2015 Colorado Rockies: Home is where the hits are

On deck: The Rockies have drafted 20 pitchers in the first round, including compensation picks, in 23 years of the amateur draft and have 193 victories to show for them, or just nine-and-a-half wins per pitcher. Not per season, but total. Is that the Rockies or Coors Field? Eight of them have yet, or never did, reach the majors, including Doug Million, who didn’t pitch like it, and Matt Harrington, who was drafted five times, but by no one higher than the Rockies (No. 7 in 2000). The Rockies took Greg Reynolds with the second pick in 2006, and he won five games for them, or 93 less than Clayton Kershaw, who went No. 7, has for the Dodgers. If not Kershaw, Evan Longoria (No. 3), Tim Lincecum (No. 10), Max Scherzer (No. 11) or Ian Kennedy (No. 21) might have helped more than Reynolds. That’s evaluation, not environment. And when your biggest first-round success is Jake Westbrook, all of whose 105 wins have come for teams other than the Rockies, maybe it’s time for a reassessment. But the Rockies keep picking, sure the law of averages is on their side. Last year they touted Eddie Butler (2012) and Jonathan Gray (2013), both of whom then reportedly lost a little velocity from their fastballs and a lot of luster from their reputations. Butler reached the majors and wished he hadn’t, giving up 23 hits and seven walks in 16 innings and getting hurt. Gray had a 3.91 ERA in Class AA that might slow his acceleration but for the parent team’s desperation.

Trivia: Which Rockies No. 1 pick has won the most games pitching for Colorado? Answer below.

What he said: New Rockies catcher Nick Hundley: “It’s not my job to be a pitching coach and change anybody.” What he meant: “Did you see what I hit last year? One of the pitchers might think he’s a hitting coach.”

Outlook: The Rockies have a new GM in Jeff Bridich, but the same old problem: how to pack Coors Field for road trips. It will take more than Bridich’s Harvard education to solve that.

Last year the Rockies played like a playoff team at home, winning 45 games, hitting 119 home runs, averaging 6.2 runs per game. And on the road they played like the 1962 Mets, winning 21 games, losing 60, averaging three runs fewer, losing 21 of their 26 series. The Rockies were swept in road series 10 times; ironically the only sweeping they did away from home was at San Francisco, and in the end that didn’t hurt the Giants much.

The culprit wasn’t the Rockies’ pitching, which was bad at home (.798 OPS against) and bad away from it (.770). It was the Rockies’ run-scoring capability that didn’t travel well.

At home, the Rockies had 1930-like stats: a .322 average, .529 slugging, .902 OPS, 500 runs scored. Away from it the Rockies had 1968-like Year of the Pitcher stats: a .228 average, .357 slugging, .636 OPS, 255 runs scored. The Rockies were Miguel Cabrera at home and Brendan Ryan away from it.

And how much more offense would the Rockies have produced at home had not Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez each played approximately half seasons, and in Gonzalez’s case, not very well.

The discrepancies make the Rockies’ players hard to judge. Is outfielder Corey Dickerson the slugger who hit .363 with a 1.098 OPS at home, or the slap hitter with a .252 average and .735 OPS away from it? Is Charlie Blackmon the All-Star who hit .331 with a .915 OPS at home, or the all-marred who hit .241 and slugged just .348 (.617 OPS) away from it? Will 23-year-old Nolan Arenado fulfill the promise his .303 average, .584 slugging and .928 OPS at home portend, or the ordinariness .269 average and .710 OPS away from it reveal.

And how to explain Drew Stubbs, who hit .356, slugged .611 and fanned just 58 times in 208 at-bats, a tempered rate for him, at home, but hit just .211, slugged .333 and fanned 78 times in 180 at-bats away from it?

Among all the Rockies, it would be hard to find one more balanced than Justin Morneau, who revived his career not just at Coors (.327 average, .878 OPS) but away from it as well (.309 average, .839 OPS).

The Rockies have been winners — and barely that four times, with three 83-79s and one 82-80 — just seven times in 22 seasons. The home/away imbalance may be part of the reason. Is the Rockies’ pitching always as bad as it seems? Or could it be the park effects convey a quality that doesn’t exist? Dante Bichette? Vinny Castilla? And why was the impact so disproportionate last year?

That’s for Bridich to determine. But it could be that Jorge de la Rosa (4.10 ERA), Tyler Matzek (4.06) and Jordan Lyles (4.33) are better than their ERAs indicate, and the hitters not as good as their slugging percentages promote.

It could be that Bridich believes that, because most of his pitching moves have been subtle — adding depth in David Hale, Gus Schlosser and high-reward Jairo Diaz (a 2.20 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 32.2 AA innings in 2014), and starts if not quality in Kyle Kendrick.

The lineup is the same, other than moving Wilin Rosario, who has gone from 28 homers to 21 and 13 and 32% caught stealings to 26% and 16%, from behind the plate.

The Rockies won their arbitration case this week against Rosario, who struck out 70 times in 382 at-bats, hit into 17 double plays and led the NL with 12 passed balls.

If only it were as easy for the Rockies to beat their opponents.

Trivia answer: Only three Rockies No. 1 picks have won more as many as 35 games for the Rockies, none more than Jeff Francis, the ninth pick of the 2001 draft who won 64 games for the team that selected him. Jason Jennings, the 16th pick of the 1999 draft, won 58 for the Rockies and was the 2002 NL Rookie of the Year, when he went 16-8 with a 4.52 ERA (Brad Wilkerson was second and Austin Kearns third; Mark Prior made only 19 starts for the Cubs and tied for seventh). And reliever Jamey Wright, the 28th pick of the 1993 draft, won 35 games in two stints with the Rockies. Yes, he did lose 52. Wright turned 40 in December, but he’s still pitching, having signed a minor-league contract with Texas. Remarkably, he’s one of three players from that draft’s first round still active. Alex Rodriguez, who will turn 40 in July, went No. 1; Torii Hunter, who will also turn 40 in July, was the No. 20 pick.

Team song: John Prine: Rocky Mountain Time

This entry was posted in baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s