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Keys to a resurgent Rockies offense, Part 3: Bring back batting champions

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This is part three 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. Part two focused on home runs.

The Colorado Rockies have been around for 29 seasons. In 11 of those seasons, a Rockie has been crowned as the National League batting champion. That’s unheard of!

Larry Walker posted the highest batting average in the NL three times and then eight different Rockies have claimed rights to the batting throne. Other teams might get their stats inflated by one great player, like Ty Cobb, who won 12 batting titles for Detroit, or Honus Wagner who won eight for Pittsburgh. For Colorado, the Rockies hoist a batting champion every 2.64 seasons. Another six times, a Colorado player finished as the runner-up. When it comes to hitting for average, the Rockies have made that a defining feature of the offense. For a breakdown of each of those 11 years, check out the 2021 article from MLB.com’s Thomas Harding.

Rockies NL Batting Champions

Year Player Season Ave Career Ave
Year Player Season Ave Career Ave
1993 Andrés Galarraga .370 .288
1998 Larry Walker .363 .313
1999 Larry Walker .379 .313
2000 Todd Helton .372 .316
2001 Larry Walker .350 .313
2007 Matt Holliday .340 .299
2010 Carlos González .336 .285
2013 Michael Cuddyer .331 .277
2014 Justin Morneau .319 .281
2016 DJ LaMahieu .348 .268
2017 Charlie Blackmon .331 .270

The Rockies debuted in 1993 and Andrés Galarraga got the party started with a title while playing at Mile High Stadium. The longest the Rockies have gone without a batting champion is five years (2002-06 when Todd Helton finished as a runner-up three times and Walker once while Barry Bonds won twice).

Two other times, the Rockies have had four-year droughts. The first was from 1994-1997 when the batting prowess of Tony Gwynn, who would finish his career with eight batting titles, was on full display.

The Rockies are in the midst of the second slump now. Since Charlie Blackmon won the 2017 crown, a Rockie hasn’t come very close to a title. In 2018, Nolan Arenado finished 10th (.297), he was then fifth in 2018 (.315), Raimel Tapia finished seventh in 2020 (.321), and last season, C.J. Cron placed 14th (.281). That is not trending in the right direction.

Obviously, Coors Field’s large outfield and the mile-high elevation give Colorado hitters an advantage; however, critics who knock Rockies for the altitude have to offset that advantage with the very real drawbacks of the toll altitude takes on bodies and changes in pitch movement between home and road games. Former Colorado GM Dan O’Dowd clearly explains, “You play a dozen games at home and balls don’t move that much, then you go on the road for the next dozen games against the same teams and the pitches move completely differently. That makes hitting really difficult.”

If the Rockies are looking to improve on 2021’s 74-87 performance in 2022, some Rockies need to get back in the batting average race. To be eligible to win a batting title, players must have at least 502 plate appearances. In 2021, the three top batting averages for the Rockies among players with at least 200 plate appearances were Connor Joe (.285), Brendan Rodgers (.284), and Yonathan Daza (.282). None of them hit the 502 plate appearances mark, so the 2021 Rockies battle title went to Cron at .281, followed by Tapia at .273 and Blackmon at .270.

2021 Rockies Batting Leaders

Player PA AB BA
Player PA AB BA
C.J. Cron 547 470 .281
Raimel Tapia 533 487 .273
Charlie Blackmon 582 514 .270
Ryan McMahon 596 528 .254
Trevor Story 595 526 0.251
Fewer than 502 PA but at least 200
Connor Joe 211 179 .285
Brendan Rodgers 415 387 .284
Yonathan Daza 331 301 .282
Elías Díaz 371 338 .246
Garrett Hampson 494 453 .232
Joshua Fuentes 284 271 .225
Sam Hilliard 238 214 .215
Dom Nuñez 263 228 .189

An improvement must start with getting one Colorado hitter, preferably more than one, above the .300 mark. Even more, with an open spot in the rotation and a troublesome bullpen, the offense has to be better than average in 2022. Considering the Rockies lost Trevor Story and have yet to make any new acquisitions to the team, the current Rockies roster is not headed for improvement.

Even though the Rockies finished tied for sixth overall in MLB in team batting average at .249 in 2021, the Rockies need to be first or second to make up for other deficiencies, most notably finishing dead-last in batting average on the road at .217. Since we don’t know what, if any, additions could be coming to the 2022 roster, let’s focus on the Rockies now and who needs to improve the most.

First and foremost, Blackmon has to return to being a high-average hitter. After hitting .303 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Blackmon dropped .033 to .270 in 2021. Blackmon is studious and a perfectionist. He will work to correct this down year and could bounce back. After hitting .331 in 2017, he dropped .40 to .291 in 2018, only to rebound to .314 in 2019. Whether he plays in right field or is the designated hitter, Blackmon, 35, will be an everyday player for the Rockies in 2022. He has to get back on track.

The other 2021 notable drop is Tapia. After jumping from .275 to .321 from 2019 to 2020, Tapia set his goals on winning a batting title in 2021. Instead, he yo-yoed back to Earth and finished .273 last season. Tapia, who turns 28 in February, has had every chance to become the long-term left fielder for the Rockies with his speed and swagger. However, his inconsistency and his propensity to hit ground balls has thrown a wrench in that projection. If he’s given another starting chance in 2022, he has to get on base consistently.

With any luck, Cron, 32, can continue to rock at Coors Field. His .281 mark, as well as 92 RBI, 70 runs scored, and 31 doubles, were career highs. His 28 homers were second only to the 30 he hit in 2018 for Tampa Bay.

The wild cards are Rodgers and Joe. Both have flashed thrilling potential. Rodgers, 25, saw the most time in his career in 2021, but it was still cut short by an injury that delayed his season debut to May 21. He put up a .285 average in 413 plate appearances. If dreams that Rodgers could be a hitter like DJ LaMahieu come true in a full and healthy season in 2022, the Rockies will win more games.

Joe, 29, had even fewer plate appearances at 211, but way more than the 16 he had in his MLB debut in 2019 for the Giants. Joe brought flair and excitement to the leadoff spot, but he didn’t start the season until May 4, followed by an absence for a big chunk of June and July, and then he ended early on Sept. 3 because of a hamstring injury. Joe could be the next possible big-bang leadoff hitter and he has the mullet to boot. Only time will tell if he can be an everyday player.

Poll

Who will be the next Rockies NL batting champion?

  • 9%
    Charlie Blackmon
    (8 votes)
  • 14%
    Connor Joe
    (12 votes)
  • 32%
    Brendan Rodgers
    (27 votes)
  • 7%
    Raimel Tapia
    (6 votes)
  • 23%
    A free agent the Rockies will sign (to add a bat to the outfield or to replace Trevor Story)
    (20 votes)
  • 13%
    Other (tell us who in the comments)
    (11 votes)
84 votes total Vote Now

In a perfect world, or just in one where the Rockies return to being playoff contenders, Blackmon, Tapia, Cron, Rodgers, and Joe could all flirt with .300. Maybe one or two could even complete for the NL batting title. They have to if the Rockies are going to see an offensive resurgence.

★ ★ ★

NL West lineup check: Best offseason move? Biggest need before Opening Day? | The Athletic ($)

Having to write about the best offseason moves in a category against the Dodgers isn’t fun. Luckily for the Rockies, there really weren’t any offseason moves before the lockout, so Nick Groke didn’t have to try to compare signings. He notes the Antonio Senzatela five-year deal as a good move, but also correctly explains that “The Rockies finished 74-87 last season. As the calendar turned to 2022, they are significantly worse off.” Not only do they still not have a slugging outfielder, but they also lost a shortstop and starting pitcher.

MLB players blast Rob Manfred over Ken Rosenthal firing from MLB Network | Fansided

Journalists’ jobs are to find and report the truth, which also includes analyzing and interpreting facts. While bias is inevitable and analysis can blur the line between fact and opinion, the job often includes criticism and holding those in power accountable. This is why many politicians and powerful industry leaders often clash with journalists. Add Rob Manfred to that list after he seems to have led efforts to cut dies with one of the best reporters in baseball in Ken Rosenthal. Manfred’s inability to take criticism, an unpleasant aspect that comes with the job of being the commissioner of MLB, one that also applies to managers, players, and front offices, has made him a joke. He now looks like an authoritarian who would like to run MLB Network like dictators use state-run media.

Fansided’s Gabrielle Star has some great points about how this hurts the credibility of the league and how Manfred needs to be replaced. Star also notes that former Rockie Tyler Matzek posted a quality roast of Manfred on Twitter.

Luckily, Rosenthal still works for FOX and The Athletic, so baseball fans will still be privy to the bow tie’s insight. What’s worrisome is the precedent this sets for others at MLB Network and MLB.com. Can they speak freely with reporting and analysis as MLB officials have locked out players and we are entering a possibly delayed season? Even reporters outside of an MLB paycheck could feel muzzled as Manfred can control access to players, teams, front offices, and MLB representatives. This is a very dangerous move for Manfred, one that not only is a bad sign for baseball journalists, and therefore fans, moving forward, but it also doesn’t inspire hope about this lockout ending any time soon. Locked On Rockies podcaster Paul Holden also made some good points in an episode earlier this week.

★ ★ ★

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