All offseason, Diamond Digest writers will be taking a look at each team’s 2020 season and looking forward at what moves each team might have to make to set themselves up for improvement in 2021. Today, Ilan C.S. takes a look at the Colorado Rockies!
After 14 games, the Colorado Rockies were on top of the world. They had just beaten the Seattle Mariners 5-0 following an incredible debut by rookie Ryan Castellani, in which he threw four no-hit innings. Then, Jeff Hoffman, Yency Almonte, and Phillip Diehl did not allow any runs as Colorado’s pitching shined. Charlie Blackmon drove in three runs on two doubles to cement the Rockies 11th victory of the young season. They spent 16 days out of the shortened 60-game season in first place. On August 8th, 2020 it felt like the Rockies were destined to be a postseason contender just like they were in 2017/18. But, as they returned home from T-Mobile Park in Seattle, the floor began to fall from beneath their feet.
The Colorado Rockies were not a good team by the end of September. The team that was 11-4 had vanished. The bats stopped making contact with baseballs, the magic that revitalized some in the pitching core had dried up. The 2017/18 playoff-contending Rockies died one final time; the 2019 basement-dwelling Rockies were playing baseball once again. For many Rockies fans, those who saw a team with limitless potential fall so far from grace, this season was the last straw. The Colorado Rockies are entering arguably their most pivotal offseason in their history with little hope for anything better.
2020 Record: 26-34, 4th Place in NL West
Team MVP: Trevor Story
Team Cy Young: German Marquez
Biggest Positive Surprise: Tyler Kinley
Biggest Negative Surprise: Collapse of hitting core
The constant challenge for the baseball team that plays in Denver, Colorado is how altitude affects their players: pitchers throw worse at home, and hitters hit worse on the road. Usually, the Rockies perform better at home rather than on the road — in 2019, the Rockies had a .531 winning-percentage at home, compared to .346 on the road. In 2020, the situation was different. At home, their winning-percentage was .400, while on the road it was .467.
Now, some can say this is, in part, due to the shortened season, which is valid. The outliers are far more present and noticeable with fewer games. Taking a look at this season’s run totals will show the Rockies scored 153 at home and 122 on the road, while allowing 213 runs at home and 140 on the road — giving them a -60 run-differential at Coors Field, while improving to just -18 when the team leaves Denver. Comparing this to the 2018 Rockies, they outscored opponents by 41 at home and trailed by 6 on the road, over their 163 games.
This leads to the real issue of the 2020 Rockies, the -60 runs at home in 2020, especially in light of the +41 mark posted in 2018. The Rockies have struggled with pitching for almost its entire history, except for Ubaldo Jimenez, who is still an all-time great Rockie. That said, in the last couple of years, there has been far-more stability at the top of the starting rotation and a couple of impressive bullpen arms. Though, since the Rockies qualified for the playoffs in 2017, the offense has felt lackluster. This issue has caught up to them, even while German Marquez still may be an amazing pitcher but he cannot force the offense to score runs.
There is no sabermetrics needed to showcase the issue that the Rockies faced in 2020, any other data I can add would just support the fact that the offense could not find means to score runs. They did not score runs, they did not win games, they could not make hard contact and they simply did not play good baseball. In-depth analysis of more statistics will not help to showcase any single core issue that can’t be demonstrated simply by the team’s run totals.
The Rockies cemented their playoff window shut in 2020, at least in the eyes of myself and a growing segment of the Rockies fanbase. While there is plenty of reason to believe the days of contention are past the Rockies’ current core, the front office still intends to create a playoff team from the existing roster.
2020-2021 Offseason Preview
Key Losses: Daniel Murphy, Matt Kemp, Kevin Pillar, Drew Butera
Areas of Greatest Need: A hard reboot
Realistic Projection: Staying the course
I had to add an extra category to the offseason preview. The Rockies have always been the odd-team-out in baseball, I think the disconnect between what the Rockies need and what they actually do is wide enough this offseason that the difference needs to be discussed.
What do they need? That is a difficult question. The Rockies need a lot to push forward to become a contender. They need outfielders, they need pitching depth, they need consistent performances, and, maybe most-important, they need to conquer Coors Field once again.
The Rockies did not sign a single player last offseason to a Major League contract — they were the only team in baseball to do so. This season, owner Paul Monfort has likely lost a significant amount of revenue due to the lack of fans at Coors Field. If there is less money to spend after an offseason where the Rockies did not sign a player to a major league deal, it stands to reason that we can expect to see very few incoming FA signings.
If we are essentially eliminating the chance of any impactful offseason contracts, we can always look to the Rockies’ 28th-ranked farm system according to the MLB.com midseason rankings! Their top-prospect right now is their first-round selection of 2020, Zac Veen — a power-hitting lefty who still needs a lot of time to develop. All in all, there is not a lot of high-impact support that will come from the Rockies affiliates in the near future.
Seeing that the Rockies are currently a team with a number of major holes, a very-narrow path to playoff contention, and possess one of the worst farm systems in baseball it seems like they’re a textbook teardown case. In fact, that is probably the best-case scenario for this offseason. It would hurt, losing Nolan Arenado is going to be the most-difficult moment in Rockies history. It didn’t have to be that way though, the Rockies refused to take the next step after 2018 to invest more money into building a core of talented players to support Arenado. Trading him is the best option this offseason, as it seems increasingly-less likely he wants to stay with each losing season in Denver. Perhaps, it is the necessary starting point to begin down the road of a full-rebuild, rather than living in the gray between all-in and rebuilding.
Who am I kidding? The Rockies believe that they can still be competitive and that they are going to claim that the team right now can contend for the NL West…right before they finish in the basement of the NL West, again. It is a constant cycle: the Rockies get upset when they are not taken seriously, but continue to live by an old-school mentality that was outdated a decade ago. This is an issue deeper than the roster, the manager, or the front office. It is a key issue with the culture surrounding the club. The summers of 2017 and 2018 were incredibly fun, but they were the outliers in the Rockies history. Flukes. Love it or hate it, this is Colorado Rockies baseball. It will take years of culture-changing for there to be on-field impacts, but we’ve seen no indication that the team’s culture is going to change whatsoever.
Now, the Rockies will end the offseason here: as a team clinging on to the brief success it had; a team trying to keep together the core they disappointed. Just when people believed the Rockies could be legit, the floor fell out from beneath them, as if it was some comedy act. I wonder what is next for this team, I just cannot expect it to be anything good.