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The 2019 Rockies and what ‘it’s early’ means

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We say ‘it’s early’ a lot, but let’s get specific about what it means

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The beginning of the 2019 season has been tough sledding for the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies are 3-8, having lost 8 of their last 9 games, which is their second-most losses within the first 11 games of a season. (In 2005, they lost 9 of the first 11 games.) They have a team slash line of .219/.283/.350 with an OPS of .633.

That is [takes a deep breath] not good. The pitching has struggled as well, and every time an opposing team hits to right field and Charlie Blackmon moves to make a play, it’s impossible to ignore the collective breath-holding of #RockiesTwitter. Moreover, the Rockies have had rotten luck with injuries. David Dahl, easily the Rockies’ best offensive player so far (.343/.385/.629), has been moved to the IL, following Daniel Murphy, Ryan McMahon, and Tyler Anderson. These are grim days, and the season feels all but lost.

Fans have been told to be patient because “it’s early.” And it is, even though after the first 11 games, it may not feel that way. Here are some ways to think about where the Rockies are in terms of the season and reasons to stay positive.

The Rockies Haven’t Played Enough Games to Draw Conclusions (It’s Early, Part I)

You’re probably tired of hearing “small sample size,” but it’s true. Of 162 games, the Rockies have played 11. That’s 6.79%. To compare this to NFL football, the Rockies have lost 1 game. (One NFL game is equivalent to 10.125 baseball games.) There is a long way to go in this very long season, and it’s shortsighted to assume that the last week-and-a-half represents the the only possibility for the 2019 Rockies. Last year after 11 games, the Rockies were 5-6. Granted, that’s better than 3-8, but not by much.

In being swept by the Dodgers, the Rockies lost to the hottest team in baseball, which makes the contrast even worse. But the Dodgers will not be this hot all season, and it’s still early for the Rockies.

The Coors Effect Still Matters (It’s Early, Part II)

Think about all the pieces we’ve read about the unique challenges the Rockies face in playing at elevation. (Read Mike Petriello’s analysis here, Charlie Blackmon’s comments here, BikeChess’s FanPost here, Matt Gross’s take here, and Jeff Sullivan’s comments here.) Playing baseball at elevation is hard for pitchers and hitters, and the Rockies are readjusting to life at home. They’ve been out of Denver since October. For their first homestand in 2018, the Rockies went 2-6. Again, the 2018 numbers are slightly better, but not much.

So take the challenges of playing at elevation, compound that with injuries, and you’ll see a team struggling with adversity. But again, it’s early. I’d rather they work through the problems now and build for the future.

The Rockies Are Still Figuring Themselves Out (It’s Early, Part III)

This year, the Rockies are missing four key presences in their clubhouse: DJ LeMahieu, Carlos González, Gerardo Parra, and Adam Ottavino. Setting aside what these players brought on the field, they had key leadership roles.

Right now, the Rockies are figuring out how they will work as a team. (Eric Garcia McKinley’s piece on Nolan Arenado’s Coors Field Opening Day press conference provides one example of the Rockies revising their leadership structure.) This may seem like a minor detail, but it isn’t. Ask yourself what happens in your job when there’s a personnel change — it’s complicated. But these matters tend to sort themselves out.

Moving Players and Letting the Kids Play Requires Learning (It’s Early, Part IV)

With the changes in personnel, we’re seeing players learn new positions, most notably Ian Desmond, Garrett Hampson, and Charlie Blackmon in the outfield. I’ve been nervous about the new outfield for a long time, and Blackmon’s two errors on Sunday against the Dodgers were cringeworthy. But I also know this about Charlie Blackmon: When there’s a problem, he addresses it. And like anyone learning a new skill, it takes time and practice. He looked more comfortable in his first game against Atlanta, and I expect him to continue to improve.

Similarly, consider Raimel Tapia’s decision against Atlanta to throw to third rather than second to keep Ronald Acuña from advancing. Yes, it was a mental error. And I’ll bet Tapia never makes that mistake again. Similarly, Hampson is adjusting both to playing in MLB and learning the outfield. “Letting the kids play” means letting them learn from making mistakes. It’s also how this team gets better.

Speaking of letting the kids play, Josh Fuentes has arrived. I’m not going to suggest he’s going to address all of the Rockies’ issues, but he singled in his first at-bat, and started a rally against Atlanta. Those kinds of momentum-changers matter. And the momentum for this team will change.

Final Thoughts

Chris Iannetta has urged everyone to calm down, saying, “There will be games and stretches through the course of the season when we don’t hit. . . . It doesn’t mean we’re a bad offense.” Arenado has agreed that it’s too soon to panic while acknowledging that the team has to turn things around.

In fairness, the Rockies have not been an offensively strong team for two seasons, but we’ve also not yet had an opportunity to see the new offense at work given that Murphy, McMahon, and Dahl are injured. That will change.

So that’s where I am. It’s early, and I’m still optimistic.