The Colorado Rockies are forced to play in the shadow of the same storyline that analysts slap on them every Spring Training. It goes something like: “Coors is a hitter’s park. The pitching won’t hold up in that thin air.” It seems a bit tired. The narrative never changes. However, the start of this season brought some promise. Nolan Arenado, DJ LeMahieu and Charlie Blackmon were already established stars. Trevor Story was returning from a thumb injury that ended his 2016 campaign in which he set a record for the most home runs (7) in a team’s first six games. Throw in newly signed Ian Desmond, and there was some buzz in baseball about the Rockies potential for a dominant lineup. The starting rotation, however, had question marks. Coming into opening day, the staff would be rookie heavy. The kids responded, having pitched more than 60% of the Rockies starts and innings. The rookies — Kyle Freeland, 24; Antonio Senzatela, 22; German Marquez, 22; and Jeff Hoffman, 24 carried the load. Tyler Chatwood, the relative old man on the staff, pitched to a solid 4.08 ERA. Greg Holland re-discovered his Royal glory days, capping off the formation of a nice bullpen. After taking 3 of 4 at Wrigley on June 10th, the Rockies found themselves 2.5 games up in the division. Have the Rockies figured out Coors Field? How are they pulling this off? Well, 11 games against the San Francisco Giants could have something to do with it. The Rockies had the luxury of beating up on the Giants, with a 10-1 record. That was until last week, when the decrepit Giants swept the Rockies.
The façade of excellence ended the week before, actually. The Mark Reynolds renaissance and the consistency of Blackmon and Arenado kept the team afloat, but after losing their last two series to the D Backs and being swept by the Dodgers, the Rockies undisputable deficiencies have come to light. Their run has stopped, mainly because said run was unsustainable. The Rockies are 11-4 in one run games. Although their bullpen has been effective, this is a sign of some luck. For perspective, the Dodgers are 8-9 in one run games despite being arguably the best team in baseball. Moreover, the Rockies had the 4th best record in baseball before this rough stretch. However, if you look deeper, they had the 7th best run differential, a sign of unsustainability.
Speaking of unsustainability, let’s talk a bit about these rookie pitchers. Kyle Freeland threw a career high 162 innings last year in AA and AAA, he is at 93.2 already. He sure won’t be giving the team 7+ innings of 2 run ball in September. Antonio Senzatela threw a career high 154 innings in 2015 at Class A Advanced (nowhere near the majors) and in 2016 he was riddled with a shoulder injury. The expectation for him to throw 150+ innings of sub 4 ERA ball is absurd. Tyler Chatwood threw a career high 158 innings with the Rockies last year and was solid, posting a 2-win season. This year, however, his HR/FB % is up more than 12 percentage points. Their upstart rotation is showing signs of slowing down, posting a 5.11 ERA over the last 30 days (7th worst in baseball over that time), and a 6.75 ERA the last 14 days (by far the worst).
When the casual fan hears the Rockies are winning games, their mind immediately turns to hitting. The Rockies must be mashing, right? Right?! No. In fact, the last 30 days, the team has produced a putrid wRC+ of 77, tied with the Phillies for last in baseball over that time. And over the past two weeks, they have a wRC+ of 46! Trevor Story cannot regain the phenom status, hitting only 11 home runs so far this season while striking out 34.4 % of the time, by far the most among shortstops. Pitchers have clearly adjusted to him and despite his elevation in launch angle, he is slugging behind “defensive” shortstops such as Orlando Arcia, Andrelton Simmons and Tim Beckham. His 71WRC+ is 16th worst in baseball. Ian Desmond isn’t living up to his $70 million contract, walking only 3.8 % of the time and striking out 25% of the time. He is on a hot streak, but he and Carlos Gonzalez still have a wOBA under .305, putting them next to names such as Buxton, Schwarber and Hamilton. Let’s not get into Gonzalez. To put it simply, CarGo is CarGoing through something bad.
Let’s look at the Rockies in a historical context. For the year, the Rockies have the worst wRC+ in baseball at 78. Since 2000, only 3 teams have ever made the postseason with a wRC+ 90 or lower. The 2007 Cubs, 2005 Astros, and 2001 Braves. If we go team by team, it’s clear that these teams had elite pitching and/or defense to carry the offense. The Cubs had the 2nd highest UZR in the league, 5th most valuable bullpen by WAR, and produced the weakest contact among all starting staffs in the league. Consequently, they sported the lowest BABIP in the league by 8 percentage points. The Astros had one of the greatest rotations since the turn of the century. Their big three of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, and Roy Oswalt created the 2nd most valuable rotation by WAR. All three hurlers had sub 3 ERA’s, with Clemens at a miniscule 1.87. And subtracting their defense, the staff had the best xFIP- in the league. The Braves also had a great rotation. They had 3 pitchers over 219 innings pitched with names like Maddux and Glavine spearheading the rotation to the 4th best WAR. These teams all made the playoffs with a wRC+ above 88, and quite frankly, the Rox don’t have any Clemens walking through the clubhouse. Given, all these teams played in the one wild card team era. Still, the Rockies are nowhere near these teams.
The Dodgers, Nationals and Diamondbacks aren’t going anywhere. Once the Cubs figure things out, they will handle the Central. That leaves one wild card spot open. Hopefully the following week can put the Rockies back into legitimacy, as they play the Reds and the White Sox at home. If not, the Rockies will be the official overachievers of 2017 and they will hear the Coors Field narrative all of March 2018.
Picture from MLB.com. Thanks for reading!