While the Rockies exceeded expectations this year in terms of overall wins and losses, their lackluster 2021 offense did not go unnoticed and has been pinpointed as a way for the team to improve in 2022. Last in the majors by FanGraphs wRC+ is not the place where the Rockies are used to being, Coors effect or not, humidor or not. Keeping their recent struggles in mind, let’s look at the Rockies selectiveness at the dish.
The Rox lagged a bit behind the Major League average in terms of their plate discipline, swinging at 32.8% of pitches outside of the zone. Being to the right on the chart indicates a higher relative swing rate at balls outside the strike zone, and being to the top of the chart indicates a higher relative swing rate at balls inside the strike zone. Organizational approaches, whether they are aggressive or patient, are somewhat apparent in the below chart, but don’t seem to have much of a bearing on playoff teams, colored in blue. Not all teams are labeled, for clarity, and the league average is the red dot.
Selective teams like the Dodgers and Giants had sustained success during the regular season, but both ultimately ended up losing to the free swinging Braves, who swung at nearly three-quarters of all pitches in the zone. And while these stats show trends, they are definitely not necessarily a guarantee of offensive success.
While the top of the individual leaderboard is mostly populated by great hitters you’d expect to see (Juan Soto and Max Muncy with O-Swing%s of 15.1 and 19.1, respectively), you don’t have to go down far on the list to find a player with a good eye that is still unable to translate that into above average offensive output (Brett Gardner with an O-Swing% of 20.1, but wRC+ of 93).
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you find the free-swinging sometimes great but streaky hitters. Salvador Perez with an O-Swing% of 48.3 and Javier Baez with 46.6%. Those two ended up tenth and fifth, respectively, in strikeout totals on the year, but it paid off, with each totaling 30-plus home runs and 115-plus wRC+. So, if you’re going to swing at almost half of the pitches outside the zone, you’d better hit it hard when you do make contact.
When we look at a player level for the Rockies, the teams stats were anchored by a few less than selective hitters without the 30 plus home run upside - Raimel Tapia and Yonathan Daza both chased more than 36% of pitches out of the zone, and Josh Fuentes did the best Vlad Guererro Sr. impression, swinging at nearly half of the would-be balls that he was thrown.
On the flip side, we have one of the season’s biggest positive surprises: Connor Joe. He was last on the team in chase rate and capitalized on the pitches he did swing at, ending the year with a 116 wRC+ (albeit it over 211 PAs), second only to CJ Cron (127 wRC+).
One would think that the Rockies would be benefitted by attempting to put the ball in play more than the average team. With the expansive acreage of Coors Field at their disposal, just making contact would lead to more men on base than for other teams. But it’s the making contact, especially with the travel to and from altitude, that is the tough part.
In the era of three true outcomes, plate discipline has perhaps become something of a lost art. Players like Juan Soto are a throwback to past times - the 2007 Rockies had five players with an O-Swing% of less than 20%. In 2021? There were five players total. The game has, and will continue to change.
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The hot stove was more of a bonfire last night as we sprint towards the potential transaction freeze and lockout on Wednesday. Dominos are falling quickly as we approach Wednesday, and more names are expected to sign imminently. Kevin Gausman signed with the Blue Jays and the Mets had shrugged off their loss of Steven Matz by adding Max Scherzer after signing Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha, and Starling Marte on Friday. Texas snagged Marcus Semien and Kole Calhoun, and more relevantly...
...Jon Gray. Gray’s new deal is for $56 million over four years, giving it an average annual value of $14 million. The Rockies reported offer - a “three- or four-year contract worth $35-$40 million” wasn’t enough to convince Gray to test the open market and he was rewarded once he got there. Much has already been said about the Rockies unwillingness to trade Gray earlier this season or extend him a qualifying offer, but now with him signing for another team early in free agency those lack of moves look even more ill-advised. Gray, however, looks poised to succeed for a re-tooled Texas team that is rumored to still be in on the Trevor Story sweepstakes also.
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