Are the Rox any better at second base?


This site has been relatively unproductive lately and it’s my fault. Recently, I was sucked into the infinite black-hole that is the message board on a certain Rockies blog. As a result, my productivity took a serious hit. The site’s founder and I had a debate over the second base job. I was in camp Herrera; she was in camp Lopez. She felt like I was being too negative on Lopez; I felt like she was being too positive on him. We went back and forth several times before it dawned on me that I had spent a bunch of time researching and writing content that should’ve gone up on Rox Pile instead. Furthermore, after additional research, I don’t think either one of us was right.

The Rox don’t need a Chase Utley-type at second. They need a solid defender, someone that can fill a few of the team’s offensive needs. Last year, because of an over-aggressive approach and poor discipline with two strikes, the Rockies struggled to generate offense on the road. They were awful at raising the pitch counts, frequently allowing opposing starters to work deep into games. Clint Barmes — last season’s starting second baseman — was one of the team’s most undisciplined hitters. A little more productivity from his replacement would go a long way in fixing the Rox problems at the plate. That’s why it’s so important that the Rox get it right with second base. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like they actually upgraded the position this off-season.

It’s difficult to compare Jose Lopez to either Barmes or Herrera. Jose has played his entire career within the confines of pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, while Barmes and Herrera have had the benefit of playing at Coors. Because of the disparity in their stadiums, it’s a waste of time to compare most offensive numbers. However, plate discipline is one thing that will remain the same, regardless of the stadium. Ultimately, a guy that swings at bad pitches will be an easier out; that’s the game at its most basic level.

Barmes and Lopez are free swingers with poor judgment of the strike zone. Last year, Barmes swung at 36.9% of all pitches outside of the zone — Lopez swung at 37%. Overall, Barmes swung at 50.5% of the total pitches he saw, while Lopez swung at 51%. However, Jose’s contact rate — 88% — was almost 5% higher than Barmes’s. While that means Jose strikes out less, it also means that he will hit a lot of the bad pitches at which he swings. Very few of those balls will be hit hard, something even Coors Field won’t help. Barmes struck out at a higher rate than Lopez, but he also walked more, giving him an OBP that was almost 30 points higher than the former Seattle Mariner’s.

In 2010, Herrera was a much more disciplined hitter than Lopez or Barmes. He swung at only 37.1% of pitches and was much better at laying off those outside the zone — 23.9% swing rate. While he can’t compete with the power of Lopez or Barmes, he is far more likely to get on base. He also makes good contact, putting 86.4% of his swings in play. However, Herrera has significantly less pop than Barmes or Lopez. Last year his slugging percentage was actually less than his on-base percentage.

Some also question Herrera’s sample size. He received roughly half the at-bats that Lopez did last year and his numbers were boosted by a couple of hot streaks later in the season. As a minor leaguer, he was not able to post the kind of numbers that he did last season in Denver. Though possible, it’s unreasonable to expect a full year of a .352 on-base percentage from Jonathan.

EY Jr. is the wild card in the race, but he has yet to play this spring. As a result, he’s been forgotten by most. However, he is the most intriguing option because of his potential. He can play D, steal bases, and swing the bat with a little bit of pop. Well, that’s what Junior did in the minors anyway. If he can finally live up to the potential, he will add a dynamic and explosive dimension to the offense. Unfortunately for EY Jr., the Rox don’t have time to wait around on him as he learns on the job. Reportedly, he will start playing soon. He needs to make a big impression to work his way into the competition.

Ultimately, I don’t think the Rox will have one regular second baseman and it will be up to Jim Tracy to derive the most value he possibly can from a group of players. Tracy needs to play the matchups and keep the roster fluid. There will be times when the Rox will need Lopez at third and they will probably need Herrera and Junior in the outfield. There’s also the Ty Wigginton factor. Wiggy isn’t great defensively, but he can swing the bat. It’s very likely that Tracy will occasionally start him at second on the road in an effort to infuse life into the lineup.

Follow RoxPile on Facebook and @Logan_Burdine on Twitter.