Here are the “facts” everyone knows about the Colorado Rockies
1. They have no pitching…they are abysmal on the mound
2. The Rockies don’t win on the road
3. The Rockies can’t develop
Now, to be fair #1 has been true for the team save for 2009-2010 and maybe 2007. And really true the last 5 years (2012 was so bad it should have been credit to 2013 and 2014). And #2 has been true except for 2009 (and the last month of 2007). And #3 has been true since 2010 (the curse of Ian Stewart, Greg Reynolds, Casey Weathers, and Eddie Butler).
But the team that once was forgotten by ESPN in ranking the 30 clubs in the Power Rankings (I keep harping on it but it such a lovely example of the forgotten team of the bigs). But if the national media wants to find one of the really great stories of the last month and a lot of us think the next few years, they need to stop in flyover country and check out the team at 20th and Blake. Because those 3 “Facts” simply aren’t true anymore.
1. Pitching…home-grown and good: Look, Coors Field is always going to make ERA higher for the Rockies. And the thing is its not the giving up 4 runs in 6 innings that kills the ERA. It’s that when you have that game that your stuff just isn’t working (and even the best have that), you give up 9 runs in 3 innings). Jorge De La Rosa and Tyler Chatwood had one of these each against the Rays, and DLR had quite a few early (and Bettis in May and early June). But since about mid-June the Rockies rotation has been in the top 5 in road ERA. Now, do I think the Rox have the 5th best rotation? No, but they do have a top quartile rotation. Tyler Chatwood has the best road ERA in the majors (Chatwood was an Angles 2nd round pick, traded for Ianetta in 2011, but his development has much to do with Rockies). Chad Bettis was a 2nd round pick, 2010. Jon Gray was the 3rd overall in 2013. Tyler Anderson was a 1st round pick (20th overall). And while DLR didn’t start organizationally with the Rox his trade her in 2008 allowed him to be developed both craft-wise and emotions-wise. So 5 pitchers who came to the Rox as works-in-progress, either professionally or amateur-wise, and today are one of the top 10 rotations in baseball. Jon Gray is rapidly becoming a true Ace, something the Rox had only for a season with Ubaldo. Tyler is showing the promise his minor league numbers indicated ERAs of 2.47, 2.81, and 1.98 (he probably would have in the rotation last year were it not for his stress fracture in the elbow). Bettis has great stuff and when he uses it regularly he does what he did against the Orioles and the Mets, and sports a sub 3 ERA for the 2nd half. Oh, and as we know, Jeff Hoffman is ready for a promotion and Marquez at AA sure looks like the real deal from here (and has excelled after being traded to the Rox and being developed here this year…hmmm).
And the bullpen…well, yes, there are issues. But as arms get healthy and the less-effective relievers are moved around to situations that are not damaging the team the bullpen to is getting into shape. With Estevez as your primary closer and #0 as the back-up closer and 8th inning man. You have Boone Logan having a career year, and while dominating against lefties, he’s been pretty darn good against righties, allowing him to do full innings of late. With Scott Oberg since his recall showing dominant stuff he looks close to being the 7th inning man to create the goal of all teams since the Royals’ success – a 6 inning game. Jordan Lyles has looked far more effective as a reliever, with a 2.20 ERA, 4.50 K/BB, and a WHIP of 1.163. Not bad. They have to see Jake McGee get better, use Gonzalez German when you can, Chris Rusin has much better results as a reliever. Oh yes, their two big off-season acquisitions, Chad Qualls and Jason Motte have been awful but they have good track records. Justin Miller, on the 25 without options has to be the guy we saw in 2015. But, there is a good bullpen out there. And with Miguel Castro and Sam Moll refining their craft at AAA, some depth. Yes, even good pens give up runs. Boone Logan didn’t have it Sunday and walked runners and gave up a long homer (why didn’t Weiss pull him when he clearly didn’t have it and had Zero in the bullpen ready to go, I have no idea, and no Walker’s splits are irrelevant, when a guy doesn’t have it, he doesn’t have it. Period. Perhaps that is biggest key to a better bullpen…better bullpen management. But regardless, come and see some great arms folks in New York City and LA. Things have changed.
2. The Rockies don’t win on the road! Well, yes, they are still sub .500. A lot of that is from the West Coast trip through LA and San Fran when both clubs were hot and the Rox were limping. But they played excellent road baseball in April (taking 2 of 3 from the Cubs at Wrigley), decent in May, awful in June, but are playing excellent road baseball in July (taking 2 of 3 from Baltimore, and the series from the Mets). They are doing this with power hitting in spots (like David Dahl’s bomb in Baltimore), good situational hitting (like the 2-out hits against Christ Tillman), use of athleticism (winning Thursday’s game on a wild pitch), and playing smart baseball (hitting to the right-side, smart use of bunting and the like). Add that to consistent starting pitching (this last road trip the Rox have had all quality starts, and in fact the only non-QS since Tampa was a 5 inning shutout performance. It really does go back to pitching and defense (they have survived this road trip with Nolan playing the worst defense of his career. That is how every team wins on the road. They still struggle hitting in their games after long home stands, but that is where manufacturing runs comes in. And their relief has been pretty good (German lost the game in Atlanta and the game in Baltimore with Lyles, and the 3-run shot against Logan really hurt in New York). They keep this up they can play .500 ball on the road and start playing Rox baseball at home, this team becomes interesting. But road trips are no longer the Rockies death nail. Traditionally when they go on the road for a 6 or 7 game stretch even diehard fans like myself think, 1-5 or 2-5. Heck a 2-5 road trip used to be a success. This team plays fun baseball on the road now, and while having a winning trip is still the hardest thing for a team to do, it is no longer in the realm of impossibility. So national media, go watch the Rox when they come to town. Your home team doesn’t have a sweep in the bag anymore.
3. The Rox can’t develop players: Guilty as charged. The collapse of this organization since 2010 is due largely to failed player development. Especially pitchers. And yes, there remains issues, as seen in Eddie Butler. But they had trouble all over the place. Even high picks like Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers bombed out. And the most important thing that successful limited payroll teams have to do to win consistently is hit on picks below the top 3 rounds. The Mets are a great example of this, with Jacob DeGrom. The Rox, historically, not so much.
But take a look at this roster. You have your starting 3B and SS developed since that 2010 time period began. Nolan was a 2nd rounder in 2009 and Story a Supp #1 in 2011. You have your starting centerfielder in Blackmon, another 2nd round pick in 2008. You have your new left-fielder, in David Dahl a #1 in 2012. You already have your #1 pick from 2013 heading your staff. And as mentioned above in addition to Gray you have Bettis, Anderson and Scott Oberg (a 15th round in 2012), and their closer in Estevez (Latain Free Agency in 2011) all Rox developed. Blackmon is the oldest of these. All of these are quality big league players that are established or establishing themselves now. If it were not for the very disabling anxiety disorder that hit in in late 2014, Tyler Matzek would be in that list as well (#1, 9th overall in 2009). Tyler by the way is now at AA and doing better…interesting to see if he stays with the club in the off-season since he is off the 40 and qualifies as a minor league free agent, as well as if they return him to starting after pitching 1 and 2 inning stretches this year to regain his confidence). And down on the farm the Rox have a lot of developed players knocking on the door in AA and AAA (and a lot more in A and High A). In the next few years they will another outfielder they developed in Ramiel Tapia, their likely starting catcher in Tom Murphey (if you haven’t followed it, check out his stats for July!), and
perhaps a 4th outfielder and 1st base in Jordan Patterson, along with the aforementioned Hoffman, and Marquez, and Moll, all of whom will have spent significant developmental time in the Rox minor leagues. And there are others who will be contributing to the Rox in 2017 and 2018. No, this is not the Red Sox who have a fat and happy farm system with lots of key parts already on the roster. But everyone other than Keith Law at ESPN (did the Rox do something to anger ESPN?) thinks there are few farm systems that have as much quality and depth in their system. As the discussed on the ROOT telecast the other night, Ryan Spillbourghs who was part of the one great developmental movement in early-to-mid 2000s, this class is going to be even be 2000s, this group is going to be even better. Yes they missed on a few picks (Max White from the 2012 group and Mike Nikorek from 2015 look like they won’t ever reach their potential as #2 picks), but most of the misses is from the period after Kelli McGregor’s death and the letting in the room the clueless Bill Geivett (still think he must have saved life of one of the owners while swimming or something). And yes, Matzek and Butler appear to have fallen short of their potential because of the mental side of the game (I don’t say that to be cruel, as a bi-polar sufferer with kids who have inherited my disorder…I get it), but even they might add WAR to the team as relievers in the future. My point is just that this team has been doing what the media has said repeatedly they don’t. Go to Albuquerque or Hartford (oh wait…they don’t play home games this year), or even the disappointing Modesto team, and you will see, the Rox have a chance to get farm-system help this year and fill out their roster in years to come.
I write this simply to say, come on baseball media, give this team some exposure. They play the game right, they have good guys, and their games are generally pretty exciting to watch. Look away from New York (whose two teams seem to be heading in the wrong direction, both now in the future), and the Midwest (granted, KC, STL and the Cubs have given a lot to enjoy the last few years), and see that right here in the Rocky Mountains is some of most interesting young talent, surprising pitching and good quality competition at home and on the road. If you don’t start watching now you will have a hard time writing those articles about the 2017 NL West Champion Rockies and the future World Series winners. So, come along…the chorus to sing the praises of the future of the Rockies still can use a few voices.