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Keys to a resurgent Rockies offense, Part 2: Home runs

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, December 31, 2021

This is part two in a series on the Rockies batting and power struggles and what might be needed for improvement. Part one featured the roles of the front office and coaches.

The Rockies are supposed to have a perennial powerhouse offense. Debuting in the Steroid Era and before the humidor, home runs were the name of the game in the early years.

After all, the Rockies play at Coors Field with the aid of thin air and established roots as Blake Street Bombers with Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, Dante Bichette, and Ellis Burks. Larry Walker joined the group and Todd Helton fit the bill as well. Both hold the franchise record for most home runs in a single season with 49 (Walker in 1997 and Helton in 2001).

Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki never reached 40 homers, but still provided the power in the exciting 2007 season and surrounding years with home run totals in the mid-30s. Carlos González joined the 40-homer club in 2015. Nolan Arenado posted three 40-plus homer seasons (2015, 2016, 2019). Charlie Blackmon hit 37 homers in 2017, Story did the same in 2018. In 2019, in addition to Arenado’s 41 home runs, Story hit 35 and Blackmon blasted 32.

Of course, 2019 was also the year of homers. MLB players combined to crush the total home run record with 6,776 (11% above the previous record set in 2017) and an average of 1.39 homers per team per game. While the Rockies were part of the power surge, they finished the season ranked No. 15 in team homers. They were just average.

Over the last two years, the Rockies have dropped to 22nd in homers in 2020 and tied for 21st in 2021. Either through time (Blackmon losing his power), or trades (the Rockies gifting St. Louis Arenado), or poor roster management (not resigning or trading Story), the Rockies are currently not a home run team. The fountains do not get fired up nearly enough.

This chart shows how many home runs the Rockies hit as a team compared to the rest of MLB, but with their rank from the bottom, which makes the high bars of the graph better and the low sections worse. For example, in 2014, the Rockies had the second-most homers in the league, but dropped to 26th in 2016.

Thank goodness for the C.J. Cron signing and resigning, which Jeff Bridich and now Bill Schmidt absolutely deserve credit for. He led the Rockies with 28 home runs in 2021, which was tied for 17th best in the National League. While that was great, the Rockies need to have at least two players with 30 home runs each season. Story tied for 28th in the NL at 24 and Ryan McMahon was 30th at 23. Arenado, on the other hand, hit 34 to finish tied for sixth in the NL.

McMahon, who led the Rockies in homers in the shortened 2020 season with 11, needs to make 2022 the year he arrives and becomes the star he has flashed the potential to be. That includes surpassing 30 homers. Hopefully, Cron can repeat his strong showing and also join the 30-plus homer club. If Elias Díaz and Brendan Rodgers both can hit 20, the Rockies will be in better shape, but it still won’t be enough, especially once you consider the hole left by Story. It would help if Blackmon can pull a Joey Votto, who at 38 years old hit 36 homers in 2021 after hitting 12 in 2018 and 15 in 2019, despite having fewer at-bats in 2021.

The Rockies have to add at least one home run hitter to the lineup. They have to do it through free agency and break the three-plus-year drought of no free agent signings. It seems logical to believe that when the lockout ends, a free agent frenzy will take over. The action will be expensive and fast-moving, and it seems unlikely that the Rockies will spend the cash needed or have the market savvy to compete for top-tier, homer-hitting free agents like Nick Castellanos or Seiya Suzuki (from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League).

The Rockies should make one big splash by inking Michael Conforto or Kyle Schwarber. Conforto, the 28-year-old right fielder, is coming off a down 2021 when he suffered a hamstring injury and dramatically dropped in batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, and homers. Schwarber, the 29-year-old outfielder and DH, also struggled with injuries in 2021, missing most of July and half of August with a bum hamstring. In June, he hit 16 homers to earn an All-Star bid before being traded to Boston.

Both players could thrive at Coors Field and possibly be more inclined to sign a short-term deal to see if they can stay healthy and crush at altitude. It’s fun to imagine the moonshots that 30-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler could launch at Coors Field, but the Rockies don’t especially need another struggling defensive outfielder — even if there is a universal DH next season.

Finding a shortstop that replaces Story’s power and defensive prowess is impossible. He’s the only one like it, outside of perhaps Javier Baez, who already signed with the Tigers. The Rockies don’t stand a chance in signing Carlos Correa (he doesn’t have the power anyway). A Kris Bryant acquisition, while more probable due to rumored talks but is still unlikely, would include moving McMahon, a Golden Glove nominee, from third to short, which just seems terrible. There are still many shortstop replacement options, which Purple Row’s Skyler Timmons broke down nicely.

Whatever the Rockies do, they have to get back into the top 10 in home runs in the league. In 2021 Rockies hit 182 homers for an average of 1.13 per game. At Coors Field, the Rockies hit 104 homers, which ranked 13th best at 1.33 per game. That number should be top five. On the road, the Rockies mustered 78 homers, which averages out to less than one per game (0.98) to finish 26th worst.

The Rockies pitchers did their part, finishing 2021 tied for 15th in home runs allowed at 196. The split was right down the middle with 98 given up at Coors Field and 98 on the road. If the pitchers can hold their ground around the league average and the hitters can do their part to be above average, the Rockies can win more games.

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Baseball Hall of Fame ballot: How Todd Helton is deservedly making his way toward Cooperstown | CBSSports.com

Todd Helton is trending in the right direction for an eventual destination of the Baseball Hall of Fame. As CBS sports writer Matt Snyder argues, Helton’s odd for enshrinement are good and should continue to get better. After going from 16.5% in 2019, to 29.2% in 2020, and to 44.9% in 2021, Helton has already shown tremendous growth in just three years.

Today (Dec. 31) is the last day for members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to submit ballots for the class of 2022. The announcement will be made on Jan. 25, but according to the BBHOF Ballot Tracker, Helton is already at 57% with at least 25% of the ballots unknown.

Tyler Matzek flashes back to Colorado Rockies roots in Freddie Freeman tease | Rox Pile

It was June 11, 2014 and Tyler Matzek, the Rockies 2009 first-round draft pick, was making his MLB debut. Matzek went seven solid innings, giving up two runs with seven strikeouts, and earning his first win. It also happened to come against his current team, the Atlanta Braves. In addition, as Kevin Henry notes, Matzek’s first career strikeout came against Freddie Freeman. Matzek posted the fun fact to Twitter on Thursday.

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