|Sportsbook||Win NL West||Win NL Pennant||World Series|
|Over/Under Season Win Total: 73.5 (BetOnline)|
What are we supposed to think about the 2019 season for the Colorado Rockies? There were a lot of bad teams in Major League Baseball last season, but most of them were expected to be bad and followed up bad 2018 seasons with something similar. The Rockies weren’t supposed to be bad. In fact, they were supposed to continue what they started with 87 wins in 2017 and followed with 91 wins in 2018.
The polar opposite happened. The Rockies went 71-91 and finished 35 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. They finished one game behind the Dodgers in 2018. It was a dramatic turn of events and one that left many people wondering what comes next.
It wasn’t a total failure of a season for the Rockies. In fact, they were 44-39 after a win over the Dodgers on June 29. It’s just that they lost six straight heading into the All-Star Break and then found themselves at 60-84 in mid-September before finishing on something of a high note with an 11-7 mark over the final 18 games. The Rockies lost 38 of 53 games in July and August and that was all she wrote for the season.
Colorado is at something of a crossroads now. The Giants are in rebuild mode. The Dodgers remain at the top of the mountain and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. The Diamondbacks look to be solid once again. The Padres are eventually going to reap the benefits of one of the strongest minor league systems in baseball, or so we think. That leaves the Rockies with what, exactly? Player development is a challenge because nothing can fully prepare the pitchers for Coors Field and the Coors Field Effect on the road is a real thing for hitters.
After all, it was another home/road season full of splits for the Rockies. They scored 500 runs in 81 games at home. They scored 335 runs in 81 games on the road. Colorado went 28-53 away from the friendly confines of Coors and even got fortunate to go 43-38 with a -44 run differential in those 81 home dates. Colorado was outscored by 125 runs over the final 73 games of the season.
Colorado is a hard team to handicap every year because of the Coors Field elements. Hitters obviously perform better in the thin air and pitchers do not. When the Rockies go on the road, the hitters struggle with more spin and more movement on pitches at sea level and pitchers generally struggle to spot their pitches and get a feel for the conditions. This isn’t anything new. Colorado’s record is almost always better at home.
Regression was also expected. It can be really hard to evaluate Colorado because of the major home/road splits, but the 91-win team in 2018 was actually 85-78 by both BaseRuns and Pythagorean Win-Loss with the tiebreaker as Game #163. With a win total of 84.5, the Rockies fell well short of expectations in 2019, but maybe the expectations were just too high. Colorado was just 38-60 against teams .500 or better last season, including a 4-15 record against the Dodgers.
There is a lot to look at from an individual level in order to paint the proper 2020 picture for the Rockies. It does appear, at least at first glance, that this year could be a little less…rocky.
|BaseRuns Run Differential||-123 (5.10/5.86)|
|3rd Order Win% Record||69.8-92.2|
|Record in One-Run Games||22-21|
|Additions: Tim Collins, Ubaldo Jimenez, Elias Diaz, Kelby Tomlinson, Chris Owings, Mike Gerber, Jose Mujica, Eric Stamets, Tyler Kinley|
|Losses: Yonder Alonso, Chad Bettis, Tim Melville, DJ Johnson, Rico Garcia, Pat Valaika, Sam Howard, Tyler Anderson|
If there was an award for Most Boring Offseason, the Rockies would win it. None of these guys are players of extreme consequence. It would be a great story if Ubaldo Jimenez returned and pitched well, but we don’t really have any reason to believe that to be the case.
The only thing the Rockies truly accomplished this winter was ticking off star third baseman Nolan Arenado.
The offensive numbers are just about guaranteed to be decent thanks to the thin air of Coors Field. As you can see, however, the wRC+ for the Rockies ranked 26th. That is a statistic that is both league and park-adjusted. In other words, it accounts for the extremely hitter-friendly nature of Denver and puts the Rockies’ offensive numbers into a formula that levels the playing field.
To me, the Rockies weren’t the fifth-worst offense in baseball, but they surely weren’t as good as the traditional metrics would suggest. I do think that wRC+ may be a tad over the top as far as its adjustment to what Coors Field means, particularly when it does not the capacity to really account for the other side of the coin. We know that the Coors Field Effect isn’t just at home. Pitches that flatten out and become hanging sliders at home have a lot more movement on the road.
The fastball percentage seen by the Rockies offense at home last season was 30.57% of the total pitches seen for the season. On the road, it was 29.86%. It was only a difference of about 170 fastballs, but it still makes a difference. Colorado was dead last in batting average on the road. As you see, they were fifth overall, which gives you an idea of what Coors Field does to impact offense. The Rockies were 29th in wOBA on the road. Only the Marlins were worse.
The Rockies were top-heavy again in 2019. Collectively, the Rockies accounted for 10.5 fWAR on the position player side. 11.7 of that was from Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story. That should sound alarm bells in your head about the rest of the team, given that 11.7 is more than 10.5.
Anyway, Arenado had a .315/.379/.583 slash with a .392 wOBA, a 128 wRC+, and played his usual sterling defense at third base. Story stayed healthy again and had a .294/.363/.554 slash with a .380 wOBA and a 125 wRC+. Those two guys weren’t the only offensive players to shoulder the load. Charlie Blackmon had a .314/.364/.576 slash, a .387 wOBA, and a 125 wRC+ with his 32 homers, but he played poorly defensively, so that cut into his fWAR.
The only other regular bat above league average offensive, at least in wRC+, was David Dahl, who again battled injuries, but managed 413 PA with a .364 wOBA and a 110 wRC+. That was one of the big problems with the Rockies. Even with the help of Coors Field, they just didn’t have enough good hitters. Ryan McMahon hit 24 home runs, had a 10.4% BB%, and a .330 wOBA, which is solid, but not Coors Field solid, as his wRC+ was just 88. Similarly, guys like Daniel Murphy and Ian Desmond posted wOBA marks just above the league average, but with Coors Field factored in, they graded out below average.
The most concerning thing here is that the Rockies didn’t get any better. They still have Blackmon, Story, Dahl, and Arenado, but that is it. The rest of the lineup is pretty much as it was. The hope is that Sam Hilliard, who posted a .407 wOBA in 87 plate appearances, can have an impact, but we’ll have to wait and see, as he was a pretty average hitter in the upper minors overall.
Another hope would be that top prospect Brendan Rogers can come back healthy from major shoulder surgery. And that Garrett Hampson would figure it out offensively. This is just a group with a low ceiling, even with offensive standouts in Arenado and Story. God forbid one of the two get hurt. Or traded…
Maybe the Rockies could have gotten by with their offensive shortcomings if their pitching had shown up the way it did in 2018. The Rockies are never going to post great pitching numbers because of Coors Field, but their definition of “great” came to fruition in 2018. The Rockies were 20th in ERA, 16th in FIP, and 8th in xFIP. As you can see, all of their numbers took a dramatic turn for the worse last season.
What happened? Well, quite frankly, it’s pretty simple. Kyle Freeland completely fell apart and German Marquez couldn’t maintain his dominance, at least not later in the season. We all remember Freeland as one of the best stories of 2018 with his 2.85 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and 4.22 xFIP. Somehow, someway, he managed to navigate the conundrums of Coors with a 20.5% K% and an 8.3% BB%. That somehow, someway was an 82.8% LOB% and a .285 BABIP against.
Freeland used his elite defensive infield, at least on the left side, anyway, to post a .285 BABIP against with a 46% GB% and a lot of weak aerial contact. Unfortunately, the genie went back into the bottle for 2019. Freeland had a 6.73 ERA with a 5.99 FIP and a 5.07 xFIP. His BABIP went up 23 points. His LOB% dropped 20.7%. His already bad K% went back down and his BB% went up. It was ugly. Now we go into 2020 not knowing exactly what to expect. Something better, but not his 2018. To me, a 4.10/4.57/4.70 like 2017 would be a win.
Things started pretty well for German Marquez. He allowed a .262 wOBA in 46 innings across March and April. He allowed a .297 wOBA in May over 39.1 innings. It all fell apart from there. Over the first two months of the season, he ran a 3.48/3.34/3.46 pitcher slash over 85.1 innings of work with solid peripherals overall. From June 5 until the end of his regular season on August 22, Marquez posted a 5.99 ERA with a 4.75 FIP and a 3.61 xFIP. His K and BB rates remained strong, but he totally lost his command with 20 HR allowed in 88.2 innings of work. Marquez allowed a .356 wOBA at home in 73.1 innings and actually got lucky that he worked 27.1 more innings on the road.
He’s still a very good pitcher, but replicating his 2018 also seems like a long shot. At least Jon Gray improved last season with a 3.84/4.06/3.89 pitcher slash. He was one of the unluckier pitchers in 2018 with a 5.12 ERA but a 3.47 xFIP. Home runs were still an issue, but his sequencing luck was not, as his LOB% jumped 8% to make up the ERA gap.
Still, this is one of those pitching staffs where a lot of things need to go right in order to be competent. Pitching at Coors Field is just hard. At least Gray and Marquez have some strikeout upside to fall back on. Most of the other starting pitcher candidates do not. Antonio Senzatela has embarrassing K rates as a starter. Jeff Hoffman has just never fully developed. Freeland pitches to contact. There just isn’t a lot of room for these guys to succeed. The margin for error as a hurler is much smaller in Coors than anywhere else and most of these guys have been negatively impacted.
Scott Oberg and Jairo Diaz were solid in relief last season, but that was about it. Closer Wade Davis was virtually unusable with his 8.65 ERA and 5.56 FIP. Carlos Estevez was fine, but Jake McGee, Bryan Shaw, and others just weren’t good enough. There is little reason to believe that this Rockies bullpen will be that much better. It is interesting that the Rockies locked up Oberg, who just turned 30, so they won’t have much incentive to trade him. If anybody else shows anything, like Davis, who has a team option for 2021, or an arbitration-eligible reliever like Estevez, the Rockies could look to capitalize on the trade value.
Positives & Negatives
Things are not well in Denver. Between Jeff Bridich publicly trying to trade Nolan Arenado to Dick Monfort predicting 94 wins for his team, it has been a comedy of PR errors for the Rockies. The fact of the matter is that this is a team that had a $145 million payroll on Opening Day 2019 and finished with nearly $179 million on the 40-man roster. The Rockies are projected to be around $150.5 million on Opening Day this season.
That is a LOT of money to finish fourth or fifth in the NL West. The Rockies even have over $105 million on the books for 2021. Story’s free agency is fast-approaching. The Rockies were trying to eat a lot of Arenado money to move him, as he is still owed $225 million through 2026. Blackmon is paid $21 million for the next three seasons with $10 million in 2023 to essentially be a DH when the NL adopts that next season.
Things are bad. And when things are bad and the playoff hopes are virtually non-existent, that can have an organizational impact in a big way. With the regression of the pitching staff last season, I’m not sure Bud Black, who is entering his fourth season as the manager, is completely safe. This is a toxic type of environment that could only get worse as the losses mount.
Pick: Under 73.5
This is a pretty low number for the Rockies, but things aren’t likely to get any better. The team is extremely top-heavy on offense with Story and Arenado, who were both just fine last season and the team only won 71 games. The fact that the Rockies did not make any upgrades going into this season is pretty telling as well. One of Arenado’s biggest sticking points was about the team not actively trying to get better when there are two superstars on the roster.
But too much money is tied up in too many mediocre players. The Rockies project to be pretty poor defensively in the outfield again because the National League still doesn’t have a DH. This pitching staff really does need all the help that it can get. Marquez managed to throw 27.1 more road innings, otherwise his numbers would have been worse. He threw 17.1 more road innings in 2018. I don’t know how things will set up this year, but his numbers are going to hurt if he makes 3-5 more starts at home than on the road any one of these years.
This just isn’t a good team and the deck is stacked against them. The Padres, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers are all much better than they are. They aren’t good enough at home and clearly aren’t good enough on the road.
Because Coors Field can be so unpredictable, I won’t have a bet on the Rockies under here. After all, with this same core group, they were pretty good in 2017 and 2018, but I really like feel like 2019 was a sign of things to come. This is a pick for the guide and not a bet, but the pick is on the under. Somebody has to lose in the NL West. I do think that the Rockies will have company in that department, but they’ll be side-by-side with the Giants for last place.