Five key numbers for the Rockies so far

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We're 23 games into the season and the Rockies are a game out of first place in the NL West. Here are five numbers that help explain why.

Despite a few close losses and numerous injuries to the starting rotation, the Rockies sit only a game out of the NL West after 23 games have been played (12-11). That's at the upper range of where I hoped the Rockies would be at this point. Below I'll touch on five sets of numbers that explain how the Rockies got to this point.

5.8%

That's Charlie Blackmon's K rate this year after this afternoon's, as detailed by Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs yesterday. The number ranks 5th in MLB among qualified hitters and is a massive improvement from Blackmon's career 14% K rate. It's not unprecedented though, as Blackmon sported a 7.8% K rate in a 102 PA sample back when he debuted in 2011, though he was considerably less successful in that sample when putting the ball in play.

Also detailed by Sullivan yesterday is that several Rockies have dramatically improved their strikeout rate in a small sample size. Indeed, the Rockies have improved as a team in K rate - from 19.6% in 2013 to 17.2% this year, which is 5th in MLB. That might not seem like a big improvement, but so far that's a reduction of 19 strikeouts from where the team would have been at last year's K rate. Extrapolated over a full season, that's 129 fewer strikeouts. Maybe it's just statistical noise, but Blake Doyle looks to be having a very positive impact on the club so far.

.363

That's Colorado's weighted on base average (wOBA) so far this season (through last night), first in MLB by a significant 0.28 margin. For a more detailed definition of wOBA, please go here, but in short, wOBA assigns a different value to each different way of making it on base based upon the expected value created by each event. In other words, in the wOBA calculation a single is worth more than a walk because it is more likely to advance a runner multiple bases, while a double is worth more than a single and so on. The Rockies lead the league in overall hits (224) and in doubles (47), so this lead is not surprising.

wOBA might not be the most accurate gauge for Rockies players given that it is not park-adjusted, but producing a league leading wOBA is an excellent indicator that this team is in fact playing offense at a high level in 2014. In fact, when looking at a park-adjusted stat like wRC+, Colorado's 117 also leads the league. This is especially significant in that the Rockies have never had a wRC+ of greater than 97 in a full year. If Colorado were able to sustain this level of production all year, they would be the best hitting Rockies team of all time, and it wouldn't be close.

57%

That's the percentage of time that the Rockies have scored four runs or more in a game this year, eclipsing 2013's mark of 53%. Even more encouragingly, they've done so in 5 of their 11 road games thus far. I've found historically that Colorado's chances of winning dramatically increase from scoring that 4th run in the game - they were 12-64 when they failed to do so last year. It's a stat that I'll be following throughout the year - if the Rockies are able to get to four, they've given their pitching a fighting chance.

The Rockies are actually 5-5 in games where they score three or fewer runs this year. A BIG reason for that is the fact that they've allowed three runs or fewer in 39% of games in 2014 (on pace with 2013) despite losing two of their top starters to injury and the ineffectiveness of Jorge De La Rosa. That's because the Rockies have gotten huge production from the bottom of their rotation. Speaking of which...

3.73

That's the combined ERA of Jordan Lyles, Franklin Morales, and Juan Nicasio in 72 1/3 innings pitched thus far. Those were arms 5-6-7 in the starting rotation coming into this year, and the production they've been able to provide the Rockies has been a life-saver in the early going.

As RIRF wrote on Monday, Colorado's back of the rotation was simply dreadful in 2013 - with the equivalent 5th starter or worse pitchers providing a 6.47 ERA last year. Prorated over forty or so starts by fringe rotation candidates at 2.5 runs saved per start over what they got last year gives us about 10 extra wins the Rockies can expect this year if the back of their rotation continues to pitch this well. Of course, the front end will need to hold up its end of the bargain as well if the Rockies are going to be in contention - the team is only 5-6 in games started by their top four pitchers thus far in 2014..

10

That's the number of outs per game the Rockies are counting on their bullpen to get. From a performance standpoint this hasn't hurt the Rockies too much yet (though they have blown leads in 7 of their 11 losses), as the bullpen's 4.03 ERA/3.76 FIP eclipses the starting rotation's 4.31/4.27 split, but as the season wears on, expect to see the wear and tear eat into the relief corps and for its effectiveness to wane.

I firmly believe that the bullpen Colorado has assembled this year is among the best the team has ever had - and they'll be even more effective all year if the starting rotation, another unit that could be among the best ever assembled in Denver, is able to shoulder their fair share of the load this season. More than their fair share, really, because for all of the offense's gaudy stats to start the year, I don't believe they'll be able to maintain anything close to this pace for much longer.

The 2014 season is still young and I'm still optimistic about Colorado's chances of fielding a playoff contender. Let's hope that optimism lasts past the trade deadline this year.

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