Rock Mining Week 9: Rockies Roller Coaster

Doug Pensinger

With only one loss two weeks ago, the Rockies were tied for first. This week, they only added one to their win total and are as close to fourth place as they are to first place in the NL West.

Thank goodness May is over and may the June Rockies remind us more of the April team than last month's version. After two months, the Rockies are just above .500, a mark far above most people's expectations. However, they could have, and should have been much better off after this week's games. The Rockies were in every game except for one. In this week's Rock Mining, I propose two minor shakeups that could return them to their dominating offense and winning ways while discounting a suggestion from "the writer not to be named" from the Denver Post.

Idea #1: Fix the blackhole at number two in the batting order. Despite Carlos Gonzalez hitting well (.307/.387/.580) and having the most plate appearances on the team (36 more than Troy Tulowitzki, 70 more than Michael Cuddyer), he has nine less RBIs than Tulo, only two more than Cuddyer, and only six more than Wilin Rosario. The reason--he can't drive in runs if no one is on base in front of him. Multiple studies have shown that the most important spots in the batting order are 1, 2, and 4. The Rockies have hit just .249/.311/.354 in the number 2 spot.

This is far worse than they have hit in the 3, 4, and 5 spots and is about equal to the 6, 7, and 8 spots in the lineup. Young hitters have been particularly terrible in this critical spot. In the last seven games DJ LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado, and Jordan Pacheco combined to go 3-21 with only two runs scored (of all the Rockies' young hitters, only Pacheco has done well in this role, even with this week's 1-5 effort).

When Eric Young Jr. plays, Dexter Fowler has usually hit second and has done average in the spot. This week he excelled, going 4 for 8 with two walks and scoring twice. However, when Dexter is leading off, I think that the best solution would be to have Michael Cuddyer hit second. He is tied with Tulo for the team's highest OBP and has the highest doubles per at bat rate of anyone on the team. The three standard lineups could then look like this:

vs. Right: Fowler, Cuddyer, Cargo, Tulo, Rosario, Helton, Arenado, DJLM, Pitcher

vs. Left: EY, Fowler, Cargo, Tulo, Cuddyer, Rosario, Arendao, DJLM, Pitcher

Alternate Left: Fowler, Cuddyer, Cargo, Tulo, Rosario, Arenado, Pacheco, DJLM, Pitcher

Idea #2: Pick one pitcher to be the fireman. Most of the Rockies relievers have been unable to come into a high leverage situation and get the one or two outs to end an inning before giving up a run. This week alone Josh Outman, Adam Ottavino, Rex Brothers, and Wilton Lopez all failed in this role. My theory is that the role of mid-inning relief is not the same as setup/closer and so pitchers accustomed to this role don't do well in it. The Rockies' long relievers have not done great either because they are mostly converted starters who are used to starting innings out with nobody on base.

My solution somewhat contradicts both of my above hypotheses, as I propose Matt Belisle for this role. Despite being a former setup man and starter, Matt has been able to pitch well with short notice and with inherited runners this year. He has only allowed one of eight inherited runners to score, only Edgmer Escalona and Rafael Betancourt have allowed a lower percentage. With Rex Brothers taking Matt's job as setup man, this could prove to be the best role for the veteran reliever. Edgmer Escalona could be the other man for the job, he has stranded all five inherited runners.

Todd Helton shows he is not done: a writer at the Denver Post moronically called for Helton to sit on the bench, he responded with a game tying home run. While I am sure that the hack at DP will say the pinch-hit home run shows why Todd should be used off the bench, that at-bat shows why he needs to be in this youthful lineup. Todd hit that home run on the eleventh pitch of the at bat. Wilin Rosario didn't even know you could get that many pitches.

The writer misidentifies what his solution would result in, saying, "The Rockies are a better baseball team if Michael Cuddyer and Jordan Pacheco take the majority of at-bats." Michael Cuddyer will bat regardless of if Todd sits and in reality the question is whether Jordan Pacheco and Eric Young provide a better answer to Todd Helton in the lineup.

Todd's OPS of .675 is higher than Pacheco's .659 and just below Young's .683. There are many other advance metrics to look at and they all show the three batters to be about the same. However, Helton leads all Rockies batters in pitches per plate appearance, an underestimated stat in my opinion. Perhaps more important is defense. While the stats don't necessarily agree, I think Todd is a better defensive solution than Pacheco at first and, while Young has improved, I would rather see Cuddyer playing right field.

If the Rockies had an offensive juggernaut right fielder that was being blocked by Cuddyer, then this article would have some merit, but as it stands it doesn't hold water. Should Todd play every day, no. However, with the current roster, this team is better when he plays the majority of games. Onto this week's best and worst.

The Good-Lost in Wednesday's loss was the fact that Tyler Chatwood continues to impress. He pitched six strong innings, giving up two runs while striking out 10 and only walking one. This is based on my memory, but I am pretty sure this leads the Rockies in most strikeouts in one game this year. It is also the fewest walks he has given up at home this year. He combines with Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa to make fans excited to watch the starters three out of every five days.

The Bad-The bottom half of the Rockies pitching rotation. Part of the reason for the Rockies up and down roller coaster is the lack of production from the 4th and 5th starters. Jeff Francis (DL), Juan Nicasio, and Jon Garland own the three highest ERAs on the current roster. In May, the team was 4-11 when these three started games and 8-5 in all other games. Garland was the biggest Jekyll and Hyde from April to May, going 2-2 with a 4.65 ERA (acceptable 5th starter) to 1-4 with a 6.97 ERA. This week Nicasio and Garland started four games, giving up 17 runs in 20 innings pitched (7.65 ERA).

The Ugly-Rockies bats with RISP. One clutch hit per game and the Rockies would have gone 5-2 this week. The Rockies batting average with RISP in their three extra innings games this week: .300, .167, .250. The game that they were only down by one run going into the ninth: .125 average with RISP. Even when they get a clutch hit, like Helton's ninth inning home run on Friday, they ended up losing. This is hopefully a small string of bad luck that will go away, not a harbinger of things to come.

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