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Colorado Rockies' offense shouldn't go blameless for team's recent skid

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Colorado's offense has struggled to score runs. Some numbers suggest the unit is due for a turnaround. Others are still a concern.

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Colorado Rockies' starting pitching is nothing short of a dumpster fire inside of a burning building ripped apart by a tornado during an earthquake -- and, over the last week at Coors Field, at least -- in the midst of a monsoon.

The rotation has issued 5.0 walks per nine innings in addition to posting a league-high 5.66 ERA. That's like, otherwordly awful. But it's also extremely well-documented.

What hasn't gotten as much play -- but what also remains a rather large elephant in the room -- is the extent to which the Rockies offense has underperformed thus far in 2015. On the surface, the unit's numbers look OK -- .271 batting average, .761 OPS -- but some underlying and undoubtedly more important statistics tell a different story.

★★★

It's worse than it looks

Let's look at the simple -- and sortable! -- National League offensive leaderboard (via FanGraphs):

Team G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Dodgers 362 1179 49 159 155 8 10.90% 20.40% 0.217 0.296 0.263 0.348 0.479 0.358 127 -3.3 35.2 13.1 9.1
Cardinals 390 1206 23 142 134 16 8.50% 17.70% 0.136 0.318 0.273 0.338 0.409 0.325 105 -3.6 2.6 24.4 6.9
Reds 353 1210 39 128 121 39 9.00% 20.70% 0.152 0.271 0.236 0.31 0.388 0.307 90 7.3 -7 15.3 4.9
Diamondbacks 383 1199 28 141 134 27 7.70% 19.30% 0.138 0.307 0.261 0.321 0.398 0.316 94 -0.2 -9.9 13.8 4.4
Marlins 376 1234 20 139 126 23 7.10% 22.30% 0.114 0.335 0.268 0.323 0.382 0.309 92 1.7 -10.7 11.2 4.2
Giants 392 1216 20 101 97 17 8.10% 17.80% 0.116 0.303 0.257 0.321 0.374 0.306 97 -1.7 -6.5 5.2 3.9
Cubs 356 1194 29 131 125 30 9.00% 26.10% 0.142 0.322 0.248 0.322 0.39 0.314 94 0.3 -8.6 6.9 3.8
Nationals 374 1252 34 152 148 4 8.50% 21.60% 0.152 0.304 0.254 0.32 0.406 0.317 97 2.3 -2.1 -3.5 3.6
Mets 343 1158 23 123 117 12 8.10% 18.90% 0.119 0.278 0.238 0.305 0.357 0.293 86 4.1 -14.9 8.5 3.2
Braves 377 1186 25 139 131 14 8.50% 16.70% 0.132 0.295 0.259 0.324 0.391 0.315 96 -1 -7 -0.4 3.2
Padres 384 1257 29 153 149 26 6.80% 20.10% 0.145 0.301 0.255 0.309 0.4 0.31 98 0.6 -1.9 -9.4 3
Rockies 338 1028 29 113 110 8 5.60% 20.00% 0.171 0.32 0.274 0.317 0.444 0.33 91 -5.9 -18.1 6.3 2.2
Pirates 391 1198 24 121 116 20 6.30% 21.00% 0.121 0.284 0.237 0.294 0.358 0.286 79 3 -26.8 8 2
Brewers 401 1199 31 129 122 12 6.80% 22.40% 0.15 0.278 0.231 0.289 0.381 0.293 79 -0.9 -31.4 8.7 1.6
Phillies 380 1200 18 94 91 15 6.40% 19.20% 0.104 0.273 0.229 0.284 0.333 0.273 68 -1.1 -46.7 7.6 -0.1

There you see the Rockies faring well in batting average, batting average on balls in play, and slugging percentage, just to name a couple. But the Rockies always rank highly in those categories. In fact, since 1993, Colorado leads the NL in all three of those categories.

When looking at statistics that aren't so dependent on the team's insane run-producing environment, though, a different trend appears.

The 2015 Rockies offense, in a nutshell:

  • 5.6 percent walk rate (last in NL)
  • 91 wRC+ (10th in NL)
  • -5.9 BsR (baserunning; last in NL)
  • 2.2 fWAR (12th in NL)
In short, it's not just the pitching staff that is contributing to the worst stretch of baseball we've seen out of the Rockies in 10 years. For one, the Rockies are horrific at baserunning according to FanGraphs' measurement, which calculates both stolen bases as well as movement on the basepaths that takes place while the ball is in play and combines them into a weighted figure that is below average, average or above average in terms of runs.

Additionally, Colorado has completely abandoned any sort of approach at the plate that isn't aggressive. That's all well and good against mediocre pitching at Coors Field, but as has been written time and time again, it doesn't work away from Coors Field. That's been a huge problem over the last three-plus seasons.

Last year, the Rockies walked fewer times than any team in the NL while also swinging at the highest rate of pitches outside of the zone. Colorado hitters haven't been quite as prone to swinging at bad pitches this season, but they still offer at more pitches overall than any other NL club.

Improvement on the horizon

One of the great things about the baseball season is that it's so long. That length often causes people to forget that too much shouldn't be made of a month -- or even two -- of play. Consider this, football fans: the Rockies have played only 28 games, or approximately 17 percent of the 162 contests on their schedule. That's equivalent to fewer than three full football games in a 16-game NFL campaign. Not many people will get too up in arms about how their beloved Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers or Los Angeles Rams perform in the first three games of next season.

That's why you'll often see this term around baseball: the process outweighs the result. And while there are major concerns with the process within the Rockies' offense -- specifically, the lack of walks and overall patience at the plate -- there are some indicators that things should start getting better soon.

The 2015 Rockies offense, in a nutshell:

  • 20 percent strikeout rate (seventh in NL)
  • 80 percent contact rate (sixth in NL)
  • 22.6 percent line-drive rate (second in NL)
  • 15.4 percent soft-hit rate (lowest in NL)
  • 32.7 percent hard-hit rate (best in NL)
What this tells us is that the Rockies' league-high BABIP is not a fluke, and that the club has even been a victim of some poor luck. Some improvement should almost definitely occur if these rates hold up. Of course, the flip side is that maybe these numbers won't hold up (can't use small sample size for just one side of an argument!), in which case, the overaggressive approach will start to hurt again.

RISP troubles?

Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich cited a lack of hitting with runners in scoring position as one of the main problems plaguing the team to this point in the season. There's one problem with that: entering Tuesday, the Rockies were hitting .300/.356/.482 -- good for an sOPS+ of 122 that ranks third in the NL --  in those situations.

So, let's get this straight. The Rockies lead the NL in batting average and slugging percentage, are hitting the ball harder than any other team in the league and are actually coming through quite nicely with runners in scoring position. Then why are they below-average at producing runs (as indicated by their 4.04 runs per game, good for just ninth in the NL)?

It all comes back to the relatively low on-base percentage -- .317, also good for just ninth in the NL -- and the aforementioned horrid baserunning.

★★★

It's pretty clear that if the Rockies just hit, things will often turn out well. Yes, they need to draw more walks. But their batted ball profile shows that they could get by without them.

By that logic, the biggest problem with the offense, then, is the baserunning. It's not just FanGraphs' data that tells us this, either; the Rockies have made more boneheaded plays (17) on the bases than any other team in the NL with the exception of the Padres (also at 17), according to TOOTBLAN Tracker. And, to keep it simple, the team is also inept at stealing bases -- just eight in 19 attempts -- lending credence to the belief that they just shouldn't try it, especially at Coors Field.

The pitching might not come around anytime soon, but even if it does, the Rockies aren't going to accomplish much with an offense that is scoring runs at a rate much lower than it should be. Bridich, Walt Weiss and the staff for that reason should immediately reevaluate the team's strategy on the bases, and in future years, put some focus into players with decent plate discipline skills in addition to -- and maybe in some cases instead of -- players who simply possess a strong hit tool.

In the coming days, we'll elaborate on that last point and explain why things might not change in that area in the near future.