The title of the article is an allusion to Schott’s Miscellany, which you should definitely check out if you never have and feel compelled to know that a group of larks is called an exaltation or that a member of the 32nd degree of Freemasonry is known as a Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret.
—Nolan Arenado Is In Good Company–
For many, Nolan Arenado inherited the Denver spotlight when the Rockies traded their franchise icon at the deadline. But based on his performance, Arenado should have escaped Troy Tulowitzki’s shadow far sooner.
Part of Arenado’s anonymity no doubt stems from the Rockies’ lack of team success in recent seasons, but I also believe that fans are predisposed to expect stars to lead with their bats at Coors Field. Larry Walker added 13 home runs to his previous career high in his first season in Colorado. Todd Hilton hit 25 home runs for the team in his first full season in the majors with the team. Tulowitzki may have been the best defensive shortstop in baseball over the first few years of his career, but he also hit 24 homers in his first full season. Arenado was a stellar defender from day one, but he failed to reach 20 home runs in either of his first two seasons in Coors. Never mind that Arenado was 22 and 23 in those two seasons and that players tend to reach their defensive potential far sooner than their power potential; Arenado did not fit the mold of a star player in Colorado.
Arenado already had 25 home runs on July 28 this season when Tulowitzki became a Blue Jay. He has added 12 more since then, including one per game for six straight games beginning on September 1. That recent streak has not only gained Arenado the NL lead in home runs; it has vaulted him into rare company for a player so young.
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper carry the torch of the next generation of power hitters. Both players have hit 34 home runs so far this season, and they combine to own three of the 14 total player-seasons of 34 or more home runs by players in their age 24 or younger seasons since 2002. Offensive stars Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira, Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Cabrera, and Ryan Braun own 10 of them. The last one? Arenado, this season.
Trout and Harper will likely lead the way in most 2016 drafts, and they, Andrew McCutchen, and Paul Goldschmidt are likely a near-immutable top four. Arenado does not share their track records, but he does share their well-rounded excellence this season. In addition to the power, Arenado should reach 90 runs scored and has already eclipsed 100 RBI. His .286 batting average is one point off of what it was last season, and he has yet to enjoy the inflated BABIPs that many of his predecessors have at Coors Field. In fact, Arenado’s career BABIP of .289 is 10 points lower than the league average over the same period, and he has not reached .300 in any of his three seasons.
Meanwhile, even with the influx of younger stars at third base like Kris Bryant and Manny Machado, who should help offset the decline of former stars like Adrian Beltre and David Wright, third base remains a shallower position. At first base, Pujols, Fielder, and Adrian Gonzalez are all outside of the top 10 in scoring this season despite excellent seasons. The analogous third basemen are Matt Carpenter, Yunel Escobar, and Mike Moustakas. Because of the positional scarcity, Arenado is more valuable than similarly productive first basemen.
All told, I think Arenado deserves first-round consideration. His relative youth and position provide him with advantages over players like Cabrera and Anthony Rizzo, and he has a less-checkered health history than Machado and George Springer. I don’t think I could take Arenado over fellow third baseman Josh Donaldson, who has 24-plus home runs in three straight seasons, a superior walk rate, and is on pace for 158 games played for the third straight season. But I would take Arenado second among third basemen ahead of Machado, Todd Frazier, and the rest of the field. There is risk in Arenado’s limited history of elite power numbers, but the numbers he has produced at his current age put him in exceptional company.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt