In what may be a big storyline this season, the Rockies’ batting order shakeup may turn out to be very effective — if Friday’s spring training opener is a sign of things to come. The idea of batting Charlie Blackmon in the middle of the lineup has been floated around. If that’s the case, the Rockies will need a new leadoff man, and Raimel Tapia made a strong impression on Friday by belting this solo homer with mucho swagger in the third inning:
Tapia is the embodiment of a more prototypical leadoff hitter, with a crafty combination of contact and speed. But Thomas Harding reports that Tapia added 15 pounds of pure muscle this offseason, and if he can continue to put on a show of power — doing his best Chuck Nazty impression out of the leadoff spot — the Rockies will be in good shape offensively to set the table for Nolan, Charlie, and Trevor in 2018.
In Saturday’s game action, the bats came alive as the Rockies routed the Reds 11 - 4. Raimel Tapia continued his strong start to the year, slugging an RBI double, McMahon had a pair of singles, Jordan Patterson had a strong debut going 3-for-3 with two doubles, and Nolan Arenado destroyed his first ball of the year for a solo home run:
Oh, how we’ve missed you, Sandblaster.
On the mound, Yence Almonte (No. 8 PuRP) pitched two solid innings, giving up one run on two hits, and striking out two batters. He was followed by another young hurler in Sam Howard (No. 10 PuRP) who pitched two scoreless innings, giving up one hit and striking out two, but also walked two and hit a batter.
One thing is clear, so far. Bud Black will be giving lots of opportunities to his young stars and prospects, and referring to his pitchers, told Thomas Harding, “They’ve got to keep going. We’re going to keep giving them the ball.” It should be a fun, exciting spring for the Rockies and their fans, and if the young talent continues to succeed, full of hope, too.
In the latest installment of our 2018 State of the Position series, Hayden Kane takes a look at a position that has stirred up a fair amount of debate, criticism, and optimism this offseason — first base. Going into the Winter Meetings and the subsequent “Hot Stove” season, 1B looked like a position up in the air. With every passing day of inaction, it has become more clear the Rockies are putting their eggs in a McMahon/Desmond basket.
There is still time for Jeff Bridich to add a free-agent 1B to platoon with McMahon, which is more likely to occur if Ian Desmond continues to struggle or doesn’t provide a sufficient level of defense. Regardless, Ryan seems to be in position to begin the year as the starter, and it’s his position to lose.
McMahon has started the first two spring training games for the Rockies, and, though it’s a small sample size, has been impressive at the plate so far by going 3-for-5 with multiple RBI singles. If McMahon continues to hit well, expect him to receive the bulk of playing time at 1B for the Rockies in 2018.
Another encouraging sign for the bullpen came in the opener on Friday when Adam Ottavino pitched a scoreless inning of relief and struck out one batter. But more importantly, he was consistent in throwing strikes and needed only ten pitches to get through the frame.
Ottavino is coming off a very disappointing 2017, a season he himself described as “embarrassing” in his discussion with Thomas Harding. Now, he’s focused on getting ahead of batters early in counts to repeat the success he had in previous seasons when he established himself as one of the top righty relievers in baseball.
Harding also reveals that in 2012 - 2016, according to Statcast™, Ottavino threw a first-pitch strike to batters in 549 of 1,090 opportunities (54%). In 2017, though, that number was only 42.2%. If he can continue to throw strikes early and be aggressive, Adam can be a vital piece of the bullpen and bridge to closer Wade Davis for the Rockies in ‘18.
This is a compelling article from Nick Bunney at Rox Pile that takes a closer look at how the Rockies fared in 2017 against tiers of pitchers based on average pitch velocity. Give it a read, dive into the meat of the data he unpacks, and you’ll find there are both some expectations met and surprises, too.
I’ll let the results speak for themself, but it is interesting to note the Rockies played 73 games against tier-1 pitchers from Nick’s data — that is, pitchers who throw 93.0+ MPH on average — which is 45% of, or nearly half, their games played. But while the Rockies played many games against hard-throwing pitchers, and struck out against them the most, too, it is not the tier they struggled to beat the most. Just goes to show you, velocity isn’t everything.