2012 Season Review Series: Colorado Rockies

This is a guest post offered by Hayden Kane, the Editor at Rox Pile. In keeping with our running theme, the post is intended to not only look back at what went wrong, but look ahead to the off-season and what the Rockies can do to right a ship that, with the recent resignation of their manager, appears to be sinking.

Author: Hayden Kane

The extraordinary thing about the 2012 season for the Colorado Rockies is the fact that they were a disappointment by any measure. Those who expected them to be surprise contenders were clearly disappointed by their 64-98 record. More interestingly, those who expected a finish near the bottom of the NL West were still left disappointed by the woeful ineptitude with which they fell to their worst record in franchise history.

For a team in need of an overhaul, major changes have already occurred along the way: as of today, they know they will have a different manager, pitching coach, and general manager (in practice) than they had to start the 2012 season. Jim Tracy’s surprising resignation yesterday started the off-season changes. Here are the highlights and lowlights of the 2012 season along with some of the key decisions the team faces as they look forward to 2013.

What went right

Young offense: Forced into action by a combination of injuries and a mid-season trade, a handful of young position players on the Rockies broke out during the second half of the season. Catcher Wilin Rosario highlights this list with his 28 home runs, a franchise record for rookies. Super-utility man Jordan Pacheco wasn’t far behind as he finished his rookie campaign with a .309 batting average. Chris Nelson, after numerous failed chances to seize either the third base or second base job over the past couple seasons, finally hit his stride with a .301 average of his own. Tyler Colvin regained his swagger as a professional hitter and Eric Young Jr., in limited action before going down with an injury, showed us why his speed is so enticing.

What does all of this mean? With the return of their star players, the Rockies suddenly enjoy legitimate depth in the infield and the outfield. This gives them options as they try to figure out the rest of their roster.

The bullpen: These unsung heroes were thrust into overuse from the start this season. At the beginning it was because the starting pitchers simply could not pitch deep into games. In the middle of the season it was because of the front office’s decision to employ a bizarre four man rotation with a 75 pitch limit per start. At the end of the season it was because of the bad starting pitching again, as the starters ultimately finished just short of a 7.00 ERA and historical ineptitude.  Josh Roenicke pitched an astounding 88.2 innings with a 3.25 ERA while Matt Belisle pitched 80 innings with a 3.71 ERA. Rafael Betancourt was outstanding in the closer’s role when given the chance, and Rex Brothers continues to grow into a dominant late innings pitcher. Their ability to survive this ridiculous season means that, believe it or not, the Rockies have a solid and battle-tested bullpen moving forward.

What went wrong

Starting pitching: One could dedicate an entire season-in-review to the starting pitching on its own; for our purposes here we will do a recap of the key points in their struggles. It started with the notion that Jeremy Guthrie could serve as a stabilizer at the top of the rotation. The Rockies traded Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom for Guthrie before the year started, only to see Coors Field nearly break him permanently before he revived his season in Kansas City. Left hander Jorge De La Rosa, slated to return from Tommy John surgery in July, wasn’t able to complete his rehab until September. The other guy who was supposed to pitch at the top of the rotation, Jhoulys Chacin, was forced to miss most of the season with a pectoral injury. The development of the organization’s young starters was an utter disappointment, stunted by the four man rotation and never put back on track otherwise.

Tulowitzki missed nearly the entire season; a contributing factor to the woeful Rockies’ season. Image: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

Injuries: Before delving into this topic, let’s be clear: the Rockies were bad before their key players got injured. It has become the habit of this front office to point to the long injury list and use it to explain away their terrible record. Injuries may have made a bad situation worse, but they were not the reason this team struggled. Having said that, it was the worst possible scenario that Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Todd Helton, and Michael Cuddyer were all out for extended periods of time. Add in the fact that starting pitchers De La Rosa, Chacin, and Juan Nicasio all missed the majority of the season and things were dreary when it comes to team health.

Team defense: There are only so many ways to say how awful the team defense was. Let’s start with an individual number: Rosario had 21 passed balls, far and away leading all catchers. How about some team stats? They committed 122 errors, the most in all of baseball. They had a .980 fielding percentage as a team, tied for the worst in all of baseball. To dip into advanced statistics, their -41.6 UZR was the second worst in all of baseball.

The front office: They have fallen into a terrible habit of blaming the altitude for everything. And I do mean everything. Bad pitching? Can’t pitch at altitude. Injuries? Can’t stay healthy at altitude. Add in the failed attempt to implement the four man rotation and you have a front office that performed as poorly as its players.

Moves this off-season

Front office/Coaching Staff: The Rockies will continue their overhaul of the franchise, from top to bottom. The major change from the middle of the season that saw assistant general manager Bill Geivett set up shop in the clubhouse and travel with the team is the one that lingers as the off-season starts. While Jim Tracy needed to be removed as manager, it is remarkable that he walked away from $1.4 million, declaring himself “the wrong man for the job.” Is that because of this new heavy-handed front office approach? Perhaps, and if that is the reason, it will complicate the managerial search. If Tracy did not want anything to do with this set-up, why should any other competent professional manager? All told, the Rockies need a new manager, a new pitching coach, and probably a new hitting coach.

Free agents: The combination of long-term contracts and young players mean that the Rockies do not have many pending free agents. Jason Giambi, beloved but no longer useful to a National League roster, will not be back as a player. If he does not receive offers elsewhere he could possibly return as a coach. Jonathan Sanchez, acquired for Jeremy Guthrie, should be let go. Finally there is Jeff Francis, who the Rockies should reward for his gutsy effort this year and bring back to compete for a spot in the back of the rotation next spring.

Trades: The Rockies need to explore trading one of their outfielders. The best option would be to find a trade for Michael Cuddyer and his weighty contract. Part of his value when they signed him last off-season was his ability to play first base, but with Colvin and Pacheco able to fill in there for the beloved Todd Helton, they no longer need him for that. Presuming there is no partner interested in Cuddyer, they need to explore trading Dexter Fowler or Eric Young Jr.  Fowler would garner a larger return and probably be their best chance to acquire pitching, but given the amount of time and patience they invested in him before his emergence this season, it would be ideal to keep him and reap those rewards. That leaves Young Jr. and his enticing speed as a trade piece.

Simply put, the Rockies have to fix their pitching. Other than possible trades, the Rockies will presumably proceed with the young arms they have. Rather than actively pursuing pitchers, the front office will sit and hope that the likes of Juan Nicasio, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Christian Friedrich and Tyler Chatwood can take the same steps forward that their young position players did this past season while Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin try to settle back in at the top of the rotation.

Whatever moves the front office does make, they will have to tread carefully with a locker room full of players who are openly unhappy about the resignation of Jim Tracy. However unpopular he may have been with fans, his players loved him and they are skeptical of the front office after he chose to walk away. Between that and the results this past season, it is not an exaggeration to say that this franchise is on the brink of a disaster and needs to make thoughtful moves this off-season to avoid falling apart.

Hayden Kane started writing on the FanSided network in November of 2011. He has an MA in English Literature and has written about the Rockies since 2009. Born and raised in Colorado Springs, CO, he now follows his favorite team from Rochester, MN. 

Topics: Colorado Rockies, Jim Tracy

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