Were this a normal offseason, the MLB Winter Meetings would begin today in Dallas, Texas, but instead they’re going virtual. As someone who has participated in a virtual version of a conference that is usually in-person, I can tell you the Winter Meetings will probably be lame compared to years past for lots of reasons. But on they must go and the Rockies face serious questions as they open.
Wednesday’s non-tendering of David Dahl, Tony Wolters, and Chi Chi Gonzalez have left the Rockies with major holes to fill at catcher and in the outfield, not to mention previously existing holes in the pitching staff and the right side of the infield. This has prompted questions of trade rumors for a Rockies shortstop (as though we weren’t already used to that) and a less-than-fully-satisfied third baseman. And yet we have little communication from the front office regarding offseason plans and what we do have seems bleak.
Really puts you into the holiday spirit, doesn’t it?
Ostensibly, the Rockies could solve some of these problems this week. Whether it’s a big-ticket free agent or a bargain bin acquisition or somewhere in between, I expect the Rockies to at least try to patch some of these holes. Internal candidates like Josh Fuentes, Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampson, and Brendan Rodgers (or maybe Colten Welker?) may be called upon to plug holes in a lineup, but if the Rockies are intent on avoiding a rebuild, they’ll have to look for outside help. To wit, here’s the current projected offense (based on info from Rockies Roster) with career wRC+ numbers.
Rockies Projected 2021 Offense
Other than the steep drop-off after the top three offensive threats, one can’t help but notice the inexperience on display. You may believe in a Rodgers breakout or that Tapia can produce league-average production playing everyday. But for a team that produced at best 88 wRC+ in the past four seasons (both in the playoff years), it would take every breakout breaking right.
But the problems go even deeper than the offense (and since many consider Sunday a holy day, I refuse to profane your eyes by bringing up the pitching staff). It even goes deeper than the front office communication. It’s a bad look that the Rockies didn’t do an end-of-season presser (especially when so many other teams, good and bad, did the same—see the comments for the results of our own Joelle Milholm’s research). And the Tampa Bay Rays just won the AL pennant with the 28th largest payroll, so it’s also deeper than ownership spending.
Four years ago, Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur produced a deep dive into team Research and Development departments across baseball. Every team was expanding their R&D staffs and many were increasing their scouting departments as well. They concluded that the most efficient way to improve a team was to expand these staffs, with the Dodgers, Yankees, and Rays serving as prime examples of the benefit.
Now that teams are cutting costs by letting go analysts (see the BP article linked below the jump), could the Rockies finally have an opportunity to zig where other teams are zagging? Mid-market owners like Monfort are likely cutting costs with the best of them (though we have yet to receive firm word of any massive layoffs from the FO), but they won’t be able to field an MLB quality team without spending something somewhere. Expanding the R&D department may not yield immediate fruit (analysts don’t hit leadoff or turn double plays), but it may be the best place for the Rockies to scoop up top-shelf talent for bottom-shelf costs.
More to the point, R&D stands as the simplest explanation of the Rockies’ problems of the last decade. If players like Jake McGee and DJ LeMahieu leave the Rockies and get significantly better, then the team is falling behind the rest of the league in significant areas. Perhaps it’s time Bridich and co. look deeper into the issues plaguing the team. Maybe it’s not the offense, or the pitching, or the money, or communication. Maybe the team needs to follow the wins.
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In response to news that teams are cutting costs during the pandemic by trimming R&D departments, Arthur reexamines his and Lindbergh’s research from four years ago to determine whether analytics is still a worthy investment. A simple regression of wins from 2016 to 2020 plotted against number of full-time analysts reveals a strong positive relationship: “for every one additional analyst, teams earned another roughly seven wins in the last five years.” This doesn’t account for important factors like payroll or previous team success, and correlation does not equal causation, but it remains apparent that analytics is a sound investment.
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