After winning 91 games and reaching the NLDS last season, expectations were high for the Rockies heading into the season. They’ve responded to those expectations by starting 4-12 to start the season with the league’s worst differential. This has prompted many to wonder: when will the Rockies turn it around? Good teams tend to break out of early-season slumps, like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs are bound to do. That won’t happen for the Rockies, however; they were never an actual playoff contender.
Before looking at the Rockies in 2019, let’s examine the Rockies in 2018. Yes, the team won 91 games, but their +25 run differential was the worst by 75 runs for any playoff team. It took MVP caliber seasons from Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, and a Cy Young type season from Kyle Freeland just to make it that far anyway; regression was bound to come.
The offseason the Rockies had also made regression inevitable. The team let go of second baseman DJ LeMahieu and reliever Adam Ottavino and only made one outside signing with infielder Daniel Murphy. Murphy should fare better at first base than he did at second base; he’s rated as an average fielder previously at first base. Still, losing LeMahieu, a gold glove winner last season, seriously hampered the team’s defense. Ottavino was the team’s only reliable reliever last season, so losing him made the bullpen a serious liability last season. The team never did make an attempt to find a replacement for Ottavino, never looked to upgrade a weak corps of catchers and a weak outfield. Instead, they focused on extending Arenado and starting pitcher German Marquez. Making those two part of the long-term plans was smart, but as far as contending in 2019, the front office never put the team in a position to do so.
With Arenado and Story, the Rockies lineup has at least two stars in the lineup. The problem is, that’s where it ends. Murphy is a quality hitter, but he’s already sidelined with a finger injury and will miss 4-6 weeks. Charlie Blackmon has made the All-Star team the last two seasons, but he’s been awful so far with a .605 OPS and a -0.6 WAR to start the season. Even worse, his .280 Expected Weighted On Base Average (xWOBA) is practically the same as his .267 wOBA; not much improvement can be expected. Ian Desmond is a lost cause and is only in the lineup thanks to his large contract, Garrett Hampson has been an offensive liability at second base, and the rest of the lineup consists of depth pieces being thrown into starting roles. Not surprisingly, the club’s expected slugging (xSLG) and xWOBA rank last in baseball, according to Baseball Savant. Meanwhile, Colorado’s top prospect Brendan Rodgers could help fix the offense, but he’s currently blocked by Story and Hampson. Therefore, not only are the Rockies currently awful offensively, they’ll likely continue to have trouble scoring runs throughout the season.
So far, the Rockies pitching staff has also failed to impress, ranking 17th with a 4.78 ERA. Though Freeland was the team’s ace last season, his 2.85 ERA was accompanied by a 4.22 xFIP. It’s not surprising that he’s struggled early on this season with a 5.40 ERA, and he’s likely more of a middle of the rotation starter than a front-line starter. The team’s best starter is clearly Marquez, who pitched a one-hitter in San Francisco today, but even he had a 4.70 FIP before. Jon Gray and Chad Bettis have also failed to impress this season and struggled last season, while Tyler Anderson and Jeff Hoffman aren’t ideal options as well.
The bullpen isn’t exactly a reliable unit either after losing Ottavino. Wade Davis is more of a middle reliever than a closer with a 3.65 FIP last season, while it’s unclear what to expect from Scott Oberg and Seungwhan Oh. Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee, and Mike Dunn all were atrocious last season and look like high-priced liabilities, and the reliever depth is so thin, that they’ll be asked to get high leverage outs they aren’t capable of getting. So far, the team has the 8th best bullpen ERA at 3.41. That won’t last however; this bullpen is too weak to hold leads for the club.
The Rockies were never a true playoff contender. They relied on luck and a few key players to carry them into the postseason in 2018, and rather than make necessary upgrades, the front office never put the team in position to contend in 2019. With a weak offense, an average rotation, and a thin bullpen, the team doesn’t have many bright spots; they may end up with a top ten, or even top five selection in next year’s MLB Draft. One thing is for certain though; this team will not sniff the playoffs this season.