(Let us know how you liked this new audio format in the comment section)
There is a debate among those who follow the Los Angeles Dodgers closely about whether or not a strategy they employed a year ago was both a blessing and their undoing.
As the season wore on and their seemingly bottomless resources led to a stockpiling of talent, they began to construct their lineup differently on a daily basis.
On one famous example of this later in the season, the Dodgers threw out a lineup of all right-handers against a lefty and when Colorado went to the bullpen, brought five straight left-handed hitters off the bench.
These types of moves, the closest baseball has seen to a hockey-style line change, have become more common but there are lingering doubts about its long term effects.
The Dodgers famously appeared like a team that lacked cohesion in the World Series and responded by trading or releasing players who were vocally unhappy with their playing time.
While it is not and will never be to the same extreme, the Colorado Rockies are now facing a similar dilemma.
One major difference is that the Rockies did not buy their talent, they grew it.
A few injuries and some excellent performances have paved the way for Raimel Tapia to become an impact player in the lineup after a few years having trouble sticking in the big leagues.
He has been one of the most consistent hitters for the club since he started getting regular playing time and shares the outfield with the one guy who really hadn’t gone through a slump yet this season, David Dahl.
Before Charlie Blackmon hit the IL with a calf injury, Ian Desmond had been taking advantage of spot starts and has kept up the production since taking over for Blackmon.
Since April 17, Desmond is hitting .301 with a wRC+ of 137.
This means that Bud Black will need to go right back to a kind of rotational outfield when Charlie returns.
BSN Denver caught up with Blackmon to discuss the pros and cons of this methodology.
“I think there’s a lot of good things that can come from it,” he says. “Guys are fresher, no one has to play seven days in a row. And that doesn’t just help with fatigue but also helps the guys who would be considered the fourth outfielder to get more at-bats. He’s gonna feel more comfortable and be more productive and be better off the bench. So from a results standpoint it’s good for the team.”
We saw this exact concept play out when a fresh-and-in-rhythm Desmond stepped up in huge moments during the Rockies 9-1 homestand.
But does Colorado need to be careful about becoming a team of line changes and the pitfalls that come with that?
“I don’t think it will go to that extreme,” says Blackmon. “I’m not a big fan of that type of baseball. You’re held captive to the numbers. I think you’ve got to let your players play.”
And Bud Black has been doing that, choosing to focus on the challenges of moving all the pieces around rather than the difficulties.
“It’s fun,” he tells us. “This is what managers do. Having a lot of good players isn’t a problem.”
But it can’t be easy either.
Where in the outfield he can cycle four players through three spots, Black has just one spot to try to properly juggle McMahon and Rodgers.
And neither is a veteran or has extreme splits. In fact, McMahon has hit same-handed pitching at a better rate, complicating the platoon further.
So, without being able to go to a strict platoon, both players have needed to be ready for either job on any given day, Rodgers even getting a couple of starts at shortstop on a recent homestand to spell Trevor Story.
Since his call-up, Rodgers has gotten 44 plate appearances and hit around .300 for his first week before falling down to .268, still looking for his slugging stroke and first home run.
McMahon meanwhile, seems to have responded to the Rodgers promotion in the best way possible, seeing upticks in each offensive category to the point that he is posting a 122 wRC+ since the transaction. That’s up from 89 before that.
He told BSN Denver that he isn’t especially concerned with maintaining his endurance for the season, “Young guys wanna play ever day,” he says, noting that players like Blackmon are more likely to value their off days.
But he also recognizes what is best for the team. “You just gotta get in there and play as best you can when you get your opportunities. I think Brendan and I will handle it well,” he says.
And so far they have.
As long as the results are there for an offense that put up 183 runs in the month of May, nobody in the clubhouse is going to have an issue with Black’s daily lineup decisions.
Time will tell if it holds up under less than ideal circumstances.
But the whole point of embracing this ideology was to break free from some of the rigid notions of the past.
The Rockies have actively decided to be more flexible this season, hoping that whatever slumps and streaks the future holds, they have a potential answer right in from of them.
“It’s great to have options,” Blackmon says. “That’s what we’ve given ourselves. We have lefties, we have righties, and we allow everybody to play enough to where everyone is sharp.”
Sure, it can be a little unnerving, especially for the ballplayers who can be the most extreme about keeping consistent routines, but the buy-in is there for one of the captains of the ballclub.
“We have a rule here: Be ready for anything,” Blackmon says. “And we are all professionals. You’ve got to show up each day, whether someone else is the better matchup or hotter at the plate and do your best to help the team, whether that’s in the starting lineup or off the bench.”
In a season where the pitching has been baffling and the hitting has been superb, the Colorado Rockies have shown themselves to be more forward-thinking than they’ve often gotten credit for and have done so to great effect.
If they can sustain offensive momentum within this system while doing something about their troubles on the mound, they can very quickly become one of the most dangerous teams in the National League.