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):
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)
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)
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.