The Colorado Rockies last week finished off their fifth consecutive losing season and sixth straight without a postseason berth, ending 2015 with a 68-94 record and settling for last place in the National League West.
Not many people expected the Rockies to perform well on the field, so in that sense, nobody should be surprised about the team's results. It was always supposed to be more about what was going to happen off the field than on it, and in many ways, that proved to be true. An earth-shattering trade sent the face of the franchise north of the border in July, and from that point forward, questions lingered about the future of many of the team's other most recognizable faces.
At the end of the day, only the one trade took place, leaving Rockies fans and followers once again questioning the direction of the organization. Entering the season, it at least looked like a plan was there to be executed (basically, trade just about every player not in the arbitration or pre-arb phases of their contracts, and then some). That largely didn't happen, and as a result, it's the same old uncertainty that will surround Colorado this offseason.
In our season preview, we wrote five definitive things that would've absolutely had to happen for the Rockies to contend. Heck, if even two or three of them happened, Colorado could've been in for a pleasantly surprising .500-ish season. Here are those keys, and in between each of those, what actually happened.
1. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez combine for 280-300 games.
The good news: Tulowitzki and Gonzalez combined for 281 games in 2015.
The bad news: Tulo spent 41 of those games in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform.
It also didn’t help that while Tulo and CarGo were both members of the Rockies in 2015, the duo wasn’t incredibly productive. Prior to the trade, Tulowitzki hit .300/.348/.471 – good numbers, sure, but not what we’ve been accustomed to from the perennial All-Star shortstop. Meanwhile, Gonzalez struggled badly through the first two months of the season, partially contributing to the Rockies being buried in the NL West standings by the time June rolled around.
Gonzalez, of course, went nuclear after June 1, hitting .292/.336/.624 with 36 homers over his final 108 games, but it wasn’t enough to overcome all of the team’s other issues, including the ones that surfaced while he was struggling to get going.
So, while mostly healthy, Tulo and CarGo posted a combined rWAR of just 4.5 for the Rockies in 2015, which just isn’t – and was never going to be – good enough to carry the team anywhere.
2. Jhoulys Chacin pitches 180 innings.
The Rockies were behind the 8-ball immediately when they cut Chacin prior to the start of the season. The rotation needed a whole bunch of good luck and surprising performances as it was, and Chacin's inability to stick was a huge hit. This wasn't like 2014, when the Rockies actually started the year with a strong rotation on paper but were decimated by injuries; 2015's unit was sketchy from the start, and it certainly showed in the results.
Chacin got picked up by the Cleveland Indians, and later, the Arizona Diamondbacks. He returned the big leagues with the latter, posting a 3.38 ERA in 26⅔ innings spanning five appearances (four starts).
3. Either Jon Gray, Eddie Butler or both blow the doors off and insert themselves into the rotation a la Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales in 2007.
Well, crap. While Gray did make it to the big leagues, he certainly didn’t do so by establishing himself as a dominant, unhittable force in Triple-A. That showed in the majors, where the Rockies’ top prospect allowed 25 earned runs on 52 hits in 40⅔ innings.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. Gray whiffed nearly a batter per inning and posted an acceptable walk rate, contributing to a rather shiny FIP that was nearly two full runs lower than his 5.53 ERA. If the Rockies can convince Gray that his struggles at Coors Field were largely a product of bad luck and get him to keep a consistent approach, he’s going to be fine.
Butler, on the other hand, is a different story. For the second consecutive season, the 2012 first rounder showed very little ability to miss bats and compounded the issue by walking nearly five batters per nine innings. Worse, unlike Gray, Butler’s FIP was right in line with his ERA, suggesting that not much would change even when subtracting factors over which he has little control.
There’s still hope for Butler, who may be able to thrive in the future as an extreme sinkerball pitcher, a la Aaron Cook. But at this point, it’s clear that Butler isn’t going to be the top-of-the-rotation pitcher many hoped he’d become. In fact, pitching out of the bullpen may be Butler’s best shot of sustaining success at the highest level.
4. Rex Brothers and Boone Logan consistently get left-handed batters — or any batters, really — out.
Finally, something that worked out! It may not feel like it, because Brothers spent most of the season at Triple-A and Logan was used in an ineffective manner and has become the ultimate scapegoat anyway, but this is one area that didn’t kill the Rockies in 2015.
Logan struck out 30 of the 86 left-handed batters he faced and allowed them an OPS of just .602. Unfortunately, Walt Weiss let Logan face nearly as many righties, and the results weren’t pretty. Against 82 opposite-handed hitters, Logan notched just 14 strikeouts, issued eight walks and was overall torched to the tune of a .333/.395/.514 line. That’s much more on Weiss than it is on Logan.
Brothers made only 17 appearances for the Rockies and was mostly used as a LOOGY, allowing 26 left-handed batters an OPS of under .700. Unfortunately, Brothers was plagued by major command issues at both levels, allowing a total of 52 walks in 52⅓ innings between Albquerque and Colorado. So, despite his sparkling 1.74 ERA in 10⅓ big league frames, Brothers is a major candidate to be non-tendered later this fall.
5. Walt Weiss stops giving away outs at an alarming rate.
Here’s what we wrote about Weiss in our State of the Position series prior to the season:
… the Rockies finished second to last in the league in stolen base percentage, but that didn't stop them from attempting enough steals to finish in the top half of all teams in that area. Weiss also over-managed his bullpen, which led baseball in appearances of two or fewer outs.
The biggest knock on Weiss is his insistence on bunting … Colorado position players laid down sacrifice bunts at a higher rate than all but one other NL team.
In 2015, Colorado was only fifth-worst in the league in stolen base percentage (69 percent), but again, that still didn’t stop the Rox from attempting steals at a rate that was roughly 13 percent above league average. Again, that’s an approach far too aggressive for a team whose outs are at a premium in road games and doesn’t necessarily need to rely on small ball at home.
The micromanagement of the bullpen was only slightly less over the top this year than in 2014. Weiss and the Rockies finished second in baseball in relief appearances of fewer than three outs, behind only the San Francisco Giants. Finally, the Rockies were again second in the NL in sacrifice bunts by position players, just one behind the San Diego Padres. Too many wasted outs, once again.
That didn't stop Bridich and the Rockies from retaining Weiss for the final year of his contract, though, which means we can expect more of the same from a tactical standpoint in 2016. Yikes.
The Rockies weren’t without good things in 2015. In addition to the aforementioned performances from Gonzalez and Gray, Colorado received an MVP-worthy effort from Nolan Arenado, who tied for the NL lead in homers with 42, led all third basemen in defensive runs saved and did all of that at the age of 24, and in just his third big league season. Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu, Chad Bettis and Jorge De La Rosa were all bright spots for the Rockies to varying degrees, as well. Editor's note: Beginning today and running up to the Winter Meetings, we'll review the performances of those players -- and everyone else who wore a Rockies uniform in 2015 -- as well as the front office and coaching staff.
But at the end of the day, it was just another forgettable season at 20th and Blake, separated from past years only by the trading of one of the best players ever to suit up in purple pinstripes. That’s not quite what we had in mind when we wrote this prior to the season …
Say what you want about the Colorado Rockies, but 2015 will be a season like few others in the history of the franchise.
… yet it still holds true to some degree given that most of us never thought Tulo would actually ever be traded, nor did we think that someone could stand up to Dick Monfort, as it appears first-year general manager Jeff Bridich did there and at various other points in his debut as the Rockies’ architect.
What’s the biggest takeaway from another season of 90-plus losses? Arguably, it’s that Bridich failed to improve the team’s future by not pulling the trigger on some moves that should have been made before the season even started. But dealing Tulowitzki signaled that the Rockies plan do some sort of rebuilding, and for that reason, we could be looking at an offseason that will be much more interesting from a roster perspective than last year, when Bridich somewhat understandably decided to get a full glimpse of the hand he was dealt instead of shaking things up from the start.
Whatever the feeling is on how Bridich and the Rockies entered 2015, that sort of inactivity cannot be repeated this time around. As we prepare for what will most likely be another bad season in terms of losses, unless the Rockies decide to go full Padres, it’s imperative that Bridich and his staff begin (continue?) to stockpile players that will allow the team to field a contender before the decade is over. That obviously means finding trade partners for Gonzalez and Jose Reyes, but it can – and should – also imply exploring deals for Blackmon, LeMahieu, Corey Dickerson and others.
Bridich, you’re on the clock.