2014 Team Previews: Colorado Rockies

Tulo and CarGo are one of baseball's best one-two punches - Doug Pensinger

The Rockies have an impressive collection of hitters but the pitching leaves something to be desired, again.

The Rockies have seemingly been a ship lost at sea since their 2007 World Series run. GM Dan O'Dowd has had a tumultuous tenure as the leader of the organization and at one point even proposed firing himself back in 2012, which chairman and CEO Rick Monfort actually rejected. If that doesn't provoke some questions, I'm not sure what does.

Colorado has been a tough team to figure out all along. They play 82 games a year in a park that is the poster child for inflated offense. It's easy for good pitchers to be victimized in Coors, so one has to wonder why the Rockies continually run out a rotation of relatively poor ones. Run scoring has never been their problem, only partly due to the park they play in, while run prevention seems to give them trouble year in and year out. Add to this that they haven't exactly made a concerted effort to shore up this weakness and fans are left to wonder what exactly is going on in Denver. In fact, the short-term outlook for the Rockies continues to be confusing at best.

2013 Season In Review

The 2013 squad was star-laden at the plate yet again. Even accounting for inflated offensive numbers, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, Dexter Fowler and Willin Rosario made for a pretty potent offensive core. Developing third baseman Nolan Arenado had a tough offensive debut, but played outstanding defense at the hot corner and up-and-coming outfielder Corey Dickerson hit well in his first season.

What's striking, perhaps, is how much the team struggled away from Coors. They posted a wRC+ of 94 at home, meaning they were 6% worse offensively than average at their home park. On the road, however, they had a wRC+ of 85, 15% worse than average. This is a great stat to use because wRC+ takes the Coors field advantage into consideration, meaning that their home an road performances are perfectly comparable and we don't have to account for which park they were playing in. It's not uncommon to see a team play worse on the road, but this was a very significant drop in performance.

On the mound, the team struggled once again to string together solid performances. Jhoulys Chacin withstanding, it was a tough year be a Rockies starter. Jorge de la Rosa had a respectable campaign, although he wasn't stellar, and Juan Nicasio was better than his ERA would indicate. Tyler Chatwood had an inspiring season, although the results were anything but spectacular. The team gave a combined 34 starts to Jon Garland, Jeff Francis, Roy Oswalt and Drew Pomeranz in the year following The Great Jamie Moyer Comeback that never was. Solid rotation depth continued to be a problem for the organization.

The bullpen was another story. Matt Belisle, Adam Ottavino, Rex Brothers and Josh Outman were relatively good in a year in which the presumed bullpen stars of Rafael Betancourt and Wilton Lopez had their share of struggles. There was solid depth here and some impact arms that did a fine job. The ERA's will always be unreliable due to the Coors effect, but the Rockies bullpen was relatively good in 2013.

Defensively, the team wasn't great. The aforementioned Arenado was outstanding at third base in his debut and Tulowitzki proved, once again, that he can pick it at short. DJ LeMahieu was above average at second and Yorvit Torrealba helped make up for some of Willin Rosario's unrefined skills behind the plate. Carlos Gonzalez didn't rate well in left and neither did Dexter Fowler in center. The rest of the squad was average at best. This slightly below average defense, coupled with a scuffling rotation that suffered through a bevy of injuries, led to far too many runs scored.

Key Offseason Moves

The biggest move of the offseason was undoubtedly the trade of centerfielder Dexter Fowler to the Astros in exchange for outfielder Brandon Barnes and starting pitcher Jordan Lyles. If a trade of one Rockies player for two players off of the worst roster in baseball from last year sounds underwhelming, it's because, well, it was. Gone is Fowler, the Opening Day starter in center for the last several seasons and in comes Barnes, a fringy centerfielder who may also see time in right, and Lyles, one of baseball's worst starters from a year ago. This move drew widespread criticism, and rightfully so.

In a perhaps a more-savy move, the Rockies acquired left-handed starter Brett Anderson from Oakland in exchange for failed prospect Drew Pomeranz and relatively unknown minor league starter Chris Jensen. You may remember Anderson as the former rookie of the year, but a lot has happened since 2009 when he pitched 175.1 very good innings, namely a boatload of injuries. In the last three seasons, Anderson has managed to amass a meager total of 163 innings. This is a buy-low opportunity for the Rockies in hopes that the just 26-year old Anderson becomes a lottery ticket that pays off.

Following the retirement of Rockies legend Todd Helton, Colorado filled it's briefly vacant hole at first base with former Twins slugger Justin Morneau when they signed him to a two-year, $12.5 million deal with a third year mutual option. Another buy-low opportunity, Colorado will see just how much the 33-year old former AL MVP has left in the tank after he's battled several seasons worth of post-concussion related injuries. The thump has been absent from his bat since 2010, but he played a full season worth of games in 2013 for the first time in three years, so there's hope that he can continue to get back to his old ways. If nothing else, he's at least passable until a better option surfaces.

One to Watch

It would be too easy to write about the health of Troy Tulowitzki and/or Carlos Gonzalez here, so I'll instead opt to focus on one two-headed monster about to bust on to the scene: pitchers Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray. As the drought of pitching in Colorado has long past it's due, the future may finally be bright as these two high quality arms make up the single biggest impact on the horizon. Butler should begin the year in AAA and could be in the majors by June. Gray is likely to start the year in AA but could make a debut before 2014 is over. As an organization that has lacked impact arms for far too long, Butler's ground ball ways and Gray's dominant stuff could have a relatively big impact before the conclusion of the 2014 season, changing the long-term outlook of the entire organization.

Rockies By The Numbers

I'm sure you picked up on it from the paragraphs above, but quality innings by the starting pitching staff is the most important number for Rockies fans to monitor. The best way to judge this isn't through ERA because of the aforementioned Coors Field effect, so the number to keep an eye on is FIP (fielding-independent pitching). This advanced metric is on the same scale as ERA, making it comfortable to read, but takes things like the park factors into consideration in it's calculation. The Rockies don't have to be the best team in baseball here, they just can't finish in the bottom third again. The health of the starting core is also something to watch, as they aren't all that bad as a group. Consistent performances, even if they're just relatively average ones, would be a huge help to this team. They have to avoid giving away starts to bottom of the barrel pitchers just to fill a hole. By using the starters that they have penciled atop the depth chart the vast majority of the time, their FIP will improve and so will their chances of winning.

2014 Team Outlook

It doesn't appear that 2014 will be a huge change for the Rockies. All of the necessary caveats apply, but PECOTA projects the Rockies for a 78-84 record while a 50/50 blend of Steamer and ZiPS projections have them at 74-88. The downfall in both cases is runs allowed as the pitching staff just hasn't changed dramatically enough to brighten the projections. Another healthy and effective year from Chacin is a must and getting 150 usefull innings from Brett Anderson would go a long ways in changing that, but that seems like a far-fetched bet. If Tyler Chatwood takes a step forward, that could also be a big plus, but at the moment, there just isn't a lot reason for optimism in the pitching department. The bullpen projects as solid to good but the starters have to hold up their end of the bargain. Meanwhile, Butler and Gray will wait to make their impact felt.

Offensively, the team has to play better on the road. At some point, we have to wonder if the hitters take a different mindset into road games knowing that they don't have the added park effects that they do at Coors. Losing Dexter Fowler won't help the Rockies' cause. The health of Tulo and CarGo is critical and so is some kind of resurgence from Morneau. Arenado should improve, Dickerson could make strides and Rosario is working to get better behind the plate while a return to the 2012 Josh Rutledge would be a huge bonus. This team should score runs, but they've got to do it on a consistent basis and that's something we should be watching closely.

As you've likely noticed, there are a lot of "ifs" here, which signals some kind of optimism, but nothing that's worthy of betting on at this point in time. The potential is there, though, and the Rockies could surprise people if things break their way... or the could continue to fight with the Padres to stay out of the NL West cellar.

. . .

Jeff Wiser is an editor and featured writer at Beyond the Box Score and co-author of Inside the 'Zona, an analytical look at the Arizona Diamondbacks. You can follow him on Twitter @OutfieldGrass24.

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