After a successful first season under the guiding hand of Bud Black, the Colorado Rockies are returning an intact coaching staff in 2018. While Black and his staff may have made decisions that not everyone agreed with, the end result of a playoff berth in his first year exceeded expectations.
It’s tough to gauge the success of a manger in baseball. Among sabermetricians, the thought is that even the best or worst managers only win or lose their teams a handful of games over an entire season. Unlike players, there’s not an easy WAR formula for managers, and even the more obvious decisions like lineup only benefit a team around one win a year if perfectly optimized. Usually the easiest, and maybe even the best, way to measure a manager is comparing their team to their expected win totals.
This is imperfect because a team can outperform expected win totals in any given year for a number of reasons. But if a team consistently outperforms their runs totals it may be due to their manager making optimal decisions in close games and allowing them to win more than their fair share of those games that usually are split 50-50 in a season.
Using those standards, Bud Black had a solid first year for the Rockies. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Rockies first, second, and third order win totals were 87.6, 84.4, and 83.2. While the Rockies were slightly below their first order win total they outperformed their second and third order by a fair amount. If they can continue to do that, we may get an idea of how much Black is helping this Rockies team.
However, considering that PECOTA projected that the Rockies would win 74 games before last season and none of the other team projection systems seemed to like them much more, the fact that the Rockies vaulted into contention despite losing 60% of their starting rotation early in the season speaks well of the Rockies coaching staff.
On the field, there were two primary areas where the coaching staff demonstrated its value. For instance, Black proved his ability to handle a pitching staff and help develop the Rockies stable of young pitchers. But he did end up giving too many plate appearance to players like Alexi Amarista over younger more talented players.
While the Rockies were expecting to use a young pitching staff last season, injuries to the “veterans” early in the season resulted in four of the five members of their rotation being rookies. Usually that’s a good recipe for disaster, and the general expectations for the Rockies plummeted with each injury and resulting replacement with a rookie. However, under Black, the Rockies catapulted themselves into the playoff hunt behind their rookie starters.
One other big on-field improvement for the Rockies was their lack of bunting. While they still led the league in sacrifices last season with 62, over two-thirds of them were by the pitchers. the 20 bunts by position players meant the Rockies no longer lead the National League in non-pitcher bunts, a trend that was growing increasingly worrisome under Weiss. Of those 20 bunts, only seven of them were at Coors Field, a place where it’s rarely a good idea statistically to be having your position players bunt. After three consecutive seasons of giving away 15 outs at Coors Field, it was encouraging to see the improvement.
Despite changing managers last offseason, the Rockies kept their pitching brain trust of Darren Holmes and Steve Foster intact as well as brought back third base coach Stu Cole. Mike Redmond, Tony Diaz and the two-headed hitting coach Duane Espy and Jeff Salazar were brought in as new coaches with Bud Black. If it’s hard to judge the impact of a manager, it’s even harder to judge the impact of individual coaches, so the fact that they all returned to the team this year is probably the biggest statement about their performance.