The influence of the Year of the Pitcher in 2021 is far reaching. Six no-hitters. A league batting average of .236 through May – a number that hasn’t been seen since the 1968 Year of the Pitcher (led by Hall of Famers like Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson). The lowest-ever May strikeout per game ratio at 9.17 (1968’s was 6.06). The mind-blowing pitching stats and abysmal offensive numbers are many.
The Rockies are a perfect microcosm of this phenomenon, just without striking out opponents as the Rockies have the lowest number in baseball at 432 on the season. The Rockies starters have combined for a 4.17 ERA, which is 16th best in the MLB. That number climbs when you factor in the bullpen (No. 24 at 4.67), but the Rockies starters have often kept Colorado in games. On the flip side, the Rockies offense has failed to score more than two runs in one-third of their games (19 of 57), including 10 shutouts.
In most categories, the Colorado offense is – no surprise – toward the end of the pack. The Rockies rank No. 19 in batting average at .233, No. 22 in on-base percentage at .302, and are tied for 21st in slugging percentage at .380. They are tied for 23rd in homers at 53, 22nd in strikeouts at 514, and rank in the middle of the pack at 15th in runs scored (247) and walks (181).
If the Rockies pitchers are around average in the league, that’s pretty good for Mile High baseball and the Coors Field hangover. It’s up to the offense to make the difference. The Rockies have certainly been better of late, outscoring the Pirates and Rangers 24-14 in their current four-game winning streak, but the Rockies have got to improve at the plate in order to avoid having a 100-loss season.
Maybe the answer is following Yadier Molina’s lead. In a recent MLB.com article, Mike Petriello highlights how Molina is swinging at the first pitch two-thirds of the time, resulting in the second-best OPS+ of his career (130), a career-high in hard-hit rate (41 percent), and a career-low ground-ball rate (36 percent). It comes at a cost of more strikeouts, a career-high rate of 21 percent, but he’s also slashing .287/.320/.510. That batting average and slugging percentage are well above his career average. Molina’s always been an aggressive hitter, but he’s really turned it up this season and the results are no coincidence.
Coming out swinging is not a revolutionary idea. Many players have built impressive careers out of being first-pitch hitters. Teams have built philosophies out of this for years, but the idea of working counts to build up opposing pitcher’s pitch counts might be losing its appeal. What’s the rush to get to bullpens where guys can come in and throw 100 mph or have breaking balls batters couldn't hit with a tennis racket?
What was Colorado’s reward when Jacob deGrom left after five innings on May 25? Three pitchers who peppered them with fastballs and held them hitless in four innings with seven strikeouts. While not every bullpen has the talent and heat that the Mets do, the Rockies best innings in terms of runs scored this season are the fourth (48), eighth (33), and first and fifth (28). The scoring more off of starters than relievers.
Instead, what more and more hitters are doing to try to combat the pitching dominance, is swinging at the first pitch. While it’s high risk, and could produce a foolish whiff at a ball in the dirt, the payoff comes not only in a higher batting average, but also fewer strikeouts compared to players who take the first pitch. The Rockies rank No. 5 at 61.1% F-Strike, which is how often the Colorado batters are seeing a strike on their first pitch, according to FanGraphs. Knowing the increased odds of seeing a good pitch on the first pitch, combined with the depressingly low stats when batters have two strikes, it seems straight up illogical not to swing at the first pitch more often. Just look at the stats for the Rockies and the MLB averages, courtesy of Baseball Reference.
Rockies First Pitch and Two-Strike Outcomes
|Swung at 1st Pitch||629||597||102 (16%)||150 (24%)||31 (4.9%)||8 (1.3%)||19 (3%)||96 (15.2%)||9 (1.4%)||128 (20%)||0.251||0.263||0.425||0.688||254|
|Took 1st Pitch||1405||1222||129 (9.2%)||280 (20%)||57 (4.1%)||7 (0.05%)||31 (2.2%)||126 (9%)||162 (11.5%)||357 (25%)||0.229||0.323||0.363||0.686||444|
|With 2 strikes||1086||995||81 (7.5%)||151 (14%)||32 (2.9%)||7 (0.06%)||17 (1.6%)||77 (7.1%)||81 (7.5%)||485 (45%)||0.152||0.219||0.249||0.468||248|
MLB Average First Pitch and Two-Strike Outcomes
|Swung at 1st Pitch||18148||17065||2568 (14%)||4304 (24%)||810 (4.5%)||75 (0.04%)||632 (3.4%)||2481 (14%)||615 (3.3%)||4006 (22%)||0.252||0.281||0.42||0.701||7160|
|Took 1st Pitch||43180||37408||4485 (10%)||8566 (20%)||1710 (4%)||160 (0.03%)||1245 (2.9%)||4321 (10%)||4868 (11%)||10817 (25%)||0.229||0.325||0.383||0.708||14331|
|With 2 Strikes||33185||29962||2521 (7.6%)||4776 (14%)||909 (2.7%)||89 (0.02%)||603 (1.8%)||2383 (7.2%)||2737 (8.2%)||14823 (45%)||0.159||0.236||0.256||0.492||7672|
When it comes to individual Rockies, only Ryan McMahon and Yonathan Daza have better batting averages in the at-bats when they take the first pitch vs. swinging at it. Technically, Elias Díaz does as well, but when it comes to an average of .163 vs. .079, both are so bad that neither is an effective approach. Most players are significantly better with Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story leading the way.
To Swing or Not to Swing
|Hitter||PA||Swinging at First Pitch||PA||Taking the First Pitch|
|Hitter||PA||Swinging at First Pitch||PA||Taking the First Pitch|
The Rockies have to do something to improve offensively. Why not listen to Jack Elliot’s manager in Mr. Baseball?
(Just don’t do what Elliot did in the ensuing at-bat, unless your Garrett Hampson.)
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McMahon is currently hitting .259/.313/.820 with 13 homers, 32 RBI, and 36 runs scored. He’s also made spectacular plays at third and second all season. Rockies fans who are painfully witnessing this season know how much McMahon’s play makes it a more tolerable experience. This is a nice deep dive by former Purple Rower Chet Gutwein that focuses on RyMac’s raw power as the foundation for setting McMahon’s potential bar high, but it’s really the reduction in strikeout rate (from the devastating summit of 34.2 percent in 2020 to the current level of 22 percent) that is taking McMahon to the next level. Better discipline at the plate and more flyballs aren’t hurting either.
It’s a shocking headline, but it’s true. The Rockies are 19-12 at home. That’s a .613 winning percentage compared to the .154 mark on the road. They are averaging more than six runs each game at Coors Field, instead of the 2.4 away from it. They are hitting .197 on the road and .269 at home. Possibly the most impressive stat included by Kyle Newman is the 1.84 ERA by starters over the last 12 games at Coors Field. Only the Cubs and Dodgers have better home records than the Rockies in the NL.
There’s always been a big difference, but this is out of control.
On the farm
Following in the Rockies’ footsteps from Thursday’s extra-innings win, the Isotopes pulled off a dramatic win in the bottom of the ninth when Eric Stamets, who reached base on a walk, came home to score on a wild pitch to break the 1-1 tie and win the game.
In the first inning, Greg Bird hit an RBI double to put Albuquerque up 1-0, but the Aviators rallied back with a run of their own in the top of the ninth.
Ryan Vilade had another great game, going 3-for-5 and Connor Joe added two hits. Ryan Rolison had a solid outing for the Isotopes, throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings, only giving up two hits and one walk, while striking out four. Lucas Gilbreath threw a scoreless 2/3 of an inning with one walk, one hit, and one strikeout, while Ben Bowden did the same, except with two walks, no hits, and one strikeout. Justin Lawrence blew the save in the top of the ninth when he gave up two hits and one walk in allowing the run to score. As luck would have it, he also got the win.
Double-A: Bowie Baysox 4, Hartford Yard Goats 0
The Yard Goats were held to four hits, and despite drawing six walks, were shut out by the Baysox on Thursday night. Bowie put up two runs in the fourth of starter Garrett Schilling and added a two-run homer off Nate Harris in the seventh. Hartford has now lost five games in a row.
Spokane was held to one hit, a single by Willie MacIver, in the loss. The Indians were able to reach base four more times with walks, but the team went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position in the shutout. Chris McMahon gave up three runs on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts in five innings for Spokane.
The Grizzlies were down 6-0 going into the bottom of the second, but then battled back slowly to tie it by the sixth inning before busting out a four-run rally in the eighth inning for the win. Zac Veen went 2-for-4 including an RBI single and three runs scored. Joe Aeilts went 3-for-4 with two RBI and one runs scored. Despite a rough one-inning outing when Mike Ruff gave up three runs and Tanner Propst gave up two more in the next two innings, Keegan James, Robinson Hernandez, and Juan Mejia combined to throw six scoreless innings to close out the win.
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