I’m pretty excited about the 2023 Rockies.
At this point, you’re probably saying, “Seriously? This team has been decimated by pitching injuries; the bullpen has the highest ERA (5.28) in MLB and has blown the most saves (30); they are 28th in home runs; and they only have one 2.0 fWAR player. Plus, they’re on track for the first 100-loss season in franchise history, and you’re excited?”
I am because of what we’ve learned about this team — and those kids who’ve knocked down the doors to Coors Field.
Despite all the grim numbers (and most of them are bad though I’m going to point to some that are pretty terrific), it’s been a promising year.
Actually, allow me to set the mood for this piece:
Now to the specifics behind my thinking.
5. The front office was willing to deal
It started last offseason when Bill Schmidt traded Sam Hilliard and Connor Joe while DFA-ing Garrett Hampson. Though we didn’t know it then, Schmidt’s best move would be trading Juan Brito for Nolan Jones.
He followed that with a battery of free-agent signings and wire claims: Harold Castro, Brad Hand, Pierce Johnson, Mike Moustakas, Brent Suter, Jurickson Profar, José Ureña.
By the time the July trade deadline arrived, Schmidt had traded Moustakas, CJ Cron, and Randal Grichuk to the Angels and sent Johnson and Hand to Atlanta. In the course of the season, he also DFA’d Profar and Ureña.
A reclusive Rockies front office was open for business. Plus, Schmidt brought back arms, so many arms. Whether they’ll work out, we don’t know, but the front office knew what needed to be done and acted.
Let me add, many of these deals were also wins for the players who were traded to contending teams. Moves like this may make future free agents more apt to sign with Colorado.
Come the offseason, Schmidt will surely be busy again, and that’s a good thing.
4. We saw lots of new arms
To be clear, it was a brutal year for Rockies starting pitchers: Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela underwent Tommy John surgery; Ryan Feltner suffered a skull fracture; and the promising seasons of Austin Gomber, Kyle Freeland, and Peter Lambert were recently ended due to injuries.
Like a canny garage-sale shopper, though, the Rockies have a knack for finding pitchers on the waiver wire and putting them to use. (See: Chase Anderson and Chris Flexen). Plus, there’s been the re-emergence of Ty Blach. Given everything, the rotation could have been much worse.
Add to that Lucas Gilbreath’s Tommy John, Daniel Bard’s anxiety, and the assorted injuries that come find their way to a bullpen during any season, and this was a tough haul. That said, Brent Suter, Jake Bird, and Justin Lawrence were lights out — until, as Kenneth Weber predicted, overuse burned them out (and contributed to those 30 blown saves).
We’ve also seen a parade of young arms: Noah Davis, Tommy Doyle, Gavin Hollowell, Evan Justice, Nick Mears, Victor Vodnik, among others. It hasn’t always gone well, but the potential is there, and the Rockies have a better sense of their pitching inventory.
I asked our resident pitching expert, Mario Delgado Genzor, to weigh in. “More and more, they have a pitching staff of guys with flat-approach angle fastballs, guys who need to live up [in the zone],” Mario said. Then he added, “The acquisition trends have definitely changed over the past year or so, but will the MLB pitching strategy adapt to the new brand of pitchers they have? We’ll have to wait and see.”
Maybe I’m drinking some purple Kool-Aid, but despite this year’s challenges, there’s the potential for good things on the horizon.
3. The defense has been good — as in very good
Ryan McMahon is probably in line for a third attempt to dethrone the current Gold Glove king, Nolan Arenado. (His 17 DRS are second only to the 21 of Ke’Bryan Hayes.) Because of a shoulder injury, we’ll never know if Gold Glover Brendan Rodgers could have repeated, but recent signs suggest he’ll be back in full defensive form in 2024.
But the rookies, they have been breathtakingly good defensively.
We knew Ezequiel Tovar was a wizard, and he has not disappointed. Among all shortstops, he is fifth in terms of DRS with five; among NL shortstops, he’s third. In an organization known for producing elite shortstops, Tovar has shown he belongs.
Then there’s Brenton Doyle. Only Kevin Keirmaier has more DRS (16) than Doyle (15). By Fielding Run Value, which measures total defensive value, Doyle has the highest score of all players. Outs Above Average? He is second only to Luis Robert, Jr. And let me say again, Doyle is doing this in the most challenging ballpark in MLB.
Although Nolan Jones is still learning to play the outfield, he throws like he’s spent his life there, and between Jones and Doyle, the Rockies have two of the best outfield arms in baseball.
fastest-tracked OF assists, 2023:— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) September 9, 2023
9/2 Brenton Doyle: 100.9 mph
7/23 Oscar Colás 100.9 mph
Today Nolan Jones: 100.7 mph
8/29 Brenton Doyle: 100.4 mph
8/1 Matt Wallner: 100.4 mph https://t.co/ZnHo8LgKHg
Players are hesitating to run on the defensive duo, which helps keep games close.
Meanwhile, Elehuris Montero is becoming more comfortable at first base.
This is a young team still finding itself, but the defense is close.
2. The offense is improving
Currently, Nolan Jones is the Rockies’ best player (2.0 fWAR) closely followed by Tovar (1.8 fWAR).
Although Jones arrived as a fairly accomplished hitter, Tovar has made steady improvement (he leads the Rockies in doubles and is tied with Charlie Blackmon for the most triples), Montero has been on a 25-game on-base streak and has slashed 354./.435/.570 since August 14. In recent days Doyle has shown improvement at the plate, and he leads the Rockies in stolen bases with 19.
And I haven’t gotten to Hunter Goodman yet.
It’s not all about youth. The Rockies will have Kris Bryant for five years and, if the rumors can be believed, Charlie Blackmon for at least one more. Both players have been good since coming off the IL though the organization will need to be careful not to let the veterans block the development of their younger players.
1. The games are better
For the last few years, when the Rockies got, say, two runs behind, the game was pretty much over because they simply had limited ability to play themselves back into a game.
That’s not been the case this year. Take Sunday against the San Francisco Giants. In the sixth inning, the Rockies were down 8-0. In the past, that would have been the prelude to yet another blowout. Not this time, as the Rockies came back to add 10 runs and were in a position to win the game. That’s encouraging as was their 3-1 series win.
The Rockies have not only played from behind, but they’ve also stayed competitive deep into games. That’s why, counterintuitively, I’m encouraged by all those blown saves. Is it good? Clearly no. But it shows a team that contending until deep into games, which seems an improvement. The bullpen implosions bother me less because the pitching staff was exhausted early. We knew this was coming.
The kids are forcing the window open and getting better while they do it. This is the way.
Jim Bowden’s ranking begins with the Cincinnati Reds followed by the Baltimore Orioles (which just makes sense) before moving into the rest of the list. Landing at #10? The Colorado Rockies. He writes, “The Rockies have three of the most underrated rookies in baseball, and that’s probably because they play for a last-place team. However, Jones and Tovar deserve more recognition nationally for their significant contributions.”
If there was a tale of baseball disappointment in 2023, that story was surely written by the Padres. No one has answered why a loaded team produced so little. Kevin Acee considers the role that team chemistry may have played. It’s a well reported piece that suggests the Padres problems were less on the diamond than in the clubhouse.
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