Nolan Arenado: The Future Is Now
If you were to peruse a preseason third baseman rankings list today, it would look quite different than what we’ve seen on the field during the 2014 season. In all actuality, that’d be the case for most positions, but none more so than the hot corner. If you fast forward to 2015, it’s even more frightening, especially in keeper leagues.
Miguel Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion are unlikely to retain eligibility. Top-25 picks Evan Longoria and David Wright can’t be considered of that ilk any longer, unless you’re watching different Rays and Mets games than I am. Adrian Beltre will be 36 next April, and we’re already seeing a slight dip in production from his previous three consecutive 30-plus home run seasons in Texas.
How about Ryan Zimmerman and Pedro Alvarez? No thanks. At least a young guy like Manny Machado is on the way! No? Too soon? We’re all excited about young Cubs prospect Kris Bryant, but is he staying at third base?
The good news is Nolan Arenado is here, and he’s not going away. In fact, he’s getting better and if you’re in a keeper league, now is the time to move.
It’s hard to fathom now, but the Rockies considered moving the 23-year-old Arenado across the diamond to first base after he was drafted. They thought about it because they weren’t sure if his glove would hold up at third base. I think winning the Gold Glove Award should squash that thought. We are talking about the Rockies though, so I wouldn’t rule anything out. Defense is great and all, but in fantasy baseball, we care about offense. Let’s take a look.
After a solid, yet uninspiring debut last season, this week’s National League Player of the Week got off to a great start, including a 28-game hitting streak that produced a .360/.383/.568 line. That minimal batting average/on-base percentage gap (.360-.383) speaks to the player he’s been coming up through the minors. He’s a swing-first-ask-questions later kind of hitter. He hasn’t been interested in ‘taking his base’ (5% walk rate), but more so hitting his way on. He has the contact rates to support this type of approach, and when you can do that you’re more prone to hot streaks. He currently has more extra-base hits (47) than strikeouts (46). He has a balanced hit profile too, meaning he’s likely to continue hitting for a consistently high batting average as long as his balls-in-play profile remains the same.
The difference between him being good and being a perennial All-Star is his ability to get on base more often. Yes, that sounds simple, but for a player with Arenado’s mindset, it’s easier said than done. At the risk of over simplifying it, seeing more pitches increases the opportunities a hitter gets to get a ‘better’ pitch. Of course there’s a chance that the best hitters-pitch in each at bat can be the first pitch, but for the sake of this discussion, I think everyone can agree that getting on base is better than making an out. Here’s a look at Areando’s walk and strikeout percentages this season, broken down per month:
Breaking down a player by month isn’t ideal, except when it’s relevant, and plate discipline numbers stabilize fairly quickly. When a player is on a tear like Arenado is currently, we can’t settle for ‘he’s hot’ when we can see there’s something different going on. He’s still aggressive, but his overall swing percentage is down 4.2 against last season’s numbers, with a noticeable dip in his swings outside the strike zone. The 10.6% walk rate isn’t an elite rate by any means, but in the context of the player, it’s huge. I think this is something to watch closely over the next five weeks to see if it continues.
When Colorado got off to a sizzling start this spring, everyone in the lineup was killing it at home, except Arenado. The weird reverse home-road split is starting to regulate, but he’s been nearly as dangerous on the road (wRC+ of 116) as he’s been at home (130). Acquiring his services will probably be a bit more costly for you than they were for me back in July while he was still on the disabled list since he’s been the best hitter in the game during the second half (wOBA .447). But with an eye on both his future and the top-level talent at the third base position, it’s a move worth making.