Rockies struggling to reach base on the road

Mike Zarrilli

Colorado has become a bit unlucky on its current road trip. However, luck is what you make of it, and the Rockies aren't doing one of the main things that can help neutralize the effects of randomness. Plus, some notes on reliever Rex Brothers.

A walk might not be equal to a hit, but it's a lot closer than people realize.

And right now, for the scuffling Rockies offense, the value of a walk absolutely cannot be understated. Why? Because, as our friend Chris Chrisman notes at his blog, Checkswing Roller, Colorado has hit a rough patch in terms of BABIP luck on the road. At the end of their series in Cincinnati earlier this month, the Rockies were hitting .300 on balls in play. That number has since dropped 15 points in a matter of only six games, suggesting Colorado has run into a somewhat unsustainable period of poor luck

That's good in terms of things naturally correcting themselves in future road games, but the pure putrescence of the Rockies' offense in their last six games away from Coors Field is the result of their underlying problem with drawing walks.

Colorado hitters have earned the third-fewest free passes in the National League, and only the Diamondbacks have drawn walks in a lower percentage of their total plate appearances. When you play in a park in which balls have a high probability of dropping for hits, that's not such a bad thing. However, when shifting to environments wherein simply making contact doesn't pay dividends all that often, being able to reach base through other means is of paramount importance. The Rockies just don't do that, as evidenced by their 6.3 percent walk rate in road games, which is better than only the Brewers among NL teams.

As a result of the Rockies' collective inability to get to ball four, their road on-base percentage has dipped to .292, which is fourth-worst in the NL. Here's a snapshot of individual road numbers for the Rox this season:


PA

2B

3B

HR

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

BAbip

sOPS+

Troy Tulowitzki

112

4

1

6

19

20

.264

.384

.527

.269

161

Carlos Gonzalez

109

5

0

4

9

23

.190

.257

.360

.205

77

Justin Morneau

100

6

1

4

5

15

.287

.320

.500

.303

133

Nolan Arenado

99

11

0

0

4

15

.340

.364

.457

.400

136

Charlie Blackmon

104

5

0

2

4

13

.260

.294

.375

.280

92

DJ LeMahieu

88

2

1

0

4

18

.220

.264

.268

.281

55

Michael Cuddyer

56

1

0

3

3

5

.269

.304

.462

.244

118

Drew Stubbs

48

1

0

2

3

15

.182

.234

.341

.222

64

Jordan Pacheco

46

4

0

0

3

10

.209

.261

.302

.273

63

Brandon Barnes

60

3

0

0

3

18

.208

.250

.264

.314

49

Corey Dickerson

46

4

0

3

2

14

.326

.348

.628

.407

176

Wilin Rosario

54

2

0

2

2

11

.176

.204

.333

.179

52

Josh Rutledge

20

0

0

1

1

4

.263

.300

.421

.286

106

Michael McKenry

15

2

0

0

1

1

.214

.267

.357

.231

79

Charlie Culberson

29

2

0

0

0

9

.276

.276

.345

.400

79

Troy Tulowitzki is a walk machine. That's why he's been able to navigate around a relatively low .269 BABIP to post a .384 on-base percentage away from Coors Field, and also why he's roughly 60 percent better at producing runs than any other player in baseball on the road. Carlos Gonzalez has walked at a decent rate outside of Denver, but not enough to boost his overall numbers because of an extremely paltry .205 BABIP in road games.

Just about everyone else is inept at getting on base when they're not getting balls to drop in for hits. Corey Dickerson and Nolan Arenado -- and, to a lesser extent, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer -- have been successful compared to the rest of the league on the road, despite their overly aggressive approach at the plate. For Dickerson and Arenado, though, unsustainable batting averages on balls in play will eventually result in severe regression unless they start drawing a lot more walks. Cuddyer should actually get better on the road once his BABIP normalizes, but the luck-based improvement guys like he and CarGo should eventually see might not be enough to carry the rest of the team if they can't find a way to get on base when balls aren't getting through the hole.

Overall, the eye test says the Rockies are putting together better at-bats in 2014 than in years past. If nothing else, the team certainly looks more competitive at the plate. However, if their approach doesn't improve, a shift in batted ball luck probably isn't going to be what gets Colorado over the hump on the road.

Brothers feels better, but results still inconsistent

Rockies reliever Rex Brothers feels like he has more bite on his pitches now than he did earlier this season, but the results still largely aren't there for the 26-year-old left-hander.

"Over the last month, I've felt more like my old self," Brothers told me prior to the Rockies' win over the Padres on May 18. "Whatever it was during that rough patch, I just had to stay the course and stay aggressive through it and not let those things that can come along with failure like that start sinking in."

Brothers had been pitching well in May prior to his meltdown in Philadelphia on Monday. The fourth-year big leaguer entered Memorial Day without allowing an earned run this month while striking out 10 batters and walking five in nine innings. That came after he posted a 4.26 ERA with 10 strikeouts and nine walks in 12⅔ innings in April.

Colorado manager Walt Weiss has used Brothers in lower leverage situations this month, but Brothers doesn't feel that's made a difference.

"I know the things I need to do to get back on track and being in a low leverage situation doesn't necessarily help," Brothers said. The splits show otherwise; hitters have an .833 OPS against Brothers in high-leverage innings compared to only .488 in medium leverage frames and .625 in low leverage situations.

Neither Brothers nor the coaching staff has seen anything different in terms of his wind-up or delivery. "Stay athletic and stay aggressive," said Brothers, in response to being asked what Rockies pitching coach Jim Wright has told him about his struggles. "It really wasn't mechanical or mental, it was just about going out there and competing."

Brothers allowed five runs -- two of which were inherited, while the other three were his own doing -- to score under his watch while on the mound on Monday. He remains a work in progress, but if the Weiss continues to use him wisely in situations where he can gain confidence, Brothers has a good chance of seeing the results match the improvement he feels he's made.

"I just have to realize 'I can do this' and stay competitive, more than anything," Brothers said. "Because those [tough] times are going to come."

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