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What’s wrong with the 2019 Colorado Rockies?

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A rash of injuries have exposed the Rockies’ greatest weaknesses

Consider: a single sequence that is emblematic of the Rockies’ struggles in 2019.

On Tuesday night, Yonathan Daza, called up earlier in the day to take the place of the injured David Dahl, came to the plate for his second Major League at bat in the bottom of the third inning. Runners were on the corners, no outs, with the Rockies down 1-0. After a prolonged at bat, Daza ripped a ball down the right field line, a sure double were it not for the presence of 6’-5” first baseman Freddie Freeman, who caught the line drive and doubled off the runner at first.

Raimel Tapia came up next and promptly struck out, swinging at a ball in the dirt for strike three to end the inning. Against German Márquez in the top of the next inning the Braves went double, single, strikeout, single to score a run, and Freddie Freeman was ruled safe at third after a replay review overturned the out call. Then Dansby Swanson homered to make it 5-0 Atlanta.

The game finished 7-1 in favor of the Braves, dropping the Rockies to 3-9 on the season with an MLB-worst -31 run differential. Of course, the season is only 12 games old. It’s a long season, after all, and we would all be best served to take a deep breath before overreacting.

But there’s still a question of why it’s been so bad for the Rockies thus far. They are an overturned replay away from a 10 game losing streak, and that kind of futility doesn’t happen by pure happenstance (though happenstance does have something to do with it). What’s gone wrong so far?

No health

This is the obvious one so we’ll get it out of the way early. Since the start of the season, Daniel Murphy (broken finger), Jake McGee (knee sprain), Ryan McMahon (elbow sprain), Tyler Anderson (knee inflammation), and David Dahl (core injury) have been placed on the 10-day injured list.

For those keeping track at home, that’s the Opening Day first baseman, second baseman, left fielder, set-up man, and third starter all out before the Rockies played their 12th game. Worse, all are expected to require more than the minimum stay on the IL (with the possible exception of Dahl—but we’ve heard that before). That figure also doesn’t include Antonio Senzatela (heel) and Chris Rusin (back), who figured to play prominent roles in the pitching staff, starting the season on the IL.

No team goes the whole season without having to deal with a few injuries, but few deal with so many before finishing their first homestand. Not being able to run with your best 25-man roster hurts. Unfortunately, the Rockies problems go a bit deeper than that.

No contact

As is apparent to anyone capable of reading a boxscore, the Rockies offense has been offensive (*rimshot*). Going into Tuesday’s game, the Rockies were hitting .219/.283/.350, good for a DRC+ of 81 and 25th in MLB. It’s not just bad luck either; they are striking out way more (24.3%) and walking way less (7.6%) than league average (22.9% and 9.4%) and their batting average on balls in play (.273), while below league average (.287), isn’t so low as to raise concerns (even if it was the problem for Daza on Tuesday). The plate discipline numbers, however, do raise some red flags.

Colorado Rockies Plate Discipline

Category Chase% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% SwStr%
Category Chase% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% SwStr%
Rockies 32.4% 72.3% 49.5% 58.8% 80.5% 72.4% 42.9% 13.7%
League Average 29.3% 67.0% 45.7% 60.1% 84.3% 75.5% 43.4% 11.2%
League Rank 24th 30th 29th 21st 26th 24th 15th 28th
Entering play on April 9, 2019 FanGraphs

Rockies hitters are swinging more than almost every not-Reds team and making less contact than the majority of the league. Despite seeing about a league average amount of pitches in and out of the zone, they’re chasing more than most teams as well.

There are no more than four individuals out of the 12 with more than 11 at bats who fall on the right side of league average in any of these categories (and one who consistently does, Garrett Hampson, sports a cool 35 DRC+ in 27 PA). The majority of the team is on the wrong side of average but Raimel Tapia (42 DRC+ in 21 PA), Ian Desmond (71 DRC+ in 39 PA), and Mark Reynolds (71 DRC+ in 22 PA) stand out for their free swinging ways.

These sample sizes are small and thus the numbers could change significantly after a good game or two. Taken as a group, however, the Rockies offense seems to be really missing the ability to make contact while swinging at good pitches, something Daniel Murphy’s known for. His injury, along with the domino effect of many subsequent injuries, has produced a glaring hole in the Rockies’ approach at the plate.

No chance

Whereas the offense had been getting most of the blame for the team’s struggles, now the pitching staff is equally to blame. And it’s not because the offense is putting pressure on the pitching to carry the tam, but that the game seems to be slipping away before the offense even has a chance.

Consider the total runs scored by inning through the season’s first 12 games.

Cumulative Boxscore 2019

Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th
Team 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th 11th
Rockies 0 0 6 6 8 5 4 1 7 0 1
Opponents 5 5 7 17 9 10 8 3 5 0 0
Accessed April 9, 2019

The good news is when the Rockies have been ahead or tied at the fifth inning or later, they’ve gone on to win the game. The bad news is they’ve only had three such games. Twice they’ve been behind after one inning, four times after two, three times after three, and a whopping nine times after four innings. According to AT&T SportsNet’s Tuesday night broadcast, the Rockies have only held a lead for five outs in the past 92 innings. An offense that has scored only 2.1 runs per game has had a lot to do with that, but the last thing a struggling offense needs is to be faced with the task of climbing out of a 3-0, 5-0, 6-0, 7-0, or 9-1 hole.

★ ★ ★

After that 7-1 drubbing on Tuesday night, the Rockies seem to be in shambles. Injuries to key players have exposed problems of depth in the offense, putting extra strain on the pitching staff that it has not been able to handle. Add to that the weight of lofty expectations without producing wins, and with each swing and miss, with each hanging breaking ball, with each loss, the pressure only mounts.

Division titles cannot be won in April, but they can be lost. In a competitive National League, the Rockies need to find a way out of the spiral if they still hope to challenge for their first NL West crown.