Should Desmond or Tapia get the bulk of the at-bats moving forward?

Apr 15, 2019; San Diego, CA, USA; Colorado Rockies center fielder Ian Desmond (right) relief pitcher Wade Davis (center) and center fielder Raimel Tapia (left) celebrate a 5-2 win over th San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball – much like several other professional sports – is a game of hot streaks. While Raimel Tapia found his groove early, Ian Desmond has made a strong statement in recent weeks.

For the Colorado Rockies’ hopes of contention, Desmond has earned the lion’s share of the playing time.

A tale of streaks brings together a clear picture of the value each outfielder possesses in stretches. Desmond’s most recent hit streak was 11 games, only one game shy of Tapia’s 12-game spree from the leadoff spot earlier in the year in Charlie Blackmon’s stead.

Running with the hot hand, Desmond has been the benefactor of Bud Black’s lineup choices recently. In the club’s last 18 games dating back to the start of June, he’s started 13 times. Tapia’s started 11 games in that same span, benefitting greatly from the aforementioned absence of Blackmon.

In total, the numbers for the two – Desmond on the left, Tapia on the right – match up fairly similar, though the veteran takes every category:

Hand-picked numbers tell only a part of the story.

Earlier in the year, Desmond was slumping. It wasn’t until May 7th that the outfielder had even breached the Mendoza line – excluding the first game in which he went 1-for-4.

Fans booed, Black ran out of patience and Tapia was finally given a consistent chance. The opportunity was met with a surge from the youngster. An inside-the-park home run highlighted a three-game homer streak that was thought to be the true breakout:

The outburst was merely a portion of Tapia’s early-season success. In the club’s first two months of play, he hit .265. The total included a .289 mark in May.

One of the only complaints about Tapia from his manager was a need to mature defensively. Several ill-advised throws from the outfield led to extra bases for hitters, a facet of his game that Black insisted he’d fix over time. Outside of that, he appeared poised to take hold of an outfield spot, buoying the production of the bottom of the order.

Since then, he’s hit .260. Though the mark nearly matches his earlier total, a resurgence from Desmond has overshadowed the numbers.

Ironically, Desmond’s recent run also includes an inside-the-park home run:

Since he bypassed the .200 mark, things have clicked for Desmond. Underlying numbers, including his unusually low batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and lessened groundball percentage, suggested that improvement was on the way.

In his first two years with the club, the Rockies’ veteran was unable to conduct his usual hitting routine. With new children in his life, having a high-velocity pitching machine in the house was no longer an option.

As his children have begun to spurt into adolescence, the machine returned. With it, so has Desmond.

Since the beginning of May, Desmond has slashed .326/.401/.612. The line also includes 21 extra-base hits and 26 runs driven in, despite being towards the latter end of the batting order.

Things get even better when the timeline is narrowed.

During his 11-game hit spree – a streak that ended on a pinch-hit opportunity against the Diamondbacks on Wednesday – Desmond’s numbers skyrocketed, in turn, leading the club to historic production.

For the near-two-week span, Desmond hit .439 and drove in 16 runs. The lone reason for his success going unheralded was the record-setting week from Blackmon who set the new mark for most hits in a four-or-fewer-game series (15).

In all, Desmond has largely become the player the Rockies sought when they signed him to a five-year, $70 million pact.

The only question left is who to start. Blackmon and David Dahl have locked down their spots. Though the latter rotates to center on occasion, his spot among the top three is inarguable.

Tapia, at only 25 years old, has given the crews of highlight shows across the nation a myriad of clips. If not for an outburst from Desmond, he’d likely garner the bulk of the playing time for the foreseeable future.

The problem is Desmond’s sudden surge of production is no fluke. His hard-hit numbers have risen, while his swing-and-miss percentages against fastballs have sunk. The combination has created a hitter that’s careening balls off the walls of each ballpark the club enters with regularity.

Having too many good players is never a bad thing in the eyes of Black. Though Tapia hasn’t been given a full season at any point to show his worth, the prowess that Desmond has shown in his breakout stretch likely concludes the youngster’s fate in 2019.

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