By: Jason Mumm
Way back in December, I gave the Rockies a D- report card on their off-season efforts to improve one of the worst teams in baseball. While giving the team small kudos for taking dynamite to the bullpen and blowing it up, the lack of attention on starting pitching was a glaring omission and, at the time, the Rockies had done almost nothing to improve the offense or strengthen the defense. To be fair, the report card was mostly based on the lack of activity around the pitching staff. Now, two months later, we’ve had time to digest even more numbers from the putrid 2015 season and have a better idea of what the Rockies really need to do to make modest improvements. We also know what the Rockies have done, which is more than what they had on record by December 23rd, so an update is in order.
What the team needs: I analyzed a good bit of numbers since December and I think the needs for the Rockies are pretty clear. In my statistical analysis, each of the items below proved significant to earning the Rockies wins.
Rank in MLB for 2015
What it Means
What the Team Needs to Improve In this Area
|ERA- is like normal ERA but with ballpark adjustments factored in. Everyone says the Rockies pitching is bad, but at 26th in the league, they are not the worst. That distinction belonged to the Phillies. When the Rockies were competitive, as in the 2007 season, they ranked as high as 5th in this category.||It may seem obvious that the Rockies need solid pitching, but ERA- is dependent on both the performance of the pitching as well as the defense.|
|WRC+ (weighted runs created) measures offensive run production and is adjusted for ballpark effects. Most fans think the Rockies offense is amazing, but after adjusting for ballpark effects, they are dead last. In 2007, the Rockies ranked 14th in this category.||The Rockies need guys who can get on base and produce hits when runners are in scoring position.|
|UZR (ultimate zone rating) measures defensive prowess. In Coors field, defense is critical. Bloop hits for singles will win or lose games there and the defense has to cover a lot of ground. In 2007, the Rockies ranked 14th in this category.||There are holes in the defense at SS, 1b, RF, and possibly at catcher. UZR and ERA- should be viewed in tandem too.|
What the Rockies have done:
Improving ERA-…. The Rockies spent the best part of their off-season thus far working on bullpen replacements. Notable additions included Jason Motte, Chad Qualls, and Jake McGee. I examined the last five years of production for all pitchers on the Rockies active roster who threw more than 100 innings during that time. The results are interesting because each of those three additions rank in the top-5 on the Rockies staff with McGee and No. 1 with a 73 ERA- (any score below 100 is better than the MLB average); Motte and Qualls come in at 3 and 4 with an 81 and 99 ERA-, respectively. Adam Ottavino ranks 2nd while Boone Logan rounds out the top 5.
All great, but is it an improvement? If you measure the top 5 on the active roster today with the top 5 from 2015 you will find an improvement of 2% in ERA-. Almost all of that improvement is due to the addition of McGee. If you look at the entire active roster (min. of 30 innings pitched in 2015) with all of the 2015 pitching staff, you will find an improvement of less than 1%.
That may not seem like much….and it isn’t. Consider the D-backs, for example, who by the exact same measure improved their ERA- by 24% during the off-season.
There are some wildcards here to consider. Jon Gray and Tyler Chattwood, for example, could shift the dynamic by putting up big years. The Rockies are expecting big things from Gray. Chattwood is coming back from TJ surgery. Time will tell.
Improving WRC+….The Rockies acquired two offensive players of note in Gerardo Parra and Mark Reynolds. Parra replaces Corey Dickerson in the outfield, while Reynolds looks to split time with Ben Paulson at 1B especially vs. LHP. Parra posted a 108 WRC+ last year (anything above 100 is above the MLB average), but Dickerson was a very solid 119. Result: downgrade.
Reynolds, on the other hand, was a 97 WRC+ last year with Arizona. Paulson is also a 97. This one is probably a net upgrade because the Rockies will be looking to play Paulson against RHP and Reynolds vs LHP which should bring out higher numbers for both players so long as Walt Weiss is disciplined about making the switches.
On paper, the offensive acquisitions represent something of a downgrade overall.
Improving the UZR…
By moving Parra into Dickerson’s outfield spot, the Rockies improve slightly. Dickerson was a -4.9 UZR last year, and Parra was better at -3.7. Both scores, however, are below the MLB average (any score below zero is worse than the MLB average). Reynolds and Paulson posted nearly identical numbers for UZR in 2015, so that one is a wash.
Of all the areas the Rockies needed to address in the off-season, the defense has received the least attention. Parra is a former gold-glover in the outfield and could be a big improvement there, but his addition does very little to improve the team overall and there still remains a major issue brewing at shortstop. At one time the Rockies were rumored to be interested in Ian Desmond, but it looks increasingly like they will be stuck with malcontent Jose Reyes, unless he goes to prison for beating his girlfriend that is.
The Rockies have made an effort to change its bullpen and have prioritized this above all else it seems. However, without significant improvements offensively and defensively, the pitching additions are less likely to produce as hoped. Many of the big sports websites are predicting the Rockies to finish dead last in the NL West this year, and Las Vegas is tapping the Rockies as 240-1 underdogs to win the World Series. Most of the prognosticators are saying that the Rockies will lead the league in offense, but also in runs scored against. I don’t see much in the off-season moves so far to argue otherwise. If there is an up side, it’s the wild card aspect of the starting rotation. If Gray and Chattwood can perform at a high level, the Rockies could improve from last year in terms of wins recorded. It’s a tall order, and not a fair one for Gray in particular who just started seeing MLB action last year. Any placement above 4th place in the NL West would be quite an accomplishment for this team.