No, really: At least Nolan Arenado is fun to watch.
The Rockies are a mess. They’ve finished fourth or fifth in each of the past five seasons; they’ve trailed the division winner by 20 or more games in all but one of those years (when they checked in 18 games back); and last July they traded their face-of-the-franchise shortstop for, among other (admittedly more important, promising) pieces, a veteran who is now suspended indefinitely following a domestic assault arrest. It’s been all downhill since their divisional-round exit in 2009, and provided you trust PECOTA’s 74-win projection, there’s little reason to believe their fortunes will change over the next seven months. You’d almost be justified in ignoring them. Almost.
The Rockies have done some things the past eight months. They did a thing a couple weeks ago. Like most of the things the Rockies have done lately, trading four years of Corey Dickerson for two years of Jake McGee has caused much head-scratching. The reaction to the trade was a combination of said head-scratching and “LOL Rockies” with a splash of “hey, McGee’s really good and his fastball-heavy approach might be a good fit for Coors.” The analyses of the trade all generally led to the conclusion that the Rockies do not really have a plan and that, if they do, it is simply a plan to try and be mediocre.
I do not think that this is likely. If the plan is to be mediocre or there is no plan, then why do anything at all? Why trade Troy Tulowitzki? Why sign an outfielder, just to trade another and add more payroll along the way? To me, these actions and the motivation to be mediocre do not jibe. That said, we can believe that these moves are unlikely to be successes, while having a different theory as to what is motivating this behavior.
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With Coors Field presenting a constant challenge, we seem to get a new one every couple years.
It’s hard to believe in the Rockies. In 22 seasons of play, the franchise can boast only seven winning seasons, and three with more than 83 wins. Their next division title will be their first, and just now, their next division title feels very far away. This summer saw them trade, arguably, the best player in franchise history, in order to kickstart a rebuilding effort and make a clearer statement of purpose in that direction. Still, it feels like their deep farm system has to pan out almost perfectly, if they’re to overwhelm the impossibly deep and well-heeled Dodgers, or the hyper-competitive Giants and Diamondbacks any time soon. It’s almost hopeless. Yet, the Rockies made one other change in 2015, aside from trading Troy Tulowitzki, that ought to give you at least a mustard seed of faith in them: the Mountains moved. A lot.
Through 2014, the Rockies were one of the league’s most shift-averse teams. In 2013, they had a shift on when 95 balls were put in play. Only six teams (four in the NL) shifted less often. In 2014, Colorado fielders were shifted on 114 balls in play, which represents hardly any added commitment to the concept, and which (since everyone else in the league was rapidly adopting shifting and installing shifts as vital parts of their run-prevention game plans) was 87 fewer than any other team in baseball.
One of the Rockies' three incumbents in the outfield is about to roll over.
Orioles, Rockies discussing Colorado’s spare outfielders
The slow-developing outfield market lost another mid-tier free agent Tuesday, when the Rockies agreed to a three-year, $27.5 million deal with Gerardo Parra. Like Denard Span, who signed a three-year, $31 million contract with the Giants last week, Parra represented something of a risk after batting just .237/.268/.357 following a deadline trade to Baltimore. But the Rockies apparently were comfortable writing off that skid to Parra’s mid-year city and league change, investing in him through the 2018 season with a $12 million fourth-year option.
Colorado was always something off an odd fit for Parra, because the Rockies already had plenty of left-handed-hitting outfielders. Nonetheless, rumors tying them to the ex-D’backs outfielder persisted and eventually a deal came to fruition. Now, Walt Weiss has four lefty-swinging outfield regulars for three spots: Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, and Carlos Gonzalez all bat from that side of the plate, and Brandon Barnes and Kyle Parker are available as right-handed batters off the bench.
How the Rockies Charlie Blackmon is going against history.
It's the time of year to take stock of the things that matter most to us, so while others spend these final days of 2015 confessing hidden feelings for old friends or redoubling their charitable efforts, I've been obsessing more than ever over Charlie Blackmon. Specifically, because it's my perpetual hangup and the thing that first grabbed me about Blackmon, I've been digging into what I consider the most remarkable transformation of 2015: Blackmon’s plate approach.
Baseball joins the domestic violence conversation.
This is the silly season. The time of year we contemplate Baseball, free from the whip-around of everyday play. So with the news of Jose Reyes’ arrest on Halloween, I find myself pondering something that isn’t silly at all: the violence visited upon women by men who play the game, and my trepidation at how that violence will be handled.
Violence occupies an odd place in baseball. Unlike football, where hard blows are understood as part of the vocabulary of the game, contact is marked as unusual in baseball. It’s the result of a heated moment or an errant throw, a late slide deemed by whatever standard to be dirty instead of gritty. For all the talk of the way the game has always been played, force in baseball often sits in isolation, readily available for dissection and scrutiny. Even those who justify throwing at a batter as necessary retribution do so knowing their rationale is predicated in part on how aberrant this call is. It's a rupture in the way the game proceeds. Traditional but not routine. Stripped of their novelty, those moments would risk baseball becoming a different sport, something unrecognizable.
A look at a trio of under-the-radar Rockies hitting prospects whose stocks could spike on their way to Coors.
Similarly to under-hyped Yankees and Red Sox fantasy prospects (a rare breed), undervalued Rockies fantasy hitting prospects—although rare—do exist in the wild. Sure, we’ve all been burned by a few Josh Rutledges and Ian Stewarts in our day, but there is plenty of future value to be mined in a deep Rockies system, even once you get past the likes of Trevor Story, David Dahl, Raimel Tapia, Forrest Wall, Ryan McMahon, and the recently drafted Brendan Rodgers.
Every fantasy owner knows that Coors Field is a magnificent place for a hitter to call home, and some of the most productive homegrown Rockies have flown relatively under the fantasy radar. A glance at the current edition of the Rockies roster finds multiple fantasy darlings who were far from top prospects, including Corey Dickerson, an eighth-round pick in 2010 from South Alabama, who failed to appear on a single one of our top-10 team lists (he did appear at no. 17 on the 2012 list) and finished last season as a top-20 overall outfielder. Mister Charlie Blackmon, or “Chuck Nazty,” if you’re well, nasty, peaked at no. 7 on Kevin Goldstein’s team top-10 list in 2011 after being taken in the second round of the 2010 draft out of Georgia Tech and is currently the third-ranked outfielder (and seventh-overall player) on ESPN’s Player Rater. Blackmon barely managed to squeeze his way onto fantasy overlord Bret Sayre’s top-120 outfielder list for dynasty purposes prior to the 2014 season, based largely upon playing-time concerns. Even bona fide fantasy monster Nolan Arenado—likely a top-25 dynasty property heading into the winter—peaked at 32nd on the top-100 fantasy prospect list prior to his debut in the 2013 season.
We find six interesting storylines for the six all-but-eliminated teams--and none of them is about trading away superstars.
Bad teams are boring. That’s a thesis to which we can all subscribe, isn’t it? Sure, it’s interesting when a team invests heavily—almost desperately—in a given season, then falls flat, but for the most part, the trends we track and the decisions we analyze draw our interest because of their impact on the competitive prospects of the teams and players in question. The most criminal thing about the current MLB roster rules is that they discourage bad teams from being competitive, such that hardly anything that happens on the field for those teams merits our attention. Teams not only have incentive to lose more games within a non-contending season, but are saddled with conflicting interests when it comes to promoting promising young players during such a campaign. Young players who would have been in the big leagues 20, 30 or 40 years ago are now stashed in the minors months longer, if their team stinks. And it doesn’t pay to grouse about a manager steadfastly refusing to use his best reliever in a tie game on the road, if we can’t agree that winning that game is actually valuable to the franchise.
That stinks, especially for the hundreds of thousands of fans of bad teams who lose the chance to participate in a national conversation. So consider this a public service, an outreach program to the downtrodden and the disenfranchised of the baseball world. Six teams entered Wednesday’s play with Playoff Odds lower than 10 percent: the Braves, the Phillies, the Reds, the Brewers, the Rockies and the Diamondbacks. (Yes, we’ll have a conversation soon about how the NL and the AL have become so radically disparate, in terms of competitive landscape. But not today.) Without resorting to the cheap, easy stories that force the eyes of the fan bases forward at the expense of any enjoyment of this season (Who will Arizona take with the first pick? Will the Reds trade Cueto? Will the Rockies trade Tulo? Will the Phils trade Hamels?), I want to talk about the most interesting things going on with those six clubs. I don’t promise to deliver hope; some of these are bad things. I merely want to make sure that we spend a little time valuing the games these teams are playing, because buried beneath the mixed messages and the mounting apathy, there is real content, real action taking place, things that will shape the futures of the franchises, but can be discussed in real time, without undue abstraction.
Every season has its Sabermetric bellwether issue. Trout vs. Cabrera. The infield shift. Catcher framing. Joey Votto in the two-hole. But before all that, there was Tony La Russa hitting the pitcher in the eighth spot in the lineup. La Russa, when he managed the Cardinals, was known to be willing to experiment a bit to gain an edge. Then again, during his A’s days, La Russa was credited with “inventing” the modern bullpen and Dennis Eckersley. In 1993, he even tried a pitching strategy which had three groups of three pitchers each that worked a three-day rotation. The experiment lasted a week, but he gave it a shot. But now, the La Russa gambit of hitting the pitcher eighth is back.
The Rockies get creative, the Dodgers get the first look at Kimbrel in a Padres uniform, and C.J. Wilson erases some memories.
The Tuesday Takeaway
By now it’s clear that defensive shifts have exploded in volume over the past few seasons. The total number of shifts in 2014 was nearly six times that in 2011, with teams like the Astros, Yankees, Pirates and Rays racing to the forefront of the sport’s latest trend. One laggard in the new shift-crazed world has been the Rockies, who finished dead last in shifts last season with 114, according to the latest Bill James Handbook. However, the Rockies might not be sitting in the shift cellar for much longer.