When Colorado Rockies fans scoffed at owner Dick Monfort’s proclamation that the team could play .500 baseball this season, I don’t think any of them imagined just how bad things would be this early on.
“It’s tough to watch,” said Rockies play-by-play announcer Drew Goodman during the team’s April 15th beatdown at the hands of the Seattle Mariners. “No other way to phrase it.”
The Rockies are off to a truly atrocious start to their 2023 campaign. After offering a glimmer of hope by winning their first two games against the San Diego Padres, the immediate nosedive following has been precipitous at best. The Rockies haven’t won any of their first six series, having lost four and tied two. They’ve been swept in three of their four losing series, have only strung together consecutive wins twice at two games each, and have lost by five or more runs five times. After 19 games, the 5-14 Rockies are tied for their worst initial 20 games in franchise history... with one game to go. Just one more loss and they will beat the 6-14 squad from 2005 for worst start to a season. They have dropped eight straight for their longest losing streak since 2019 and there doesn’t seem to be relief in sight.
To say nothing is working for the 2023 Rockies is an understatement. We are witnessing a categorical and fundamental breakdown of baseball in the Mile High City.
I will give the Rockies credit for one thing: they have decreased the amount of ground balls hit since their franchise record 56.8% ground ball rate last season. The Rockies are currently hovering around league average with a 41.8% ground ball rate and 13 degree average launch angle at time of writing. The problem is that they’re still doing very little of note offensively. When they do ground out, it’s usually into a double play. The team has the second most GIDP with 20. Having scored the sixth fewest runs in all of baseball with 72, the Rockies have a run differential of -40. This puts them behind only the Kansas City Royals and the openly tanking Oakland Athletics. Ranking in the bottom ten league-wide, the Rockies don’t draw walks. They also strike out at a heavy clip with the 11th most K’s while owning the fourth worst chase rate and the seventh worst whiff rate.
When the Rockies do put bat to ball, the results are underwhelming. The Rockies have 17 home runs as a team, the seventh fewest in the league. They own the league’s worst average exit velocity, second worst hard hit rate, and fifth worst barrel rate. They have three players in the bottom 5% of the league for exit velocity (Yonathan Daza, Charlie Blackmon, Kris Bryant) and two players (Ezequiel Tovar and Daza again) in the bottom 5% for hard hit rate.
We find ourselves missing the days of Coors Shield more and more. The Rockies -12 Defensive Runs Saved is the second worst mark in the league behind the Athletics, and they lead the league in errors with 14. Thanks to Ryan McMahon’s skillful handling of second base in place of the injured Brendan Rodgers, the Rockies managed to avoid having a negative DRS at every defensive position. The same can’t be said of his replacement at the hot corner. Elehuris Montero has found himself benched after leading the team in errors with three, including a costly error in the first game of the Pirates series. His -4 DRS at third base is the worst among all major league third basemen this season and his future with the team might be in jeopardy because of it. First baseman CJ Cron also has three errors and his -2 DRS ranks among the bottom of his position.
Once thought to be a strength a few seasons ago, the Rockies’ starting rotation is one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. At 7.03 the Rockies have the second highest starting pitcher ERA in all of baseball. They’ve given up the third most home runs at 20 and have the fourth worst WHIP.
With Germán Márquez on the IL the rotation is struggling and would be even worse without Kyle Freeland and his 3.80 ERA to even things out. Freeland gave up just two earned runs through his first 18 2⁄3 innings this season and carried a 0.96 ERA into his fourth start. Unfortunately that fourth start went off the rails and he allowed nine runs (seven earned) in just 2 2⁄3 innings.
José Ureña has given up seven home runs—tied for the most in the league—in just 14 2⁄3 innings and has an ERA of 9.82 through four starts. In his first two starts he failed to make it through three innings and he’s yielded at least four earned runs in three of them. He has yet to surpass the five inning mark.
Ryan Feltner has promising mechanics, but has yet to put things together for a full start this season. He usually performs adequately his first time through the lineup, but the later it gets in a game the more he struggles. In the first three innings he holds a 4.00 ERA and opposing batters have a .621 OPS, but in innings four through six his ERA balloons wildly to 18.69 with an opposing OPS of 1.186.
Austin Gomber has the highest ERA on the team at 12.12 through his first four starts. In his first appearance of the season he pitched a quality start but gave up two home runs. Since then he’s been sliding downhill fast while giving up a home run in every start. Yesterday against the Pittsburgh Pirates he was clobbered for nine earned runs in just two innings.
The Rockies cannot continue on this path. It simply isn’t sustainable and there will be consequences. The primary of which is the impact on the wallet of owner Dick Monfort. The Rockies have been seeing declines in attendance this season. On Wednesday the Rockies saw their lowest recorded attendance in more than ten years.
#Rockies drew an announced crowd of 18,511 at Coors Field today. Lowest in more than a decade.— Patrick Saunders (@psaundersdp) April 19, 2023
Apathetic and/or disillusioned Rockies fans aren’t going to continue coming to the ballpark to watch this team, and apathy is clearly setting in. Sure, you can fill seats with Dodgers fans, but you can’t replace Rockies fans.
More dire than the money or the product on the field is the strain this environment takes on the emotional well-being of the players. Although the source is unknown, you can’t ignore that closer Daniel Bard spent the beginning of the season on the 15-day IL for anxiety. Meanwhile, Austin Gomber is struggling under the weight of expectations on a bottom dwelling team. In his third season with the Rockies more-so than ever Gomber is feeling the weight of the Nolan Arenado trade that brought him here.
“I’m not trying to be him,” Gomber said of Arenado. “I’m just trying to be myself, but I feel like I’m having a hard time staying in that lane right now.”
Gomber stated he’s felt this before but has been able to snap away from that line of thinking. This season as the Rockies appear to be hitting rock bottom it seems more difficult to shake.
“When the team is not playing well, as a starting pitcher you try to take that responsibility,” Gomber said. “At this point, everyone is taking the ball and trying to end the streak. Let’s turn this around. I’m just not in the right head space to achieve this right now. It’s not anything physical. It’s just where my mind is when I’m making that pitch.”
This is the kind of statement made by a player who’s organization has failed him. It’s not a bad thing that he said it even though it’s not something you want to hear from someone in your starting rotation. It’s simply not sustainable for these kinds of feelings to overshadow the players and the locker room. A functional organization cannot foster that kind of environment.
My colleague Renee Dechert said this following the Rockies’ sweep at the hands of the Pirates:
“In my experience when any organization cannot function in the way that the Rockies cannot function, something breaks, and there is change. I don’t know what that would mean for this team, but I think we will see a substantial change.”
I don’t know what kind of changes are coming—if any. However, it’s clear that changes need to be made. I hope I’m wrong, and that in two or three months time the Rockies aren’t careening towards celebrating their 30th Anniversary with the first time breaking the century loss mark.
★ ★ ★
Oakland A’s reach land deal for stadium site in Las Vegas | San Francisco Chronicle
The Athletics’ days in Oakland might be numbered, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports the team is nearing a deal to build a stadium off the strip in Las Vegas. The proposed ballpark would be in close proximity to the Oakland Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium and the Vegas Golden Knights’ T-Mobile Arena.
★ ★ ★
On the Farm
Triple-A: Oklahoma City Dodgers 15, Albuquerque Isotopes 13
The Isotopes nearly completed an 11-run comeback against the Dodgers after a rough start from Jeff Criswell caused them to fall behind early. With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Jonathan Morales hit the ball high and deep. However, the wind kept the ball in the park and ended the game.
Double-A: Binghamton Rumble Ponies 5, Hartford Yard Goats 2
Case Williams fell to 0-3 on the season after giving up five earned runs on four hits and three walks. He struck out four batters over his four innings of work. The Yard Goats bullpen kept the Rumble Ponies off the board for the rest of the game, but the offense was unable to rally and come from behind.
High-A: Tri-City Dust Devels 4, Spokane Indians 2
Opener Jaden Hill pitched two innings while giving up one earned run, tallying two strikeouts, and walking three batters. He gave way to Cullen Kafka, who gave up an additional three runs on six hits. Kafka struck out four batters. Sterlin Thompson extended his hitting streak, and the Indians’ two runs were scored by Benny Montgomery on a bases-clearing triple.
Low-A: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes 2, Fresno Grizzlies 0
Despite an excellent start from Blake Adams, the Grizzlies were unable to overcome a two run deficit Adams pitched six shutout innings and gave up just one hit. He walked two batters but struck out a whopping 10. Sergio Sanchez unfortunately gave up two earned runs in relief of Adams. The Grizzlies tallied six hits but were unable to plate a runner in the shutout loss.
★ ★ ★
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