In the grand scheme of things, eight years is not a lot of time, but in baseball that is how long it can take between a World Series appearance, and then a slew of losing seasons which includes a running tally that stands at five years with a losing record. In those five losing seasons, the closest that Colorado has come to a division championship is when they finished in last back in 2013, 18 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. In that same span, the team has finished an average of just over 24 games out of first each year. That said, the largest improvement comes when you're languishing around 70 wins (Colorado finished with 68 last season), as long as a few bounces go the team's way.
Will that be the case in 2016? Let's start by taking a look at some key additions and subtractions this offseason.
Jake McGee has the largest upside of the trio, after a great showing last season, as well as holding a 1.89 ERA over 71.1 innings pitched in 2014. He performed at 65% above league average last season, while both Jason Motte and Chad Qualls were either at, or below league average. One attribute that each pitcher has is that none of them walks batters at a high clip, meaning they have control over their pitches. This is especially important when you consider their home ballpark.
On last week's edition of the Statcast Podcast, Rockies GM Jeff Birdich gave as much insight into what the team looks for when acquiring players as he possibly could without giving away all of his team's secrets. One factor that was pointed out is that each of these new pitchers throws a good amount of fastballs, especially Motte and McGee who tossed their heaters at clips of 83.9% and 92.7% respectively. This is likely not an accident considering John Axford's troubles with the breaking ball at Coors Field last season.
The addition of Parra allowed the Rockies to move Corey Dickerson, which landed them McGee. Parra put up good numbers with the Brewers and Orioles last season, and they should continue to rise along with the elevation. The question when it comes to Parra is his defense. His dWAR according to Baseball Reference was below replacement level, but his advanced metrics according to FanGraphs were even worse. He allowed ten runs to score due to sloppy defense last season, and totaled a -18.1 UZR. Considering that the sample table on the FanGraphs Sabermetric Library only goes down to -15, which is awful, that -18.1 can't be good.
Steamer is projecting an increase in homers for Reynolds over last season with 20, which also ups his wRC+ to 101, or slightly above average. Ben Paulsen, the other first baseman on the roster, will likely share time with Reynolds as they hit from opposite sides of the dish. The two of them combined also have the potential to equal all-star caliber production at first base with another 11 dingers and 42 RBI projected from Paulsen.
While Brothers had a low ERA, the sample size isn't enough to really go on, and his walk rate was entirely too high. He also allowed four of eleven inherited runners to score, which is 36%, again much too high to be deemed a reliable reliver. He was traded to the Cubs for a minor leaguer this winter. Axford's walk rate is also high, but his FIP (fielding independent pitching) indicates that the defense behind him wasn't doing him any favors, as they tacked on over half a run to his ERA. Axford may not have been a fit with Colorado, and he may find new life in the spacious confines of O.Co Coliseum in Oakland.
Corey Dickerson managed to play in just 65 games last season after plantar fasciitis and broken ribs cost him time. With Parra already having been added to the roster, the Rockies had too many outfielders on their roster, so Dickerson was the odd man out. The interesting part of this deal is that it's the rebuilding Rockies that are giving up team control in the deal. McGee is set to hit free agency after the 2017 season while Dickerson won't even hit his arbitration years until after the 2016 season. It would have made more sense to move Carlos Gonzalez and his contract, where the return would have been a bit higher, but management may be playing the long game here.
What I mean by that is this: Instead of trading one of the team's two stars, they traded a lesser outfielder and received a solid reliever. That reliever almost exclusively features a fastball, which is a new theory that the team is testing out: Are fastballs affected by the altitude at Coors? Since Aroldis Chapman wasn't available, they got a guy that is more in their range in McGee. If they get some data from him that gives them further reason to pursue this theory, then the Dickerson deal could be a hige building block down the road.
Moving Dickerson, a subpar defender in his own right who had dramatic home/road splits in limited action last season, makes a little bit of sense, but not by a whole lot considering the amount of team control that was given up. At home Dickerson hit .395 in 76 at-bats while he hit just .257 in 168 road at-bats. He exhibited the same amount of power in both scenarios, five home runs both home and away, but it took him just over double the number of at-bats to acheive that feat on the road. The Rockies could have been selling high here. Only Dickerson's time with Tampa will tell.
Where They Fit in the NL West
Colorado had baseball's worst team ERA last season at 5.04, a feat that should hardly be surprising as that's where they've finished in three of the last four seasons. 34-year-old Jorge de la Rosa is at the top of the team's depth chart in terms of starting pitching, which is a scary proposition. The left-hander went 9-7 with a 4.17 ERA in 26 starts last season. Optimism lies with Jon Gray, who totaled 40.2 big league innings last season. How he adjusts to the majors this season could determine the difference between being in the cellar of the NL West and climbing into fourth place behind Arizona, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The Rockies have some good pieces in their lineup, most notably MVP-caliber third baseman Nolan Arenado, but their offense, while the best in the National League last year with 737 runs scored, wasn't enough to offset just how dredful their pitching is. Motte and McGee are nice additions to a bullpen that held a Major League worst 4.70 ERA last year, but not enough to turn the entire staff around.
I do think they have enough firepower at the plate to leave fifth place open for San Diego in 2016, and we could see Colorado take a peak around the corner this season. The Dodegrs have the best farm system in baseball according to Baseball America, and money to burn, so they will be a thorn in the side of the Colorado faithful for years to come, but with Arizona taking a big gamble this offseason and San Francisco taking every other year off, Colorado may be able to find some magic sooner rather than later.
BOLD PREDICTION: As poor as the Rockies pitching has been, I think that this year they don't finish last in baseball in ERA. There won't be many teams below them, but San Diego, who play in a pitcher-friendly envornment, will be one of them. With the Padres' focus on improving their offense, the pitching staff has not been given a boost aside from Drew Pomeranz. Throw in the losses of Craig Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit, and their bullpen is a disaster. James Shields and Tyson Ross are both good pitchers, and could pitch their ways out of Petco by the trade deadline. I like the direction the Rockies generally seem to be headed. I can't say the same for San Diego.