This is part one in a series on the Rockies batting and power struggles and what might be needed for improvement.
It’s no secret the Rockies offense needs a boost — in more ways than one.
In 2021, the Rockies were tied for sixth-best in team batting average at .249, including an MLB-best mark at home at .280. However, Colorado also finished dead last away from Coors Field, hitting .217. It wasn’t just average either. In the lowest tier, the Rockies also tied for 21st in the league in homers at 182.
As The Athletic’s Nick Groke noted, “As a hitting team, the Rockies have ranked at or near the bottom of the majors each of the past two seasons, measured by park-adjusted weighted runs created (wRC+), according to FanGraphs, an overall mark of offensive clout. And they haven’t ranked above the bottom third of the league since 2014.”
Worse yet, when the Rockies failed to trade or re-sign Trevor Story, they let his 24 homers, 34 doubles, 75 RBI, and .251/.329/.471 slash line walk out with him. This is on top of Nolan Arenado’s 34 homers in 2021 for the Cardinals instead of the Rockies. That’s a lot of pop to lose in two seasons. The additions of C.J. Cron and Elias Díaz are great, but as additions, not as replacements for Story and Arenado.
Long story short, when MLB shut down earlier this month, the Rockies offense was worse than it was when the season ended on Oct. 3. Sure, the offseason isn’t over, and hopefully, a power-hitting outfielder and some kind of addition at shortstop could still happen. We can also expect the free-agent session to be fast and furious in the likely short timespan between the lockout ending and the 2022 season beginning. So far, the Rockies front office hasn’t shown they are up to the task of keeping up with other teams to make competitive offers to get deals done.
For now, we have no idea what the 2022 roster will look like. What we can do is come up with criteria that it will need to produce to be a competitive team. There could even possibly be good news on this front in the only new additions to the organization: special assistant to the GM Clint Hurdle and two new assistant hitting coaches Andy González and P.J. Pilittere.
Hurdle brings an offensive mindset to the table, a wealth of knowledge, familiarity with and the respect of Dick Monfort (for better or worse), and more of an idea of what a roster needs to have in Colorado to win than Bill Schmidt, a career scout in his first year as GM in a dysfunctional front office still cleaning up after the Jeff Bridich disaster.
In the past, Hurdle has taken bad teams and made history. In 2007, he led the Rockies to their first and only World Series. In 2013, he guided the Pirates to their first playoff appearance in 21 years. He is probably as much of a new, but not-new face as the Rockies are going to allow in the higher ranks. Hurdle being back with the Rockies is a good thing.
Andy González has spent his coaching career in the Colorado farm system and follows the blueprint of hiring from within that Rockies fans are all too familiar with. He does speak Spanish, which could be key in helping Raimel Tapia solve his ground ball problem.
One bright spot of the thus-far uneventful offseason is the addition of Pilittere to the offensive coaching staff. He was drafted by, played for, and then coached the Yankees — that’s a total of 17 years, including the last four as a coach. He comes from an entirely different stock – one that demands results and bases decisions on analytics.
Though not unusual, he also coaches with the mental challenges of baseball – and life – in mind, as captured in a 2020 feature from The Athletic: “We’re always talking to these guys daily about our approach, approach, approach and trying to keep it simple …We joke all the time that we’re half-hitting coach and half-psychologist.”
He also brings fire. Entering the 2020 season, Pilittere told The Athletic, “I have like a really, really excitable personality type, and I get really, really excited when our guys have success.”
When you look at the Rockies dugout, fire and emotion are not one of the first things that come to mind. The coaches, led by Bud Black, and in turn players, led by Charlie Blackmon, are pretty chill fellas. The biggest thing fans could see in terms of emotion came in the form of funky sunglasses on home-run hitters.
Boosting the offensive production is going to take a creative deep dive into the data, a shakeup in approach, and a new perspective in home-and-away strategy and preparation. Also vital will be a breakthrough to realize the potential in the young Rockies core led by Ryan McMahon and to help Cron and Díaz repeat their 2021 numbers in 2022. Even though Dave Magadan will be back calling the shots when it comes to hitting, at least there will be some new ideas.
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In Mark Knudson’s 3 Strikes Blog, he dedicates strike two on praise to the Rockies for bringing back Clint Hurdle. While not a new face, Hurdle brings a simple, but vital element, according to Knudson: “Presence. Clint has a very big presence. That presence plus a lifetime of baseball expertise could help shape a better approach to much of what the organization is doing off the field.” This is worth a read for the insight and tribute to Hurdle’s actions after Rockies team president Keli McGregor died in 2010.
MLB and the MLBPA are talking, but just not about the big-ticket money disagreements yet. With more than 30 subjects to agree on in the new collective bargaining agreement, only the smaller details are on the table at the moment. Without the pressure of February and spring training, the urgency from both sides doesn’t appear to be there.
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