Fixing the Rockies, a data driven approach: Part 1
Fixing the Rockies, a data driven approach: Part 2
Fixing the Rockies, a data driven approach: Part 3
Fixing the Rockies, a data driven approach: Part 4
Fixing the Rockies, a data driven approach: Part 5
We made it! We’ve talked about pretty much every side of the ball from hitting and pitching down to defense and pitch design. I said we were looking for the Rockies to get 7 wins better, so let’s recap and see if we found those wins.
The most important change was to fix the road hitting problem. Even if hitters got 10% better on the road (which would still be bad, but not as bad), we could get another 3 wins a season. This is no easy task, but out of any part of the game this provides us with the most upside.
Other strategies that didn’t result directly in wins for the 2020 season included only drafting pitchers in the first round at all costs, never signing a veteran pitcher again, extending homegrown pitchers also at all costs, trade the Double-A Hartford team for a higher altitude one, and if we are trading for other pitchers, trying to get them at the lowest level possible to give them more time to adjust to high altitude pitching.
We also talked about how if we do have the veteran starters, we should try and limit their usage to the road. Looking over their home and away splits, that would net us about 2 more wins for the whole season (5 total). This is both because they allow so many runs at home, but the results are doubled because they actually prevent those same runs on the road. This extends to a playoff situation where someone like Marquez, who does better on the road, should start there, while someone like Gray (or Freeland if he has a bounce back season) should start at home. The veterans can hold a game on road, but we need to turn to homegrown players like Oberg to close it out at home.
We took a look at splitters, which play well at Coors Field, and are a decent option for any pitcher, current or future, looking to add a pitch. In some cases it might be a good idea to abandon a below average pitch for a splitter as the spin profile can benefit certain pitchers. Three pitchers that I think would benefit are Tyler Anderson, Kyle Freeland, and Chad Bettis. Anderson and Bettis both have terrible changeups, and the splitter would give each of them a more dominant pitch to get strikeouts and even more groundballs. Freeland has league average pitches, but he needs something other than weak contact.
We looked at how the Rockies throw the fastball down a ton and get hit hard for it. Fastballs naturally play well in the top of the zone and there are several players whose talent is being wasted in the bottom of the strike zone. It’s almost impossible to estimate how many wins this contributes, but with the reduction in home runs my estimate for run prevention might be 2-3 wins. I can’t simulate a whole season and just change the height of fastballs, so take this with a grain of salt. We won’t count the fastballs to our totals, but this would be a huge positive change for the team. The pitcher this is most relevant for is Jeff Hoffman.
The Desmond situation is complicated, but if he is platooned correctly and stops playing valuable defensive positions he can turn a 2 loss season into perhaps a 1 win season. If we take 0.0 as a baseline, we’ll say that we gained 1 win from this switch (6 total). Similar to Desmond, we looked at a quick way to determine if Daniel Murphy can be a valuable member of the team next season without having to run him out there to no avail. If he isn’t hitting the ball harder next season we can trade him and put Charlie at first base. This also opens the doors to getting an outfielder on the free agent market, a place that Rockies have really needed help the last few seasons.
We looked at how an arrangement of the outfield can provide more value by playing Sam Hilliard more and cutting ties with Raimel Tapia. Hilliard does strike out often, but if you hit enough homers it’s easy to make up for it. At the same time, there isn’t much Tapia can contribute with such little power. Designating Tapia for assignment and going with Hilliard, even if he only produces a 1 WAR season is a better move for the team. By having Hampson as a backup (or a starter if he hits well), we also won’t lose nearly as many runs (and wins) than slower options in center. Dahl should stay in left, and even if he doesn’t play 150 games we know he’ll provide value.
We want to give Tony some pop. If the team can take some initiative with him during the offseason, that change alone can add 1.5-2 wins simply because catcher is such a valuable position (7-8 total). If Tony can change his swing and hit 10 home runs next season, we’ll be one step closer to the playoffs. In the event Grandal becomes available, spending some money on him this offseason could add even more value, giving us 3-4 extra wins (9-10 total).
With our pitching staff, we might have to let Senzatela go. He doesn’t have dominant stuff and he doesn’t have command of a large enough repertoire to be a big league starter. We also looked at possible trading McGee and Davis, which would give more flexibility in the bullpen. But even if we can’t, the 2 added wins still stand by relegating them to the road.
Adding in our possible 2-3 wins from fastball changes, we are looking at improving our 83 win projection to 92-94 wins. It may be hard to predict, but even without the 2-3 wins from altering fastball placement that pretty much guarantees a playoff spot (in the NL at least) all by only working with the players we already have. There is a little potential to go grab a free agent, but it also might not be necessary.
But wait! You got all the way here and you didn’t say someone should be fired? What about Bridich? What about Black? Didn’t you say he was harming the team? My answer is that I am not the owner or the general manager. If you are one of the 30 people who get to be a big league GM, you want them the be the best. I don’t think Bridich has been the best, but no GM makes perfect decisions, and it’s hard for me to sit here and say someone else would certainly do it better at this point. Bud Black certainly needs to get with the program, but the Rockies in general need to get with the program. Until that happens, no one person can share the blame.
The Rockies need a better organizational culture, but that doesn’t mean everything must go. It might be that Bridich is the largest negative factor in the organization’s culture. It could be Black. It could be the entire front office. I couldn’t tell you who needs to go without being there myself. What I can say is they often don’t bring in outside help and they aren’t planning on it this offseason. I keep up to date on data analyst positions opening in baseball, and the Rockies are conspicuously not among the teams looking for help. In some respects the Rockies need to change the way they do things, in some respects they’ve done really well. We’ll see what direction they take. I think they got the team close enough to where a few key decisions can turn the tide.
I really want my team to do well, and I hope some of these suggestions can be incorporated into a winning ballclub.
Thanks for reading!