This is the second in a two-part series from Nick Groke about how the Rockies are trying to better cope with “their Coors Field factor.” Part one highlighted Charlie Blackmon’s idea of taking batting practice at real-pitcher speed as soon as they get to practice in a new city, since every single city is lower in elevation than Denver. This ways hitters can re-adjust to how pitches move closer to sea level.
The second part is coaching the players to try not to let their Coors Field hitter-hungry appetites distort their plate discipline. In other words, just because players can swing at pitches outside of the strike zone and make contact that could lead to singles that fall in the gigantic outfield, they shouldn’t. They should “‘Take the balls and swing at the strikes,’” which is advice hitting coach Dave Magadan received from Chicago Cub great Mark Grace when they were teammates. As soon as the Rockies hit the road, those bloop singles they got away with at Coors Field are easy outs. This is backed by the Rockies MLB-leading home batting average of .287 and the second-worst road average in the league of .225 last season.
The Rockies ranked ninth in the MLB last year in swinging at pitches outside the strike zone (O-swing percentage). While sometimes the Rockies can get hits, and even homers, on those pitches, it often leads to ugly swings and strikeouts. The Rockies struck out 836 times away from Coors Field last year, which was second highest in the majors. It’s no surprise that laying off those pitches could have better outcomes—Patrick Saunders wrote about this for the Denver Post in February ($)—but it adds another layer of benefit that this approach could help long term with more consistency between home and away games.
This year at spring training, Magadan showed all the Rockies hitters footage of Anthony Rendon, George Springer, and Juan Soto not chasing out of the zone and earning walks in the postseason and World Series last year. Each walk led to a rally of sorts, which Magadan calls “bridge at-bats.” With more of those, the Rockies could have more multi-run innings and maybe fewer solo homers. In the long-term, they’ll also be adopting a more sustainable at-bat approach that should be more productive regardless of where they are playing.
Groke sums it up really well in terms of the team’s new approach to hitting:
“When they are ahead in a count, they chase pitches outside the zone more than any other team. Magadan wants them to do the opposite, to shrink their zone, force the pitcher to make a more difficult pitch. Give up the easy single for bigger potential benefits later in the inning.”
This is another possible step forward in the Rockies developing a more analytic approach to the game, like Purple Row’s Renee Dechert wrote about on Saturday.
I’m sticking with the “you gotta have hope in spring training” motto because it’s baseball and spring and I can’t help it. These kinds of stories about what the Rockies are doing certainly help with that.
The Jeff Bridich-Nolan Arenado feud offseason, with the trade speculation and Nolan feeling disrespected by the Rockies not keeping their word about building the best team possible, led to a lot of disappointment and frustration for fans, who didn’t think that would be something we had to worry about after Arenado signed an eight-year, $260 million deal last offseason.
This spring training, it’s led to articles about the lack of communication between Bridich and Arenado and anxiety over what the fallout might be in terms of the atmosphere in the clubhouse. The Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders wanted to know if the realities of the business side of baseball has had any effect on Arenado’s love for the game. Saunders based this whole column on asking Nolan: “Do you still love the game as much as you used to?”
Nolan’s response was just as you would expect:
“That hasn’t changed at all. I love this game and I have always loved this game. But I’m always working to get better. I want to focus on that and more than anything, I want to win. You know that.”
That’s just Nolan being Nolan. He takes this game seriously. His work ethic is hard core. Arenado admits that it might not always look like he is having fun, but he is and he still derives great joy from every aspect of the game. In 20 plate appearances this spring, he is hitting .267/.400/.933 and his four hits consist of three homers and a double. He’s also walked four times and has seven RBI.
Opening Day is 18 days away and the Rockies are still trying to figure out who will round out the starting rotation. Jon Gray, Germán Márquez, and Antonio Senzatela, who are all righties, and lefty Kyle Freeland are in, but the fifth spot is still up for grabs between Chi Chi González, Jeff Hoffman, Peter Lambert, and Ubaldo Jiménez. MLB.com’s Jake Rill reports that Bud Black will go with the best five no matter if they are right handed or left, veterans or young guys.
Of the four, Lambert has the lowest ERA in Cactus League play this spring at 4.50 in six innings of work with six strikeouts and three walks. He also is only 22 and has options left to go down to Triple-A. Hoffman follows with a 6.35 ERA in 5 2/3 innings with four strikeouts and three walks, but he doesn’t have any options left. If the Rockies don’t put him on the Opening Day roster, other teams could pick him up on waivers. This increases the odds that Hoffman will stay on the team, whether it’s as a starter or in the bullpen. González has posted a 9.00 ERA in seven innings with five strikeouts and three walks. He got banged up early in Cactus League play, but found his grove on Thursday with three strong innings without any runs against the Royals. González also has options left, but also has bullpen experience.
Jiménez had been pitching well, but got torched by the Dodgers on Saturday for seven runs, even though only three were earned, while giving up one walk, two hit by a pitch and five hits with two strikeouts in 1 1/3 innings. It pushed the veteran’s ERA to 8.44 in the Cactus League, but Rill reports that if Jiménez doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he has an agreement with the Rockies to start the season in the minors and continue to work on getting used to the grind of the game again.
In a mailbag post on Saturday, Nick Groke of The Athletic predicts that Gonzaléz will get the fifth and final spot, but also ends the post with a “but stay tuned …”
It’s still an open race.
In an annual event that was started by Troy Tulowitzki eight years ago, the Rockies once again hosted a group of pediatric cancer patients from Children’s Hospital Colorado on Saturday. The kids got to do a meet and greet with players, get autographs signed, and then they will go to the Rockies game at Salt River Field against Cleveland on Sunday at 2:10 MT to watch Kyle Freeland take the mound. Hopefully his back spasms have been alleviated.
The Rockies Wives foundation runs the event now and helps raise money to be able to bring the kids, who travel without their parents and just with medical staff, to Arizona.
It’s definitely worth watching the video.
In other news, just focusing on the few highlights from the Rockies 7-1 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday since the pitching problems were noted above, Daniel Bard pitched a scoreless inning with a fastball hitting 95-96 mph and two strikeouts and Nolan Arenado hit his third homer of spring training.
Other interesting notes include that Wes Parsons will be working as a starter in the minors to start the season after being reassigned to minors camp on Friday. Jeff Hoffman’s family grew to four on Friday after Houstyn Hoffman entered the world. Hoffman and his wife Marissa had as their first son, Tytan, in 2019.
No surprise here. It’s Nolan. Maybe Jeff Bridich read this and will start to believe it.