It's been a rough winter ... err, eight months ... err, decade so far for fans of the Colorado Rockies. Combine all the losing with the Tulo trade last summer followed by the perplexing lack of moves to better position the team for success in seasons beyond 2016 this winter, and you end up with the fan base that's the least excited for baseball of any team in the sport according to this week's Fangraphs polls (scroll to the bottom of the link to see them).
There's been plenty to criticize about this front office's 2016 plan, and yet, we haven't even touched on something that's going to be an enormous problem for this team once the games get underway in a month. So let's do that now.
What I'm going to do here is post all of the Rockies hitters with at least 50 plate appearances against left-handed pitching in a Rockies uniform over the last two seasons in two tables. The first table will include all of the hitters who posted a wRC+ above 100 against left-handed pitching, and the second table will include all of the hitters who posted a wRC+ below 100 against left-handed pitching. Let's see if you can spot the problem.
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Something here should jump out immediately. Almost all of the hitters in the first table are players who are not going to be taking plate appearances in a Rockies uniform this season, and almost all of the hitters in the second table are players who ARE going to taking plate appearances in a Rockies uniform. If the Rockies chose to cut ties with Jose Reyes as soon as Rob Manfred rules on his domestic violence case, then Nolan Arenado is literally the only player on the first table who the Rockies will have on their team this year.
Meanwhile, at least seven, and possibly eight (depending on if you think Kyle Parker will find his way Denver this season) players in that second table are going to be a big part of the 2016 Rockies.
Many of the players in that first table had to go. The Rockies were right to get rid of Michael Cuddyer as his offensive profile collapsed last season. Drew Stubbs and Wilin Rosario are so awful against righties, their bats couldn't be justified on the roster, and Josh Rutledge just never could make it stick as an everyday player. However, when you combine all of these guys leaving with the Tulo trade and letting McKenry go to Texas, you end up with a big, big problem.
You could start to see this storm gathering last season as the Rockies posted their lowest OPS and worst record of all time against left-handed pitching. (Here's a table showing those numbers for the last ten years so you can get an idea of where we stand going into 2016. The last column is the Rockies record in games STARTED by a left-handed pitcher.)
However, now things are about to get even worse. While it's true that Stubbs and Rosario posted lower numbers than usual against left-handed pitching in 2015, and that helped allow the team's OPS in this department slide to .677, McKenry and Tulo were both still excellent here. In fact, there's no player in the baseball (minimum 50 plate appearances) that has a higher OPS against left-handed pitching the last two years than Troy Tulowitzki, and the Rockies are about to find out the hard way just how difficult it is for them to win games against left-handed pitching without his bat in the lineup.
To get a clearer idea of what the 2016 lineup will do against left-handed pitching, here's one last table showing all of the players (with at least 50 plate appearances against major league left-handed pitching the last two seasons) I expect to get routine time in a Rockies uniform this year.
All I can say is "Please don't get hurt Nolan!!!" If he goes on the DL for any length of time this season, this team will be train carrying toxic waste derailment ugly in this spot.
(Also of note, that Descalso number is a mirage fueled by a .400 BABIP against left-handed pitching when he played for the Cardinals in 2014. His career OPS against left-handed pitching is .676.)
The new guys up from the farm are not going to help much here either. Tom Murphy, Cristhian Adames and Trevor Story all have better offensive numbers against right-handed pitching than against left-handed pitching with Murphy's split being particularly severe. Here are their total minor league OPS's at all levels in each situation:
OPS vs. RHP: .908
OPS vs. LHP: .712
OPS vs. RHP: .741
OPS vs. LHP: .672
OPS vs. RHP: .843
OPS vs. LHP: .755
But wait, it actually somehow gets even worse when looking at the big picture. Last year, when the Rockies went an abysmal 11-32 in games against left-handed starters, they were avoiding having to face many southpaws. The 43 they matched up against in 2015 was the fewest they've matched up against since 2006, and that's largely been the case because of the lack of left handed starters on other teams in the NL West. Here's how many games a lefty started for each of the other four teams in the division last season:
In total, that's just 24 percent of their 648 combined games. This year, there's going to be an uptick from the D-Backs and Dodgers. The D-Backs are now expecting full seasons from Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray instead of abbreviated ones, and five of the top six pitchers in the Dodgers' rotation depth chart are now left-handed thanks to the additions of Alex Wood and Scott Kazmir since the start of last season.
The Giants and Padres are not expected to see much movement here. San Francisco is still Bumgarner and all righties and the Padres won't be starting any lefties unless Robbie Erlin sneaks into the rotation at some point. However, they only had a combined 36 starts by left-handed pitching in 2015, so they can't bring this number down much.
In all, I'd expect the other four teams in the NL West to have closer to 35 percent of their combined 648 started by lefties this year instead of the 24 percent from last year, and that will only make life more difficult for the Rockies. On the bright side though, this lefty / righty breakdown will create a hilarious obstacle for the Giants in their quest to win the division. So we can at least enjoy that.