The Colorado Rockies got off to a competitive start this year, mainly because of surprisingly good performances by members of their starting rotation. They even played through some freakish winter weather in April, thanks in part to an intrepid front office staff, who volunteered to shovel the snow off of Coors Field’s playing surface.
By the time the season came to an end, however, the pitching staff had regressed to the mean, and the Rockies had regressed to last place in the NL West with a 74-88 record. It was a ten-game improvement over 2012, but the way they limped to the finish left fans in Denver with some doubt about the Rockies heading into the 2014 season.
What went right
- The Rockies can still do what they do best: Hit the baseball. They were tenth in the majors in runs scored (first in their division), third in batting average, twelfth in on-base percentage, and fifth in slugging. They had seven players with double-digit home runs, four of them with twenty. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (.931 OPS, 27 homers) and left fielder Carlos Gonzalez (.958 OPS, 26 homers) once again anchored the lineup, despite missing time with injuries. Colorado also got a career year out of right fielder Michael Cuddyer in the second year of his three-year contract. Cuddyer won the NL batting title with a .331 batting average and participated in the mid-season home run derby.
- The Rockies did something else they have historically been known for: Win at home. Colorado had a 45-36 record Coors Field while scoring 434 runs. Success at home is key if the Rockies ever want to return to their 2007 form, the year they won 90 games and the National League pennant.
- Despite their overall poor performance on the mound, they did find a reliable 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Jhoulys Chacin had bounceback year following a disappointing 2012. He went 14-10 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 197 innings. His numbers were even better on the road, as he pitched to a 2.44 ERA, and struck out more than seven batters per nine innings. Jorge De La Rosa had his best season since 2009, going 16-6 with a 3.47 ERA. At Coors Field, he was 10-1 with a 2.76 ERA, despite a .331 BABIP against him. His SO/9 ratio of 6.0 was down from his younger days, but the 32 year-old found ways of getting batters out all year.
What went wrong
- Once again, the Rockies had trouble winning games on the road, mostly because of their offense. Colorado endured their fourth straight losing road record. They scored only 272 of their 706 total runs away from LoDo. They simply do not hit as well when they are away from Coors Field. As a team, they slashed .246/.298/.374 with 17 fewer homers than at home. They also had a .302 (generally considered average) BABIP on the road, as opposed to a .330 mark at home. That may indicate that more batted balls found the spacious outfield gaps at Coors than in other ballparks.
- Despite some bright spots, team pitching was bad overall. They finished 28th in the league in ERA, and next to last in both WHIP and batting average against. They were equally bad at home and on the road (.760 OPS against at home, .766 away). They had trouble filling the last three spots of the rotation, even resorting veteran Roy Oswalt (0-6, 8.63 ERA). Youngsters Chad Bettis, Collin McHugh, and Drew Pomeranz fared no better. Besides dominant closer Rex Brothers (who took over the ninth inning role after an elbow injury to Rafael Betancourt) the bullpen didn’t have many weapons either.
- Long-time first baseman Todd Helton retired. In itself, that’s not such a bad thing, and the Rockies did a wonderful job of honoring the borderline hall-of-famer. But the rumors were strong that Helton was leaning toward retirement, and the Rockies seemed to have no one waiting in the wings to replace him. Now they are scrambling to find someone to play first base in 2014.
Overall team performance
While the Rockies improved upon their 2012 record, they have the same fundamental problems: A thin pitching staff and an inability to generate offense on the road.
Colorado appears to be focusing on rebuilding their bullpen. They just signed one-time Rockie LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year deal, and they have their eye on Jose Veras, Brian Wilson, and Grant Balfour.
As previously stated, they also need a first baseman. There are a couple of avenues they could traverse on this front.
They could also move Cuddyer to first base and look internally or externally for an outfielder. Their top outfield prospect, Kyle Parker, has been mashing in the minor leagues, but finished last season in Double-A. The Rockies may not be ready to skip him to the big leagues to start the season. Another of their top prospects, Ryan Wheeler, got looks last year and the year before. He can play third base, first base, and a little outfield, but he hasn’t shown enough bat at the big league level for the Rockies to have enough confidence in him just yet.
They really should be looking to bolster their starting rotation, but it depends on who’s available at what price.
The Rockies will need some breakout performances by their starting pitchers, especially former prospects like Pomeranz and Tyler Chatwood, who had a decent season last year (3.15 ERA, but he gave up more hits than innings pitched).
The offseason push to rebuild the bullpen will also be key to the near future of the Rockies.
Offense shouldn’t be a problem as long as CarGo and Tulo stay healthy, and they can find a decent replacement for Helton at first. Cuddyer will regress from his career year in 2013, but should still be a key contributor.
The key for the Rockies in 2014 is finding the formula that will allow them to at least play .500 ball on the road. That, combined with dominance at home, would lead to a successful season. Given the pieces they have as of this writing, and the pieces they’re looking to acquire, that doesn’t seem probable.