For years, the adage surrounding the Colorado Rockies has been "as their star goes, so goes the team." From 2008 through the middle of this season, Troy Tulowitzki was the star in question. When Tulo was at his healthiest and most productive, which wasn't often, the Rockies won plenty of baseball games.
Of course, we all know what happened when the generationally talented shortstop wasn't at his best.
That's no small part of why the Rockies dealt Tulowitzki last month and, in doing so, handed the reins to Nolan Arenado as the club's new star (yes, I know Carlos Gonzalez would have something to say about this, but bear with me here). Arenado, as was the case with Tulo over the last eight years, will have a large hand in any success the Rockies might have going forward.
It remains to be seen how things will turn out for the Rockies when Arenado is at his best. But we're already starting to get a good feel for how his struggles correlate with the team's performance.
As we've written here over and over and over again, the Rockies are a team plagued by many deficiencies. They don't hit all that well as a whole, and they obviously leave a lot to be desired on the mound. No one player is going to fix any of that, but having one of the league's most dynamic players performing at his peak would only help the team's cause.
Unfortunately, that isn't happening right now with Arenado.
The first-time All-Star entered the Rockies' loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday, in which Arenado went 1-for-4, hitting just .238/.283/.435 in 159 second-half plate appearances. That came after Arenado managed a .293/.329/.598 line before the break. The Rockies were already bad in the first half, finishing 39-49. But in the second half, with its 24-year-old cornerstone struggling, Colorado is a putrid 12-27.
What's behind Arenado's issues? For one, he's striking out a lot more and hitting the ball hard a lot less since the All-Star break.
Digging a little bit deeper, it appears Arenado has been utilizing a more patient approach at the plate in the second half, offering at fewer pitches outside the zone -- and overall. That's not a bad thing on the surface, but Arenado is -- and has always been, even in his minor league days -- an aggressive hitter who does a lot of damage early in counts, as his 1.025 career OPS on first pitches would suggest.
None of this is be-all, end-all stuff for Arenado and the Rockies. Players, particularly young ones, often struggle with not only making adjustments when pitchers "figure them out," but also with the grind of a long season. Plus, it's always dangerous to compare a sample size of just over one month to another that's three times its size. But the eye test confirms that Arenado is trying to go outside of himself just a little bit, and it's been enough to disrupt what was an incredible few months to start the year.
The real question is whether the Rockies will continue to go as he goes -- and, once he inevitably gets it going for long stretches of time, if they'll do a better job of building around him than they did around their last star. That's a different discussion, and one that will be had at length on this site and elsewhere over the coming weeks, months and years.
That alone makes me feel better about Arenado's struggles and just how temporary they are. But while he's trying to get back into a groove, expect a whole bunch more losses by the boys in purple -- if history tells us anything at all.