By: Chris Larson
Ever since the franchise started, the Colorado Rockies have always been known to have a potent offense with a lackluster pitching staff. Hence, why the franchise eventually developed the nickname, The Blake Street Bombers, and the reputation that Coors Field has gotten over the years of being a hitter friendly ballpark.
While we've seen that notion hold true the past few seasons, this season seems to be completely different and almost a mystery. The Rockies are playing better on the road compared to at home, they're getting a lot of production from their pitching staff compared to previous seasons, and their offense has been unimpressive to date. Definitely not your prototypical Rockies team.
Heading into play today, the Rockies currently lead the National League West with a 26-23 record, or a .531 winning percentage, yet their run differential on the year is -25. Furthermore, the team is 7-11 at home, but has a 19-12 record on the road. Granted, the Rockies have played the most road games of all 30 teams so far this season, but for a team that has consistently performed well at home throughout the years, that is pretty astonishing.
In addition, the Rockies offense currently ranks in the bottom third in terms of runs scored, 21st to be exact with 196 over the span of 1,636 at bats. Beyond that, Colorado is currently tied for 6th in home runs (60) with the Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers, rank 21st in RBI (187), and have a team batting average of .230 to date, putting them 26th in that category. In terms of on-base percentage, the Rockies ranks 25th (.304) and come in 23rd in slugging percentage (.390). Colorado's offense had question marks heading into this season, but typically you expect them to have one of the most potent offenses in the league.
When you turn back the clock to 2013 and look at team offensive stats over a five year period, from 2013 until 2017, the Rockies recorded the most runs scored in the National League and were second in all of baseball in that category (3,867 over 30,824 plate appearances), ranked second in RBI (3,694), and had the highest team batting average (.272) over that span. In addition, over that five year period, the Rockies ranked first in all of baseball in Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) (.331), had the highest Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) (.322), and the highest slugging percentage (.439).
One odd note when your looking at the Rockies offense over the five year period, from 2013 until 2017, is their Offensive rating. Over that five year window, the Rockies had a cumulative Offensive rating of -354.8. That was the fourth worst Offensive rating over that period and is of significance because that metric values how well each individual player does when they are up to bat as well as on the base paths. It also takes into consideration park adjusted runs for each individual player.
Shifting back to this season, the Rockies have struggled in various offensive categories. Sure, Nolan Arenado leads the team in batting average (.323) and on-base percentage (.411) over 164 at bats, but over the last week, Arenado is 9-for-25. Furthermore, Charlie Blackmon leads the team in home runs (12), but has 40 strikeouts over 44 games and a .262 batting average. Last year was likely a career year for Blackmon as he put up record offensive numbers in the leadoff spot, but you still expect better production than that.
As a whole, the Rockies have cumulated 440 strikeouts over 49 games which culminates for a team strikeout percentage of 24%. That ties Colorado with the Milwaukee Brewers for 7th in baseball and gives the Rockies a team walks-to-strikeout ratio of 0.38.
Beyond the offensive mysteries of the Colorado Rockies, the pitching has been somewhat more promising. To date, the Rockies have an unimpressive team ERA of 4.40, which puts them 22nd in baseball. Their starting rotation has a 4.21 ERA over 269.2 innings of work, while the bullpen has put up a 4.71 ERA over 164.1 IP. Those numbers certainly aren't impressive on the surface, but when you start to dig deeper, you start to see why there is promise.
One of the biggest contributors to the Rockies pitching staff so far has been Kyle Freeland. Freeland has a 3.14 ERA over 54.0 IP along with a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 8.17. In May alone, Freeland has a 1.35 ERA over 20 IP with 19 strikeouts and a .186 Opponent Batting Average Against. On top of Freeland, Chad Bettis has also been equally as impressive. Through 60 innings of work, Bettis has a 3.30 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and is averaging 91 pitches per start.
Perhaps the biggest mystery within the starting rotation revolves around, Jon Gray. Gray has always been viewed as the Rockies ace, but has not performed up to expectations so far as illustrated by his 5.34 ERA over 55.2 IP. While that is not impressive, Gray does lead the team with 63 strikeouts, but still has struggled over four starts so far this month with a 4.70 ERA over 23.0 IP. However, Gray is still only 26 years old and if he pitches like he did last year, he will get better come the second half after the All-Star Break.
In the bullpen, the biggest contributor to date has been Adam Ottavino who has a 1.04 ERA over 26 innings with a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 15.58. Ottavino was one of the under-the-radar relievers that was discussed on this blog at the end of last month and continues to just be a workhorse. Ottavino has sort of experienced a career resurgence after finishing last year with a 5.06 ERA over 53.1 IP. In addition, his 1.53 Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP) is a career best and you can't go wrong with his 0.89 Opponent Batting Average Against either.
Beyond Adam Ottavino, Wade Davis has continued the success that he had last season with the Cubs posting a 2.66 ERA over 20.1 IP and has 17 saves over 19 save opportunities. A big reason why Davis has been so successful is because he has done a tremendous job of pitching down and away to hitters and getting them out on both sides of the lower strike zone. Of the 328 pitches that Davis has thrown so far this season, 139 of them have been thrown on the lower half of the strike zone. Here is a complete illustration of what is being alluded to:
No matter how you look at it, the Colorado Rockies have been the biggest mystery in all of baseball this season. From the pitching staff performing above expectations to the team having a negative run differential yet being in first place in their division to the offensive struggles, it's definitely difficult to get an accurate read on the Rockies and try to decode their identity. One thing is known though and that's the fact that right now is the Rockies window to win and if they continue to ride the storm with good pitching, they will find themselves in the postseason. Who know's whats possible come October and who knows when the bats finally decide to wake up.