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How good is the NL West — actually?

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, May 17, 2022

This division is legit.

The National League West has one team below a .500 winning percentage, while every other division except the AL East has three. The Rockies, 17-18, are stuck beneath a divisional gridlock unlike any other.

Here’s where the Rockies would rank if they were in literally any other division:

NL East: T-2nd

NL Central: 3rd

AL Central: 3rd

AL West: 3rd

AL East: 4th

Fifth place in the NL West isn’t as bad as it seems right now, but it still doesn’t do much to help the Rockies’ chances of making an expanded postseason. Baseball is won on both sides of the ball — offense and defense — and we’re here to break down how the division has worked, and will projectively work, on both sides.

The NL West: Pitching

ERA and ERA- show us what has actually happened from Opening Day through the middle of May. FIP and xFIP show us what we can expect to happen from now through the end of September, while fWAR also serves as a general predictor. (fWAR is based off the predictive FIP, while bWAR is based off the reflective ERA).

That xFIP column is scary, with three of the top eight figures in baseball belonging to the same division. A true assessment of the NL West, based on those figures, will show the Padres and Giants are pitching better than their early ERA shows.

There is little surprise to how good the Dodgers are pitching right now, holding a stash of arms that reflects the highest payroll in baseball. There is otherwise minimal surprise based on how the Padres and Giants are touted, but the third-best pitching fWAR in San Francisco means the pitching race could be tighter than some might think.

Not all hope is lost for Rockies fans, as the forthcoming offensive table will reveal. ERA- is much better at adjusting for altitude than non-weighted ERA, and the ninth-worst ERA- in baseball sounds better than the second-worst ERA.

Predictive figures suggest the Rockies are not being misled with the pitchers they currently have, but a harsh reality could soon fall upon the Diamondbacks with outrageously different ERA- and xFIP figures. Colorado and Arizona could be on the same pitching level right now, despite the D-Backs finding extreme luck in the first few weeks of the season.

Flip the above chart to the offensive side, and we’ll see more favorable horizons at 20th and Blake.

The NL West: Hitting

First things first: Keep in mind that Kris Bryant has been inactive for much of this data.

wOBA is based on a system called linear weights, where each on-base outcome (walk, hit-by-pitch, single, double, etc.) is assessed a run value and those values are essentially calculated from there like batting average. wOBA in its simplest form does not adjust for elevation, so it’s perhaps understandable how Colorado is so strong in wOBA right now, even without Kris Bryant for much of 2022.

wRC+ is park-adjusted and can potentially penalize Coors Field hitters unfairly, so just below the league median is not a terrible place for the Rockies to sit without a healthy Bryant. The Rockies could find themselves above the Padres in a lot of categories with Bryant performing, and we could be looking at one of the stronger offenses in baseball if the Rockies can keep their ongoing momentum.

We find the Dodgers killing it on offense too, which should not surprise many. We’re seeing the Diamondbacks posting figures that are polar opposite to the ERA and ERA- of their pitching staff, while the Giants keep riding an offensive wave from 2021 where they snapped a Dodgers division title streak. Perhaps the Padres are underperforming offensively, as they did in many regards in 2021, but they too should not be overlooked after committing so much money to position players in the past two years.

The Projected Standings

Data courtesy of FanGraphs — Note: Data current through Sunday, May 15

A run differential of -28 by the Rockies is the eighth-worst in baseball, five spots behind the Diamondbacks. The other three division rivals rank in the top 10, so one could assume the Rockies are playing a little worse than their 17-18 record might suggest. A -114 projected differential for the remainder of the season is far from ideal, but the FanGraphs projections at least believe the Rockies won’t allow as many runs from here on out.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are projected to score fewer runs and allow more. (Even then, their figures are very strong.) This could be a drastic oversimplification — these same FanGraphs projections had the Giants nowhere near the postseason in 2021 and they ended up winning the division — but it’s interesting to monitor how projective runs allowed and runs scored stack up to what has actually happened to this point in the year.

The Road Ahead

After the ongoing three-game set with San Francisco, the Rockies won’t see a divisional opponent for five consecutive series. Four of their next five opponents have a worse record than Colorado’s current mark at 17-18, so if we run this same article in exactly 20 days, we could be looking at far different projections.

A healthy Kris Bryant will help. A stretch of ‘easier’ opponents could help too. Four other divisional opponents will keep persevering, however, and the toughest division in baseball will do little favors down the stretch.

Late May and early June could be the stretch to stay alive.

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Rockies’ Tyler Kinley, displaying a sharp slider, shining in the bullpen: “Now’s he’s pitching” | The Denver Post ($)

The Rockies have featured select breakout relievers over the past few years. In 2017 it was Adam Ottavino. In 2020 it was Daniel Bard and Yency Almonte. In 2022 it is Tyler Kinley, now touted second behind Bard on the FanGraphs closer depth chart (and maybe threatening to take over the reins entirely). Patrick Saunders covers the tremendous body of work Kinley has shown this year so far, explaining how a reshaped slider has helped.

Colorado Rockies third baseman Kris Bryant reportedly headed to Salt Lake for rehab assignment | The Salt Lake Tribune

The Rockies television territory stretches across Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, and parts of Nebraska, South Dakota and Idaho. Outside of Denver, Salt Lake City is the largest media market within the Rockies’ TV boundaries.

Kris Bryant will soon begin a Triple-A rehab assignment in Salt Lake City.

Albuquerque would also be great for Rockies fans outside Colorado, but the placement of this Isotopes road series is ideal for supporting fans to the west. Keep an eye on the Salt Lake Bees’ attendance figures this upcoming week, and how many fans at Spring Mobile Park are supporting an opposing player.

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On the Farm

Monday, May 2: League-wide off day for all minor league affiliates

New series starting today:

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes (COL) at Salt Lake Bees (LAA)

Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats (COL) at Bowie Baysox (BAL)

High-A: Eugene Emeralds (SF) at Spokane Indians (COL)

Low-A: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAD) at Fresno Grizzlies (COL)

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