Last week, our friends over at DNVR Rockies tweeted this:
Rockies gonna be as fun as Diamondbacks this time next year— DNVR Rockies (@DNVR_Rockies) October 5, 2023
A few days later, Patrick Saunders explored the topic at more length, considering whether the Colorado Rockies could replicate the Arizona Diamondbacks’ success. His conclusion? Maybe, but probably not in 2024.
This subject has also been on my mind, but I wanted to examine some different comparators.
The similarities between the two teams are notable.
In 2021, the D-backs lost 110 games; until this season, they hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2017 (a game we will not be discussing further); they last won the NL West in 2011; and in 2001, they won their only World Series.
The Rockies, in comparison, lost 103 games this year; they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2018; and they have never won a division title or World Series.
So, the D-backs have not been an MLB juggernaut, but they have been modestly more successful than the Rockies.
Payroll and front office staffing
This year, the Rockies’ 2023 payroll is $171 million (14th) according to Spotrac; by comparison, the D-backs’ is $119.3 million (21st). (The league average is $165.8 million.)
That Arizona spent less on player salaries is surely due, in part, to the team’s youth (the average age is 28), which means that the D-backs have relatively inexpensive contracts overall.
Another point is worth making: The D-backs do not have a Kris Brant-equivalent contract (seven years, $182 million). A logical comparison might be their recent decision to extend Corbin Carroll (eight years, $111 million), but that comparison only works if the Cubs had given this contract to a rookie Bryant. In 2022, the Rockies opted to spend more money on an older player with less value than Carroll has. In short, the D-backs made a cheaper signing with more potential.
Don’t forget, too, their willingness to DFA Madison Bumgarner after only four starts in 2023, leaving them on the hook for $34 million. He wasn’t pitching well, and he wasn’t helping a young starting rotation, so the D-backs took the hit. It seems difficult to see the Rockies making a similar move.
Big trades have also been a hallmark of general manager Mike Hazen. For example, he sent Jazz Chisholm to the Miami Marlins for Zac Gallen; traded Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals; and most recently moved Daulton Varsho to the Toronto Blue Jays for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno. On this front, Hazen has had more wins than losses.
Here’s another roster decision. To help guide a young team, the D-backs signed Evan Longoria (who just turned 38) to a one-year, $4 million contract with $1 million in incentives. Charlie Blackmon will probably assume a similar role with the 2024 Rockies, earning $13 million with $2 million in incentives for a one-year contract. In terms of fWAR, Blackmon has been the more valuable player (0.8 fWAR as opposed to Longoria’s 0.1 rWAR).
In short, the D-backs have built a more valuable team (19.7 fWAR to the Rockies’ 0.6 fWAR) for less money though, to be fair, the Rockies are still building while the D-backs are almost finished.
Over the weekend, the D-backs announced signing Hazen to a contract extension through 2028 along with assistant GMs Amiel Sawdaye and Mike Fitzgerald. Hazen had been rumored to be under consideration for a job with the Boston Red Sox, but he wasn’t interested. To paraphrase Hazen, he’s begun a job in Arizona and intends to finish it.
Then there’s the coaching staff, most notably manager Torey Lovullo and pitching coach Brent Strom. Lovullo has been with the D-backs since 2017, earning a 496-537 record during his time in Arizona. Here’s Lovullo after the D-backs swept the Milwaukee Brewers in the Wildcard:
"A connected team is a (bleeping) dangerous team. We are (bleeping) dangerous!" -- Torey Lovullo pic.twitter.com/9Yd7LIkfVy— Arizona Sports (@AZSports) October 5, 2023
Yeah, that’ll play. (Steve Gilbert reports that the D-backs may try to extend Lovullo after the postseason ends.)
Bud Black joined the Rockies in 2017, so they’ve had almost identical opportunities. His record with the Rockies is 476-556. Both managers have been to the playoffs twice though Black’s opportunities came immediately after his arrival in Denver while Lovullo had an early trip and then this season’s, which is the result of a rebuild. (Thomas Harding’s reporting suggests that during the offseason, the Rockies and Black will discuss his future with the team.)
The analytics departments are closer in size that you might expect. According to a recent Denver Post article, the Rockies have 11 employees in their analytics department (second fewest in MLB) while the D-backs have 15.
All of that is a long way of suggesting that the D-backs have a plan and an architecture in place that the Rockies are (perhaps) still building.
For this, I just looked at the top three position players as ranked by fWAR. I realize that the comparison is not really fair given that the D-backs are ahead of the Rockies in terms of their rebuild, so keep that in mind and see this as player-rebuild goals.
It’s also worth noting that during that 2021, 110-loss season, the D-backs’ top three players were Ketel Marte (2.4 fWAR), Daulton Varsho (2.3 fWAR), and Eduardo Escobar (2.0 fWAR) with all D-backs’ position players having a value of 11.8 fWAR.
Now to the present.
Corbin Carroll leads the D-backs (6.0 fWAR) followed by Ketel Marte (4.2 fWAR) and Christian Walker (3.8 fWAR). Carroll stole 54 bases. (Closest behind him is Jake McCarthy with 26.) Walker led the D-backs in home runs with 33 followed by Carroll and Marte with 25 each. The D-backs’ position players had a collective fWAR of 19.7.
Turning to the Rockies, Nolan Jones was their most valuable player (3.7 fWAR) and then Ezequiel Tovar (1.6 fWAR) and Ryan McMahon (1.2 fWAR). Brenton Doyle stole the most bases (22) followed by Jones with 20. McMahon hit the most home runs (23) with Jones (20) and Tovar (11) coming in second and third.
The Rockies’ position players earned a collective fWAR of 0.6, which is well below the 11.8 fWAR of the D-backs’ 2021 season. This suggests that even during their worst year, the D-backs were ahead of the 2023 Rockies.
That the Rockies’ starting rotation was devastated by injuries in 2023 is well known, so there’s not much to compare in terms of the starting rotation, except to point to a couple of key differences.
First, the D-backs’ rotation is grounded by Zac Gallen (5.2 fWAR and a probable Cy Young finalist) and Merrill Kelly (3.2 fWAR). Beyond that, things become dicey though Brandan Pfaadt promises to be a fine starter soon, and they will probably look to add another arm to the rotation in the offseason.
The closest the Rockies could come to matching Gallen and Kelly is 2018 Kyle Freeland and Germán Márquez. Where the two will be in 2025 when Márquez returns is anyone’s guess though Freeland had a 1.2 fWAR this season. The rotation is an area of concern for the Rockies going forward.
In terms of the bullpens, both the Rockies and the D-backs have a pool of young arms. The D-backs’ pen finished with 2.2 fWAR (Kevin Ginkel being the most valuable) while the Rockies’ bullpen was worth 2.8 fWAR with Jake Bird and Brent Suter being the most valuable (1.3 fWAR) followed by Justin Lawrence (1.2 fWAR). This is an area of strength for the Rockies going forward.
Nothing is impossible, but it is unlikely the Rockies will be “as fun as the D-backs” in 2024. The D-backs also lead the Dodgers 2-0 in the NLDS. It seems unlikely the Rockies will be doing this in 2024 — too much work remains.
But in 2025, we’ll see.
This is my weekly “Brenton Doyle is an amazing defender” stat:
We're still finalizing our defensive numbers, but Brenton Doyle leading CF in Defensive Runs Saved is one of the most remarkable accomplishments of 2023— SIS_Baseball (@sis_baseball) October 5, 2023
Doyle finished with 19 Runs Saved.
The Rockies only had one prior season in which their CFs combined for positive Runs Saved pic.twitter.com/B2ottz6cbx
It turns out, winning teams see increased televisions viewership. Sixteen teams show an increase in viewership; three stayed the same; and ten saw a decline. (The Rockies were in the third category going from 0.9 to 0.83 in 2023. One of the stories to watch in the offseason will be the fate of the Rockies’ TV rights.
I realize Purple Row isn’t a D-backs’ website, but this is the piece I read last week that has stayed with me. When Mike Hazen’s wife, Nicole, was diagnosed with a malignant brain cancer in 2020, the D-backs came together to support the Hazens. She passed away in 2022, but her presence remains strong with this team. This story explains a great deal about how this team works together. Plus, it’s great to read Zach Buchanan’s writing again.
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