Nolan Arenado Is One of Baseball's Most Consistent Superstars
With fewer than 20 games left in the 2017 MLB regular season, the Colorado Rockies still remain in the driver's seat with regard to their postseason destiny.
A lot of that has to do with a pitching staff that's outperforming expectations, but the offense also hasn't been nearly as productive as we're used to it being. Sure, Charlie Blackmon is putting together an historic season as the team's leadoff hitter, but Colorado wouldn't be anywhere close to a playoff spot right now without the consistently elite production from All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado.
The defense has always been there for the four-time Gold Glove winner, and it's more of the same this year -- his 19 Defensive Runs Saved is the best mark in baseball at his position. What did take a couple years to blossom was his offense, but it sure was worth the wait. Already with a 5.2 fWAR, this is the third straight campaign that Arenado has produced a number of at least 4.7. In fact, the 15.2 cumulative fWAR he's accumulated since 2015 is only second to Kris Bryant's 20.6 mark among National League third basemen.
However, Arenado isn't one of those prototypical Coors Field hitters. He's produced awfully consistent results at the plate over the past three years, regardless of where he's playing. What has been interesting, though, is that he's landed at very similar overall numbers in a slightly different way this season.
Hasn't He Done This Before?
Through 612 plate appearances, Arenado owns a healthy .311/.370/.593 triple slash with 33 home runs and 123 RBI. While Giancarlo Stanton will prevent him from leading the National League in homers for a third straight year, he's currently on track to post the highest RBI total in the Senior Circuit for the third time in as many seasons. And if we take a look at the last three years, nobody is even close to Arenado's 386 total RBI.
Those 2017 numbers above have helped produce a .397 wOBA and 130 wRC+. Do they sound familiar? That's because they're very close to what he's done the two seasons prior. They're actually slightly better, which is displayed in the below table that compares his OPS, Isolated Power (ISO), wOBA, and wRC+ since 2015.
He's also been consistently above average in just about every month this year -- outside of putting up a wRC+ of 88 during the month of May, he hasn't posted one below 116 in any other month. And with just over half of September to go, it's looking like it'll stay that way thanks to the 193 mark he has through 47 plate appearances.
But whenever we discuss a position player on the Rockies enjoying a solid offensive campaign, talking about their home/road splits seems necessary because more often than not, they're rather stark. Not for Colorado's third baseman, though.
The Venue Doesn't Matter
If we take a brief look at Arenado's career, he is a better hitter at home than on the road when using wRC+ as the barometer, but it's not nearly as drastic as you might expect from a player who spends half his season hitting in the thin air of Denver (120 wRC+ at home, 110 on the road). It's also worth noting that just as we pointed out before with his overall numbers, Arenado's performance away from Coors Field has been slightly improving each year.
The below table compares his wOBA and wRC+ home/road splits over the last three seasons.
|Year||Home wOBA||Road wOBA||Home wRC+||Road wRC+|
He's clearly a more productive hitter at home if we look at the last three years in total, but it's not like he's been a shell of himself when the Rockies are the visiting team -- he's just as dangerous when the Coors Field narrative can't be used as an excuse.
With his first taste of postseason baseball within reach and a third consecutive terrific season under his belt, has he done anything different to arrive at basically the same results?
Finally Mashing Lefties
For someone who's shown the kind of consistency that Arenado has in recent memory, it'd be easy to assume he did nothing but terrorize southpaws as a right-handed hitter. Not so much -- until this year, that is.
Heading into 2017, Arenado posted a wRC+ above 120 against left-handed pitchers just once in his career (150 in 2014 through 128 plate appearances). After posting a single-season career low mark of 81 in 2015, he began a steady climb that has surpassed anything he's done to this point in his career.
Through 145 plate appearances this year, he's posted a ridiculous 223 wRC+, which is supported by a 1.328 OPS and .448 ISO. His 15 homers marks the first time he's reached double digits against lefties in a single season, and while most of his batted-ball profile hasn't changed much compared to 2016, his 28.0% line-drive rate and 24.6% ground-ball rate are easily on track to be new personal bests.
What he's gained against lefties, though, he's lost against righties.
After two consecutive seasons of posting a 133 wRC+ without the platoon advantage, his 101 mark is on pace to be his lowest since 2014 (99). Once again, his batted-ball profile doesn't look incredibly different from the two years prior, but with that comes one exception -- he's not pulling the ball nearly as much.
While his pull rate between 2015 and 2016 hadn't fallen below 48.0%, that number has dropped down eight percentage points to 40.4%. Watching his hard-hit rate decrease a couple ticks in favor of his soft-hit rate doesn't help much, either.
There's no doubt that without Arenado, the Rockies wouldn't be where they currently are in the standings. And as is the case just about every year, he should get more attention in the National League MVP discussion than he probably will. But even though he appears to be as consistent of a hitter as they come, there are still some ways for him to keep improving and taking his game to yet another level -- which is pretty scary.