Early on in the year when the Rockies were 11-3 with all three losses coming by one run, it was easy for me to think, “wow, they could easily be 14-0 right now!”
Those close games have continued to haunt the club as they try to navigate their way through this tough stretch. Back-to-back 2-1 losses to the Astros kicked off a week in which the Rockies were hoping to put a 2-5 record from the previous seven days behind them.
While the Rockies are still very much so in the thick of the playoff hunt, this is a trend that will have to reverse if they hope to remain in that position six weeks from now when the season comes to an end. The team has lost eight games by two or fewer runs this year. It is encouraging that they aren’t getting blown out night after night but these are also games that need to turn into wins if the Rockies want to be playing postseason baseball in 2020.
On top of the inability to win close games, the Rockies also haven’t been helped by Jon Gray’s recent struggles.
Through his first five starts of the year, Gray has a 5.74 ERA to go with a 1-2 record. While that number is heavily skewed by the eight runs he gave up in 3 1⁄3 innings against Arizona on August 10, the real worry comes from the fact that Jon has seen a 2.1 MPH decrease in average fastball velocity compared to last year. The rest of the rotation has continued to pitch magnificently, but adding improved results from Jon Gray would be a big boost to this club.
Despite mostly negative headlines surrounding the Rockies these days, signs that Nolan may about to break out of his slump could turn a lot of those stories back to the positives we got used to in the early portion of the season.
As the early portion of this week highlighted, the Rockies are in need of a bit more consistency from their offense. While I focused on the struggles of Ryan McMahon and David Dahl last week, the majority of the weight still falls on the shoulders of Nolan Arenado. According to Daniel Kramer, three major aspects of Nolan’s game point to an incoming surge at the plate for the Rockies third basemen:
- Nolan has the second lowest strikeout rate in the league. At 6.3% Nolan’s K rate has seen a stark improvement after the 14% rate he posted last year. This may seem positive but Nolan doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of that fact. He told reporters, “I’d rather strike out with my ‘A’ swing than with my ‘D’ swing, where I roll it over on the ground and don’t strike out.” Even so, frequently steering clear of the K generally leads to good results.
- The contact he’s making isn’t good contact. This is what Nolan was referring to in the quote above. If you take away Nolan’s 6 homers on the year, he’s hitting just .175. He holds the highest “under-contact” rate in the majors (42.5%). Given the career that Nolan has had, and the fact that he has developed into a strong contact hitter (.315 average in 2019), it’s only a matter of time before these numbers revert to his norm.
- Lastly, Nolan has simply not gotten any good luck this year. His expected average (.272) sits 39 points above his actual (.233) and that average is 48 points below where he was at this point in the season last year (.281). Hitting at Coors Field usually leads to “good luck” for a hitter and it’s safe to say the fortunes should turn around soon. When that day comes, pitchers across the league are going to be paying for the slow start Nolan has experienced so far.
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