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Three strong finishes in 2021 that could be precursors to success in 2022

Colorado Rockies news and links for Saturday, April 9, 2022

One game down, 161 to go. After a 5-3 loss on a beautiful Friday Opening Day afternoon, the Colorado Rockies 2022 season is officially underway. While there were some initial impressions made, one game does not provide enough information to reach any conclusions for the season. But when we look back to the 2021 season, there are strong finishes that could indicate better numbers for some players in 2022. Let’s take a look at three Rockies who may fit that profile.

Charlie Blackmon

At first glance, it is easy to conclude that Charlie Blackmon regressed in 2021. After a pedestrian 2020 season, Blackmon’s .270/.351/.411 2021 slash line was a dip in all three categories from his previous season’s totals. Those 2020 totals were a sharp drop from his 2019 numbers – especially in his slugging percentage.

While a decline from his peak is indisputable, how far Chuck has fallen is worth discussing.

A brutal April is the main culprit for Blackmon’s subpar 2021 figures. His .184/.303/.303 slash line produced a meager 55 wRC+ in his first 89 plate-appearances. May, June and July saw Chuck return to form, though, posting a wRC+ of 100 or higher each month. He took a step back in August, but ended the season strong with a .283/.368/.457 line and 110 wRC+ in his final 106 plate appearances.

The final month was impressive, but does come with a catch. His .377 BABIP was extremely high and acts as a red flag for how much of the success was attributed to luck rather than skill. However, when you dig into the batted ball data, you find a much different quality of contact that can lend reason to the high BABIP. Blackmon’s propensity for putting the ball on the ground took a nose-dive while his average exit velocity jumped up significantly.

Charlie Blackmon 2021

Month GB% Soft%
Month GB% Soft%
APR 47.6% 20.6%
MAY 44.6% 16.2%
JUN 57.3% 22.7%
JLY 48.1% 23.4%
AUG 47.9% 21.9%
SEP-OCT 35.9% 10.9%

A rough start to the season put Blackmon’s season totals at a serious disadvantage. He righted the ship as the season went along, but there was something more in the final weeks. If the hitter we saw in the final month shows up more frequently this season - putting the ball in the air more often at a consistently harder rate - Blackmon could have a bounce-back season in 2022.

Robert Stephenson

There was a very clear divide in Robert Stephenson’s 2021 season. Before hitting the injured list on June 28 with upper-back tightness, Stephenson produced unremarkable figures. After a month on the shelf, a much more dominant pitcher showed up for the second half of the season.

Robert Stephenson 2021

Months APR - JUN AUG - OCT
Months APR - JUN AUG - OCT
IP 23.2 22.1
ERA 4.56 1.61
FIP 4.86 2.32
BB% 11.9% 5.7%
ERA - 96 34

In virtually the same number of innings, Stephenson’s figures improved significantly across the board in the second-half of the season. He cut his walk-rate in half and bumped his strikeout rate up, resulting in an ERA that dropped three full runs with a significant drop in FIP to match.

Even after the acquisition of Alex Colomé, the Rockies’ bullpen is still a very fluid situation. If the same Robert Stephenson we saw in the second part of 2021 shows up this season, he could easily become an essential late-inning arm for manager Bud Black in 2022.

Kyle Freeland

The line on Kyle Freeland’s Opening Day start was not overly impressive, allowing five runs in 3 ⅔ innings. He was sharp early, registering multiple punch-outs in each of the first three innings before hitting a wall in the fourth. But while the start to Freeland’s 2022 is not ideal, his finish to 2021 certainly was.

A shoulder strain suffered in spring training kept Freeland out of game action until the end of May. The rust showed as he reached the fifth inning just once in his first five starts while allowing five runs or more in the three of those outings. One month into his season, however, Freeland turned it around in a big way.

Kyle Freeland 2021

Stat First 5 Starts Final 18 Starts
Stat First 5 Starts Final 18 Starts
IP 20.2 100
ERA 9.58 3.24
FIP 9.56 3.61
K% 11.3% 22.7%
BB% 10.4% 6.6%
ERA - 201 68

Over his final 18 starts, Freeland looked like his prime 2018 form. Over 100 innings Freeland put up superb figures, posting a 3.24 ERA and creating a healthy gap between his walk and strikeout rates which were far too in-common over his first five outings. It’s worth mentioning that Freeland’s run included one dud of a performance - allowing seven runs in 4 ⅓ innings against the San Francisco Giants in September - which skewed his impressive final run.

The strong performance Freeland achieved after his first month brought his final strikeout rate above twenty percent for the first time since 2018 while dropping his walk rate to a career-low 7.4%. The sluggish numbers he posted in his first five starts makes it easy to believe he was much the same as his 2020 performance when you look at his final numbers. However, when you look beyond his first month following an injury it’s clear a better version of Freeland was present. If that same Freeland shows up this season, the Rockies could have their 2018 ace pitcher back in the fold this season.

★ ★ ★

Jerry Schemmel returns to Rockies’ KOA radio team | Denver Post ($)

After a two-year absence, Jerry Schemmel has returned to the Colorado Rockies radio broadcast team. KOA made the announcement on Friday morning that Schemmel would return to his post, replacing Mike Rice whose dismissal was reportedly due in-part to not being vaccinated for COVID-19.

Rockies’ Jose Iglesias honors his father with base hit and tears | Denver Post ($)

José Iglesias had an emotional moment during the Rockies home opener. After his RBI single in the second inning, Iglesias broke into tears over his late father.

“I lost my dad a few weeks ago and this was the first hit that he couldn’t see,” said Iglesias, who’s entering his 11th season in the majors. “It was for him. It was a very emotional moment for him. He’s a big part of my life and career.”

“He watched me play for 10 years, so I’m very blessed,” he said. “He’s in a better place now. I am who I am because of him.”

★ ★ ★

On the Farm

Triple-A: Oklahoma City Dodgers 8, Albuquerque Isotopes 3

Matt Dennis made his Triple-A debut on Opening Day in Oklahoma City, striking out four while allowing two runs in 3 23 innings pitched. Brian Serven brought home the first Isotopes’ run of the season with a sacrifice fly to bring home Colton Welker in the fourth inning. Elehuris Montero would add on two innings later with his first home run of the season, bringing the score to 3-2 entering the bottom of the sixth. That’s when the Dodgers would pull ahead, however, scoring three runs off reliever J.D. Hammer before bringing home two more off Jake Bird in the seventh inning, bringing the game to it’s eventual 8-3 final score.

Double-A: Binghamton Rumble Ponies 8, Hartford Yard Goats 2

The Yard Goats fell hard in their Opening Day contest with Binghamton. Mitchell Kilkenny got the ball for Hartford and entered the fourth inning with just one run allowed in the game to that point with six strikeouts and no walks. Unfortunately, that is when the wheels fell off as Kilkenny allowed seven of the eight batters he faced in the inning to reach - three of which on extra base hits - before he was pulled for reliever Trent Fennell. In all, Kilkenny was tagged for six runs in the inning and seven total for the game while allowing eleven hits. Michael Toglia would put the Yard Goats on the board in the eighth inning with his first homer of the season, but it was too-little too-late for Hartford on Friday night.

High-A: Vancouver Canadians 8, Spokane Indians 6

Spokane came out on the losing end of a wild Opening Day match-up against Vancouver. Will Ethridge was solid in his first start, allowing one run over six innings without issuing a walk. He exited the ballgame with a 4-1 lead, but the bullpen couldn’t hold it down as they allowed five runs in the seventh inning. Entering the ninth trailing 6-4, the Indians rallied to plate two runs to tie the game. A bases loaded passed ball would bring home the first run before Drew Romo singled to left, enough to bring in the tying run but not enough to win the game as Daniel Montano was thrown out at the plate to send the game to extra innings. Vancouver plated two more of their own in the top of the 10th, securing the victory. Grant Lavigne hit his first home run in the loss.

Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies 5, Stockton Ports 4

Fresno tallied the lone victory in the system on Friday, winning their home opener against the Stockton Ports in walk-off fashion. Brayan Castillo was impressive in his Low-A debut, tossing five shutout innings in just 59 pitches. Castillo departed with a one run lead after Hunter Goodman drove in Warming Bernabel on a ground-out in the bottom of the fifth inning. Max Muncy would tie the game in the sixth and Stockton would add three more in the seventh off reliever Zak Baayoun to take a 4-1 lead. Fresno would answer back in the bottom of the inning, plating two more before Benny Montgomery tied it in the eighth with his first pro home run. Braxton Fulford would lead off the ninth with a single, moving up to second after a hit by pitch before being brought home on a walk-off double by Zach Kokoska.

★ ★ ★

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