Blowouts give baseball fans subtle oddities that aren’t normally available. Watching Ian Desmond fire a fastball in the mid-90s was one of those moments in a 16-9 loss to the Dodgers Monday.
For the remainder of the season, Desmond’s playing time with the Rockies – including his days on the mound – should also be a rarity.
September’s expanded rosters bring about several new prospects. The additional players, specifically on losing teams, are subsequently granted a chance to make an impression. Those same players for the Rockies are having their chances dashed by the Rockies’ hard-headed ways.
Sam Hilliard, Yonathan Daza and Raimel Tapia – just activated off the injured list Tuesday – are all in the mix. In right field, Charlie Blackmon is entrenched, with David Dahl in the opposite field.
The lone spot left open is center field. An experiment that placed Desmond in the void has run its course and shown the club can’t rely on the veteran in the future.
At first base, Desmond’s future is murky as well with Daniel Murphy, Josh Fuentes and even Ryan McMahon in the way for the remainder of 2019. The lack of a spot goes hand-in-hand with abysmal production from the former shortstop.
On the year, Desmond has the fifth-lowest wins above replacement (WAR) mark in the league (-1.5). His May (.319) and June (.329) averages are merely masking the flaws. Without the two months, he’s hit .217. In the field, throughout the entire season, he’s failed to be an above-average outfielder at any of the three spots.
Nonetheless, he was in the lineup once again Wednesday – Hilliard, Tapia and Daza in his wake. And once again, he went 1-for-4 and displayed the prolonged slump that has made his on-field presence moot.
His off-the-field presence is the true genesis of Desmond’s current value to the team.
“The things he does behind the scenes go unnoticed, but not to us, not to the clubhouse,” Trevor Story said. “He’s such a great addition in that aspect… I lean on him a lot, I talk to him a lot. We’re always talking about ball and ways to get better, little tricks here and there.”
Teaching the younger players everyday tricks for becoming a better player is worthwhile. None of those lessons involve a spot in the lineup for the veteran.
It’s not a new trend for the Rockies to sit their young players, even in a drought.
Tapia has dealt with the theory for years. In 2016 with Triple-A Albuquerque, he hit .346 across 104 at-bats after a promotion from Double-A Hartford. In 2018, he hit .369 in 263 at-bats. Both years, he was overshadowed by a struggling Gerardo Parra (2016) or Carlos Gonzalez (2017).
The easy counterpoint is that Tapia failed to perform when given chances – hitting .283 across the two years in 198 at-bats in the majors wasn’t enough. Mike Tauchman is another example.
In 2017 and 2018, Tauchman received limited playing time. His 59 at-bats yielded a mere .153 averaged and an adjusted on-base percentage (OPS+) of 20. Now, after a trade sent him to the New York Yankees for Phillip Diehl, he’s thrived.
The outfielder is hitting .275 in expanded time with the club. Tauchman has also registered 3.3 WAR – a mark that would put him third behind only Story and Nolan Arenado on the Rockies’ roster.
Context plays a role. The franchise was amid back-to-back playoff runs in 2017 and 2018 and could ill afford to give time to younger player’s development. This year, that excuse is non-existent.
The Rockies are second-to-last in the National League. Only the Marlins have a worse record. Their playoff chances were nullified after a 6-19 record in July.
For next year, if the front office decides to stay put, the outlook is similarly gloomy without in-house breakouts.
The projected rotation for the Rockies next year – Tyler Anderson, Jon Gray, Peter Lambert, Kyle Freeland and German Marquez – registered a 5.55 earned run average this year. Even with marginal growth, they’ll still be one of the league’s most unsettled groups.
At the plate, Arenado, Story and Charlie Blackmon figure to spearhead the offense’s efforts once again. Even this year, with the trio all having good years, the Rockies’ battery ranks 26th in weighted runs created (wRC+) at 85. Their combined offensive WAR is 27th (-114.4).
The club needs a huge break. Hilliard has the looks of a guy that could provide it. He’s already slugged a pair of home runs and a triple in only 20 at-bats. In the field, he’s provided several highlight-worthy plays already.
Before an injury, Tapia was also on his way towards an everyday spot next year. He hit .347 in his last 118 at-bats before being sidelined with a left-hand contusion.
With Dahl’s ankle sprain still limiting his comeback efforts, there’s a spot for both alongside Blackmon. Adding Daza and Garrett Hampson into the mix could create a four-man rotation between the two spots. The Rockies’ options are vast.
The one option that doesn’t help the present or the future is playing Desmond.