Rockies midseason review, Part 1: Injuries, poor pitching doomed Colorado's first half

Stephen Dunn

In the first of two midseason review articles, we highlight what has gone right and what has gone wrong in the first half for the Rockies. Tomorrow, we'll explore what to expect in the second half.

At the All-Star break, the Colorado Rockies sit at 40-55 and 13 games out of first place in the National League West. The Rockies were a season-high eight games over .500 on May 7 after taking three consecutive games from the Texas Rangers by a combined score of 29-5, but since then, Colorado is a paltry 18-41, and nearly half of those wins have come in four series against the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres.

So, what the heck happened? Find out below, where we'll review the highs, lows and in-betweens of the pre-2014-All-Star-break Rockies.

All of this stuff was awesome

Troy Tulowitzki

The Rockies' star shortstop has appeared in 89 of the team's 95 games. That's, like, best possible scenario territory for a guy who has eclipsed the pace he's on right now just once in his career, and that was in his rookie season. And, as was predicted by many people here, Tulo's ability to stay on the field has resulted in a career season. The 29-year-old slugger is tied for the National League lead with 21 home runs while leading in all three triple-slash categories, posting a .345/.435/.613 line. In addition, he's on pace for a career high in walks and strikes out only 1.15 times per every free pass he draws.

We haven't even touched on defense yet. Tulo leads Major League Baseball in total WAR with 5.7, and a nice chunk of that has to do with his defense (1.3 dWAR; top 10 in the NL). Tulowitzki thus far has been worth seven runs above average in the field, according to Baseball-Reference's Total Zone rating. Fangraphs' defensive metric thinks pretty highly of Tulo, as well, giving him a UZR/150 of 5.6.

Since goals of getting into the postseason -- and realistically, even finishing .500 or better -- are out the window, one of the major positive things that is still attainable is to see Tulo finish the season without any injury issues. If he does, it'll likely end as one of the greatest overall individual seasons ever from a Rockies player.

Charlie Blackmon

For the first month of the season, Blackmon was as hot as water is wet. The 28-year-old outfielder hit .374/.418/.616 in April and continued that impressive performance into May before his luck eventually normalized. Still, Blackmon has managed a respectable .279/.322/.426 line since May 1 and is hitting .306/.350/.480 for the season. Perhaps more important than that is the 2014 NL All-Star owns a .307/.344/475 line in a full season's worth of plate appearances since the start of 2013.

Corey Dickerson

Dickerson's emergence would have allowed the Rockies to tread water while Carlos Gonzalez was out with a finger injury had the team been able to get any sort of pitching. Dickerson has been among the best offensive performers in the NL, posting a .325/.391/.579 line with 11 home runs in 235 plate appearances. Though he's probably earned a chance at an everyday spot, the best use of Dickerson would be in a platoon situation with Drew Stubbs. Dickerson has crushed right-handed pitching to the tune of a .349/.414/.633 line while Stubbs, who is another positive story from the first half, hits southpaws at a .354/.409/.608 clip.

LaTroy Hawkins, Tommy Kahnle

For as awful as the Rockies' bullpen has been, Hawkins and Kahnle have been steady anchors. The 41-year-old Hawkins is the one pitcher who has taken Colorado's pitch-to-contact philosophy and run with it. He has struck out fewer than four batters per nine innings, but only nine walks in 33 frames has helped him limit traffic on the basepaths. That, combined with his low home run rate (he's given up just two long balls all season) has helped Hawkins post a team-best 2.45 ERA and 17 saves.

Kahnle, a Rule 5 pickup from the Yankees during the offseason, was thrust onto his first Opening Day roster by the Rockies to avoid losing him. The 24-year-old righty owns a 2.68 ERA with 40 strikeouts and 22 walks in 50⅓ innings. The walk rate is a bit higher than what you want to see from a reliever, but Kahnle has largely been able to avoid damage as a result of his low home run rate and, at least from watching the games, superhuman ability to get a ground ball when he needs it. Overall, Kahnle's groundball rate is fewer than 50 percent, but he records more groundouts than flyouts and, like I said, seems to induce those choppers at the right time, as evidenced by his better-than-average double play percentage.

Bench depth

Sure, it sucked when Ryan Wheeler, Charlie Culberson and others were getting significant playing time, but the performance of Stubbs, Dickerson, Brandon Barnes and Josh Rutledge has been nothing short of terrific. Barnes has provided superb outfield defense in limited action while Stubbs and Dickerson have raked against opposite-handed pitchers. Rutledge, who continues to fight for playing time, owns a .286/.353/.438 line and is slugging .509 away from Coors Field. Sure, the unit as a whole has gone through some dry spells, but let's not forget that Rockies pinch hitters, a group which has been largely made up of some combination of Stubbs, Barnes and Rutledge, lead the league with a 154 sOPS+.

These things were a real drag

Injuries

No, this should not be an excuse every season. However, in 2014, it has certainly been a valid one for the Rockies. Here's a list of key position players, in no particular order, who have missed significant time due to injuries:

Carlos Gonzalez: 40 games
Michael Cuddyer: 64 games
Nolan Arenado: 36 games
Wilin Rosario: 30 games

Think that looks bad? Wait until you see the list of key hurlers who have spent significant time on the disabled list:

Brett Anderson (60-day)
Jhoulys Chacin (15-day, 60-day)
Tyler Chatwood (15-day, 60-day)
Jordan Lyles (60-day)
Eddie Butler (15-day)
Boone Logan (15-day -- twice)

I think by now, you get the point. Whether jaded fans what to admit it is irrelevant: injuries have played a gigantic part in the team's failures. To see that, one needs to look no further than this list:

Christian Friedrich
Christian Bergman
Yohan Flande
Jair Jurrjens
Brooks Brown
Chris Martin

Those are real people, and they've all had to pitch in real major league baseball games as a result of numerous injuries to the rotation and bullpen. Sure, the quality of the depth behind the injured players can and should be questioned, but there's no doubt that the first half of this season would have gone a lot differently had key contributors been able to stay off of the DL.

The bullpen

Entering the season, many people -- myself included -- thought the Rockies' relief corps would be one of the team's biggest strengths. The questionable inclusion of Wilton Lopez aside, the unit looked loaded with equal parts talent and experience. A hot start from Adam Ottavino did nothing to change that, and with Kahnle, Chad Bettis and Rex Brothers capable of throwing mid-90s heat and the veteran presence of Logan, Hawkins, Matt Belisle, and Franklin Morales, who should have been the long man, the 'pen looked, at the very least, OK coming out of spring training.

That sure hasn't been the case. Bettis struggled from the get-go and can't seem to find his footing in the majors despite being utterly dominant in Triple-A. Brothers has fought with command issues all season and has become a shadow of his former self when it comes to striking batters out. After Ottavino's great start, he has fallen back to earth, though perhaps some of that can be attributed to a heavy workload brought on by the ineffectiveness and injury-riddled first few months for the starting rotation. And Logan, despite his ability to rack up whiffs, has been inconsistent at best and possesses mind-numbingly awful reverse platoon splits.

Juan Nicasio, Jhoulys Chacin

Sure, injuries decimated Colorado's starting rotation, but even when these two guys weren't injured, they just weren't very good. Nicasio was his typical inconsistent-but-serviceable self through most of the first two months of the season, but pretty much everything after that can best be described as a train wreck. Things came to a head when, during a four-start stretch in late May and early June, Nicasio allowed 25 runs in 15⅔ innings. He quickly found himself in Triple-A, and he has yet to find his footing there. He's recently been used as a reliever in Colorado Springs' newly adopted piggy-back pitching system.

Chacin spent the first month of 2014 on the DL and was never himself upon his return. The 26-year-old righty lost about five mph off of his fastball and scuffled to a 5.40 ERA while walking four batters per nine innings in 11 starts. Though he had a few gems in the middle of his short tenure in the rotation, Chacin's command was mostly awful, and that combined with the diminished velocity made it no surprise that he was shut down for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury on June 29.

Jon Gray, Eddie Butler

Though the two top prospects didn't have much of an effect on the big league team's poor first half, their struggles in Double-A are a huge concern. Gray hasn't been able to make it through five innings without using 85 to 90 bullets, and a lot of that has to due with a diminished ability to miss bats. The same can be said for Butler, who struck out barely more than five batters per nine innings before being called up to the big leagues in early June. Both pitchers still possess the ability to run their fastballs into the upper-90s and have overwhelming secondary offerings, but Rockies brass has reportedly kept training wheels on their two prized commodities, and the results have taken a hit.

There is some concern that Colorado's pitch-to-contact concept is responsible for the failure of Gray and Butler to truly take the next step. Trying to fit these two square pegs into a round hole is not going to help Colorado's long history of pitching development woes. Rather, letting them use their strengths -- which are seen as plentiful by pretty much every scout who has written about them -- will be the key to any success they might have at the next level.

The good news is that both are still viewed as top of the rotation arms. But, if neither hurler winds up accomplishing much with the Rockies at the big league level, it will surely be a sign of the Rockies' ineptitude and might just send the organization to its lowest point in its 21-year history.

Tomorrow, we'll explore what to expect from the Rockies in the second half.

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