The Rockies have a walking problem.
It’s a two-part conundrum: the pitchers give up too many walks and the batters aren’t getting enough. Through 18 games, the Rockies pitchers rank No. 27 in walks dished out per nine innings at 4.33. The starters are worse at 4.48 K/9, with the bullpen, who ranks 18th at 4.07, actually bringing down the team average. On the flip side, Colorado’s hitters’ 6.7 walk percentage is the worst in the MLB.
Beyond the obvious problems of denying the Rockies pubic announcing crew the joy of playing the delightful variety of base-on-ball songs as Rockies just don’t take many Free Rides to first, and giving opposing stadiums a chance to Walk This Way and rock out to the entire collection, this exacerbates two problems the Rockies really don’t need: more opposing base runners and fewer of their own men on base.
When it comes to pitching, the Rockies starters have been decent this season with a 50.9 groundball percentage that is second best in baseball, and workable stats like a 4.25 FIP that ranks No. 19 in the MLB and a 3.46 ERA that ranks 22nd in the MLB, according to FanGraphs. However, the high walks and the low strikeouts at 7.10 K/9, which is the worst in the majors, are a bad combination.
As any fan knows, walks frequently come back to bite you. Pitchers may get away with it from time to time, but it feels like all too often, a walk is just a run waiting to happen. Glancing at the MLB free pass leaderboard reveals a lot. Austin Gomber and his 6.33 BB/9 is the worst in baseball (among starters with at least 17 innings pitched, according to FanGraphs). He’s walked 15 batters in four starts. Despite his 1.17 WHIP, .183 batting average against, and 3.38 ERA, he’s got a 1-2 record. Seven of those walks came in three innings against the Dodgers in his Rockies debut, and he has reduced his walks per game from four to two to two over his last three starts. So maybe it’s getting better.
That brings us to the second and fourth highest BB/9 percentages in the big leagues, which belong to Germán Márquez (5.16) and Jon Gray (4.43), respectively. There is slightly more hope to be found here too in terms of Márquez, as he also surrendered six walks in the season opener against the Dodgers and has also decreased his walks to two, three, and two in his last three starts. Gray, on the other hand, only allowed A Walk in his season debut, but has given up four, two, and four in his last three starts.
The only starter who isn’t queuing up The Bangles in away stadiums is Antonio Senzatela at 2.25 BB/9, which ranked No. 30 in the MLB.
Since the Rockies are only 11 percent through the 2021 season, and are currently riding a four-man rotation when possible as they wait for Kyle Freeland to return, there is plenty of time for this to change. One thing is for sure, considering the Rockies have lost four games by one run and another five by two runs, the pitchers need to Walk the Line and allow as few baserunners as possible.
When it comes to the offense, the Rockies need more baserunners whether it be by hit, by walk, or by leaning in and taking one for the team Don Baylor style, especially since that team ranks No. 28 in on-base percentage at .283. As referenced earlier, the Rockies are the worst in baseball at walking with a 6.7 walk percentage. This represents a big dip from the playoff-bound squads of 2018, which was ranked 20th at 8.2 percent, and 2017, which ranked 19th at 8.4. In other words, in 2021, the Rockies cleats are not made for walking.
While walks can certainly be sacrificed for an aggressive approach that leads to homers and hits, or even hard-hit balls, that’s not the case for the Rockies, as Purple Row’s Mario DeGenz wrote about on Wednesday. On top of that, the Rockies are chasing balls as they are currently tied for the worst O-Swing percentage (swings at pitches outside the zone/pitches outside the zone) with the Royals at 34.5 percent. While it’s true that the Rockies are also tied for seventh best at making contact on those pitches at 62.5 percent, that contact isn’t often good contact.
Whether it be frustration in wanting to bust out of the collective offensive slump or just misreading pitches, this is approach is sending a giant signal to opposing pitchers: don’t pitch strikes because the Rockies will swing no matter what. Thus far, the reward outweighs the risk. This leaves the Rockies often walking back to the dugout, while opposing pitchers are too often Walking on Sunshine.
If Gomber and Márquez are improving their command more and more as the season goes on, maybe the Rockies bats are adjusting better as well. The Rockies only earned one walk per game against the Mets (even if two of them were seven-inning games), but they earned four per game against the Astros. If the Rockies want to increase their on-base percentage, the Rockies need to learn to Walk again.
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The Trevor Story of 2021 is not one we are used to seeing. He’s hitting .273/.310/.379, and thanks to combining for two doubles and three RBI in his last four games, he’s got five doubles, one triple, and seven RBI on the season. But zero homers. As Patrick Saunders points out, this is the guy busted in on the scene with seven homers in his first six MLB games.
Currently, Story is riding a 109-at-bat streak without a homer over his last 29 games dating back to Sept. 17, 2020. To Story’s credit, he doesn’t seem shaken and AT&T SportsNet announcers and Saunders report that he is trusting the process, knowing the homers will come.
“I just try to focus on the process,” Story said. “If my process is right, I remove myself from those results and I can feel successful, even though it doesn’t always show up. I know that’s really hard to do. But that’s truly the way I go about it.”
He is indeed hitting the ball hard, with Baseball Savant showing that five of Story’s long fly balls were hit hard enough to be home runs. Hopefully, one that lands on the other side of the fence is coming soon.
In case you saw Dom Nuñez rounding the bases after his fourth homer of the year on Tuesday night against the Mets and wondered why he brought his right pointer finger up to his lips in a shushing motion as he rounded third, Nick Groke discovered the answer. The Rockies catcher had been dealing with some Astro fan hecklers and he was just sending them a little message: “That was just a silent gesture to tell them I can hear them talk and it doesn’t faze me,” Nuñez said. “They were giving me a lot of grief last night.”
As if his four homers, which doubles the amount of homers Rockies catchers hit in 2020 wasn’t enough to like Nuñez, this is an endearing moment that Rockies fans, especially all those who did a great job booing the Astros in the two-game set at Coors Field, won’t forget.
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