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Third Base Platoon of Ellis and Rojas

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Deciding who will play third base is interesting and complex. The crowd wisdom was that a platoon of Drew Ellis and Josh Rojas is the best choice.

Drew Ellis.
Drew Ellis.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The fans have voted. Now it’s up to the Diamondbacks to make their choice. Whatever they do, some fans will be thrilled and some fans will be aghast. Perhaps it was an understatement when Jack Sommers wrote, “It will be interesting to see what Hazen actually does.”

Before talking about the vote, let’s be clear that deciding who will play at third base is both interesting and complex. ChuckJohnson56 expressed his opinion very well, “Sorry, but if any of those guys are the opening day starter at third base then Hazen didn’t do his job.”

The status quo is not an option because Eduardo Escobar and Asdrubal Cabrera are no longer Diamondbacks. Last season they had 71% of third base PAs.

My view is the Diamondbacks need to improve on the status quo. Last season’s status quo:

  • Negative 5 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) ranked in a tie for 19th to 22nd at third base.
  • Negative 0.9 Wins Above Average (WAA) ranked 22nd at third base.

Your Votes.

You voted on three nominations to play third base next season. The totals were close with none of the three choices receiving a majority of the vote.

In third place was Galvin Lux with 28 votes. His nomination prompted much discussion by Diamondback fans and an intrepid Dodger fan. Lux is young and fits the Diamondbacks timeline for contending. His upside would be realized with playing time in the Majors, which he may not get with the Dodgers. Although other trade candidates were mentioned my take is that he would improve the team at a possibly affordable price.

In second place with 29 votes was Nick Ahmed. There was not much discussion about his nomination. It was the lowest risk choice for two reasons. Moving him to third base would not increase Diamondbacks’ salary. If the move fails then he could be moved back to shortstop.

In first place with 38 votes was a platoon of Drew Ellis/Josh Rojas. This is the highest risk choice because the performance floor (defense and batting) is low.

Platoon of Drew Ellis and Josh Rojas.

The point of the platoon is to take advantage of Josh Rojas’ ability to play second base, right field, and left field. When that happens, Ellis would play third base.

Let’s look at defense. How well they will defend at third base includes great uncertainty because they played third base very few innings. The 2021 data suggests their defense is below average. In 2021, Drew Ellis earned negative 3 DRS in 137 innings and Josh Rojas earned negative 2 DRS in 66 innings. As a side note, throwing Josh VanMeter into the platoon would not have an impact on defense because his DRS was about the same (negative 2 in 182 innings).

When dealing with very few innings, more reliance can be placed on observations by experienced observers, like the following.

“...He [Ellis] certainly didn’t have a bad reputation with the glove coming in, and I thought he looked ok down there. Not great from early looks, but certainly competent, and his movements weren’t awkward at all. He looked like a third baseman to me. And he looked better than when I saw him in the AZFL...” — Jack Sommers

I’m optimistic that their defense will improve to at least average. Last season Josh Rojas was an above average right fielder with a DRS of plus 2. This showed his talent and potential for better defense at third base albeit it’s likely that Josh Rojas will play several positions.

Let’s look at batting. Looking at the Diamondback batters, Ketel Marte stood alone in the top tier with an OPS of .909. My view is the next tier (OPS of at least .750) includes Josh Rojas and 4 other batters (Carson Kelly, Daulton Varsho, Geraldo Perdomo, and Seth Beer). With increased PAs and under the guidance of the new hitting coach, Josh Rojas has potential to break out above his current tier.

Drew Ellis has potential to join the second tier based on last season’s 1.014 OPS in AAA Reno. The increased OPS was due to more than just a half-dozen increase in homers. The following graph shows that in the minor leagues he increased the percentage of his hits that were extra-base hits, including non-homer extra-base hits. My view is that non-homer extra-base hits are very important because of the deadened baseball.

Data from MiLB.com.

Summary.

Deciding who will play third base is interesting and complex. The crowd wisdom is that a platoon of Drew Ellis and Josh Rojas is the best choice.

What will Mike Hazen decide? Eventually we will know the answer.

“The choices we make today create the future that we are dreaming of.” — Kapil Tetarwal.