Wait ‘Til Next Year: Colorado Rockies
While so much of our day-to-day attention in this space is devoted to the teams still battling for playoff spots, we feel as though it’s only fitting to acknowledge the teams that have been mathematically eliminated from contention, giving them a brief sendoff that should suffice until Hot Stove season. Thus, the Wait Till Next year series.
Current record: 58-91 (.389, 5th in the NL West)
Mathematically eliminated: September 15
What worked in 2012: The Rockies have had stretches where they played decent baseball (11-11 in April, 16-13 in August), and a few rookies have offered up strong initial showings. Twenty-three-year-old catcher Wilin Rosario (.259/.299/.517) may lack plate discipline (21 walks in 378 plate appearances) but he has 25 homers, not only a team high, but a high for all NL rookies. Shortstop Josh Rutledge, a 23-year-old third round pick from 2010, has hit .292/.319/.521 in 60 games while faced with the impossible task of filling in for the injured Troy Tulowitzki. Third baseman Jordan Pacheco, 26, has hit .303/.338/.411, putting in a strong claim on the third base job, then shifting across the diamond to cover for the injured Todd Helton. Additionally, infielder Chris Nelson (.292/.345/.458) has taken a nice step forward between time spent at third base and second base, Dexter Fowler (.302/.393/.480) has finally delivered on his blue-chip prospect status, Tyler Colvin (.285/.326/.536) has rejuvenated his career, and Carlos Gonzalez (.304/.373/.512 with 22 homers) has delivered another strong season, even if it’s not quite up to the high standards of his 2010 breakout. As for the pitching, the best that can be said is that Rafael Betancourt (2.38 ERA, 8.8 K/9, 29 saves) finally proved he could work as a full-time closer.
What didn’t work in 2012: By far the biggest problem the Rockies have had is a total failure of memory as to what works at altitude. Where they made the playoffs twice in three years from 2007-2009 largely on the strength of a staff that ranked among the majors’ top three in groundball rate, they inconveniently forgot that formula in shipping out Ubaldo Jimenez and Jason Hammel and acquiring flyballers such as Jeremy Guthrie, Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso. They’re now a middling 13th in the majors in groundball rate, and as a result, their run prevention and home run rates (5.48 per game, and 1.2 per nine) are their worst since 2004, not to mention the worst in the league. Small wonder that they’re in danger of their worst finish in franchise history, or that Dan O’Dowd, the general manager since 1999, has been nudged into a new role, with assistant general manager Bill Geveitt being promoted to oversee the daily operations of the major league team.
The Rockies’ chief problem has been the rotation. After being rocked for a 6.28 ERA and averaging just 5.2 innings per start through June 18, they shifted to a four-man rotation, imposing an arbitrary 75-pitch limit on their starters. Few expected the experiment to last long — this scribe included — and while it has, the results have hardly been rewarding: a 5.54 ERA from the starters, largely due to swollen walk and homer rates (3.5 and 1.4 per nine, respectively, down from 3.7 and 1.6 prior to the shift). Where the team posted a .385 winning percentage prior to the move, they’re at .393 since, albeit with a Pythagorean winning percentage that has dropped 25 points (from .443 to .418). Either way, they’ve underachieved big-time. To be fair, injuries have played a part, with Jorge de la Rosa, Juan Nicasio and Jhoulys Chacin combining for just 23 starts; the latter, who made just 11 turns due to shoulder inflammation is the only one of the 14 starters they’ve used with an ERA below 5.06 in the role. It barely counts as a positive that rookies Drew Pomeranz (5.06) and Alex White (5.15) and sophs Tyler Chatwood (5.14) and Nicasio (5.28) were towards the low end of the ERA scale, since none has even reached the 100-inning mark.
Also not helping: injuries that effectively ended the seasons of Tulowitzki, Helton and Michael Cuddyer. A groin strain limited Tulowitzki to 47 games and required surgery in June; he’s working out with the team but has yet to be activated, though he could reappear before season’s end. Helton played in just 69 games and hit .237/.343/.400 while battling a torn labrum in his right hip that shut him down in early August. Cuddyer has been limited to three games since July 31 due to a recurrent oblique strain.
Overall outlook: Once upon a time, the Rockies had one of the division’s most enviable collections of young talent. Thanks to some surprising breakthroughs, that remains at least somewhat true on the offensive side, but the pitching staff is ought to be able to apply for federal disaster relief funding, as it’s not at all clear that O’Dowd and manager Jim Tracy are the right people to straighten it out. With the Dodgers and Padres coming into newfound television revenue and the Giants continuing to dominate with their pitching, Colorado faces an uphill battle to get back into contention.