The 2014 Colorado Rockies 30% Season Report Card
Record 26-22, Home 16-7 Road 10-15 Games Behind 1st – 4 Games Behind WC –Tied
What a weird season this has been, and the game to close the 30% point, where you lose 3-2, lose Nolan Arenado, give up 2 RBIs to a back-up catcher who is hitting under .200, including a hit off of a guy, Zero, that many of us think would make a good closer. Weird. What a rotten way to end the 30% pole game. But, this is a report card for the season thus far, not just one lousy game. So time to dig in.
Home Offense: Grade A
Really, it is hard to give this team anything less than a A on their home offense, playing half your games at Coors means you should lead the league in hitting. I mean Tulo is still hitting .521 at home with an OPS of 1.559! But when you look up and down the numbers at home, you see not just one or two players hitting well at Coors, but among regulars, only Nolan Arenado hits better on the road (and all of his homers have been at home). They have hit well since the early portion of the season, they have hit well against most pitchers (the dreaded soft-tossing lefty being the sole remaining issue, hence the A grade instead of the A+), and most importantly, something we have not seen in past year, they keep hitting after getting leads at Coors, adding on runs and runs. Additionally, they have had 3 big walk-off wins, including 2 in just the past home stand. The one big concern is that after a tough road-trip hitting wise, which closed with losses to Homer Bailey, Big Game James Shields, and Jason Vargas, a soft-tossing lefty given a nice contract by the Royals this off-season. Their bats were still in a funk for the quick 5 game (as it turned out) home stand, and they only broke out really in the Sunday game against San Diego when they got a “pen-arm” that they should have hammered (and honestly 8 runs was a low output for that game). Hitting isn’t easy, even at Coors, and playing in the NL West where every team it seems brings in at least several good starters, a great bull-pen, and, because they play each other 18 times each year, a great knowledge of where to position and how to pitch you, this is going to happen. The home offense has been very good, and again, were it not for the fact the offensive production the last 10% of the season has really been slowed down, a grade of A+ could easily be given.
Road Offense – C+ –
We know that traditionally the Rockies don’t hit on road trips. We all can think of 6 game trips where they come back having scored 8 runs or something like that. This offense has the ability to break-out on the road, as they did against Texas and Cincinnati on the last road trip – against a righty Colby Lewis in Texas (9-2) and righty Alfredo Simons in Cincinnati (11-2, in Simons lone stinker). But the rest of the road trip they scored 0,3,1,1,2 – or an average of just more than 1 run a game. Now, to be fair, they score 3 against Cueto, thought to be the best pitcher going right now, they got held to 1 by Homer Bailey who Cincinnati just gave $100 mill to, held to 1 by a guy who, despite what some of the roxwalkoff.com group think isn’t a great pitcher, is a guy named “Big Game” James Shields. So being shut-down by guys like that isn’t a crime. But you have to find a way to steal one of those games. They came close to getting the game against Cueto and the game against Vargas, but came up 1 run short.
So why do I give them such a high grade? Because if you look at the stats, the Rockies aren’t a bad hitting team on the road. Scoring is down across the mlb and maybe the Rox shine better because of this but. Here is the mlb ranking in hitting categories – road only – 15th in run scored, 13th in BA, 10th in HR, 21st in OBP (there is the issue), 11th in OPS, 13th (least) in striking outs, and 25th in walks. So there we see the big issue – they are not walking enough and the week of road games there has been a marked increase in striking out. It may also be that their overall averages look so good because they have big games (like the 9-2 and 11-2 games) but also real stinkers like the 5-0 and 4-1 game. The measures they use to determine what your record should be shows the Rockies under-performing their stats by about 3 games, which seems to affirm the view they have spikes in scoring but not consistent scoring.
Going forward there are some real concerns on the road. Their lead-off hitter much of this year, Charlie Blackmon, is down to .265 AVG and .701 OPS on the road. That isn’t going to suffice if this team wants to score regularly on the road. One last thing though is that both Tulo and CarGo have underperformed on the road because their BA on balls-in-play are both well below career averages: .246 for Tulo and .221 for CarGo. And it should be added that the road lineup has been significantly shortened by injuries to Cuddy, Rutledge, and Rosario. And that will be even more the case with Nolan going down for what is likely at least the next 10% of the season.
So, at the 30% pole, this team deserves a C+ for its road hitting, but if they can keep those same rankings going forward, they should end up with better results going forward. Eventually they will get to face pitchers who are not as good as the ones they have faced of late…and this team hits bad pitching pretty well.
Starting Pitching: Grade B+
If I was to break this down into two categories, starting pitching at home and on the road, I would probably give home starting pitching a solid A and road starting pitching a B-. Alas, I am not able to find where I normally get breakdowns on starters by home and road, but we can look at how the starters have done on the home and road based on the splits I publish every so often.
DLR Home ERA 2.49 WHIP 1.145 DLR Road ERA 5.20 WHIP 1.157
Nicasio Home ERA 3.60 WHIP 1.257 Nicasio Road ERA 4.96 WHIP 1.408
Morales Home ERA 5.55 WHIP 1.438 Morales Road ERA 5.08 WHIP 1.624
Lyles Home ERA 3.24 WHIP 1.280 Lyles Road ERA 3.71 WHIP 1.172
I will leave Chacin out because he still isn’t right and still doesn’t have enough innings to really reach a conclusion. At home aside from Morales, they have pitched like a serious big league team. On the road, things are substantially worse…which of course makes no sense. But whether its the confidence the players get from knowing that one run won’t kill them at home or just the focus they bring, at home they are pitching like Coors is a normal statement. Each of the pitchers has had at least on bad outing at home, which inflates the ERA more than would be the case otherwise. That is Coors at work.
On the road the pitchers have been good, but not great, and have been getting just out-pitched, losing games 3-2 or 4-1, sometimes with an unearned run involved in the calculation. I have already argued that this is likely the best starting rotation the Rockies have had, with a possible exception for 2009. I have also argued its time to replace both Morales and Nicasio in the starting 5 – not waiting til Anderson and Chatwood are ready at All-Star time. And after writing that letter to the Rockies management we have seen Morales throw a 6IP, 3ER game against the Giants at Coors (and all 3 could easily have been avoided – he pitched a very good game) and in the first game of the next 10% (Game 49) Nicasio threw 6 IP of 2 hit and 0ER ball against the Braves in Atlanta. Every start that Morales and Nicasio make allows and the team has a chance to win in those games, it gives more time for the prospects to improve – it’s a double bonus.
Can we expect DLR and Lyles to keep pitching like they have the first 30% the rest of the season? DLR is just finding his stride and appears to be stronger, throwing harder, and finally confident. It is not unbelievable that he would pitch even better the rest of the season. Lyles had the one huge blow-up against the Padres, but aside from that he has been good for 6-7IP, 2 to 3 ER max, each night. He is not pitching far above his talent, so continuing like this is reasonable. Chacin? So far he has been generally undone by one bad inning, though his start against the Giants at Coors in game 47 was a huge step backwards. Last year when he came back from the DL after his great start it wasn’t until the 5th start back that he finally was back in the groove, so it is likely we will see a much improved Chacin going forward.
As for Nicasio and Morales, both can be lights out on any given day or totally hittable. Morales has more pure shutdown stuff but Nicasio a larger list of successful starts. Morales when he is bad is really bad. Nicsaio even when he is good seems to pitch around a lot of guys and always appears ready to get hit hard. But he has improved and is still getting wins armed with just his 4 seamer and slider. Against lineups like the Braves, highly aggressive, he can be successful. Against good lineups that are patient…there are more issues. For the team to be successful going forward either these 2 need more consistency or…they need to be replaced. But considering how big a black hole the 4 and 5 spots were last year, you can argue the current level of success for the team is due to the output of Morale and Nicasio. And that is amazing to think about. But a solid B+ seems fair.
Relief Pitching: Grade B
As I wrote after game 48, the 3-2 loss to the Braves which made the team 2-8 in bullpen games, this is a good bullpen on paper that just seems to make mistakes. Look at their ERAs and WHIPs at home and on the road and you can find 6 relievers with sub 4 ERAs at home (5 with sub 1.33 WHIPS) and 6 relievers with sub 4 ERAs on the road (5 with sub 1.33 WHIPS). These are good relievers getting good results. But far too often one of the bullpen has the bad inning that ends up costing the team the game. Now being 2-8 in bullpen games is bad…but fortunately, it has not doomed this team. It explains why they are not in 1st place, and it is the area where the Giants and Dodgers in particular have been able to best us. Looking at the larger picture of just the NL and the Wild Card race, the Rox have the 10th best reliever ERA and WHIP (3.84 and 1.33). Now there are teams with absolute shut-down reliever corps – the Nats, Pads, Giants, Braves, and Pirates are all under 3 ERAs. Using WHIP we see the Giants, Pads, Nats and Braves are all under 1.2. So while our pen has performed well, it has not been nearly as good as it can be or as shut-down as it might need to be. Now at Coors we know there will always be games where runs get scored against the pen and lots of bloop hits and extra doubles. They may never have sub 3 ERAs and sub 1.2 WHIPs, but that is the competition they face in getting to a playoff spot.
The big issue right now is that we do not have a shut-down arm. Now Adam “Zero” Ottovino can be shut-down, but as we saw against Atlanta in game 48, when hitter sit slider they can sometimes hit enough of it to get one by the infield. Rex can be totally dominant, as we saw last year the first two months, but his wildness remains a major issue. Boone has been very good at times but has also been prone to giving up the long-ball. Matt Belisle has had a nice recovery from 2013 and the first month of this year, but is a ground-ball pitcher, and balls will get through. The return of Masset not just to the majors but to a potentially dominate arm has been a huge find by Dan O’Dowd.
Worse, Hawkins has been pedestrian at best. He has the right personality for closing but throws too high in the zone to be a long-term answer as closer or stopper for the Rockies, especially at home. Alas, there is no one in the minors who is making a push to be part of the relief corp, aside from Chris Martin who pitched well on the road so far this season but has been hit hard enough at home that when Cuddy returned they sent him down instead of Barnes or Dickerson. I am guessing a trade will be made at some point this season to bring in an arm that can either closer or be a serious 8th inning arm. There is also the possibility of someone like Matzek, Gray or Winkler helping out if they need them.
So the pen has been good enough to help them to 26 wins and just bad enough to be 2-8 when the team puts the game in their hands. This is one of the single areas where small improvement would make the biggest difference.
One interesting point brought up by the folks at www.roxwalkoff.com is that we have never developed a true shut-down closer in our history – drafted and developed. That is one of the two positions along with 2nd base, that it is true of, despite the importance of the reliever at Coors. Is it hard to develop a front-line closer? Ask Casey Weathers who was supposed to be that man in 2007. And then Rex as a sup-1st in 2009. Maybe Rex will change that…if I had to bet my money on one of the pitchers stepping forward…that is the one.
This report card goes up to game 48, the last game when Nolan will man 3rd for a while. Watching most Rockies games and a lot of baseball period, I think you can make an argument that in the NL they have the best infield defense and not only should the left-side earn gold gloves, but DJ has been the best defensive 2nd bagger in the league and Morneau has made us all forget how good Todd was at picking balls in the dirt. He is also a good glove on hard hit balls and at the flip to pitchers. We know they wont all earn the Gold Glove – but again, you can make an argument.
The outfield has been a bit more hit and miss. CarGo has not been as good as prior years – which appears to be due to his bad knee and orders to not run into walls. But he is still a great player. When Stubbs in CF, he is very good, with only one bad I can recall, against the Giants in Game 46 when a hit off the bat of Sanchez in the 5th off of Morales was just sort of loosely chased and lost. Blackmon and Dickerson have been acceptable in CF and RF, and Barnes save for one bad game in RF has been great. And to his credit, Cuddy has made every play since coming back – despite looking a bit lost as he does it. So OF defense is a solid A- (that OF is simply so large…and it has been interesting to watch some teams play short and others play deep and how that has worked out at Coors).
Then there is the catcher position. The first week after Rosario went down I was thinking that Pacheco might make an acceptable long-term option at the plate and they could trade Rosario for help elsewhere. That is not the case. And Mike McKenry who has been given great grades coming up aside from his throwing arm was just as bad. None of the three catchers are great framers. All have allowed passed balls and/or wild-pitches that they need to and could have stopped. And their throwing out of base-runners has generally been bad. Pacheco had a nice toss. And so did Rosario. But the catcher position remains the weakest defense position on the field. But…and I am hesitant to say this…Wilin has looked pretty good since his return from the virus-as-weight-loss clinic.
Can they keep their high defensive marks going forward without Nolan till the All-Star Break? No. Lets just be honest. But if they can make 95% of the same plays…well, that might be good enough. Watch and see if the pitchers change how they pitch without having Nolan grabbing every single ball possible on the left side. Watch to see if Tulo starts to do too much. Watch to see if Rutledge has improved that glove to allow DJ to play some 3rd. Even more than the offense, this might be the most important area to watch the next 10-20% of the season.
Bench: Grade A-
Again, you lose the catcher who has hit more homers than any other since the start of 2012. You lose the reigning batting champ. You lose the best speed and power guy among your bench/2nd base options. You lose 3 starters and have such bad performance from two of your relievers that they are now looking to buy houses in Colorado Springs instead of renting. And despite all this, your are in 2nd place and have won 26 games.
The Rockies bench has been great. There I said it. They have had a former reliever win 3 game and give you serious innings, in Morales. You have had a guy out of baseball for the past 2 years be total nails in Masset. You have a throw-in from Houston, a “non-prospect” from Mississippi, and a guy who can’t hit righties acquired for an over 4ERA reliever cover Cuddy’s ABs and actually give this team a better record than when Cuddy has played. Barnes, Dickerson, and Stubbs are not guys who you can have starting right now full-time (Stubbs has and Dickerson may yet) but pretty good usage they have gotten maximum performance out of them, although granted mostly at home. Barnes and Dickerson have shown to be good pinch-hit bats, and Stubbs has legitimate power and a is great defensive replacement. And although his issues against righties remains, he has hit 2 homers off righties and gotten a seasons worth of infield hits. You cannot expect a player like he or Barnes to hit .300 all season, but .240-.250 is good enough and the defense they give is very important.
And between Rutledge, Culberson and Pacheco they have gotten good defense, necessary offense and filled necessary innings during both injuries and the need for rest. With Nolan being down it is going to be a true test of Culberson and Rutledge. They need the combination of DJ, Rut and Culberson to give them good defense (not going to get Nolan defense, but good enough), key hits, and maybe something extra. A lot of us have been waiting for Rutledge to force this team to play him – his combination of speed and power is something they don’t have anywhere else…but the focus on defense has kept DJ in the starting line-up. Now it won’t be an option – they will need production…and without it this lineup becomes very shallow on nights when Rosario is sitting. But if Rutledge can do what he has done down in AAA, then the lineup remains strong…and don’t forget, that while Nolan has been the best hitter on the road, he has had zero homers on the road. Maybe the homer production from 3rd will increase over the next few weeks with the three headed monster of DJ, Rut, and Culberson tackles this big task.
Coach and Intangibles – Grade B.
I gave a much higher grade to this team at the 20% mark, but the last 10% of games has been hard to watch at times. First, the team got tired. The 40 games in 42 days showed (on the bright side, this is the only 3 city and 9 game trip they have all season). When they got tired they started losing more and more games outside the 3 run save margin what I call a blow-out). In all the games before the Mets loss 5-1 on May 4th, they had only 2 games where they were “blown-out.” Including that game they have now had 4 games since. They also managed to go from April 13-14 until May 8-9 without losing 2 games in a row. They then lost two games on May 11-14 (3 games), and May 21 and 23. Exhaustion played part of the role…but some of it is just the challenge of playing in the best National League I can remember in the many years I have watched baseball. Such balance and so many good teams makes winning streaks very hard and losing streaks too easy. It is why this team has yet to sweep a series, despite winning so many.
And this is still the most resilient and hardworking team in the NL. They still fight to the last AB. That matters and I think it is part of the reason why we have the 3 walk-off wins that have already occurred. This team in 2011 to 2013, after the Hawk blow-ups on Sunday and Tuesday would have lost the game. They would have just given-up. This team does not give-up, and that means I end up watching every game to the last AB. They also do not let hard-luck losses drag them down. That is all you can ask…and against the bad teams of the league (and aside from the DBacks we have not played a really bad team yet this year), that never-die element is going to result in a few extra wins.
The issue that drives all of the fans at www.roxwalkoff.com crazy is Weiss and his handling of the pen and bench. Why not go to the lefty instead of sticking with Hawkins when you know Hawk is struggling? Why not work more match-ups? Why start Dickerson against a tough righty just because he had a big hit the day before? Why not have a guy warming-up in the 5th or 6th knowing that pitchers at Coors lose it very quickly due to the impact of altitude and dry air. We all have our favorite element to complain about Walt. Every team complains about their manager. But we know that Walt is still in his learning stage, with just a 1.3 seasons of coaching above high school. The team represents his character well – they fight to the end. He has chosen a good pitching coach in Jim Wright, who has handled the staff amazingly well – again look at the results. His choice of Blake Doyle as hitting coach has been so far inspired. But if he just threw away “the book” that guides pitching decisions and went with what makes sense…he would create the Weiss style that will add to making Coors Field a Field of Horrors!
Team Grade: B+
Before the Nolan injury I was going to give this team an A- and believed that this was a 90 win team. We don’t know yet how long Nolan will be out and how the team will respond. I don’t see them performing as well as they did with Cuddy being hurt. But we don’t know. They have a ton of pitching depth at both the AAA and AA level as well as guys on the DL, and that can result in either a boost to the pitching (and they will need the boost later this year as their guys hit their exhaustion point) or a trade of a key player. They need some additional help in the lineup. I think that the Dan O’Dowd, Mark Wiley, Bill Geivett, Blake Doyle, and Jim Wright team is going to find a way to make them stay in the race. But they need to find more wins on the road…and without Anderson, Chatwood, and Arenado…it is going to take all this team has to do it.
But if you were told at the 48 game mark 26 wins and a B+ grade….you would take it. Only our expectations built by their play when they were playing their best makes us disappointed right now. By the time the season is at 40%….maybe they can be an A-. If the Giants can survive losing Brandon Belt…than we can survive losing Nolan…and catch those darn Giants!