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The Rockies under Bud Black

Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, February 9th, 2022

Bud Black is currently the third-longest tenured manager in Rockies history, behind Clint Hurdle and Don Baylor. He just completed his fifth full season as a manager, and his legacy is... mixed. It started with a bang: under him, the Rockies went to the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history, and even if both incursions into October baseball ended poorly (1-4 in total), that’s still no small feat. We know how the story goes, however: the Rockies’ rotation falls apart due to a mix of injury and underperformance, their awful position player depth and Major League development catches up to them, they fall off a cliff in 2019 and they’re still trying to recover.

A former Major League pitcher of 15 years (121 wins and a career 3.84 ERA, nothing to sneeze at), Bud Black has seen all of it in Denver: the somewhat improbable success of the first two seasons, the harsh collapse of 2019, and the current stroll through the endless woods of being a below average MLB team. When he gets through the 2023, he’ll be only behind Clint Hurdle in games managed wearing purple. How’s he done so far? How will he go down in Rockies lore? What are some quirks the Rockies have had under him? We’re going to find out. Consider this both a statistical study and an opinion piece, by the way.

The Performance

Under Bud Black, the Rockies have gone 349-359, a .493 winning percentage that’s about as close to the definition of average as you can get, and also the best of any Rockies manager. Those 349 wins are not distributed equally through the years, as we know: the Rox went 87-75 and 91-72 respectively in ‘17 and ‘18 before tumbling to a combined 171-212 record from ‘19 onwards. And while it’s unfair to pin player performance on the manager (he doesn’t have that much control over how well his guys play), the team has shown a clear pattern over the years Bud has been at the helm: poor hitting (their 86 wRC+ as a team ranks dead last in MLB since 2017), good baserunning (8th in BsR) and fantastic defense, especially in the dirt (4th in defensive value).

I thought it would be interesting to look at how much they’ve overperformed or underperformed, according to the Pythagorean W-L record. Well... here it is:

The Rockies have actually overperformed their expected win-loss record by a total of eight games in this span, helped mainly by a 2018 squad that won six more games than expected. Make of that what you will, but I’d say it’s mostly useless data, which is what I’m all about.

Has Bud Black delivered results? Well, he has the best winning percentage of any Rockies manager, and the team under him made it to the postseason in back to back seasons, including one agonizingly close claim to the NL West title in 2018. When he took control of managerial duties in 2017, the Rockies had one of the best farm systems in baseball, a young star in Nolan Arenado, and a very young but very talented rotation. In other words, they were in position to be a quality team for a while, and I have no doubt that Bud’s experience and steady style definitely helped them in the short term. Capitalizing on the window ultimately falls on the shoulders of the front office, and unless Black has some extra clout I don’t know about, the inevitable tailspin that would come is not truly his fault. I wouldn’t call his tenure a disaster whatsoever, but that’s a matter of what you expect and personal opinion in general. Speaking of which:

My Opinion

Most of the time I don’t know how to feel about Bud Black. By all accounts, he’s a fantastic dude, and I have a really hard time finding anything negative said about him on a personal level, so no complaints from me there. As a manager, I love certain things about him, but there’s also some other stuff that drives me bananas.

The main thing I enjoy about him is how much he loves his pitchers, especially his starters, and how much confidence he has in them to get him outs deep into a ballgame. In general, Buddy seems more willing that the average manager to let his starter win or lose him the game, and I enjoy that on an aesthetic level far more than a skipper who cannot wait to call for the bullpen. There’s also stuff like this:

Look at the pride in Bud’s eyes when he tells Germán he was going to the All-Star Game. That’s quality stuff right there.

The bad? Well, it’s mainly his lack of trust in young position players, in stark contrast to his pitching philosophy. I still have the memories of the ghosts of Gerardo Parra and Ian Desmond being tattooed in the order during the short contention window. Chris Owings was the latest example. Now, I don’t know how much of that was him and how much of it was ownership/the decisionmakers insisting certain guys play (and he obviously didn’t sign the FA contracts), but still, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia, Brendan Rodgers and others barely being able to buy a start during their first season or two ended up robbing them of valuable Major League development. Those guys could’ve been part of the core with more trust, but they only got their opportunity after the window was closed.

Some Quirks

  • One of the things that always jumps out at me about Bud Black is how rare it is that he gets really fired up, and it checks out with the numbers, believe it or not:

Yeah, Baseball Reference tracks manager ejections too. I’m too young to remember Buddy Bell, but holy cow that’s a lot of ejections in a short period of time. Of the seven managers the Rockies have had up to this point, Bud Black is the only one to get ejected in less than 1% of his games, with only seven ejections in 708 games.

  • The Rockies have been as middle-of-the-road as it gets when it comes to stealing bases under Bud Black:

Their success rate is basically right in the middle (72.5%), and the same goes for their total attempts (473).

  • Their attempts haven’t been as cookie-cutter, however. The Rockies have attempted more steals of second base than usual (10% more), but also way less attempts of stealing third than usual (44% less). Baseball Reference is a wonderful page for keeping track of stuff like this. Bud used to call for steals of third at an average rate in San Diego, but not with the Rockies.
  • Since 2017, the Rockies have been just one of five teams (the others being the Diamondbacks, Astros, Guardians and Nationals) who have allowed their starting pitchers to face 23 or more batters per start on average:

This is partly because of who Bud is as a manager, but also because the Rockies’ bullpen has, eh, left something to be desired as of late. Look at how far apart the Rays are from the rest, by the way, at 18.9 batters faced per start. Yuck.

  • Buddy has changed his ways when it comes to handing out intentional walks. When he managed in San Diego, he gave out free passes 9% more often than normal, but as Rockies skipper, he has gone the other way, 34% less often than normal.
  • Since 2017, the Rockies have the most successful sacrifice bunts of any team in the Majors, with 210, 33 clear of the second-placed Cardinals. But before you sigh, consider this: the Rockies have “only” the 10th-most position player sac bunts since 2017, and are not far removed from average. So what’s the catch? Well, the catch is Rockies pitchers have bunted 153 times in that span, easily the most of any team in the Majors, with only the Dodgers (140) coming even close. Fundamentals and all that.
  • Since 2017, the Colorado Rockies pitching staff has the highest groundball rate in the Majors, at 46%. Only the Cubs (45.4%) are all that close.

So... that’s Bud Black for you. I’d say that, while he infuriates me sometimes, I still think he’s a solid enough manager. One thing many people tend to lose sight of is that in modern times, managers don’t have as much autonomy as they used to when it comes to in-game decisions. Front offices now take active part in strategy, especially when it comes to pitcher management, so the responsibility of a manager has shifted a bit to the point where I’d consider helping to keep the clubhouse in a good mood to be the main job description right now. I also think that while some of his decisions when it came to position players didn’t help, he’s not the main cause for the slide the team has found itself in since 2019.

In short, I think you could do a lot worse than Bud Black as a manager, and I hope to see his confidence in his starters remain steady these next few years, as it makes for a better viewing experience. But what’s your opinion of Bud Black? What grade would you give him?

Poll

What grade would you give Bud Black as Rockies manager so far?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    A
    (9 votes)
  • 56%
    B
    (67 votes)
  • 30%
    C
    (36 votes)
  • 4%
    D
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    E
    (2 votes)
119 votes total Vote Now

I think I’d go with a B. He’s done a fine job all things considered, but feel free to disagree.

★ ★ ★

Bauer won’t face criminal charges in LA | MLB.com

Picture me making my best shocked face right now.

deGrom-Theoretical Optimality in Two-Strike Counts | Fangraphs

When Jacob deGrom gets ahead in the count... what happens, and what should happen? Bad things for opposing batters, that’s what.

★ ★ ★

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