Over the next 30 days, Beyond the Box Score will be previewing one team a day in reverse order of their projected PECOTA wins (as of February 18th). That means the Colorado Rockies have the ignominious distinction of going first. The Pirates are currently ahead in the race to reach the bottom of the barrel, but flags don’t fly for being better than the Pirates.
In a league without a ton of teams trying to win but several teams circling the drain, it’s almost an impressive feat to, at any point, be the worst of the bunch. There may not be much competition to be the best, but it’s a tough field to be at the bottom. The Rockies still figure to finish behind the Orioles, Tigers, and Rangers. That’s hard to do!
The Rockies have the disadvantage of playing in the same division as the Dodgers and Padres while the Pirates get the entirely mediocre NL Central. Irrespective of varying strengths of schedules, projecting a game better than the Pirates is a bad place to be. You have to try to be that bad, as if you’re following the Cubs and Astros model of fielding an insulting product for years but then really going for it for a couple seasons. The problem is, it doesn’t seem like this was intentional.
Around this time last year, Rockies owner Dick Monfort said he got his analytics department to interpolate some numbers and they concluded that the Rockies would win 94 games and lose 68. Of course, they didn’t win 94 games because (A) the season was shortened to 60 games and (B) the Rockies were god-awful in 2020. By the grace of the Diamondbacks falling apart, Colorado finished fourth in the NL West at 26-34, but they were a bit fortunate to perform that well.
The Rockies rotation is easily their greatest strength. Germán Márquez would be a solid number or number two starter on any team except for perhaps the Dodgers and Padres who have a disgusting amount of depth. Kyle Freeland and Jon Gray are both mercurial, but when they’re right, Coors poses little threat to their ERAs. The Rockies were one game away from winning the NL West in 2018, and the rotation was a major reason why.
The bullpen, however, isn’t nearly as strong. In 2020, Rockies relievers ranked 28th in FIP and 27th in fWAR and those were both improvements on their 2019 rankings. Daniel Bard’s return to the majors was the major highlight of the bullpen, and he’ll be counted on to repeat his performance. Mychal Givens should throw competent innings, and Robert Stephenson’s 2020 home run issues were likely a blip.
Even if the Rockies had a great bullpen, the offense isn’t going to give them many leads to protect. By fWAR, Rockies hitters ranked 28th in the majors. They had one hitter who ranked above average by wRC+ which was Trevor Story at 117. Judging a team’s talent by its 2020 production is a bit unfair, but it’s not as if Raimel Tapia or Garrett Hampson just had a bad couple months. wRC+ historically underrates Rockies hitters as it dings them a bit too much for playing in Coors. Switching to DRC+, the Rockies had four hitters post marks above 100. Two of those four good hitters are gone, and David Dahl, who has been solid at the plate outside of 2020 and injuries is now on the Texas Rangers after being nontendered. Kevin Pillar, a midseason trade acquisition, signed with the Mets and Nolan Arenado, of course, was traded to the Cardinals.
That leaves Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story as the only two Rockies on the 40-player with sustained or even recent success at the plate.
Blackmon is entering his age-34 season, and PECOTA projects him for a 122 DRC+, so he’s doing a fine job staving off the inexorable march of time at the plate. Blackmon continues to be disastrous in the field, but Blackmon’s bat makes up for it. How much longer he can keep this up is left to be seen. Blackmon has one more year on his contract followed by player options for 2022 and 2023 for $21 million each. One would think that Blackmon would elect to stay in Denver, but maybe he’ll want to jump ship for a chance to win.
Blackmon will probably be a Rocky in 2023, but the same might not be true for Trevor Story. After dealing Arenado, Jeff Bridich and Dick Monfort supposedly have their sights set on extending their star shortstop, but that raises the question: why on earth would he want to stay?
The Rockies are bad now and there isn’t much evidence to say that things will get any better. The Tigers, at least, can point to Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Spencer Torkelson. The Orioles have Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez headlining a top-10 system. The Rockies on the other hand have a system that ranks in the bottom third, and their only prospect in FanGraphs’ Top-100 is Zac Veen who is 19 and hasn’t taken a professional at-bat.
One trade won’t change the course of a farm system, but one would think that paying another team $50 million to take your superstar third baseman would net a few sure things if not a few Top-100 prospects. Instead, the Rockies got a back-of-the-rotation starter in Austin Gomber and four scratcher tickets. The brightest point of optimism for the Rockies’ farm system is that at least they’ll have high draft picks coming up.
The Rockies won’t be good any time soon, but they aren’t doomed. There’s still a chance Story signs an extension, and who knows, maybe this is the year Raimel Tapia breaks out or Garrett Hampson or Brendan Rogers put things together or Jon Gray and Kyle Freeland are good at the same time. Any of that would improve the outlook for Colorado, but it should be clear by now that their most desperate need is a change in leadership.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.