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Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Arenado's streak getting interesting

By David Schoenfield


Hey, throw out your WAR and BABIP and OBP for a moment. Hitting streaks are fun. Kids don't grow up dreaming of taking that 3-and-2 slider just off the plate for ball four, as valuable as that skill might be. They dream of hitting the ball.

That's why Nolan Arenado's hitting streak, now at 27 games, is starting to get interesting. It's reached the point -- nearly halfway to Joe DiMaggio's 56 -- where it's generating buzz, where we all, Rockies fans or not, are checking those Rockies box scores throughout the night to see if Arenado has hit safely.

The 23-year-old third baseman wasted no time on Wednesday, drilling a 3-1 first-inning hanging slider from Colby Lewis into the left-field corner for a two-run double. He would add a soft single in the third and another double in the fourth for a three-hit night as the Rockies pounded the Rangers 9-2 to continue their hard-hitting ways.

Arenado, now tied with Michael Cuddyer for the franchise record streak, at first glance doesn't seem like a strong candidate for a long hitting streak, considering he hit .267 last year as a rookie. But he has some other traits that help: He plays his home games at Coors Field, he doesn't walk much and he doesn't strike out much. When you're not walking and not striking out, you're putting balls in play, and balls in play lead to hits.

As you can see in his hot zone below, during his hitting streak he’s been attacking pitches in the zone, out of the zone, inside and outside. Unless you get up and on him, he finds a way to put the ball in play. Right now those balls are falling, as he’s hitting .364 during his streak.

Nolan Arenado
Nolan Arenado's plate coverage during his hitting streak has been outstanding.


Arenado’s aggressive approach at the plate isn’t necessarily a surprise considering he’s still kind of a hyperactive kid. When I visited the Rockies in spring training, it was the day the players were filling out their NCAA tournament brackets, and Arenado was bouncing around the clubhouse like a 12-year-old who had just downed a Big Gulp and a package of gummi worms.

A second-round pick out of El Toro High School in Lake Forest, California, in 2009, Arenado had a big year in Class A ball in 2011 and an impressive spring training in 2012, causing some to speculate that Arenado would break camp with the Rockies. Instead, the Rockies wisely sent him to Double-A, where he spent the entire season and hit a disappointing .285 with 12 home runs.

That July, general manager Dan O’Dowd said Arenado’s “maturity level still hasn’t caught up with his ability level.” He sulked at times as teammates like Josh Rutledge got promoted to the majors.

Nolan Arenado
More than the rest of us, Nolan Arenado is enjoying his hitting streak -- and he should!
He spent all of 2013 in the majors, and while the bat was a work in progress -- he hit .267/.301/.405 -- his defense was exceptional, with many highlight-reel plays like these. While fellow rookie third baseman Manny Machado was getting most of the attention for his great defense, Arenado ranked fifth in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved at +30 and matched Machado as a rare rookie Gold Glove winner. Not bad for a guy who the Rockies once considered moving from third base to first base after his first full season in the minors.

“You can’t teach what he does over there,” Cuddyer told me in spring training. “He has great instincts and makes all the plays in both directions and can make that long throw as well. He’s tremendous. With [him and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki] we feel like we have the best left-side defense in the league.”

The metrics say Arenado is off to another great year in the field, as his +6 DRS heading into Wednesday is tied for fifth-best in the majors. One of the guys ahead of him? Tulowitzki. Good luck getting the ball through those two.

Can Arenado keep this streak going? While his low strikeout rate means he has good contact skills -- 11.5 percent, which ranks 23rd among 188 qualified regulars -- it also leads to chasing pitches out of the strike zone, and you have to figure that will bite him one of these days. His line-drive rate is actually the same as last year, although he is chasing about 4 percent fewer pitches that aren’t in the zone.

Interestingly enough, 30 seems to be the barrier at which these things are snapped. Four of the last five guys to reach 30 stopped there, with only Dan Uggla, who had a 33-game streak in 2011, going beyond. Chase Utley was the last guy to get to 35 (2006) and his teammate Jimmy Rollins had a 38-game streak in 2005-06.

That’s still a ways off. For now, let’s enjoy it. Hits, after all, are more fun than walks.