AnalysisNL West

2020 Colorado Rockies Season Preview

It has been a long and difficult offseason for everyone, not just the Rockies community. With Summer Camp beginning, the Rockies have 60 games to return to their 2018 form. After a disappointing 2019 and a polarizing offseason, the Rockies have a lot to prove entering the 2020 season.

After 60 games in 2019, the Rockies were 31-29 and hovering around .500. They were in a decent spot, but by the second half the floor had fallen from beneath their feet and the Rockies spiraled downwards. Perhaps the 60 games could benefit the Rockies, there will be less road games and that mean less instances where a Coors Field hangover negatively impacts team performance. So far, Ian Desmond is the sole player from the Rockies who has opted out, sharing his reasoning in a powerful Instagram post. He was replaced on the roster by Matt Kemp, who was signed to a Minor League contract much to the surprise of many. Let’s go over who else is going to be fighting to be on the Rockies 30 man roster:

Offense:

The Rockies have always been known for big bats, and this year is no exception to the rule. There are the core hitters, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, who are going to be most likely returning. David Dahl is also a strong hitter, but is considered high risk due to his former spleen removal surgery. So far, he has been attending Summer Camp, though he may still opt out. Those three, Arenado, Story and Dahl, are the three strongest and most consistent hitters on the team. Besides them, the offense has a lot of questions. The biggest one involves Ryan McMahon. McMahon has been a highly regarded prospect in the Rockies system, but while he had regular starting job last season he did not break out, and with a ho-hum 88 wRC+ he most definitely has room for improvement. Top prospect Brendan Rogers is healthy and playing at camp; he had a brief stint last season in the majors but he failed to make an impact. This season, he returns fully healthy with a chance to earn a spot on the roster especially with the absence of Ian Desmond. The same is true for Garrett Hampson, who can be a valuable contributor due to his versatility in both the infield and outfield.

The core issue for the Rockies is that depth. They have had several prospects, and while they’ve received the opportunity to play in the majors some, none have succeeded too much. The Rockies have some of the best hitters in the game, as well as some of the most underwhelming hitters in the game. For a team that for nearly its entire history has relied on its offense, the modern Rockies have been severely lacking. For them to have success, the offense needs to be consistent. These are some of the prospects that Rockies fans have been waiting for. Brendan Rogers, Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon are going to be important to the ability for the Rockies to score runs.

Matt Kemp and Chris Owings, two names that many thought were going to be left in the 2010s, have recently been confirmed to be on the Rockies Opening Day roster. Matt Kemp was a player many Rockies fans have said mean words about due to his star tenure with the Dodgers in the early 2010’s. He was known as a “Rockies killer” who always performed when facing Colorado pitching. It appears he impressed Rockies brass in Summer Camp, he was signed to fill the roster spot that Ian Desmond vacated when he opted out, and hopefully continues to rake at Coors Field even in his age 35 season. Chris Owings was never an offensive power, yet he is here to help cover some ground in the infield. Like Matt Kemp, Owings did play for a division rival, the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2013-2018, posting amazing numbers against Rockies pitching. Owings, though, brings defensive versatility in the infield while Matt Kemp would be best fit as a DH, since he has never been famous for his defensive prowess.

Pitching:

The first thing that is said about the Rockies is, “Their pitching cannot handle Coors Field”. Whenever the Rockies pitching staff is mentioned, the first thing that is said mentions the Coors Field effect. In 2018, arguably the Rockies best season since 2007, their GB% was 45.2% and their HR/FB% was 13.5%, just 0.1% above the Dodgers HR/FB for context. In 2019, while the GB% actually rose to 46.1% which is the best in MLB the HR/FB% rose significantly to 19% which is over 1% higher than the team below them. Even though the Rockies pitching staff gave up a lot of home runs, there were also a large amount of ground balls being produced. The issue here is that when the hitter did not hit the ball on the ground, it was far more likely to be in the seats. To be positive, Jon Gray had a solid season. 2018 was rough for him; he had a large discrepancy between his 5.12 ERA and 4.08 FIP. In 2019, he was able to be far closer to his FIP. Posting a solid 3.84 ERA and 4.06 FIP, it seemed that his true skill was beginning to show last season. German Marquez, while not being quite the same as 2018, had a solid season, continuing to show that Rockies pitchers can be successful for multiple seasons. The issue lies with depth though, just like the offense. Although the Rockies may have 2 successful young starters, the rest of the starting pitching has failed to pan out. Kyle Freeland had a very rough junior season, being sent to AAA, where he failed to find his Cy Young caliber skills as well. The issue, like many Rockies pitchers know well was the home run. His HR/FB skyrocketed from 8.5% to 21.7%. Antonio Senzatela has his moments, though he has never been able to find a consistent pattern in the majors. Jeff Hoffman was supposed to be in the same league as German Marquez and Jon Gray as one of the premier Rockies starters but has yet to find control with the Rockies. The rest of the staff was stitched together, whether they be young prospects not quite ready for the major league or journeymen like the legendary Tim Melville.

Though, the biggest issue with the Rockies pitching staff lies in the bullpen. There were many times where even if someone like Jon Gray throws a solid game, once the relievers entered the game it did not matter that Jon Gray had a good outing. The biggest, and most expensive offender of this is Wade Davis. Remember when Wade Davis was considered one of the best closers in baseball? The Rockies paid him $18,000,000 in 2019, when he pitched to an 8.65 ERA and 5.56 FIP. Though there is a large discrepancy in those numbers, likely tethered to his .349 BABIP neither his ERA or FIP are good for someone who was supposed to be the new pillar of the bullpen. Though, there is one promising light in the Rockies bullpen: Scott Oberg. Very few people knew about Scott Oberg – before the 2018 season, he was a mediocre middle reliever. Then, something amazing happened in 2018. He became the best reliever the Rockies have. Scott Oberg is one of the most underrated arms in any bullpen. While the rest of the Rockies bullpen is shaky at best, Scott Oberg looks to have another successful season in Denver. Besides Davis, Shaw and Oberg there is a Wild Thing. Carlos Estevez had a solid 2019 season, providing significant innings in relief. Though for many teams, a 4.13 FIP is mediocre, he has serious potential to grow as a pitcher in 2020. Compared to virtually every other regular relief pitcher on the Rockies, he is 27 and can still grow into his pitching prime. One standout in Summer Camp as well as Spring Training has been former Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard.

Daniel Bard is a name that triggers memories of my childhood, he was a core part of the Red Sox bullpen from 2009-2011. From 2012 onwards, he dealt with a myriad of issues causing him to fail to make an impact even in A ball. It appears though, he has found his form. He impressed the Rockies coaching staff as well as GM Jeff Bridich enough to be added to the 40 man roster. He is going in with a comeback kid mentality as well as expectations to help support Scott Oberg in the late innings from fans. When he gets in a game, it will be the first time he has been in a Major League game since April 27th 2013, where he faced a Houston Astros lineup with both future Rockie Brandon Barnes and former Yankees legend Brandon Laird. It has been a long time, but everyone is hoping Daniel Bard can help revitalize a failing bullpen.

He is going to be part of the replacement for two expensive arms, Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee who were recently released from their large contacts. Shaw and McGee both signed 3 year, $27 million deals in the 2017-18 offseason. Neither of these deals worked out, Shaw and McGee both failed to repeat their brilliant 2017 seasons becoming dead weight for the Rockies bullpen in both 2018 and 2019. While the strong rotation and offense bailed them out for the most part in 2018, the immense failure of these contracts became incredibly visible in 2019. As difficult as it is to eat that kind of salary this season, the move was necessary to move past those mistakes and open roster spots for pitchers who have been blocked for the last 2 seasons since McGee and Shaw were stuck in Colorado. This is a welcome move, and it has already improved the outlook of the Rockies bullpen slightly.

Conclusion:

The Rockies are a very difficult team to predict; a team with a fair amount of potential that is seen as subpar due to a complete collapse in the second half of last season. Last season preview, I believed the Rockies needed to focus on the development of young staff, instead of a “win-now” mentality. Last season, the Rockies young staff faltered and instead of being a mediocre team they ended up being simply a bad team. Going into 2020, expectations are far more subdued than 2019 and rightfully so. The Rockies, while having some of the most talented offensive players in baseball, have incredibly poor depth to support their stars and a pitching staff with far more questions than answers at this point. This team may have had its very brief window closed but this is a very different season. With shorter and less frequent road trips, the Coors Field hangover will be less prevalent in Rockies baseball. This could be the final shot for this Rockies core. Nolan Arenado’s opt-out clause is looming over the team and trade rumors were swirling during the Winter Meetings. Even with only 60 games to compete, I think the cons outweigh the pros with the Rockies as their schedule is difficult. They are playing against difficult AL West teams like Oakland, Anaheim and Houston as well as playing a larger fraction of games against the Dodgers, meaning that their competition is steep. This is a season where the Rockies need to show that this young core is going to perform long term. I expect the team to finish below .500 in this shortened 60 game season. They will win around 25 games, especially those against Seattle, San Francisco and Texas but, the power of the remaining opponents will be too much for the Rockies to handle. Here’s to another wild season of Rockies baseball!

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