Do you love watching great defense? If so, DJ LeMahieu is your guy. Oh, you’d like to see some offense, too? In that case maybe he isn’t so great. Here’s a look at second base for 2015 where the Rockies go heavy on the defense, but light with the bat.
Coming off his first full season as (mostly) an uncontested starter, DJ LeMahieu is back at second base for the Rockies. How much you like DJ is probably highly correlated with how much you like defense, how much you hate offense, or both. LeMahieu, 26, is definitely a mixed bag, combining some very good tools with some very bad tools, but we’ll try to get a look at him as a whole.
First, the good news. DJ LeMahieu is great at defense! Last season, he was a deserving Gold Glove winner at second base, leading all NL second basemen in both DRS and UZR/150. It doesn’t appear to be a fluke, either, as DJ has rated well above average defensively throughout his entire career and projects to be one of the league’s best defensive second basemen once again in 2015. Defense is the reason to be glad that the Rockies have DJ LeMahieu.
Now for the bad news. DJ is bad offensively. Like, really bad. A lot of people don’t expect to get much offense from their second baseman and are content to have one that doesn’t provide much offensively, but LeMahieu’s 67 wRC+ in 2014 was dead last among the 16 qualified second basemen and tied for 143rd out of 146 total qualified hitters. The next worst offensive second baseman had a wRC+ of 76, nearly 10 points higher! The primary cause for LeMahieu’s lack of offense is his complete lack of power. He managed just 25 extra base hits in 538 PA in 2014, which led to an ISO of just .081, again the worst among qualified second basemen and 138th out of 146 total qualified hitters. ISO is not park-adjusted and Rockies hitters tend to get a boost in their ISO numbers from Coors Field. However, the average of DJ’s Steamer and ZiPS projections expect his wRC+ to improve to 77 in 2015.
When all was said and done, LeMahieu finished 2014 with just 0.8 fWAR, 14th among 16 qualified second basemen. Steamer projects him to finish with the same 0.8 WAR in 2015 while ZiPS projects him to improve that number to 1.3. How he does in 2015 will likely come down to how well he does, or doesn’t, hit.
In a somewhat curious move this offseason, the Rockies brought in utility infielder Daniel Descalso on a 2 year, $3.6 million deal. Descalso projects as the Rockies’ primary backup at second base, third base, and shortstop this season, but I’ll try to keep this bit as second base-focused as possible. If the “replacement level player” concept that WAR uses is one that is hard for you to grasp, think of it as being Daniel Descalso instead. In his four full Major League seasons, the 28 year old has accumulated exactly 0.0 fWAR, making him the definition of a replacement level player. His career slash line of .243/.313/.341 is below average (81 wRC+) but serviceable for a backup middle infielder. His second base defense is a bit below average as well, but at -1 DRS and -4.8 UZR/150, it shouldn’t be a killer either. Expect to see Descalso at second base if LeMahieu is injured or getting the day off. Steamer and ZiPS both project Descalso at, you guessed it, 0.0 WAR for the 2015 season.
Minor League Options
The Rockies have three solid minor league options at second base in Charlie Culberson, Rafael Ynoa, and Cristhian Adames. All three of these guys would probably provide production similar to Descalso, making his signing even more curious. 25 year old Charlie Culberson would likely be the first to get the call to the Big Leagues, and there’s a chance he’ll even be on the Opening Day roster. Culberson was abysmal in 2014, with a slash line of just .195/.253/.290 (33 wRC+) in 260 PA, but his BABIP was just .259 and both Steamer and ZiPS project him to be better this season. The aggregate of their two projections has him at 72 wRC+ in 2015.
Rafael Ynoa would probably be next up in the case of multiple injuries or trades. Ynoa made his Major League debut last season at 27 and, despite never being considered much of a prospect, made the most of his opportunity. Ynoa slashed .343/.380/.463 (121 wRC+) in 71 PA last September, which was boosted by a .397 BABIP. The Steamer/ZiPS aggregate projects him at 69 wRC+ this season and there’s a good chance that Rafael will at least be a September call-up.
The best prospect of the group is Cristhian Adames, a 23 year old from the Dominican Republic. Adames has always been considered a glove first prospect and it showed in his brief stint as a September call up in 2014, as he had just one hit (a single) in his 15 PA. The club will probably want Cristhian to continue to get consistent playing time this season and he has primarily played shortstop in his Minor League career, making it unlikely that he’ll see a call up to play second base any time before September. All three of these players are on the 40 man roster, however, so he theoretically could come up at any time.
That wraps up our early look at second base. Comments and feedback are always welcome and be sure to subscribe, follow View from the Rooftop on Facebook and Twitter, and check back on Thursday, March 12, for the next installment of the Rockies 2015 Position Preview Series: Third Base.