If Only Pitching Were the Only Thing

By: Jason Mumm

Nolan Arenado
Nolan Arenado led the Rockies last year with a park-adjusted weighted runs created (WRC+) of 119 (tied with Corey Dickerson), but the Rockies were 30th in the league by this measure as a team. (Justin Edmonds/Getty Image).

In popular Rockies culture – yes, there is a Rockies fan culture though we may be a timid few – there is an ethos that says that all the team needs is to shore up the pitching staff and then watch the wins pour in. It’s hard to fault this popular sentiment. I’ve expressed it myself right here on this blog before. But there is more to playing winning baseball than pitching, and the fact is Rockies have not been nearly as solid offensively as most fans would choose to believe (I’m guilty here too).

Ryan Freemyer at The Purple Row wrote a terrific article that exposed the Rockies’ lack of offensive production for what it is. He used the sabermetric WRC+ to describe how poorly the Rockies performed after adjusting their offensive stats for ballpark environment, notably the Coors Field environment where the Rockies play half of their games. You should click the link to Freemyer’s article to read it in depth, but here are some quick take aways: the Rockies have averaged 29th in the league since 2006 when measured by WRC+; in their breakout season in 2007 the Rockies jumped all the way up to 14th in this category (they were 28th in 2006) and went to the World Series; in 2015 the Rockies finished dead last in the league.

Contrary to popular belief, the Rockies are not offensive juggernauts relative to other teams when adjusting for ballpark effects, and this leads to a lot of losing, especially when the pitching isn’t ideal. A great pitching metric that also adjusts for Coors Field effects is ERA-. Fans might like to know that the Rockies ranked 5th in MLB in ERA- in their 2007 World Series year, the year they also ranked 14th in WRC+. Big shocker: great pitching and productive offense will win a lot of games. 90 games to be exact in the Rockies’ case. Surprisingly, the Rockies have fared better relative to the league in pitching than they have offensively. They averaged 19th in the league since 2006 in pitching based on ERA-. Last year, however, they were 26th.

So here the Rockies stand today: last in the league in runs created (WRC+) and close to last in pitching (ERA-). However, the mantra of “pitching, pitching, and more pitching” isn’t the likely answer for improving the team to a more respectable record in 2016. Not that pitching doesn’t need a massive amount of attention, it does, but the Rockies cannot put all their resources into pitching and ignore the offense. Both are in need of big time repair.

I think this is why you will probably see the Rockies make yet more player moves on offense as we approach the season opener. We’ve already seen Mark Reynolds added, ostensibly to address slugging vs. LHP from first base. I personally don’t see that acquisition panning out, but time will tell. Upgrades seem most probable at SS and 2b where run production has been notably low, but LeMahieu is a gold-glover at 2b where his run prevention is a big plus. That leaves Reyes at SS. The Rockies will be looking to move him both for lack of production as well as his off the field troubles. Outfield, 3b, and catcher are currently offensive strengths.

Meanwhile, the search for pitching must go on. Nobody would dare say otherwise.


2 thoughts on “If Only Pitching Were the Only Thing

  1. Thanks for your comment. I had an opportunity to learn a thing or two here about sabermetrics, which I enjoyed. The WRC+ indicator validated for me some things I had been noticing anecdotally over the years. Namely, that the Rockies seem to “pad the stats” on games – usually at Coors Field – where they run up 12-15 runs in a game that isn’t close, but lose a whole lot of games 3-1 or 2-0 both at home and on the road. The offensive prowess of the team was, in my viewing experience, a bit hollow. I think the article from Purple Row pointed me in the right direction to look at some different metrics. Hopefully, I thanked Ryan Freemyer and cited his great article appropriately.


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