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The Rockies' 2016 plan is fatally flawed

The Rockies seem to be overestimating their in house assets again, and it's going to make for a very painful summer at 20th and Blake.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies do have a plan, but unfortunately, it's not a very good one. Actually, let me rephrase: The Rockies' plan isn't a good one as it relates to 2016. In one sense, "Bombarding the organization with impactful pitching" is an outstanding long term strategy, but it's something that takes years to properly execute, and the way it's being approached by the club going into this season remains puzzling at best.

Trading Troy Tulowitzki for prospects and Corey Dickerson for a reliever with only two years of control left while simultaneously leaving the rest of the 2015 roster largely in tact is the smoking gun suggesting that the short term outlook by this front office is disorganized, myopic, and out of touch with reality.

I bring this up in response to Drew Creasman's brilliant article from Monday, in which he cleans up the Rockies' mess about as well as humanly possible. It's a marketing job that could sell ice to an Eskimo! However, I still believe the optimism and underlying premise of this piece as it relates to the 2016 season is fool's gold.

The problem begins with the assertion that implies things are going to be okay because the Rockies have a plan. Folks, every team has a plan! That should be a prerequisite for this discussion. The difference between the "smart" and "stupid" front offices is really a difference of baseball genius and baseball intelligence with a fair amount of luck thrown in.

The real question here isn't a single inquiry about if the Rockies have a plan, but a more complex set of mysteries surrounding the inner workings of that plan, the time frame it's being executed under, and the general ability of the club to evaluate where it stands in relation to its goal - And guess what? The Rockies fail when it comes to all three of these things as it relates to the 2016 season.

While focusing on power pitching (both in the rotation and the bullpen) is a good long term strategy (and one I've also come to in my own research), the Rockies simply don't have the 25 man roster necessary to make that strategy successful in 2016 -- and this is where trading four years of a player like Dickerson for two of Jake McGee takes this train off the rails. If the recent swap gave away two years of Dickerson for four of McGee, it would be much easier to buy into it, but sadly, that's not the case.

The Rockies appear like they want to focus on big arms completely, and that's fine, but then the question still goes back to why is Dickerson the only position player they've used to get one this winter -- an arm that's only controlled for two years no less -- when they clearly don't have a 25/40-man roster likely to compete in this division. It's nothing more than a poor gamble.

So with this faulty foundation exposed as it relates to 2016, let's explore some of the serious short term shortcomings with the Rockies' ill conceived decision to chase contention this summer.

1) The Rockies are still terrible at evaluating where they are in the success cycle

This is not only a problem this year, but also a very bad sign when it comes to ability of this front office to make the crucial decisions when things really start trending upward in the 2017/2018 time period (and despite the negativity you're about to read in this piece, I still believe they will trend upward in that time period). In addition to that, it reeks of perhaps the single biggest reason this team wasn't more successful during the Dan O'Dowd era.

As usual, the Rockies are taking half measures in an attempt to compete in a division where their rivals are pouring full funding into immediate impact modern weaponry. This is illustrated by the fact that even after the Parra signing and the acquisition of McGee, the Rockies are still projected to be double digit games under .500 in 2016 by every major projection system out there,

This brings me to Muzia's quote in Drew's piece:

I've been Team Nuclear Option for quite some time, but it appears the front office believes we already have the pieces in place to build around Arenado. I'm fine with that.

We already have 80% of the benefit of a rebuild in our system right now due to our terrible baseball since 2010. If Bridich thinks we should pursue some veteran reinforcements to raise the floor of the team (Parra, McGee, veteran starter), I don't see what harm it makes. It's a much better environment for our AA/AAA guys and at least we see some competent baseball.

I don't buy this line of thinking at all. If the Rockies truly believe they already have the pieces in place to surround Arenado with and contend in 2016 just six months after they gave up on trying to surround the best left side of the infield in baseball (Arenado and Tulo) with enough pieces to contend, then they are either stunningly ignorant of where they stand, or being stunningly dishonest with their fanbase, and I'm not sure which is worse.

The idea that we should buy into what the 2016 Rockies are trying to do because the front office now believes it has enough pieces to surround Arenado requires you to bury your head in the sand and forget everything that's happened with this franchise over the last 20 years, because if there's one thing the Rockies have proven they're exceptionally terrible at, it's knowing when they have enough talent surrounding star players to contend.

I also feel umbrage with the idea that a club should chase a 75 or 80 win season to raise the short term floor of a team because it's a better environment for the young players. How much of a problem was the environment for Atlanta Braves' young players in 1988 through 1990 when the club lost 97 or more games for three straight seasons before winning every NL East title awarded from 1991 through 2005?

The idea that winning 76 games in 2016 instead of 66 is going to make the club better in 2018 is garbage. What will really make the club better in 2018 is exchanging tradable players right now for as many assets as possible that have the potential to blossom in that time period.

2) The bullpen still isn't very good

Rockies fans have witnessed such disastrous performances from the bullpen in recent seasons that a mediocre pen is now going to look better than it really is in relation to the rest of the league. In his article from Monday, Drew correctly points out that the legendary 2007 Rockies had eight regulars in the pen who posted an ERA+ of 110 or higher.

He then goes on to post the following table after talking about how the Rockies will have five players with an above average ERA+ in their bullpen once Adam Ottavino returns for the second half of the season.







Jake McGee






Jason Motte






Chad Qualls






Adam Ottavino






Justin Miller






Sure, it looks nice, but the pen isn't really this good as it relates to this season specifically. Ottavino won't be making an impact here until the second half of the season when the club will likely already be out of contention, and Qualls and Motte are not guys I'd use a career ERA+ number to project 2016 with the way their careers are trending. Here's what those two have done over the last three years as they enter their age 34 and 37 seasons.

Jason Motte

2013: Missed the entire season due to Tommy John surgery

2014: 79 ERA+

2015: 101 ERA+

Chad Qualls

2013: 148 ERA+

2014: 117 ERA+

2015: 92 ERA+

So we have one guy who hasn't lived up to his career ERA+ since 2012 on the other side of Tommy John surgery and another guy who is declining so rapidly the Astros completely left him off their post season roster. Yes, that same Astros club who had Kansas City dead to rights in Game 4 of the ALDS before seeing their bullpen and Carlos Correa's defense completely unravel in the eighth inning. That club determined he wasn't good enough to be part of their bullpen anymore.

Now to be fair, I do think Justin Miller has great chance to take a leap forward and put it all together this season giving the Rockies a second strong option in the pen to go along with McGee in the first half of the season. However, that's not enough to make this a good bullpen if Ottavino is out and Motte and Qualls continue down their current road.

Another thing to consider is that the Rockies haven't exactly proven good at adding the right relievers from outside of the organization. Here's the ERA+ numbers of a couple of big bullpen additions the Rockies made in recent seasons in the three years before they joined the organization:

Player A

Year 1: 134 ERA+

Year 2: 136 ERA+

Year 3: 187 ERA+

Player B

Year 1: 125 ERA+

Year 2: 113 ERA+

Year 3: 125 ERA+

Player A is Wilton Lopez, and player B Boone Logan. I'm not going to predict the same fate for Jake McGee in Colorado, but I am going to point out that the Rockies shouldn't exactly have your trust when it comes to picking the correct high leverage arm to add to their pen.

One final point about bullpens before we move on. When I got to meet Tulo before he was traded, one of the things I asked him about was some of the biggest changes he's noticed in the league since he was a rookie back in 2007, and he talked about how the bullpens all over the league are so much better than they were at that time. As a hitter, he said he has to put so much more effort into studying the opponent's relief pitchers because there are so many guys out there on every team who have stuff that can beat you.

What Tulo sees on the field is also reflected through statistics (the majority of this uptick is in the form of relief arms):

In other words, what we thought of as a good bullpen the last time the Rockies actually had a good bullpen is now probably just a decent bullpen. The bar has been raised as everybody all around baseball (on average) has better relief arms than they did a handful of years ago.

This once again makes the Rockies' long term goal of adding impactful pitching all over the roster a good one, but the acquisition of McGee, who can only help in the short term before he becomes extremely expensive or a free agent, a bizarre move.

Is this Rockies bullpen better than it's been in recent seasons? Yes (although that's not saying much).

Is this Rockies bullpen ready to push the Rockies into contention in 2016? Absolutely not!

3) The Rockies probably didn't improve defensively

Here's a dirty little secret: Over the last two seasons, the defensive metrics actually think Corey Dickerson's been as good as Gerardo Parra. Or to perhaps put it more accurately, they think Parra's been as bad as Dickerson. Here's the cold, hard facts:

Dickerson defense

Now it's also true that these metrics thought Parra was one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball back in 2013, so a bounce back is certainly possible. However, that was in Parra's age 26 season. He's now about to enter his age 29 season, and outfield defense tends to peak about as early as any skill in the game, so while you don't have to buy completely into these numbers saying he's as bad or worse than Dickerson on that side of the ball now, I think it's reasonable to conclude that the glove man we saw three to six years ago is gone.

Then you throw on top of this the fact that the team doesn't have Tulo's defense at shortstop anymore, which looked excellent in the second half of last season as he got further away from that hip surgery, and it's hard to see how the Rockies got better over the last year in one of the key areas that support a "try to add major league pieces now" strategy.

Oh, and it gets even worse when you consider that last year DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado played 150 and 157 games respectively. Both are excellent defenders, but they can't make an impactful increase on their playing time this season, meaning that if either one of them hit the DL at any point this summer, you're going to be dealing with a significant downgrade defensively at either second or third base.

When you factor in all of these variables, I don't see the Rockies taking a step forward from where they were in this department in 2015.

4) The offense is awful

I'll make this last one quick, but in Drew's piece, he mentions that it's possible that offensive personnel doesn't matter very much. Well unfortunately for the 2016 Rockies, I can assure you it does matter.

Now it's probably fair to say that it matters less than it should because of the Coors Hangover Effect -- and  you can even take the next step from there and say that prioritizing pitching should therefore be the goal (this is what I believe the Rockies have reasonably done), but you can't just completely ignore it all together if you're trying to add pieces and be competitive, which is what the Rockies are foolishly, halfheartedly doing.

When the Rockies went to the playoff in 2007 and 2009, they had some of the best offenses in team history. It wasn't the only thing that got them there, but you better believe it still mattered quite a bit. Here's the list of best to worst Rockies teams by wRC+ taken directly from the fangraphs website:

fangraphs image

Last year, the Rockies ranked last in baseball with a wRC+ of 85, and their lineup got worse this winter. It's very likely that we're headed for one of the three lowest wRC+ seasons in Rockies history. I know you're probably tired of reading this by now, but it again underscores the idiocy of adding only a few win now pieces to this roster for 2016 instead of trading away guys who could make you even better in the 2018 time period. The bullpen might be better at protecting leads than in past seasons, but you're dreaming if you think this offense is going to give them many leads to protect, especially on the road, but that's a topic for another piece later this month.

For all of these reasons, the Rockies' 2016 plan is fatally flawed.