Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve written about the Colorado Rockies so often in the past two years that I think we can all consider the normal disclaimer read. They’re not very good, and they probably won’t be very good in the short or medium term.

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

That part wasn’t the good news. Here’s the good news: In 2024, Doyle and Tovar will strike a little.

It’s so Tovar / We’ll be right back

2023
Tovar 4.1 27.0 .253 .287 .408 70
Doyle 5.1 35.0 .203 .250 .343 43
Tovar 3.8 29.0 .294 .325 .487 114
Doyle 9.5 26.2 .269 .341 .404 99

Statistics for 2024 current until 6/9

Let us not exaggerate this development; a wRC+ in the 90’s doesn’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 do that underestimate neither. If it’s sustainable, the average offense with Gold Glove shortstop defense is basically Dansby Swanson. League average (or even slightly below average) attack with Gold Glove midfield defense is basically Kevin Kiermaier. And those two guys played on a lot of winning teams.

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

BABIP Leaders 2024

Qualified hitters only
Statistics for 2024 current until 6/9

Oh nonsense. Well, that’s not a great place to start. Yet this is not 15 years ago; we know that raw BABIP is not a measure of chance unless we have context. For starters, both guys should 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 huge outfield and barely the term airtightness, is where batted balls land.

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

Plus, we have better tools now.

Tovar and Doyle versus expectations

Player WOBA 2023 2023 xwoBA WOBA 2024 2024 xwoBA
Tovar .298 .291 .352 .292
Doyle .257 .258 .330 .323

Again, there are holes in the expected Statcast stats, so let’s go a level deeper for each hitter, starting with Tovar.

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

As a rule of thumb, hitters who strike out nearly eight times as many strikeouts as they walk and swing as much as Tovar while making this little contact are usually not very good. The only way around an offensive profile like this is for hitters to get their money’s worth when they make contact. And here we can see some small improvements for the young shortstop: his xwOBACON is up 15 points from last year to .393, and his HardHit% is as high as 40.0. Unfortunately, none of these numbers are better than average.

But what they don’t take into account is the direction of the batted ball, and this has really changed for Tovar. He was a spray hitter last year, but in 2024 his pull rate has increased from 33.6% to 42.6%, and his GB/FB ratio has fallen from 1.26 to 0.75.

Paredes’ Law clearly states that if you want to hit the ball in the air, you want to do it on the pull side. The benefits of this – more extra base hits and home runs – are all the more plentiful at Coors Field. And despite all the warning signs Tovar has failed to remove from his game, he has almost doubled the percentage of balls in play that fall into this highly productive category.

Tovar’s FB/LD withdraws

Year % of total GDP BA SLG wOBA
2023 12.6 .647 1,412 .822
2024 24.2 .711 1,622 .967

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

This season, 251 batters have put at least 100 balls in play. Of those, Tovar has the 20th highest percentage of pull-side liners and fly balls. If you can’t imagine this type of hitter yet, 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 midfielder seemed to be on a mission to expose 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 contact quality was poor enough to decorate his Baseball Savant page with enough blue to make George Gerswhin say, “Whoa, dude, I guess . That’s a bit much.”

The change Doyle has made this season is much more obvious than Tovar’s: he has started walking. Doyle’s walk rate has nearly doubled since last season, from 5.1% to 9.5%. His chase rate is down 4.5 percentage points, and his strikeout rate is down nearly nine percentage points. When Doyle hits the ball, it goes in more or less the same places as before, but he doesn’t give up as many zeros as he did in 2023.

He has become particularly selective with two hits. This season, 234 batters have seen at least 100 two-strike pitches outside the strike zone. Of those, Tovar has the fifth highest pursuit rate: 58.3%. (This explains why he strikes out so often.) Doyle is way back at 209th in chase percentage (28.6%). Last season, Doyle’s chase rate was 36.2%. And he’s improved by two strokes 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 much of the blue on Doyle’s Baseball Savant page has been replaced with gray. Last year he was the worst hitter in baseball. I’m not joking. Among players with at least 400 plate appearances in 2023, Doyle was last in wRC+ with a whopping 17 points.

This year? He’s a middle hitter. And for someone who plays in midfield like Superman, a mediocre attack is enough. Is his improvement, like Tovar’s, aided by batted ball luck? Probably a little. But even if that’s the case, it’s much better than last year.