The Rockies clubbed six doubles, a pair of homers and a smattering of other hard-hit balls, both singles and outs, en route to a pounding of the Brewers on Opening Day.
It marked just the fifth time the Rockies managed at least 10 runs, 15 hits, five doubles and two home runs in a road game in franchise history, according to Baseball-Reference. Suffice it to say, the Rockies don't have offensive outbursts like that often -- the last was an 11-2 thrashing of the Reds last May -- and probably shouldn't count on them as a means for winning road games.
Despite all of their success at the plate on Monday, the Rockies drew just one walk. Of course, Kyle Lohse leaving flat 87 mph fastballs in the middle of the zone decreases a hitter's interest in getting to ball four. There's a time and a place for aggressiveness at the plate, none better than when facing an aging pitcher with a propensity for throwing strikes.
Unfortunately, one exciting, immensely successful Opening Day doesn't quite solve the Rockies' problems with plate discipline.
As we explored last week, the Rockies have completely fallen off a cliff when it comes to drawing walks. Colorado in its more successful years was a top-five team in baseball in walk rate, but has fallen to the bottom five in the league over the last three years. Three agonizing, excruciating years that have included the franchise's two worst seasons.
It's not an issue of simply failing to draw walks, though; there are many hitters who enjoy success without going deep into counts. The Rockies' problem lies more in plate discipline as a whole.
Wait for your pitch
There are two big factors that contributed to the Rockies' 76 wRC+ on the road last season. One is their paltry 6.4 percent walk rate. The other is a related -- but in a way, still completely separate -- issue.
The Rockies swung at more offerings out of the strike zone than any team in baseball in 2014, swinging away at a 35.3 percent clip. They also offered at more pitches overall than any other team in the game. Perhaps that aggressive approach would OK for a team that is good at making contact, but the Rockies were middle of the road in that area, putting the bat on the ball 79.4 percent of the time. By comparison, the Yankees led baseball with an 83.3 percent contact rate.
Because of their overly aggressive approach, teams threw Rockies hitters a first-pitch strike in 63 percent of their plate appearances. Since making contact wasn't Colorado's strongest suit, its hitters being behind in the count most of the time turned out to be rather disadvantageous.
... And when you get it, don't miss it
For the first couple of months of last season, the Rockies were the best team in baseball at avoiding the strikeout. As the season wore on and the players wore down, that started to change dramatically. Colorado finished the season with a 20.8 percent strikeout right, which was right around the middle among 30 teams. Having Troy Tulowitzki, Nolan Arenado and Michael Cuddyer -- three of the best contact hitters on the team -- miss long stretches of time didn't help, but this is also where the Coors Field hangover might come into play.
Rockies hitters started out fast on the road last year, but when they hit a wall, they hit it hard. It seems as if after a month or two of trying to make the adjustment from high elevation to sea level, Colorado's offense goes into a funk, a phenomenon that has taken place in each of the last two seasons. Compare the Rockies' month-to-month performance to that of the rest of the league:
|Month||Rockies K%||League K%|
|Month||Rockies K%||League K%|
Part of the Rockies' increase in strikeout rate can be attributed to injuries that have cost Tulowitzki and Gonzalez significant second-half playing time over the last couple of seasons, but another explanation could be that by the time the team's hitters begin to recover from the hangover effect (around September), it's too late.
Regardless of the explanation, the Rockies fail to put the bat on the ball enough to justify their aggressiveness, and that problem has manifested itself repeatedly during the team's most woeful stretches. Again, if the team hits like it did on Opening Day, we can chalk all of this up to nonsense. But I have a feeling that at some point this season, the offense is going to need patient hitters who can find their way on base when the team can't buy a hit.
Let's just hope they're healthy and up for the task.