Colorado Rockies 2020 Season Preview 2.0

        2019 was not a fun year for the Rockies. The team could not win away from Coors Field, with a 28-53 road record. They had an overall record of 71-91, skidding to 4th in the NL West, 35 games behind the first place Dodgers. The offseason was even less fun, as the Rockies did not sign anyone to a major league contract, and trade rumors ended up angering face-of-the-franchise third baseman Nolan Arenado. The Rockies will look to put the offseason behind them, and focus on their biggest issue. For about every year in franchise history, that is pitching. They will miss outfielder Ian Desmond, who has opted-out of the season.

       Offseason additions: RHP Tyler Kinley, OF Matt Kemp, C Elias Diaz, UT Chris Owings, OF Mike Gerber, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez.

       Offseason subtractions: 1B Mark Reynolds, C Chris Iannetta, RHP Chad Bettis, RHP Seunghwan Oh, LHP DJ Johnson, LHP Chris Rusin, RHP Tim Melville.

The Rockies entered 2019 with an actually decent looking rotation. That all fell apart in-season, thanks to Kyle Freeland. Freeland finished 4th in Cy Young voting in 2018, with a 2.85 ERA in 202.1 innings, and having a 0.8 HR/9 ratio, very low for a Rockies starter. However, he struck out just 79 batters in 104.1 innings with a 6.73 ERA in 2019. He made just 22 starts because he was actually sent down to AAA at one point. German Marquez struck out a franchise record 230 batters in 2018. He struck out just 175 in 174 innings, with a 4.76 ERA. While he only walked 35 batters, he threw a league leading 14 wild pitches. Marquez allowed hard contact often, with a hard hit percentage of 43.1%. The only starting pitcher with a good season was Jon Gray, picked 3rd overall in 2013. Gray had a 3.84 ERA. He struck out 150 batters in 150 innings, and his 9.0 K/9 was still below his career average. Gray\’s 4.69 xERA was a career worst. The rest of the rotation is open for tryouts. Antonio Senzatela made 25 starts, but he had a 6.71 ERA in 124.2 innings with a terrible 5.5 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9. Senzatela threw his mid-90s fastball almost 62% of the time, but the pitch just wasn\’t good, as opponents hit .345 against it with a .541 slugging. Chi Chi Gonzalez was a spot starter last year. In 15 games (13 starts) Gonzalez had a 5.29 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 63 innings. His fastball was a good pitch, with a spin rate of 2428 rpm, and an average exit velocity against of 86.9 mph. Peter Lambert made 19 starts, but he was just as bad as Senzatela, with a 7.25 ERA and a 5.7 K/9. Jeff Hoffman had a 6.56 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 70 starts. Hoffman had a bloated 12.9 barrel%.

Wade Davis might have had the worst season for a closer in recent memory. He lead the league with 43 saves in 2018, but converted just 15 last year, with an 8.65 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 42.2 innings. It was his first time with a K/9 under nine since he was a starter in 2013. His 1.5 HR/9 was a career worst and his 10.8 H/9 was close to one. His 1.875 WHIP was 198 points higher than his previous career worst. However, he still looks like the Opening Day closer. Scott Oberg had a second consecutive encouraging season, with a 2.25 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 56 innings, to go along with five saves. He allowed just 6.3 hits per nine innings. His .227 xBA against was a career high. However, Oberg\’s BB% was almost doubled, from 5.3% to 10.3%. Jairo Diaz has had a pattern of not playing in the MLB every other year. That will change in 2020, barring serious injury. Diaz appeared in 56 games, also making five saves, with a 4.53 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. He throws a high-90s fastball and sinker. Carlos Estevez appeared in a team high 71 games, with a 3.75 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 72 innings. He made 11 saves for the team in 2016 as a 23 year old rookie. At 97.8 mph, Estevez\’s fastball is harder than Diaz\’s. Expensive veterans Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee will take up two more roster spots. Shaw, who has lead the league in games played by a pitcher three times, had a 3.11 ERA in five seasons for Cleveland before joining the Rockies. He has a 5.61 ERA in two seasons in Colorado. He struck out just 58 batters in 72 innings last year. It was his lowest K/9 rate since 2012. Shaw\’s cutter velocity was at an all-time-low of 92.5 mph. McGee, a lefty, has had success as a Rockie before, coming in 2017. He wasn\’t so bad in 2019, with a 4.35 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 41.1 innings. Once a high strikeout guy for the Rays, McGee has lost his ability to punch batters out. That could be due to the dramatic change in the usage of his fastball. He threw the fastball 48% of the time in 2016, his first season in Colorado. That skyrocket to 92.6% in 2017, and it was down to a still high 80.6% in 2019. Tyler Kinley was the one 40-man roster addition, coming via waiver claim from Miami. Kinley had a solid 3.65 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 49.1 innings over 52 games for the Marlins last year. He throws his slider more often than his fastball, leading to a high BB% of 16.3%. James Pazos could be favored as an extra lefty. Pazos played in 12 games last year, striking out 10 in 10.1 innings allowing two runs for a 1.74 ERA. He had a 2.88 ERA in 60 games in 2018. Yency Almonte is out of options, helping his case. he had a 5.56 ERA in 28 MLB games last year. Hitters hit seven home runs and slugged .811 against his fastball.

In his first season as a full time starter, Tony Wolters had a career high .262 average, with a .666 OPS. He hit just one home run in 121 games, two less than he had in 2018, when he played in 47 less games. With a 16.5% K rate, he doesn\’t strike out too much. The backup job is a three way competition. Dom Nunez has the advantage of being on the 40-man roster. He debuted late last year, hitting two home runs in 16 games, with a .179 average. Veterans Elias Diaz and Drew Butera are non-roster invitees. A World Series winner in 2015, Butera has a .200 average with a .554 OPS in his 513 game career, spanning over 10 seasons. Elias Diaz hit 10 home runs with a .792 OPS for Pittsburgh in 2018. He hit just two homers last year, with an OPS of .603. His .241 average is better than Butera and Nunez\’s last year, though in a bigger sample size. Diaz also has a good pop time, in the 93rd percentile among catchers.

Daniel Murphy did not adjust to Coors Field and first base as well as the Rockies had hoped. The two time Silver Slugger winner hit 13 home runs with 78 RBIs. His .279 average was his lowest since 2009, and he had an 87 OPS+, the lowest of his career and just his second time under 100. Murphy whiffed on 25.5% of breaking balls, the worst number of his career. Ryan McMahon took over at second base, hitting 24 home runs while stealing five bases, plus finishing with a .779 OPS. McMahon hits the ball hard, with a 91.4 mph average exit velocity. Trevor Story has established himself as one of the best power hitting shortstops. He hit 35 home runs with a .294 average and .917 OPS, while swiping 23 bags. He finished 12th in MVP voting, and won his second consecutive Silver Slugger award. Story\’s speed (29.2 ft/s sprint speed) and glove (15 outs above average) aren\’t talked out as much as guys like Trea Turner and Javier Baez, who Story is relatively close to in both categories. Nolan Arenado has been an all-star in five consecutive seasons, and has won a Gold Glove in all seven seasons of his career. If that isn\’t enough to show you his defensive skills, Arenado had 17 outs above average last year. He won a Silver Slugger from 2015-2018. He hit 41 home runs with 118 RBIs, a .315 average and a .962 OPS. He finished 6th in MVP voting. Garrett Hampson can play the outfield and middle infield. He hit eight home runs with 15 stolen bases in 105 games last year, with a .247 average and .686 OPS. He had a sprint speed of 30.1 ft/s. Top prospect Brendan Rodgers is recovering from shoulder surgery, and he should be healthy. The former 3rd overall pick debuted last year, with a .224 average and .522 OPS in 25 games. He is the Rockies\’ number one prospect, and 29th in all of baseball, per MLB Pipeline. Josh Fuentes got a taste of big league action last year, hitting three home runs in 24 games.

In his first season as a full-time right fielder Charlie Blackmon hit 32 home runs with a .314 average and .940 OPS in 140 games. His speed has declined. Once a 42 base stealer, Blackmon stole just two last season, getting caught five times. Blackmon was never crazy fast, but his 26.7 ft/s sprint speed in 2019 was a career low. He has been an all-star in four consecutive seasons. The 10th overall pick in 2012, David Dahl made his first all-star team, hitting 15 home runs with a .302 average and a career best .877 OPS. Dahl had a .619 slugging percentage against fastballs. Ian Desmond will sit out in 2020 due to the pandemic. Desmond\’s absence leaves a hole in centerfield. Raimel Tapia can fill that. He had a negative WAR, with a weak 74 OPS+. He hit nine home runs and stole nine bases. Tapia had a .275 average with a .724 OPS. A good fielder, Tapia had five outs above average combined between his time in center and left field. Sam Hilliard got a 27 game trial last year. He hit seven home runs with a 1.006 OPS, helping his case for a roster spot in 2020. He had a 90.8 mph average exit velocity. Yonathan Daza also debuted in 2019, but was less successful offensively, with a .206 average and .494 OPS. He had just two extra base hits (no homers) in 44 games. The Rockies signed Matt Kemp to a MiLB deal after hearing about Desmond\’s decision. A three time all-star, Kemp hit 21 home runs with an .818 OPS in 2018, but only played in 20 games last year.

       Projected Opening Day Lineup
LF David Dahl (L)
RF Charlie Blackmon (L)
3B Nolan Arenado (R)
SS Trevor Story (R)
DH Daniel Murphy (L)
1B Ryan McMahon (L)
CF Sam Hilliard (L)
2B Brendan Rodgers (R)
C Tony Wolters (L)

       Projected Rotation
German Marquez (R)
Jon Gray (R)
Kyle Freeland (L)
Antonio Senzatela (R)
Chi Chi Gonzalez (R)

       Projected Bullpen
Wade Davis, closer (R)
Scott Oberg (R)
Jairo Diaz (R)
Carlos Estevez (R)
Jake McGee (L)
Bryan Shaw (R)
Tyler Kinley (R)
James Pazos (L)
Yency Almonte (R)
Peter Lambert (R)
Jeff Hoffman (R)

       Projected Bench
C Elias Diaz (R)
OF Raimel Tapia (L)
OF Matt Kemp (R)
UT Garrett Hampson (R)
IF Josh Fuentes (R)

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats:
48-38 record, 2nd in NL West
Most home runs: Nolan Arenado (27)
Highest batting average: Daniel Murphy (.341)
Highest OPS: Nolan Arenado (.981)
Best ERA, starters: Antonio Senzatela (3.59)
Best ERA, relievers: Wade Davis (2.50)
Most innings pitched: German Marquez (114.2)
Most strikeouts: German Marquez (115)
Best K/9: Jairo Diaz (12.4)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 31-29
2018: 31-29
2017: 37-23
2016: 28-32
2015: 27-33

The Rockies badly regressed in 2019, and that seems irreversible. Management did not try to improve the team in the offseason, and with a mad Arenado, things actually got worse. Their young stars like Dahl and Story hold up the team, but as Blackmon and Wade Davis regress, the Rockies seem to be missing their window. For what seems like the millionth year in a row, the Rockies\’ pitching staff will hold them from a playoff berth in 2020. 

Published by carterhud SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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