By: Chris Larson
When the season started a little over a month ago, there were a handful of teams that got off to disappointing/slow starts. Much of the attention focused around both the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs - two teams that have since overcome those early season struggles and have started to find their groove. Since April 19th, the Boston Red Sox have a 14-6 record, while the Chicago Cubs have won a little over 75% of their games since starting the year with a 1-7 record.
While all of the attention was focused around the Red Sox and Cubs, very little attention and fanfare was given to the struggles of the Colorado Rockies, a team that everyone projected to make the postseason this year and a team that some even proclaimed would win the National League West. As they always say, the game is played on grass not on paper, and that has certainly proved to be true for the Colorado Rockies to this point.
So far this season, the Rockies have a 18-20 record, or a .474 winning percentage. Furthermore, they have an overall run differential of (-7) and haven't been above third place in the National League West since April 3rd. It's still somewhat early, but just this past Tuesday, the Rockies sat seven games back of first place and are currently six-and-a-half games back of first place heading into play today. For the month of April, the Rockies finished with an 11-15 record, while they currently have a 5-3 record so far this month.
Although you could continue to dig into the numbers all day long, the biggest question is: what exactly is contributing to these struggles and could the Rockies overcome those challenges before it's too late? The answer might not be as simple as it sounds, but let's start by focusing on the biggest thing that helps contending teams contend - pitching.
Among all 30 teams in baseball, the Rockies currently rank 27th with an overall pitching staff ERA of 5.04 over 346.1 innings of work. In that span, the Rockies pitching staff has recorded (194) earned runs, the second most in baseball behind only the Baltimore Orioles, have surrendered the seventh most home runs (53), and have an overall Opponent Batting Average Against of (.262), tying them with the Seattle Mariners for twenty-fifth place in that category. Furthermore, the Rockies pitching staff has an Opponent OPS of (.777), good enough for twenty-fifth on the list in that category, and have allowed on average (5.11) runs per game, the third highest amount in baseball.
More specifically, the Rockies starting rotation, which many expected to be a strong point of the team this season building off of last year, has put up a 5.63 ERA over 211 innings pitched, only the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Chicago White Sox starting rotations have performed worse in that regard. In addition, the Rockies starting staff is tied with, the Milwaukee Brewers, with an overall WHIP of 1.43, an indication of the lack of innings that the Rockies are receiving from their starters.
One of the biggest weak holds of the Colorado Rockies starting rotation has been left-hander, Kyle Freeland, who ended last season with a 2.85 ERA over 202.1 innings of work. So far this year, Freeland has a 5.84 ERA over 44.2 innings pitched and has surrendered 29 earned runs over 8 starts. The issues don't stop with Freeland either as Jon Gray has seemed to regress to his struggles from last season and in 2017. To this point, Gray has posted a 4.22 ERA over 42.2 innings and has severely struggled as of late. Over the past 15 days alone, Gray has a 8.71 ERA over 2 games and had an Opponent Batting Average Against of (.333) in both of those starts.
Turning things over to the bullpen now, things look a bit better, but it's not the results that you would expect almost a year-and-a-half after the Rockies invested a record $106 million dollars into outside additions to their bullpen, to create a super bullpen. That super bullpen hasn't put up "super" results so far this year posting a 4.12 ERA over 135.1 innings pitched, the same ERA as the, Chicago Cubs bullpen. Over those 135.1 innings, the Rockies bullpen has issued the tenth highest amount of walks (62) and has the seventeenth highest Opponent Batting Average Against (.241).
To date, the best relievers for the Colorado Rockies have been Bryan Shaw, Wade Davis, and Scott Oberg. Thus far, Shaw, Davis and Oberg have combined for a 2.25 ERA over 52.1 innings of work with 40 strikeouts. However, Seung-Hwan Oh, who the team acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays last season, has really struggled posting a 7.90 ERA over 13.2 innings pitched and has done really bad during situations where there are runners on base or runners in scoring position. According to the metrics, in situations with runners on, the opposing team is batting: .458/.519/.750 against Oh. When there are runners in scoring position, the opposing team is batting: .455/.538/.818.
Outside of the pitching, looking at the offense now, things haven't necessarily been really good either. Granted, the Rockies did experience a few early season injuries to guys like: outfielder, David Dahl, and second baseman, Daniel Murphy, but a good team cannot use injuries as an excuse for underperforming overall. Collectively as team, the Rockies are batting: .249/.313/.437, a batting line good enough for twelfth in the league otherwise almost league average.
When it comes to the lineup, the two big horses in Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon, are doing just fine, but outside of those two spots in the lineup, things start to fall off sharply. The player with the next best batting line is the aforementioned, David Dahl, who is batting: .305/.351/.514 over 105 at bats. Offseason signee, the aforementioned Daniel Murphy, is currently batting: .193/.266/.368 with 7 strikeouts and Mark Reynolds, a guy that everyone expected to come back and provide an extreme amount of value, has a batting line of: .194/.325/.418 so far with 28 strikeouts.
Trevor Story, another key cog for the Colorado Rockies, finished the month of April with 29 strikeouts, but has two home runs so far this month, a sign that things might be finally starting to heat up for him. However, he does have drastic splits when it comes to his batting line versus lefties as opposed to righties. Against lefties, Story is batting: .355/.375/.533 with 15 hits, 3 doubles, 2 home runs, 5 RBI, and 13 strikeouts. Against righties, Story is batting: .255/.344/.509 with 27 hits, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 7 home runs, 21 RBI, and 28 strikeouts. Once again, this is a situation where the sample size is vastly different (106 at bats versus righties and 45 at bats versus lefties), but it helps to illustrate the difference between pitchers for Story.
Beyond the pitching and the hitting, next comes the defense, which is another keycog quality of another team looking to be a postseason contender. Collectively as a team, the Colorado Rockies have an overall defensive rating of (6.2), putting them fourth among all thirty teams in that category. Beyond that, the Rockies as a team have (4) Defensive Runs Saved, tying them with the Chicago Cubs in that category for twelfth place, and have an overall Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) value of (6.2). All of those metrics are very good compared to the rest of the league and a credit to the athleticism of the Rockies offensive players.
With a right side of the infield made up of Trevor Story at shortstop and Nolan Arenado a third base, you would have to think that the defense will continue to be well above league average over the rest of the season and help the Rockies finish high up in many of those categories. Furthermore, Charlie Blackmon has the potential to be an elite defender, although his fielding percentage hasn't necessarily proven that so far. To date, Blackmon has a cumulative fielding percentage of (.955), but he finished last season with a fielding percentage of (.997) and the 2017 season with a fielding percentage of (.988), so the track record is there for that value to climb for this year.
Outside of the elite defense, Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon's hitting, and some of the bullpen arms, things haven't been rosy for the Colorado Rockies so far this year. You would have to think that things will turn around sooner than later, but given the landscape of the National League West to date and the rest of the National League, the Colorado Rockies have to be very careful about burying themselves in too big of a hole before it's too late.
For a club that made the postseason in 2017 and made it to the NLDS against the Milwaukee Brewers last season, anything outside of a postseason berth for this season, would be a huge disappointment. If the Rockies don't get their act together sooner than later and start to click on all cylinders, they, along with their fans, will soon see that games back value climb significantly and will find themselves sitting on the outside looking in come September and October. Something that will make everyone ask: "What in the Mile High City happened to the Colorado Rockies?"