On Tuesday in the second game of a double header with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Colorado Rockies reached a grim milestone: For the first time in franchise history, a Rockies team has lost 100 games.
Of the event, Manager Bud Black said after the game, “It’s another loss this season,” adding, “if it’s 98, 99, 100, it’s another loss.”
He pointed to player injuries and roster turnover (both in terms of trades and bringing up younger players) as key factors in the disappointing season, also noting that the experience younger players earned was a positive.
That’s certainly true, and as the manager of a team with a few games left to play and a lot of young players to keep encouraged, it’s Black’s job to minimize the moment and play on.
Like a person’s age, a team’s loss total is just a number, right?
I would argue that repeating this truism may allow me to minimize for myself the passage of time, but my doctor knows that the numbers have a particular diagnostic value, regardless of the stories I tell myself.
The Rockies have reached a point where it’s time to interrogate the stories they will tell themselves and fans about the 2023 season and what may be waiting in the future.
This is unequivocally true. The fact that the Rockies will finish the season without a single starter who began in the rotation, save Ryan Feltner who spent most of the year on the IL, is a testament to just how devastating the injuries were. When it came to starting pitching, the Rockies started with little margin for error, and that was taken from them early on.
They will finish the season with the second-lowest fWAR (3.1); the highest ERA (5.92); the fewest K/9 (6.23); the highest HR/9 (1.80); and the highest FIP (5.69).
Kyle Freeland was the most effective pitcher (1.2 fWAR) followed by Austin Gomber (0.9 fWAR). The third-highest? Ryan Feltner (0.9 fWAR), who appeared in only 10 games.
Chris Flexen was worth 0.3 fWAR in 11 games, and Chase Anderson earned 0.2 fWAR in 17 games.
Was an injured starting rotation a significant factor in the 100-loss season? Clearly, yes.
But the Rockies lacked talent and depth in their starting rotation, which contributed to the 100-loss season.
This also raises another question worth exploring: Was Arizona Diamondbacks pitching coach Brent Strom correct when questioning the Rockies’ approach to pitching? “I’ve been somewhat of the belief that the people here in Colorado have made the biggest mistake in the world in trying to find ground ball pitchers,” he told Kevin Henry before detailing how he would approach pitching at elevation.
Given that the Rockies have not had a winning season since 2018, it’s a question worth exploring.
Back in mid-May, the Rockies had one of the best bullpens in baseball — as in the third-best. Signing Brad Hand, Pierce Johnson, and Brent Suter gave the Rockies more depth in a bullpen missing Daniel Bard and Tyler Kinley early on and Lucas Gilbreath for the duration. Meanwhile, Jake Bird and Justin Lawrence turned in dominant performances.
On May 22, Kenneth Weber predicted the “bullpen burnout” that would emerge in August, and he was not wrong. With 601.2 innings pitched, the bullpen ranked eighth overall innings.
Jake Bird threw the second-most innings of all relief pitchers with 82.1; Justin Lawrence is 13th with 72.0 innings; and Brent Suter is 34th with 65.1 innings. (Remember that he missed time due to an oblique injury, or his numbers would surely be higher.)
The bullpen finished the season worth 3.2 fWAR, 20th in MLB. Its 5.31 ERA is the worst in baseball; its 4.62 FIP is 25th; its BB/9 of 4.33 is 27th; and its HR/9 of 1.06 is 14th. Incidentally, the Rockies’ bullpen had an xFIP of 4.83, so it overperformed.
Additionally, it tied for first in blown saves with 32. (Bird has the second-most blown saves with 11; Lawrence is seventh with seven. Then again, given the stunning number of innings each threw, this hardly seems their fault)
Bird and Suter are all worth 1.3 fWAR; Lawrerence is 1.2 fWAR; Nick Mears and Victor Vodnik are worth 0.2 fWAR; and Tommy Doyle are worth 0.1 fWAR. All of the other pitchers currently on the Rockies’ roster are at-or-below replacement level.
The Rockies’ worst reliever? Daniel Bard (-0.5 fWAR).
We’ll never know the full potential of this bullpen because of trades, rotation injuries, and overwork.
By any number of metrics, this was a disappointing year for the Rockies’ offense.
Their wRC+? 76, the lowest in baseball. (Next closest are the Chicago White Sox with an 83 wRC+.) The Rockies hit 150 home runs, 28th in baseball. Their BB% is 7.4%, 26th in baseball, and their K% is 25.4%, third-highest. Granted, part of that comes from playing rookies who are both becoming familiar with MLB pitching as well as the Coors Effect. Still, these are not good numbers.
“I think you look on the road to get a base hit there, to grab the lead or at the very least to put the ball in play and see what happens from there,” Black told Patrick Lyons. “That’s the thing that a lot of our young hitters are going to have to learn to do is cut back on the strikeout, cut back on the chase, and put the ball in play and that comes with experience against Major League pitching.”
Placing all the blame on youth and inexperience, however, doesn’t really explain the numbers.
Ryan McMahon leads the Rockies in home runs with 23, followed by Nolan Jones (19) and Ezequiel Tovar (15). No other player has even reached double digits. For a team that plays half its games at Coors Field, this is unworkable.
The Rockies did hit the fifth-most doubles (284), but the lack of overall offense makes those doubles less valuable.
Who were the most-valuable players in terms of wRC+? Nolan Jones (133), Randal Grichuk (116), Charlie Blackmon (106), Mike Moustakas (100), and Ryan McMahon (91). That two of the Rockies most valuable offensive players left the team in July is problematic.
The least valuable among those with at least 250 plate appearances? Brenton Doyle (37), Harold Castro (43), Elehuris Montero (70), Jurickson Profar (72), Ezequiel Tovar (74), and Kris Bryant (76). Doyle, Montero, and Tovar earn a pass here given that two are rookies and the third has seen uneven playing time. But key veteran players did not distinguish themselves offensively in 2023.
Consider, then stolen bases. With 69, the Rockies stole more bases than only the San Francisco Giants. For comparison, Ronald Acuña Jr (who, to be fair, is having a MVP-level season) has stolen 68 by himself. Of those stolen bases, 37 are the work of Brenton Doyle (20) and Nolan Jones (17). Without these two rookies, the Rockies would have roughly half of their current total.
In a season designed to reward speed on the base paths, the Rockies were not consistently successful, a fact reflected in their league-worst 18.0 BsR.
Clearly, injuries played a role here, given that Charlie Blackmon, Kris Bryant, and Brendan Rodgers missed significant parts of the season, but the lack of offense was a significant contributor to the 100-loss season.