Colorado conundrum: Can we trust Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon?

Scott Pianowski
·6-min read

Fantasy managers have a long-standing love affair with Coors Field, for obvious reasons. Gravity always wins. But the joy of stat-grabbing in the thin air often comes with a tax, as the Rockies are one of the most notorious lineup-shuffling teams in modern memory.

Old friend Gene McCaffrey put it so well, back in the day. This is a team that can’t wait to take its best team off the field.

Given the gift and curse of the Rockies, I wonder, is the timing finally right for Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon?

Three, it’s a magic number. Hampson had three stolen bases out of the leadoff spot Wednesday, while McMahon conked three homers in Tuesday’s game. Both players have started in five of Colorado’s six games, as the Rockies fiddle around with utility roles. Sometimes McMahon plays second, sometimes he’s at third. Hampson has one infield start and four in center field.

Hampson has 526 at-bats for his career, collecting 13 homers and 26 steals (in 30 attempts) along the way. That category juice plays in any format, even if it’s tied to a pedestrian .247 average. Strangely, there hasn’t been a home slant to Hampson’s production; his career OPS is an eyelash higher on the road. I’d like to see Colorado stop yanking him in and out of the lineup — as it has done in the past — and see if there’s anything sustainable here. Hampson’s settling into his age-26 season.

Sep 2, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies second baseman Garrett Hampson (1) heads home to score a run in the sixth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Garrett Hampson, man on the run. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

The fantasy public seems more interested in McMahon (65 percent rostered), who’s tag is 13 percent higher than Hampson’s. McMahon had more prospect pedigree, climbing into the consensus Top 45 about five years ago. He gave us a 24-homer season two years back, and has 42 home runs over 873 MLB at-bats.

Unlike Hampson, McMahon has a traditional Coors split — his career OPS is 268 points higher at home. If you have the luxury of making McMahon a Colorado-only starter, the profile is begging for it. The surprising split in McMahon’s file is tied to handedness — his slugging percentage is 73 points higher against left-handed pitching.

Maybe it’s Charlie Brown kicking the football, but I'll take one more go-round with these guys. Thin air speaks for itself, and both players offer position flexibility (McMahon covers all three infield bases, while Hampson slots at second, short, and the outfield). The Rockies will be challenged on a six-game road trip that starts Friday (including three games in Los Angeles), but a juicy eight-game homestand follows that.

Scrapping for saves 

We’re a week into the 2021 dance, and saves remain a pain in the neck, same as it ever was. Five teams don’t have a save yet, and a bunch of teams are spreading them around.

There are only eight relievers with multiple saves, and it’s quite the list. Mark Melancon has three, while Alex Reyes, Alex Colome, Jake McGee, FAB darling Julian Merryweather, Diego Castillo, Cesar Valdez and Ian Kennedy have two each.

At least some teams are starting to settle into patterns — definition has value. Melancon isn’t the knockout reliever in the Padres bullpen, but that’s all the reason to keep him tucked into a save-driven role while others handle the earlier jams. McGee is the only Giants reliever who’s been reliable, though it’s stressful to watch him throw the same ordinary fastball over and over again. His last save at San Diego almost gave me a heart attack.

Valdez (50 percent) and Kennedy (31 percent) are the low-percentage names in this group. Score one for the old guys, they’re both 36.

Valdez is collecting strikeouts (six over 4.1 innings) despite a fastball that couldn’t get clocked for speeding (average, 85.4 mph). He's getting mileage from a dead-fish changeup, a fun pitch. Nonetheless, Valdez feels like the type of pitcher who could get hammered when teams get a second look at him, though he had the Yankees muttering to themselves Wednesday (Valdez picked up a win; the run he allowed was via the ghost-runner extra inning silliness, and thus, unearned). 

I have a couple of Valdez shares for save-desperate rosters, but I will hold no loyalty here. At the first sign of distress, I’ll probably thank Valdez for whatever’s been banked and move along.

Kennedy currently owns the ninth inning in Texas, with Matt Bush the eighth-inning bridge. Kennedy had a 30-save season out of nowhere with the Royals two years back, and maybe he could push that again. His heater still makes the gun pop — he’s at 94.9 mph, the best of his career. He’s collected six strikeouts over three innings, and he hasn’t walked anyone. (When in doubt, follow the K/BB rates. And take heart in this — they stabilize quickly.)

Texas has the weakest roster in the AL West, but so long as Kennedy has the baton in his hands, he’s worth rostering in most mixed leagues.

Following the walks and strikeouts 

When does a bad start become a bad season? Once again, walks and strikeouts tell much of the story. Anyone can carry a poor average for a week or several weeks (heck, look at some of those ugly 2020 averages), but when the plate-discipline stats are also a mess, we get concerned.

With the caveat that it’s only been a week, let’s see who’s hacking at air.

Jose Abreu and Miguel Sano both have 12 strikeouts, but we won’t worry about them — they’ve both walked four times. The red ink comes when the whiffs aren’t buoyed by walks. Tyler O’Neill (12 strikeouts), Teoscar Hernandez (10 strikeouts), Javier Baez (10 strikeouts) and Keston Hiura (10 strikeouts) don’t have a walk between them. Hiura doesn’t have a hit, either — he’s 0-for-19.

I wonder how long Leody Taveras will keep a gig in Texas. He’s walked once, struck out 11 times. You still can’t steal first base.

On the plus side, patience could signal hidden value in some under-appreciated players. Robbie Grossman has nine walks, which is why Detroit isn’t sweating the 2-for-16 start. Mike Moustakas is off to a .412 start, part of an explosive Cincinnati offense, and it’s backed by seven walks and just one strikeout. A bunch of the Dodgers — Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, and Corey Seager — have more walks than strikeouts. Looks like we can forget Muncy’s 2020 nightmare.

Grossman has a three-percent roster tag; it should probably be a little higher. He has deeper-league value. Also take note of Adam Eaton (17 percent), who has a homer and steal for the White Sox, and more walks than strikeouts. The White Sox prefer him in the first or second slot, and he's already scored eight runs.