Bridich puts special value on club's veterans
Desmond, Holliday, Parra have played key roles on Rockies in 2018
MILWAUKEE -- During the Rockies' World Series run in 2007 and their reprise as a contender in '09, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich, then the team's senior director of baseball operations, expanded his knowledge beyond the inner workings of the front office.
A former employee of the Commissioner's Office who dealt with clubs on contracts and transactions, Bridich made sure to pay attention to what drove the players under contract and how they interacted. Those lessons helped drive some decisions that, even if they work against the statistics, drive a team that visited the postseason last year and will face the Brewers in this year's National League Division Series.
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"It was in 2007 and 2009, having experienced the intensity of playoff baseball and understanding that there is a different feeling and a different stress level and a different intensity than the regular season," Bridich said. "So, as you think about your group -- whether it's 25 or 40 or however many guys who are going to help you, that are going to help you over the course of the season -- do you have people in that group that are going to be ready to step up to that challenge?"
There have been some decisions that could seem odd when measured by traditional or new-age statistics. The Rockies, for example, are in the postseason with the lowest regular-season team batting average in their history (.256). Their Weighted Runs Created Plus, which weighs offense based on parks and the current run environment, was tied for 25th with the 115-loss Orioles.
Modern large-sample analytics were born of teams wanting to determine the true value of players, especially in the case of small-to-mid-market franchises that need to watch payroll especially carefully. But the idea that some players can affect winning and losing in small-sample events, whether it's on or off the field, has been around baseball forever. Bridich and the Rockies don't discount that.
For example, in the 13th inning of Tuesday's 2-1 NL Wild Card Game victory over the Cubs, Gerardo Parra, whose .714 OPS this season had some wondering whether he should be depended upon this postseason, delivered a two-out single behind Trevor Story's base knock that allowed Tony Wolters to come up for the game-winning hit. As a sub, Parra has slashed .341/.442/.455.
Bridich and the Rockies are willing to put finances into character guys. They invested $70 million over five years into Ian Desmond, who struggled with injuries last year and slumps this year. They put $27.5 million over three years into Parra, a deal that ends after this postseason. They also gave $8.5 million over two years to catcher Chris Iannetta so he could serve as a mentor to a young and successful pitching staff. They also re-signed outfielder Carlos Gonzalez before the season and Matthew Holliday during it.
The Rockies use a younger model with starting pitching. They tried valuing and paying for experience, only to see that players trained in the system are better able to handle challenges of pitching at altitude. And they make no apologies for having coaches, scouts and front-office employees research intangibles in position players.
"Is there a guarantee that when your bring in veterans that they are able to get all those huge hits and big home runs that Ian Desmond has had over the course of a long season? No," Bridich said. "Is there any guarantee that they stay healthy? There's none of that. You're taking a leap of faith.
"But the value in terms of how they fit in our team with the rest of the guys that they have, there is value to that. That's tough to put a number to or a stat to."
Holliday believes valuing presence could be the new sabermetrics, a way to gain an advantage another club might not see.
"The game is trending young, but there's value and the place for veteran players still that bring a lot to the table behind the scenes," Holliday said. "It's also knowing your role. Sometimes, young guys are not sure what their role is. There's a place that now, with all the analytics, tends to be overlooked."
It's not as if they dislike younger players. David Dahl, in his second season with the Rockies (he missed last year with a rib injury), has become a regular lineup presence with his power. But if someone needs more seasoning -- left-handed hitting Ryan McMahon, who struggled early but has earned part-time duty -- there is a veteran to handle the daily grind until the younger player forces his way into the lineup. It is by design.
"That's one of the great things. Nolan Arenado talks about Troy Tulowitzki, and Nolan wanted to learn from Tulo," Bridich said. "Trevor Story wanted to learn and pick up things from Nolan and DJ LeMahieu. That paying it forward concept can happen, but only if the players are invested in that happening."