly strong arm will still be lumbering around right field. Nobody knows how to play third base. What if CarGo has another year of disinterested regression in left? And Wilin Rosario will still be playing catcher; all you need to know about that is that less than 20 passed balls will be an improvement. 

There are still too many moving parts to speculate about the overall defense, but one thing is certain: the Rockies have an opportunity to possess strong defense up the middle, as the old adage goes. Fowler is the kind of center fielder over whom teams salivate, using his long loping strides to get to balls in both gaps. At shortstop, Tulo is Tulo. That leaves us with Rutledge as the unknown (I am making the assumption that he will beat DJ LeMahieu and any other contenders for the job).

I think Rutledge and Tulo need to become a trademark double play combination. When other teams and (gasp!) analysts outside of Colorado talk about the Rockies, we need them to say, “They have an outstanding tandem of defenders up the middle in Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Rutledge.” We need Rutledge to showcase the supposed advantages of having a shortstop playing second. We got a little bit of that with Marco Scutaro last year, but it needs to become a decided advantage with Rutledge there for the foreseeable future.

No matter what the Rockies will have holes in the field this season, but the detriments of those holes might be lessened if they have decidedly and visibly outstanding defense in other places. I would love to see that from Josh Rutledge and the defense up the middle.

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