By: Jason Mumm
This is the 2nd in a 3-part series about what the Colorado Rockies must do in 2016 to demonstrate improvement, and the key themes and stories to watch as the season unfolds.
The Stories to Watch in 2016 for Rockies Offense
Most casual observers wouldn’t recognize it, but the numbers show quite clearly that the Colorado Rockies have had one of the worst offensive teams in the MLB over the past couple of years. I know what you’re saying: “but they score so many runs and play half their games at Coors Field!” Yes, we’ve all heard that tired mantra for over 20 years now here in Denver. In days gone by, the Rockies truly were offensive dynamite, but gone are the days of the Blake Street Bombers where no lead was safe and pitching was optional. Today, the baseballs are sealed away in a huge humidor somewhere in the bowels of Coors Field. All rubbed up with Mississippi mud the balls are kept under lock and key in Fort Knox-like conditions. I sometimes imagine there is a small army of Oompa-Loompas down there tending to the baseballs and living out their secretive lives singing catchy tunes and practicing their odd dance moves. But I digress…
There are different ways to measure offensive prowess: WRC+ is a good one, WAR (wins above replacement is another), and there are even more. We can use different measures and you will find that 2015 was an awful year for the Rockies no matter which measure you use. The Rockies had the 3rd worst WAR rating of any team last year, and they were last in WRC+.
Getting better will mean improving things at the plate, especially at home. When you look at the Rockies standard offensive statistics, you will find them ranking pretty high – or at least above average. For example, BABIP in 2015 ranked 5th in the MLB, OBP was 15th; OPS was 4th; and AVG was 5th. By those values, you’d never see a real problem. The issue comes in when you start taking into account the park factors that are often put into more insightful statistics like WAR or WRC+. What it suggests is that being among the best in the traditional measures won’t be enough to propel the team to a higher level in 2016, or beyond.
In the Rockies’ best year as a franchise, 2007, the team was ranked 14th in WRC+ and had a WAR of 23.1. They proved that year that an average offensive performance measured in WRC+ could work for them if they coupled it with a tremendous pitching effort that ranked 5th in ERA- that year. A good place for the Rockies to shoot for in 2016 would be to return to the middle of the pack in WRC+ and hope their pitching comes up strong. Here’s to hope.
Players to Watch
The Rockies made a couple of moves in the off-season to improve offensively. They added Gerardo Parra to an already deep outfield and traded Corey Dickerson away in an effort to enhance the bullpen, acquiring Jake McGee in the deal. Mark Reynolds was added to the rotation at 1B, and of course Trevor Story emerged from training camp to take the starting shortstop position. So far, a couple of these changes have made a difference already in 2016:
Trevor Story – The darling of the MLB at the moment and leading candidate for Rookie of the Year if there were a vote taken today. Story is smashing a 137 WRC+ at set an MLB record for home runs in April. Nobody knows if Story can keep this pace – probably not – but if he can finish above 104 WRC+ and above 0.9 WAR, then he’s an improvement to Troy Tulowitzki from last year, and that would be an unexpected gift indeed.
Mark Reynolds – Reynolds was an early off-season addition for the team, and many (including me) did not think this signing made sense given the nearly equivalent production the Rockies were getting already from Ben Paulsen. If anything, it looked like Reynolds would be used to face left-handed pitching. Through early May though, Reynolds has been hitting a 129 WRC+ – an unexpected early treat.
Gerardo Parra – It hasn’t been as great for Parra through 118 plate appearances so far. His WRC+ at 77 is among the lowest for position players, including utility players. When he gets on base, he likes to run and has five steals so far this year. One has to think that if he can get is OBP up (currently .297 – worst for regular starters) that he could be a threat with his speed and put pressure on defenses. Many thought the Rockies acquired him for his defense but the team cannot afford to take a step back offensively either. Parra will have to perform if the Rockies are to improve their offense this year.
The “bigs” for the Rockies are the standby players of Arenado, Gonzalez, and Blackmon. These guys led the team last year in WAR based on their offensive games. They will need to stay the course in 2016 and get bigger performances from the rest of the team in order to improve overall.