You hear him talk and watch him play, and it’s hard not to root for the guy to succeed. Barnes is the Rockies best defensive outfielder and the type of player who always goes home with a dirty jersey at the end of the night.
However, despite his great average, Barnes’ OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) is still just .795, subpar for a corner outfielder, and it’s unlikely Barnes can keep up even that level of modest production for much longer.
There are a couple of reasons to be skeptical of Barnes’ early season success. Barnes has benefitted greatly from .429 batting average on balls in play this season, a figure that is impossible to keep up. Watching the Rockies this past week, Barnes benefitted from a lot of soft singles, and eventually some of those balls are going to wind up in fielder’s gloves.
The second factor contributing to Barnes’ hot start is his walk-rate, which has spiked to 10.9 percent early in 2014, up from 4.7 percent last year with Houston. Barnes lacks any kind of power (his career slugging-percentage is just .335), so getting on base is an absolute must. Players don’t often change their approach that drastically at the age of 27 though, and pitchers aren’t going to nibble at player who doesn’t punish balls in the zone for extra bases. It will take a lot more than just 55 at-bats to know if Barnes’ improvement is real or just an early-season quirk.
There’s nothing with Barnes settling in as a late-inning defensive replacement or an occasional spot starter against right-handers (although this makes Drew Stubbs sort of irrelevant). That is, as long as Barnes doesn’t take at-bats away from Corey Dickerson, who looks like the Rockies right-fielder of the future.
Barnes has started just nine games for the Rockies this season, but that number includes four of the team’s past six games. Two of those games have come against right-handed starters - the Rockies 12-10 loss to San Francisco last Wednesday and 10-9 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on April 20 – in which Barnes played well, amassing four hits. But over the long haul, it’d benefit the Rockies to give those at-bats to Dickerson, who owns a OPS over 1.000 in the early going. The Rockies struggle to score runs on the road, and can’t afford to let a hitter of Dickerson’s ability to waste away on the bench, especially with a favorable pitching matchup.
All of that shouldn’t dismiss what Barnes has done already this season. Instead, consider it a reminder that this is a guy who hit .240 with a sub-.300 on-base percentage with the Astros last season. Barnes has value in the field, and whatever he gives the Rockies with the bat should be considered a pleasant bonus. Just temper expectations at the plate moving forward.
Some other thoughts on the Colorado Rockies weekend series against the Dodgers:
Good Jorge De La Rosa on the hill: Jorge de la Rosa had his best start of the season Sunday, throwing seven innings of one-run baseball and winning his second game of the year. It was good to see De La Rosa keep his cool with runners on base, and it was even better to see him go deep into the game. The Rockies are going to need their starters to shoulder more of the innings-load this season, and De La Rosa’s 102 pitches over seven innings was a step in the right direction.
Nolan Arenado’s really, really good at third: One of the reasons De La Rosa was able to limit his pitch count was that he pitched to contact and kept getting ground-ball outs, 12 in total on Sunday. The left-side of the Rockies defense is where ground-balls go to die, and Nolan Arenado put on an absolute clinic over the weekend. It’s just such a joy to watch this guy play third-base, and after watching the above clip I agree with ROOT Sports’ Jeff Huson that they should just ship him his second golden glove right now.
You can check out Zach at a “Rockies Blogger Panel” on May 17th at El Charrito’s on 21st and Larimer from 3:00 p.m. MST to 4:00 p.m. before that day’s game.