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 weâ€™ve seen on the field during the 2014 season. In all actuality, thatâ€™d be the case for most positions, but none more so than the hot corner. If you fast forward to 2015, itâ€™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 canâ€™t be considered of that ilk any longer, unless youâ€™re watching different Rays and Mets games than I am. Adrian Beltre will be 36 next April, and weâ€™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? Weâ€™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 heâ€™s not going away. In fact, heâ€™s getting better and if youâ€™re in a keeper league, now is the time to move.
Itâ€™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 werenâ€™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 wouldnâ€™t rule anything out. Defense is great and all, but in fantasy baseball, we care about offense. Letâ€™s take a look.
After a solid, yet uninspiring debut last season, this weekâ€™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 heâ€™s been coming up through the minors. Heâ€™s a swing-first-ask-questions later kind of hitter. He hasnâ€™t been interested in â€˜taking his baseâ€™ (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 youâ€™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 heâ€™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 Arenadoâ€™s mindset, itâ€™s easier said than done. At the risk of over simplifying it, seeing more pitches increases the opportunities a hitter gets to get a â€˜betterâ€™ pitch. Of course thereâ€™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. Hereâ€™s a look at Areandoâ€™s walk and strikeout percentages this season, broken down per month:
Breaking down a player by month isnâ€™t ideal, except when itâ€™s relevant, and plate discipline numbers stabilize fairly quickly. When a player is on a tear like Arenado is currently, we canâ€™t settle for â€˜heâ€™s hotâ€™ when we can see thereâ€™s something different going on. Heâ€™s still aggressive, but his overall swing percentage is down 4.2 against last seasonâ€™s numbers, with a noticeable dip in his swings outside the strike zone. The 10.6% walk rate isnâ€™t an elite rate by any means, but in the context of the player, itâ€™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 heâ€™s been nearly as dangerous on the road (wRC+ of 116) as heâ€™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 heâ€™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, itâ€™s a move worth making.