True or false: One year ago today, on Aug. 13, 2020, the Rockies were in first place in the NL West.
Be honest. What’s your answer?
My knee-jerk reaction was no way. Not possible.
As much as this sounds like it’s from an alternate universe, it’s true.
Sure, the 2020 season was young. Most teams in the MLB had played between 18-20 games at that point, but the Colorado Rockies were 12-6 with a .667 winning percentage. Better than the Dodgers and Padres and five games above the last-place Giants (8-12).
That mark is certainly different than the Rockies 2019 team, who finished 71-91/.438 winning percentage/fourth place, and the 2021 squad, who is 51-64/.443/4th, as well as the 2020 Rockies, who finished in fourth place in the division with a 26-34 record (.438 winning percentage).
After a hot start in the COVID-delayed season, the Rockies fell to the Diamondbacks 13-7 on Aug. 12, marking the start of a 1-10 slide that resulted in a tailspin that’s never been corrected. While the roster has shifted and the GM has changed, the even bigger change between 2020 and 2021 is the road/home splits. The Rockies went from 14-16 (.467) on the road and 12-18 (.400) at home in 2020 to 13-43 (.232) away from Coors and 38-21 (.644) at Coors Field after Thursday night’s loss in San Francisco.
In 2020, as the Rockies downfall began (or perhaps, more fittingly, as the luck and hot start wore off), the Giants ascension began. They went 12-12 in September to finish 2020 with a 29-31 (.483) mark.
In an article from ESPN from June, senior writer Tim Keown argues that the Giants were “the best team in baseball” then, a status they still hold now two months later, because San Francisco president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is calling the shots. Keown connects Zaidi’s academic background and success with the A’s and Dodgers to explain his success: “Zaidi’s life, in baseball and as a PhD in behavioral economics from Cal, has been centered on merging two seemingly incompatible concepts: the raw numbers and the vagaries of the human condition.”
Zaidi’s able to use stats and information to design a blueprint for the team centered around plans for individuals that creatively bring out the most in them. The best example is All-Star starting pitcher Kevin Gausman, a Grandview High School (Centennial, Colo.) graduate who bounced around four teams over seven years with a 4.30 ERA and was even relegated to the bullpen in Cincinnati before coming to the Giants in 2019. Then the Giants changed his game-plan, basically telling him to throw his good pitches more and his bad pitches less. Gausman, who now throws his fastball and slider 90 percent of the time, is 11-5 this year with the second-lowest batting average against (.182), the fifth-lowest ERA in the majors (2.29), the sixth-lowest WHIP (0.97), and is tied for the sixth-most strikeouts (162) through Aug. 11.
On top of that, Zaidi has an analytics-driven manager in Gabe Kapler, who is rowing in the same direction. As Keown says, “He is the on-field manifestation of Zaidi’s vision, which means hunches and gut feelings have no place in the conversation.”
Can you imagine that kind of connection between the front office and the product on the field?
On paper, the Giant roster doesn’t look like the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, or Padres. It’s filled with aging All-Stars like Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey and many relatively unknown players. The veterans are in the midst of resurgences, pitchers are dominating, and everyone is contributing. The Giants led the majors in homers with 174 (Rockies are No. 25 with 123), they are third in slugging percentage at .439 (the Rockies are 14th at .410), and they are fourth in OPS at .766 (the Rockies are 14th at .728).
On the pitching front, the Giants are tied for the lowest WHIP in the majors with the Dodgers at 1.13 (the Rockies are tied for 23rd at 1.37 and they have the third-lowest ERA at 3.35 (the Rockies are 24th at 4.72) and opponent batting average at .222 (the Rockies are 25th at .257).
After the Giants 7-0 win over the Rockies on Thursday night in game one of the four-game series, the Giants are 38-17 at home. The Rockies still have more shutouts on the road (15) than wins (13).
In the short term, this could be another rough road series in a rough year for the Rockies. In the long term, the Giants could be a model for what the Rockies could be. The Giants brought in Zaidi following the 2018 season. Three years later, including the mess that was 2020, the Giants are the best team in baseball. Who knows how this season will end, but no one can deny their amazing success so far.
The key seems to be three things:
1. Bring in a president of baseball operations from outside the organization.
2. Let the president hire the general manager.
3. Give the president and GM the freedom and power to dictate the direction of the team using analytics and creativity to enhance strengths, minimize weaknesses, and figure out how to adjust in and out of altitude.
★ ★ ★
The Mets, Mariners, and Rockies will all need to add to their front offices this offseason. That’s where the similarities end.
The Mets have spent lots of money and made lots of moves, but they still aren’t translating into wins. In Seattle, GM Jerry Dipoto’s contract is up at the end of the season and his once-promising rebuild has the Mariners with a stronger farm team, but an MLB team that’s also falling down in the AL Wild Card race.
Then there’s the Rockies. In the words of Ken Rosenthal, “Other teams frequently do not know what to make of the Rockies, and the trade deadline amounted to the franchise’s latest confounding turn.” With Dick Monfort acting as owner, president, and meddler, and Bill Schmidt stepping in as the interim GM when Jeff Bridich walked away early in the season, the Rockies will begin their GM search in earnest after the 2021 season ends. Rosenthal hints at the same question we all wonder: will the Rockies stay in-house and stay the course or bring someone in from the outside for a new perspective?
★ ★ ★
We are all enjoying the resurgence of Sam Hilliard. This piece by Nick Groke gives some insight in how Hilliard got here. Mostly, it was rediscovering his confidence.
“It’s mostly between the ears,” Hilliard said. “I talked myself into a really big hole. I had to make a mental switch. I tried to think about how I was in 2019 and think about where I want to be three years from now and pluck that guy out and put him into the game.”
Fewer strikeouts, more power, and a higher probability that Sam Hilliard could be a really good baseball player.
Noah Yingling reports that Bud Black said that Brendan Rodgers, who was hit in the hand by a pitch on Saturday and hasn’t played since, could play on Friday or Saturday. Rodgers is officially listed as day to day, but has thus far avoided going on the 10-day IL.
This was a fun game. If you missed it, check out the highlights, including Kevin Costner and the players entering the field through the outfield corn. In a game with seven homers, it will be Tim Anderson’s that’s remembered.
On the farm
The Skeeters scored one run in the bottom of the ninth to send it to extra innings and then won in the bottom of the 10th when Isotope Logan Cozart walked in the winning run.
The end ruined a great night by Colton Welker, who hit a grand slam in the third inning to put Albuquerque up 4-0. Sugar Land rallied back with three runs in the bottom of the third of Dereck Rodríguez, who went on to pitch to more scoreless innings. Julian Fernández and Chad Smith both pitched scoreless innings before Zac Russcup pitched a scoreless eighth. Rosscup stayed in the game in the ninth, but then gave up a leadoff double. Justin Lawrence entered to replace him, and despite getting one out, he gave up another base hit to tie the game.
Rio Ruiz and Joshua Fuentes each added two hits for the Isotopes in the loss.
The Yard Goats four-game winning streak and 25 straight innings of shutting out opponents came to an end on Thursday night. Binghamton’s Justin Lasko pitched seven scoreless innings to shut down Hartford’s offense. Jameson Hannah had two of Hartford’s four hits, including the only extra base hit with a double, and also scored the lone run. Karl Kauffmann took the loss for the Yard Goats, giving up five runs on nine hits, including three homers, in three innings.
Spokane tried to rally back with four runs in the eighth and ninth innings, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback on Thursday night. Spokane starter Ethridge (1-5) pitched two scoreless innings before giving up two runs in the third and five runs in the sixth to take the loss.
Grant Lavigne tripled in a three-hit night, scored two runs, and drove in another for Spokane, while Niko Decolati posted three hits and scored a run and Daniel Montano recorded two hits, including an RBI double.
Fresno’s Noah Gotsis gave up two runs early, one in the first and one in the second, and that’s all the Ports needed to win. Gotsis gave up two runs on five hits in five innings with six strikeouts. The Grizzlies lone run came in the fourth when Eddy Diaz led off with a double and Zac Veen hit an RBI single. Diaz also added another hit as Fresno only totaled three all night.
★ ★ ★
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