It's May 1st and the Rockies are in first place in the NL West with a 16-11 record, a place they've occupied for 24 days this year already. It's also snowing outside my window right now. Of course it is.
On the morn of the new season, Kevin Minor wrote about 3 reasons why the Rockies would roll in April. "Sure Kevin", I thought to myself. "The Rockies haven't beaten the optimism out of you yet, but they will". But doggone it if Kevin wasn't right. The three reasons he pointed to were health, schedule, and Jonathan Herrera getting sent down quickly. At least one of the three hasn't come to pass, as Herrera is still blessing us with his presence on the big league team, but let's look at the other two before we move on to April stats.
Health - It could be worse for Colorado, but it also hasn't been a completely healthy month, what with the DL stints to staff anchor Jhoulys Chacin and Todd Helton, along with various dings that have kept Dexter Fowler and Troy Tulowitzki out of the lineup periodically.
Schedule - That has been helpful, with a number of games against NL West teams, but to be honest the Rockies have actually played a pretty tough slate thus far - their opponents have posted a .529 winning percentage thus far. Colorado has also played more road than home games (15 to 12) and have played in sub-freezing temperatures when they did play at Coors Field.
So with that, why is Colorado atop the NL West after 27 April games?
1. The offense has scored a lot of runs
Well duh. Colorado has scored 141 runs to be exact, the most in the NL (by 15) and second most in MLB. When a team is scoring 5.2 runs per game, they're generally going to be competitive. When Colorado has scored 5 or more runs in a game this year, they're 13-1. The team has earned cheap tacos for the fine people of Colorado in a third of their games thus far. Colorado's hitting a lot of homers and walking a lot, leading to a really good Beane count.
On the flip side, Colorado's most common run outcome this year by far has been just two runs (seven times). True to historical form, Colorado has scored less per game on the road (4.7) than at home (5.8). Those are both pretty good numbers, but the bottom line is that the Rockies will have trouble winning games if the team scores less than four runs in a game.
Troy Renck has more on Colorado's road offense this season.
2. The pitching has been, dare I say, average
The pitching staff has kept the games close - including 12 games in which they allowed three or fewer runs (Colorado's record: 10-2). That's on pace for 72 this season - a pretty great total considering that the team only had 51 such games last year. The team's ERA sits in 6th place in the NL and 11th place in MLB. Considering the run environment they pitch in, that's exceptional. Indeed, the Rockies rank 5th in ERA+ in MLB (a park adjusted stat) and 6th in FIP- (a park adjusted stat looking only at the variables fully under the pitcher's control).
Will the pitching continue in this manner? I don't think that it's particularly likely given that Colorado's starters have struck out only 5.5 batters per 9 innings, which ranks 29th in MLB, while walking 3.3 per 9 (21st). That tells you that Colorado has had more free baserunners than most teams while they have similarly allowed more balls in play. This combination will generally lead to more runs...and more home runs in particular. Here's to hoping they maintain this level of play though - it's been pretty fun to watch.
3. The bullpen has been well above average
In all, Colorado's pitching staff ranks 8th in pitching fWAR, but that's in large part because the bullpen leads MLB in that category. Lest you think that's only a function of a large volume of innings worked - yeah, that's a part of it, but Colorado's pen is only 4th in MLB in relief IP.
Quite simply, the bullpen has been great this year, providing 96 innings of 3.00 ERA ball and striking out 8 batters per 9 innings while walking only 2.5. Their 2.86 FIP ranks second in MLB as well, meaning that if anything, the pen has gotten a little unlucky thus far (I'm looking at you Wilton Lopez).
I worry about the pen a little bit though, as Walt Weiss has had a very quick hook to this point, relying on the pen to get him on average about 11 outs a game.
4. The defense has been...average?
After a year in which Colorado was deemed pretty much universally to have the worst defense in the league, they actually grade out about average thus far with 1.3 runs from fielding (15th in UZR/150). That's a huge step forward from 2012, when the team graded out at -65 runs from fielding.
5. Colorado's best players have played like it
First of all, Jhoulys Chacin has been pretty great to date, rocking a 3-0 record and 1.46 ERA (and 1.6 rWAR). And then there's the offense.
Dexter Fowler leads MLB hitters in fWAR to date with 1.9, thanks to an April batting line of .305/.411/.621, 8 home runs, and positive defensive value in center field. And he's done that with an average (.333) BABIP profile, generating a .439 wOBA and 173 wRC+ (73% better than league average).
In addition to Fowler, four other Rockies had 0.9 fWAR or more in April (meaning that they're on a 6 fWAR pace this year) - and they're the players you would expect. I'm just going to list hitting lines for those four in the sake of brevity, but all of these players have really killed the ball thus far in the 2013 season:
It's been a pretty great month for Colorado's best players. Let's see if they can sustain this production going forward.
We should expect Tulo in the lineup today...and Chacin in the rotation come this weekend. Good news all around.
Patrick Saunders grades the Rockies performance thus far in his mailbag.
The Rockies have two games to make up later this year due to snow. Jayson Stark writes about the early season scheduling challenges faced thus far.
Grant Brisbee finds the arch-nemeses of the Rockies at the plate. The top name...is fitting in a terrible way.
Charlie wrote about PCL pitching prospects for Minor League Ball. Conspicuously absent were any Rockies pitchers...