The Rockies 3-12 start didn’t cause fans to lose some hope early on in the season just because of the record. Rather, how they were losing fed into it. The team’s weakness appeared extra weak, and its strength wasn’t too strong.
The offense was generally thought to be the team’s weakness. During that losing stretch of baseball, the only player on the Rockies who hit better than league average was David Dahl. Nobody expected Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story to hit so poorly for long; however, other players who weren’t hitting had more cause for worry. Was Charlie Blackmon’s decline more rapid than expected? Is Raimel Tapia simply overmatched by major league pitching? Did we put too much hope into the Ryan McMahon/Garrett Hampson timeshare? Is Mark Reynolds really blind?
To make matters worse, the strength of the team, the starting rotation, was also bad. German Márquez, Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, and Chad Bettis combined for a 5.75 ERA, and Márquez and Gray were the only ones of the bunch who fans could really feel good about.
Since the Rockies’ dire start, the team has gone 28-15 and is in the thick of a Wild Card race that has five other teams within two games of the Rockies. How they’ve turned it around has been interesting.
Their weakness has become their strength, while their strength has continued to be weak. Márquez and Gray remain the only truly reliable starters, and the Rockies are winning because the offense is carrying the team.
★ ★ ★
Since the Rockies beat the Giants in San Francisco on April 14, ending an eight game losing streak, every single player to log at least 100 plate appearances has been hitting. Here’s an overview of team stats since April 14.
Rockies offense since April 14
Nolan Arenado’s line is one of the best in baseball since then. All of his 16 home runs have come in that timespan. The other remarkable aspect of Arenado’s season is that his strikeout rate is down to about 10%. He’s playing the best baseball of his career right now, and he’s putting together an MVP-caliber season. We’re watching a potential future Hall of Famer at his peak right now, and it’s something special.
Every now and again, I think: Damn, Trevor might be every bit as good as Nolan and we don’t talk about that enough. Story hasn’t been as lights out at the plate in this Rockies run, but that’s a high bar to cross. At the very least, he’s been a top two National League shortstop in 2019. His primary competition is a guy we’ll see starting tomorrow night, Javier Báez of the Chicago Cubs.
Speaking of Báez, that’s a ballplayer with swagger. The Rockies have swagger of their own though, in the form of Raimel Tapia. The emergence of Tapia as a legitimate major league hitter is one of the best outcomes so far this season, and it’s a reminder that it was not a foregone conclusion. The Rockies buried Tapia in Triple-A in 2018, and in his limited exposure to major league pitching last year and early this season, he looked overmatched at the plate. Tapia’s now making great contact and getting on base. It’s a joy to watch.
We have to talk here about Ian Desmond. During the Rockies 3-12 start, Desmond looked completely lost at the plate. He was hitting .151/.196/.208, which was 110 percent worse than league average. In 2018, 15 pitchers hit better than that.
But Desmond has been legitimately good since April 14, as is clearly evident in the chart above. He’s taking walks, not striking out too much, and is hitting for power. It doesn’t seem to be a matter of luck, either. His ground ball rate is way down and his fly ball rate way up. He’s still not hitting as many line drives as his teammates, but he’s hitting the ball hard. According to Baseball Savant, Desmond’s hard hit percentage is in the 88th percentile of all batters in 2019, and his average exit velocity is in the 84th percentile. Those are good indicators that the results are not a mirage (the “x” in the stats below stand for “expected” batting average, slugging percentage, and weighted on base average, as estimated by exit velocity and hard hit rate).
The Rockies offense has been carrying the team in its recent stretch of winning baseball, and Desmond has been a big part of that. I’m not ready to call it a true reversal because we know that wen Desmond goes cold, he can really go ice cold, but both the process and the results over the last six weeks of play should inspire confidence.
★ ★ ★
The way the Rockies have been winning has been surprising. It’s not just because of the stats cited, either. It’s the feeling. Whereas last year I constantly had this sinking feeling while watching the Rockies try to muster runs and salvage good starts, this year I more frequently feel like the offense should put up at least 4-5 runs and overcome a rotation that’s mediocre more often than not. Now we have to wait and see what the next surprise will be and how that changes the way we feel about this team.