Disclaimer: this piece was written before Colorado’s most recent 7-6 win versus the Rangers. All the numbers and charts reflect the data through August 22nd. The general point remains, of course, but I wanted to make that clear to get ahead of some possible confusion.
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If you ask the average baseball fan about the Rockies and brand of baseball they play, you will usually get a response kind of like: “they can’t pitch, and they hit a ton of home runs in that thin air”. Of course, this hasn’t been true in recent years. They’ve been a relatively average pitching staff since Bud Black arrived, even if they’ve struggled this season. And that second part? The “they hit a lot of home runs” part? Well...
The 2022 Rockies Are Historically Averse to Power
The Colorado Rockies have not hit for power this season. Not in the slightest, in fact. Not when compared to other MLB teams, and not when compared to their own history. Here are some quick facts (through August 22nd):
- The Rockies have hit 111 home runs in 123 games this season, 21st across the majors.
- The Rockies have a .406 slugging percentage as a team. Setting aside the weird 2020 season, that would be the lowest ever single-season slugging percentage for a Rockies team.
- The 2022 Rockies have a .144 ISO (Isolated Power, a.k.a. slugging percentage - batting average), tied with 2005 for the lowest single-season mark in franchise history, and only 19th in the majors.
Those are some pretty telling numbers. A team slugging percentage of .406 isn’t terrible for 2022 (MLB average is .395), but it’s flat out bad for a team that plays half its games at Coors Field. We can look at this from a whole lot of viewpoints, so let’s get to it. What leads to a good power output? How do the Rockies hit the baseball as a team? Can an adjustment be made?
The Anatomy of Slugging
In modern MLB, I would identify three distinct things that lead to doing damage at the plate:
- Do NOT hit groundballs. The groundball isn’t the worst batted ball type out there (the pop-up exists), but it’s the second worst. And if you’re trying to generate power, you’re not going to do it by killing some defenseless infield worms. Of the good lineups across MLB, only the Blue Jays and Mets have an above average groundball rate, and the list of the lowest groundball rates across MLB is almost a carbon copy of the “best lineups in MLB” list. This is basic logic. If you’re trying to slug, elevate the ball.
- Smack the cover off the ball. More groundbreaking baseball analysis from yours truly: hitting the ball hard is very good. Your grounders can sneak through better, your flyballs carry more, and so on. It’s difficult to hit the ball over the fence if you don’t hit it hard.
- Pull your flyballs. This is a topic that has been covered before, including by myself when I wrote about Ryan McMahon back in June. The idea that it’s far easier to hit the ball out when you pull it has long been common knowledge across baseball, but the return to regular baseballs this season has reduced the value of the opposite field flyball even further compared to the juiced ball era of 2016-20. And it’s this idea that I truly want to do a deep dive on. This is a little chart I made:
Now, BBE stands for “Batted Ball Event”, and wRC+ stands for weighted runs created plus, which is an all-encompassing, environment-adjusted stat for offensive performance in which 100 is league average, and higher is better. As you can see in the chart, there is a pretty strong correlation between the frequency in which a team generates pulled flyballs and their offensive performance. The only two teams to create that batted ball type at an MLB average (6.8%) or higher clip and be below average lineups are the Royals and Diamondbacks, and most are well above average. The pulled flyball is baseball’s premium slugging machine.
Let’s see how the Rockies are at doing this things. Remember: keep the ball off the ground, hit it hard, and pull your flyballs.
The Anatomy of Not Slugging
Spoilers: the Rockies don’t do any of those three things well. Their inability to slug this season would’ve gave you the answer already, of course, but let’s go into some detail first:
- The Rockies have the second-highest groundball rate in the majors. Tied with the Nats at 46.7% and only 0.1% below the Cubs. They’re also the only team in MLB with an average launch angle below 10 degrees, at 9.7º. Not a good start. And before you think this is a Coors Hangover type deal, the Rockies have a higher groundball rate at home (47.3%) than on the road (46.0%). You read that right. At Coors Field, a ballpark that boosts flyballs and line drives more than any other, the Rockies hit 47.3% of their batted balls on the ground. That rate, by the way, is the highest in the majors for any team at home. In fact, the 2022 Rockies have the highest groundball rate of any Rockies team ever. Just leaving that out there.
- The Rockies have the fifth-lowest average exit velo and the eight-lowest hard-hit rate. And to make things even better (worse), they have the lowest average exit velo on flyballs and line drives, at 91.2 MPH (tied with Cleveland). So far, the Rockies hit more grounders than just about anybody, and when they get the ball in the air they don’t hit it hard. Bad combination already. Let’s get to the last point.
- The Rockies have the fourth-lowest pull rate on flyballs. At 23.5%, that means that less than one of every four flyballs they hit is being pulled. They also have the sixth-highest oppo rate on flyballs, at 39.8%. In other words, they are significantly more likely to hit a flyball the other way than they are to pull it. For reference: when a flyball is pulled, the league as a whole is slugging 1.672. When a flyball is hit straightaway, that slugging percentage drops to a still solid .560. When a flyball is hit the other way, the league average slugging percentage is just .388. You can do the math on that one.
All of this paints a clear picture: the 2022 Rockies are the anti-slugging team. They hit a bunch of groundballs, they hit the ball softly, and they rarely pull a flyball. That is how you end up as a Rockies team that might struggle to hit 150 home runs in a season and is on track to post some of the worst power numbers in franchise history. And I believe this is mostly an organizational thing. The five Rockies this season with the highest rate of pulled flyball/BBE are Brian Serven (9.9%), Elehuris Montero (9.0%), Kris Bryant (8.9%), C.J. Cron (8.2%) and Randal Grichuk (7.7%). Everyone else is below average.
If you didn’t notice the trend, I’ll point it out for you: four of those five came from other organizations. Serven is the only one who’s never known a different franchise, and three of them were vets before they were Rockies. Some of the names on the other side of the coin? Charlie Blackmon (6.5%), Ryan McMahon (5.2%), Sam Hilliard (4.3%), Garrett Hampson (2.6%) and Brendan Rodgers (2.5%), among others. And listen, I'm not going to sit here and declare that I have the medicine to cure this illness. I'm not a hitting coach. But the data and the issue is clear for everyone to see. If the Rockies are ever going to put fear in the hearts of opponents again, as they did in the days of the Blake Street Bombers, they're going to have to find their power again. Unless they do that, I believe they will have a hard time climbing out of the hole they're currently stuck in.
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It’s really great to see Pint come back to the game and succeed. My gut tells me we’re going to see him as a Rockie before the season is over, and what a moment that’ll be. It’s been a unique and difficult road, and he’s now so close to the big leagues.
Kuhl should re-join the rotation soon, but Kris Bryant is still in a walking boot, and if you read between the lines, he’s probably done for the season.
On The Farm
The Isotopes improve to 54-63 after a tremendous performance from the bullpen. Starter Ashton Goudeau got hit hard and couldn’t make it out of the first (0.2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 1 K), but the ‘pen then pitched 8.1 innings of two-hit ball, allowing no more damage as the lineup did its part to get Albuquerque a win, mostly on the back of a five-run bottom of the 4th. Some of the standouts include Ryan Vilade (3-for-3 with a triple, a walk and two runs scored), Coco Montes (3-for-5 with a double, a homer and a pair of runs scored). Jonathan Morales, L.J. Hatch and Tim Lopes homered as well, as seven of the nine Isotope batters recorded at least one hit and one RBI. Righty Brandon Gold (6-5, 6.25 ERA) will get the ball today looking to make it two in a row to start the series, facing top Rangers prospect Cole Winn.
Hartford (67-47) gets the win in the series opener courtesy of two big innings: a four-run top of the 1st and a six-run top of the 5th. Noah Davis was effectively wild (5.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 5 K), holding Portland to just that lone hit and picking up his eighth win of the season. It was the lineup that was the big story in this ballgame, however. On fourteen hits (six for extra bases) and three walks, they mauled Sea Dogs starter Brian Van Belle, knocking him out of the game before he could get through the first, and did the same with the bullpen. There were some big performances, including Julio Carreras (3-for-4 with a triple, two RBI and two runs scored in his first game at Double-A) and Zac Veen (3-for-5 with a double, a pair of RBI and two runs scored). Grant Lavigne drove in three runs and Kyle Datres homered, and the Yard Goats went 7-for-19 with RISP. Hartford’s starter for today’s ballgame is TBD at the time of writing this piece.
A close, one-run loss for Spokane (58-54). Starter Ryley Widell (4.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 9 K) had a very weird outing. He struck out nine but ultimately allowed five runs, even though he came close to getting out of some jams in both the 3rd and 4th innings. The AquaSox scored two and three runs respectively, all with two outs (a two-run homer in the 3rd, a two-out rally with three hits and a wild pitch in the 4th), and the lineup couldn’t find that fifth run to tie the game and save Widell from the loss. Spokane managed just two extra-base hits all day, so even though they went 4-for-11 with RISP, four runs is all they ended up with. Hunter Goodman reached base three times (a single and a pair of walks), but Colin Simpson was the only Spokane batter with more than one hit, with a double and a single accounting for three of their eight total bases. Anderson Amarista will take the mound today for his very first start at High-A.
A walk-off! After a back-and-forth game that saw multiple lead changes, Fresno (70-45) rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth, with Braxton Fulford ending the game with a ringing double off the wall in deep left center. With that, the Grizzlies reached the 70 win mark, one of only three teams in all of Low-A to get to that figure so far. They had to make that comeback after giving up the lead in the 8th, allowing a five-run Stockton outburst that made a stable 5-2 evaporate in the blink of an eye. That blown save meant that young 18-year-old phenom Jordy Vargas couldn’t get the win, but he was terrific yet again (5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K), with the lone run he allowed coming on a solo homer. Benjamin Sems was the big bat for the Grizzlies in this one, going 3-for-4 with a three-run jack, and Yanquiel Fernández went 2-for-4 and drove in three runs himself (including a key RBI single in the 9th inning rally) to give him 96 RBI on the season, a total that leads the Minor Leagues. Top Rockies prospect Jaden Hill will take the hill (see what I did there?) today, making his second start for Fresno as he continues to build up innings in his return from Tommy John surgery. The 6’4” right-hander was spectacular in his first start as a Grizzlie, striking out seven and walking none across three dominant shutout innings. He threw 46 pitches last time out, so I’d expect around 50-60 to be the number in this outing.
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