It’s no secret that the Rockies have been struggling with runners on base in some of their recent series. The men in purple went 10-for-55 with runners in scoring position in their rough road trip through Miami and Minnesota, and their penchant for starting rallies and not finishing them has been one of the more annoying parts of the ballclub’s 2022 iteration. So just what is going on? And is there something going on, or is it just recent bias that has fans a bit miffed?
It’s All About the Heat
If you’ve been watching Major League Baseball for the past decade and a half, the decline in fastball usage will be unmistakable:
If you don’t include cutters, it’s even more stark, with four-seamers and sinkers making up just half of all pitches, unthinkable just a decade ago. It’s a bit of a paradox, really, as fastball velocity just keeps going up, with relievers and max-effort pitching taking over the Majors. Fastballs are, of course, every hitter’s favorite pitch to hit. They’re the most natural pitch to time up and have the least amount of movement, making them prime targets for sluggers. And now, with fastball usage being lower than ever, and with the idea of a “fastball count” being all but gone from the baseball world, capitalizing on the few heaters you get is vital as a hitter. The best teams punish fastballs and spit on breaking balls whenever they can afford to, hitting the hard stuff in the air, headed straight for the outfield seats.
If you go to Baseball Savant and look up each team’s 2022 production against fastballs (through June 27th), the Rockies don’t really seem to stand out. They rank more or less in the middle of the pack, 17th out of 30 teams in wOBA (weighted on-base-average) at .338. They do suffer a bit in the slugging department, ranking 21st at just .404, but they rank highly in average (7th at .275) and on-base-percentage (6th at .358). Surely they don’t differ that much when it comes to hitting with runners on base, right? After all, MLB hitters tend to perform better with ducks in the pond than the bases empty. The average 2022 MLB slash line against fastballs with runners on base is .271/.351/.437, superior to the .257/.340/.420 line hitters generate when facing heaters with the bases empty. It stands to reason that the Rockies really shouldn’t drift away from this tendency. Right?
The Lack of Power
With runners on base, the Rockies rank 23rd in baseball in wOBA when facing fastballs. They’re hitting .269 and have a .346 OBP, numbers that are right in line with MLB average, but the power is a whole different thing. Rockies hitters are slugging a lowly .376 (MLB average is .437!) against heaters, third-worst in the Majors, in front of only the Cubs and Orioles. For a team that plays half its games at Coors Field, that is a borderline embarrasing ranking. Only the Cubs have less home runs against fastballs in these situations, with the Rockies’ total of 11 ranking 29th, tied with the anemic Detroit Tigers lineup. Those are all really bad numbers, of course. What’s causing it?
Well, for starters, the Rockies are just one of three teams (the others being the Nationals and Marlins to have an average launch angle below 10º. This inability to lift fastballs is playing a big part in the power outage, and the relatively soft contact being made on top of it (their average exit velo of 88.1 MPH ranks 22nd) only makes it worse.
This has to change. Doing damage on fastballs is absolutely key against the hordes of relievers throwing more and more breaking balls every year. If you get a heater, you better turn it around, and the Rockies are not only not doing that, they’re getting worse at it in the most crucial spots: runners on base and runners in scoring position. If the team is going to make a surprise run at one of the Wild Card spots, this is the time to do it, and mashing fastballs will be one of the reasons they manage it.
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I have no explanation for this. Really, I don’t. This team is 9-3 in their last 12 against NL West teams, and those were series against San Francisco, San Diego and now Los Ángeles. This is not supposed to be happening, and yet...
An interesting piece about the most central aspect of modern pitching: velocity.
On The Farm
A classic PCL shootout, this one. Sugar Land and the now 35-38 Isotopes combined for 27 hits, nine walks, two steals and eight extra-base hits, tallying 20 combined runs. After leading 5-1 after four frames, Albuquerque proceeded to allow six unanswered runs between the 5th and 7th innings, putting them behind 7-5 heading into the bottom of the 9th. With two outs in the 9th, Scott Schebler hit a two-RBI single to tie the game, thanks in part to a Space Cowboys throwing error. Both teams then kept the runner on second base from scoring in the 10th inning of the contest, and the ballgame remained tied 7-7 heading into the 11th. After allowing two runs and finding themselves down 9-7 three outs away from defeat, however, the Isotopes loaded the bases for Alan Trejo, who hit a one-out grand slam to send the fans home happy. As you might expect, it wasn’t a good night for pitching. Starter Zach Neal was pulled in the sixth inning (5.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 5 K, 3 HR) and the bullpen wasn’t much better, but the bats saved this one. Trejo had a huge game, going 3-for-6 with five RBI, and four other batters recorded at least two hits, including Dom Núñez, who went 2-for-4 with a double, two RBI and a pair of walks. Here’s the grand salami, the first of the walk-off variety in Isotopes history:
WALK OFF GRAND SLAM ALAN TREJO— Albuquerque Isotopes (@ABQTopes) June 29, 2022
F: Isotopes 11, Space Cowboys 9 pic.twitter.com/0pt4Srs46V
Today, Albuquerque will send José Ureña (0-1, 8.40 ERA) to the mound for his fifth start of the season, hoping to see him find a rhythm that hasn’t come yet.
A rebound outing for the Yard Goats (44-26) after the disappointment of falling just short against Somerset a few days ago, and one headlined by a terrific outing from starter Karl Kauffman (6.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K), who was the spearhead of a Hartford pitching staff that struck out 13 Rumble Ponies. Perhaps most impressively, the Yard Goats put together a complete offensive performance despite missing the bats of Ezequiel Tovar and Michael Toglia, both of whom were not in the lineup for this game, triggering rumors about a possible promotion. Hunter Stovall played shortstop and batted second in Tovar’s absence, and he did a fine impersonation, going 3-for-4 with a triple, a homer and two RBI. Seven of the nine Hartford batters reached base safely at least once, and five of them managed it twice or more. This balanced assault was reflected in the box score, as the Yard Goats scored in five of their eight innings, with only the bottom of the first resulting in a crooked number. Hartford’s starter for the second game of the set is TBD at the time of writing this piece.
A two-run win for Spokane to move them to 36-32 on the season around the midway point. Starter Mike Ruff (4.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 3 K, 0 HR) danced around some traffic to keep Vancouver in check but fell one out short of recording a win. The bullpen took over from there, and had more mixed results, but managed to hold on for the win. It was the Spokane bats that were the story in this one, as all but one batter recorded at least a hit. The middle of the order led the charge, with Drew Romo, Grant Lavigne and Julio Carreras combining to go 8-for-15 with four extra-base hits (a pair of doubles for Carreras, a two-RBI triple for Romo and a two-run shot for Lavigne), and driving in five of their team’s six runs. The triple and the homer came back-to-back as the backbone of a four-run seventh inning that put what had been a tight game (2-1 up to that point) out of reach for the Canadians, as Spokane rallied with two outs to seal the victory. The Indians play again today in the second game of the set, but their starter is TBD at the time of writing this piece.
As longtime Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto used to say: holy cow! Fresno (42-28) absolutely exploded in Stockton for 22 runs, making the game a formality as early as the 5th inning. After that frame, it was 12-2, and it was over at that point, but the Grizzlies then added 10 more runs for good measure, mainly through a monstrous eight-run 8th inning in which seven of the eight runs scored with two outs. Starter Jarrod Cande was solid enough (5.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K, 0 HR) and Cullen Kafka tossed three scoreless frames in relief, but the batting stats are what you’re here for. The Grizzlies had (get ready) 20 hits, 8 walks and 4 hit-by-pitches. And of their 20 hits, a whopping 12 of them went for extra bases, including six home runs. The two main stars of the show were Yanquiel Fernández (3-for-4 with a double, a home run and three walks), Warming Bernabel (2-for-6 with two home runs, five RBI and a walk) and Mike Kokoska (4-for-6 with a triple, a homer and four RBI) but this was a demolition from start to finish. The best way to put this would be that only one spot in the batting order for Fresno managed less than two hits. That spot was the leadoff man, Adael Amador, who still had an RBI base knock on top of two walks, scoring all three times he was on base. Yeah. After this beatdown, the Grizzlies will hopefully still have some run support left for 20-year-old Case Williams (5-2, 3.98 ERA), who’ll be making his 12th start of the season. He hasn’t failed to get through five innings since April 20th, over two months ago.
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