The Colorado Rockies are 20-15. It hasn’t always been pretty, but those wins are in the bank, and the Rockies hopes of contention are alive and well. The Rockies, however, will need to make some considerable improvements if they want to keep those hopes alive through the rest of the season, and almost all of those improvements are on the offensive side.
While the Rockies starting and relief pitchers have had a few issues and hiccups in the first month, their overall bodies of work have been the main driver behind the Rockies’ success. The starting pitchers’ performances have also been trending in a positive direction, and their performance on the recently completed road trip was dominating and almost the sole reason they went 6-3 and have a five-game winning streak.
The offense, however, has been an anchor on the Rockies for most of the season. They scored 31 runs on the 9-game road trip. That amounts to just over three runs a game on average, but considering that 19 of those runs were scored in two games, the reality that the Rockies offense was horrible for the majority of the trip (just 12 runs scored in the other 7 games) rears its unfortunate head.
While it’s easy to hope that the warmer weather of summer will boost production, that expected bump isn’t enough to bring the Rockies up to a respectable level of offensive production.
Another commonly stated hope from traditional media types that cover the Rockies is that players like Ian Desmond, Gerardo Parra and Carlos González are going to somehow just return to an above-average offensive form. Unfortunately there’s not a lot to support those hopes outside of the player’s old reputation. It would be a different story if those players had produced at an above-average level even last season. That’s not the case, and outside of small windows of great production, one would need to go back at least two years to find a solid year from them and age is not on any of their side.
Despite his two home run performance yesterday, Desmond’s production is still a pitiful 50 wRC+, González’s is 49, and Parra’s is 74. For a team that has committed to having a defense-first catcher in the game having that many other black holes in the lineup is a recipe for disaster. The shallowness of the lineup has made the Rockies almost completely dependent on the long ball to score as there’s not enough quality hitters in the lineup to string together enough hits on a consistent basis.
Instead, let’s look at three solutions that can help fix the Rockies offense.
DJ Lemahieu’s return
This one’s easy, and let’s hope it’s also soon. The biggest transaction that will help fix the Rockies offense will be getting a healthy DJ LeMahieu back. With his return, the Rockies will have five hitters that are producing at an acceptable level this season. Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl, Trevor Story and LeMahieu need to be in the Rockies lineup as much as possible. While it might seem weird to include Dahl and his 40% K rate in that category, the amount of damage that he does when he puts the ball in play outweighs the bad. He currently has a 117 wRC+, which is good for fourth on the Rockies.
Platoon Carlos González with Noel Cuevas
The next changes that need to happen might be considered a bit more radical by the traditional baseball types. The Rockies need to find platoon partners for Ian Desmond and González. Both of these players have actually produced well against opposite-handed pitching, but their production against same-handed has been so amazingly horrible that it’s dragging their overall production down to pitcher-hitting levels. While it’s tempting to just platoon the two of them, it would still leave an open spot in the lineup that the Rockies would need to fill, and while it’s nice to dream about trading for José Abreu, that’s probably not realistic at this point of the season.
Noel Cuevas is the obvious platoon partner for González. Cuevas hasn’t produced well yet with just a 80 wRC+; he does have a .333 batting average but also a .333 slugging percentage with only singles so far. However, as the rare right-handed hitting outfielder in the Rockies system, he would protect González from the lefties that González has historically struggled against, and while Cuevas’ own numbers aren’t great yet this year, he’s hit the ball extremely well (53.9% hard hit rate) against left-handed pitching and just needs the baseball gods to shine favorably on him for a few extra-base hits.
Platoon Ian Desmond with Jordan Patterson
Ryan McMahon seems like the obvious player to platoon at first with Desmond, but with him just finding his swing in Triple-A again, it would be best to let him play everyday there until the Rockies are ready to commit to giving him the everyday job at the MLB level as he has struggled when not giving consistent playing time. Instead, the Rockies should give Jordan Patterson another chance at the MLB level. He’s already on the 40-man roster, can play first, and bats left-handed which is exactly what we are looking for.
Calling up Patterson would require the Rockies to play with a five man bench. However, with the current dominating run by the Rockies starting pitching, they should feel quite comfortable working with a seven-man bullpen for the foreseeable future. Mike Dunn and Brooks Pounders haven’t pitched since April 28 and Harrison Musgrave has only pitched once since April 23. The Rockies have been effectively running a five-man bullpen and they could use one of those roster spots to help fix their offense while still providing plenty of depth in their bullpen thanks to their stellar starting pitching.
These changes would require not just a few roster changes, but also a change in how Bud Black chooses to use some of his veteran players. However, they could be a kick start to a Rockies offense that needs one and also needs to start carrying it’s own weight.