The Rockies’ Defensive Standouts Are Showing Signs of Offensive Life

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve written about the Colorado Rockies so many times over the past two years that I think we can all take the normal disclaimer as read. They’re not very good, and they’re probably not going to be very good in the short or medium term.

However, there is some good news. Colorado has put quite a bit of faith in two young players who put up monster defensive numbers at up-the-middle positions: center fielder Brenton Doyle and shortstop Ezequiel Tovar. The latter signed a seven-year contract extension this spring. These guys are so good defensively it almost doesn’t matter if they hit at all. And that’s a fortunate coincidence, because last year, they didn’t hit at all.

That part wasn’t the good news. This is the good news: In 2024, Doyle and Tovar are hitting a little.

It’s So Tovar / We’re So Back
2023
Player BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Tovar 4.1 27.0 .253 .287 .408 70
Doyle 5.1 35.0 .203 .250 .343 43
2024
Player BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Tovar 3.8 29.0 .294 .325 .487 114
Doyle 9.5 26.2 .269 .341 .404 99
2024 stats current through 6/9

Let’s not overstate this development; a wRC+ in the 90s won’t get a position player in the Hall of Fame unless he’s Ozzie Smith or a close personal friend of Frankie Frisch. But let’s not understate it either. If it’s sustainable, league-average offense with Gold Glove shortstop defense is basically Dansby Swanson. League-average (or even slightly below-average) offense with Gold Glove center field defense is basically Kevin Kiermaier. And those two guys played on a lot of winning teams.

If Tovar and Doyle can continue to hit as they have for the past two months, the Rockies will have solved two positions that can be difficult to fill. So how sustainable is it?

2024 BABIP Leaders
Name BABIP
Ezequiel Tovar .390
Julio Rodríguez .369
William Contreras .367
Brent Rooker .367
José Caballero .362
Masyn Winn .361
Brice Turang .361
Brenton Doyle .359
Qualified hitters only
2024 stats current through 6/9

Ah crap. Well that’s not an awesome place to start. Still, this isn’t 15 years ago; we know that raw BABIP isn’t a measure of flukiness unless we have context. To start, both of these guys ought to have high BABIPs: Tovar is an above-average-to-plus runner. Doyle can fly and he hits a lot of grounders. And Coors Field, with its enormous outfield and barely-worthy-of-the-term air density, is the place batted balls go to drop.

The league average BABIP across all venues this year is .288; at Coors Field, it’s .326, which is 10 points higher than any other full-time ballpark. It’s fair to raise an eyebrow when anyone has a BABIP of .390, especially when Tovar is 20 points ahead of second place, but this isn’t as fluky as it might look at first glance.

Besides, we have better tools now.

Tovar and Doyle vs. Expectations
Player 2023 wOBA 2023 xwOBA 2024 wOBA 2024 xwOBA
Tovar .298 .291 .352 .292
Doyle .257 .258 .330 .323

Again, there are holes in the Statcast expected stats, so let’s go down one level deeper on each batter, starting with Tovar.

Tovar is outperforming his xwOBA by the sixth-largest margin among qualified hitters, and there isn’t a lot of good news in his swing decisions. He’s swinging at 44.5% of pitches outside the zone, which is one of the worst chase rates in the league and a slight regression from last year. He’s also making less contact than last year, just 67.7%. Accordingly, he’s striking out 29.0% of the time and walking just 3.8% of the time.

As a rule of thumb, hitters who strike out almost eight times as much as they walk and swing as much as Tovar does while making this little contact tend not to be very good. The only way around an offensive profile like this is for hitters to get their money’s worth when they do make contact. And here, we can see some slight improvements for the young shortstop: His xwOBACON is up 15 points from last year to .393, and his HardHit% is up to an even 40.0. Unfortunately, neither of those numbers are better than average.

But what they don’t account for is batted ball direction, and this genuinely has changed for Tovar. He was a spray hitter last year, but in 2024 his pull rate has gone up from 33.6% to 42.6%, and his GB/FB ratio has dropped from 1.26 to 0.75.

Paredes’ Law clearly states that if you’re going to hit the ball in the air, you want to do it to the pull side. The benefits of doing so — more extra-base hits and home runs — are all the more abundant in Coors Field. And for all the red flags that Tovar has failed to remove from his game, he’s nearly doubled the percentage of balls in play that fall into this highly productive category.

Tovar’s FB/LD to Pull Side
Year % of Total BIP BA SLG wOBA
2023 12.6 .647 1.412 .822
2024 24.2 .711 1.622 .967
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

This season, 251 hitters have put at least 100 balls in play. Of those, Tovar has the 20th-highest percentage of pull-side liners and fly balls. In case you can’t yet form a mental image of this type of hitter, here are a few others in the top 25: Davis Schneider, Joc Pederson, Danny Jansen, and, of course, Isaac Paredes.

Now for Doyle. Last season, the Rockies’ center fielder seemed to be on a mission to exhibit as many offensive deficiencies as possible. He was among the leaders in strikeout rate, and in the bottom 10% of the league in walk rate. He swung and missed too much, and on those rare occasions when he did get wood on the ball, his quality of contact was poor enough to festoon his Baseball Savant page with enough blue to make George Gerswhin go, “Whoa, dude, I think that’s a bit much.”

The change Doyle has made this season is far more obvious than Tovar’s: He’s started walking. Doyle’s walk rate has nearly doubled since last season, from 5.1% to 9.5%. His chase rate has dropped 4.5 percentage points, and his strikeout rate has dropped by almost nine percentage points. When Doyle hits the ball, it’s going in more or less the same places as before, but he’s not giving away as many outs as he did in 2023.

He’s become especially selective with two strikes. This season, 234 hitters have seen at least 100 two-strike pitches outside the strike zone. Of those, Tovar has the fifth-highest chase rate: 58.3%. (This explains why he strikes out so much.) Doyle is all the way down at 209th in chase rate (28.6%). Last season, Doyle’s two-strike chase rate was 36.2%. And he’s improved with two strikes when he does make contact, raising his batting average from .101 to .194 and his SLG from .124 to .241.

The end result of all this tinkering is that a lot of the blue on Doyle’s Baseball Savant page has been replaced by gray. Last year, he was the worst hitter in baseball. I’m not kidding. Among players with at least 400 plate appearances in 2023, Doyle was dead last in wRC+ by a whopping 17 points.

This year? He’s a mediocre hitter. And for a guy who plays center field like Superman, mediocre offense is plenty. Is his improvement, like Tovar’s, propped up by batted-ball luck? Probably a little. But even if that is the case, it’s way better than it was last year.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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96mncmember
9 days ago

The Rockies really need to acquire and or develop excellent hitters and not guys that are artificially propped up by Coors.

If Tover, Doyle, and McMahon were your 6th, 7th, and 8th best hitters you’d have a contending lineup. But until Colorado actually starts having elite hitters they are going to struggle.

mariodegenzgz
9 days ago
Reply to  96mnc

They are all but incapable of developing hitters with a proper approach or plan at the plate, and I strongly suspect that they’re really lagging behind in terms of advanced scouting and preparation. It’s remarkable how often a Rockies prospect comes up and genuinely showcases some of the worst pitch selection you will ever see.

Pepper Martin
9 days ago
Reply to  mariodegenzgz

It’s because baseball doesn’t work at that altitude. Breaking balls don’t break properly, and so prospects who are used to balls doing one thing have a hard time adjusting to them doing something entirely different during every home game.

Smiling Politelymember
9 days ago
Reply to  mariodegenzgz

Agreed. Their 1B has a wRC+ of 47. FORTY-SEVEN. How is that possible when you play half your games at Coors and you’re the FIRST BASEMAN?

frankmember
6 days ago
Reply to  96mnc

Tovar has some deficiencies, but he’s 22. Most of his contemporaries are in Double-A.