Recapping 2018: Colorado Rockies Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Colorado Rockies Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason.

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET MIN CIN

20 – 11: ARI LAA PIT CHC SEA ATL NYM TBR COL

The Colorado Rockies came into existence in 1993 meaning by their second full season there had already been a work stoppage cutting into their profit potential and plummeting the city back into the status of not having any local baseball to watch. Things have improved from there, but that is a low floor. The past decade or so shows a very pronounced parabolic curve to their win totals with 2009 representing the vast heights, but then subsequently fewer wins with 2013 standing out as an outlier. They hit bottom by 2014, but have seen a similarly gradual increase into this past season where they won the most games since that 2009 start to the era. Many fans talk about their club having a five-year plan, but in actuality it never goes that way. This is the ten-year plan that has seen the team ramp up payroll these past few years in an effort to win one for the Arenado before he leaves. That time is all but up at this point as he will be a free agent after the 2019 season. While these last three years stand out for their expenditures, pegging past dollars to present shows a team much more likely to spend in the back half of teams, which is probably what should be expected after this final ramp up is eventually paid off.

When looking at pitchers in Colorado everyone knows that surface-level numbers are beyond useless. It’s unfair to hold pitchers here to the same standards elsewhere due to the way the park inflates hits on balls in play. However, it was this pitching unit that absolutely carried the Rockies in 2018 with outstanding performance over the second half that almost never popped up for a breath of air.The first half showed a good deal of this, too, but some of the actual performance was poor enough to breach that average demarcator. Health helps, as the team had four guys face more than 700 batters. Our last reviewed team, Tampa Bay, didn’t have any. Not only were these guys able to stay on the field meaning lesser contributors couldn’t spit in the punch, but they were also very good. Most of these names are young, and therefore received with less credibility, but there is little reason to think most of these arms can’t be just as productive next year. Maybe that doesn’t help you in your fantasy league where park adjustments don’t exist, but the real life Rockies look well-stocked.

After a rather pedestrian rookie season in the year prior German Marquez firmly planted his flag this year as one of the best hurlers in the game. Looking back to last year’s report you would see a guy that got touched up a bit on his balls in play despite fairly average expectations, and while that gap tightened this year you can still see a bit of underperformance in his real life numbers. The big difference was jacking his strikeout rate up seven percentage points, while seeing little change in his better than average walk rate. This shows up as continual improvement on the season as his strikeout rate crested 40% at it’s zenith, but while spending plenty of time around or above the 30% bar where the elites drink their bourbon with few distractions. He does well to avoid the nitro zone, and you can see a weird tinker in the middle of the season that led to dramatically lower angles on his balls in play before mostly going back to normal. Perhaps a flirtation with the sinker, but regardless it seems to have came and went.

German Marquez

Backing the rotational ace were a couple of bullpen versions that kept runs off the board with glee. Adam Ottavino was the homegrown guy that had worked to refine his slider in the past after some missed time caused him to re-evaluate things. He could not have had a better walk year as he reined in the walk issue that plagued him in 2017 while dialing the strikeouts up even further. While he did come down the mountain a bit you an see that he maintained that rate north of 30% for much of the season, though his best work came in the middle with the walks were a bit more scarce. The closed the season with them looking a bit more problematic. You can also see a gradual increase to his launch angle, though that did come with some light lowering of the exit velocity. The spray shows us that the increased launch angle meant very little as it relates to the nitro zone where both angle AND exit velocity meet their sweet spot.

Ottavino might have been the homegrown guy that the team will likely wave farewell to, the team knowing his contributions would likely be short-lived going forward so they spent aplenty on the pen last winter. The one guy that earned his money from that group was closer Wade Davis. He was consistently better than average last year, but a persistent gap showed actual production coming in a smidge higher throughout the year. At it’s worst he looked like an average pitcher, but typically lived a more palatial life. The close to the season showed some of his best strikeout and walk performance, and it doesn’t look like batters gained an upper hand when they did manage to make contact as his nitro zone shows no real shots and the ball in play data shows very little change. Perhaps, that finish was driven by poor competition or better health, but it helped Wade Davis to shine more brightly in the seasonal line, and to help the team feel a bit better justified in their expenditure unlike Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw looking like dumpster fires for most of 2018.

Adam Ottavino

Wade Davis

The aforementioned Marquez might have stood out as THE ace, he wasn’t the only one that could call himself that wonderful moniker. Tyler Anderson and Kyle Freeland deserve similar applause as guys that made their name on the national scene this year. The former shows almost no split while Freeland abused lefties while being more ordinary against righties. The volatility in Anderson’s year is readily apparent. The middle of the season he pitched like a God, and it looks to have been fully justified in the data, but prior to that he was more around the average and after he showed a concerning divergence between his average expectations and far higher actual results. This appears to be keyed more by the balls in play where you see a rather large step up in exit velocity commensurate with the downturn in performance, and he was also seeing the ball elevated more often. This came despite improving the walk rate during the stretch. There was some variation in the strikeout rate, but he usually lived above the norm.

While the Tyler Anderson flight was a bumpy ride complete with majestic heights, but also some scarier turbulence, the Kyle Freeland version sailed along just fine. He didn’t share the incredible stretch Anderson went through, but he was more consistently a better than average pitcher over the course of the season. His stronger runs look driven by some overperformance, which was not the norm for the pitchers in Coors, so next year might look a little, ahem, rockier, but he did a good job of limiting hard contact. Exit velocity did tick up slightly over the course of the season, but does not look like a concern. The bigger issue is his lack of strikeouts for much of the season, which looks like a byproduct of his approach. The walks showed a scare, but were mostly fine, so if he’s going to take another step forward next year it will have to be via the punchout. Chasing those could cause havoc in his ball in play, but if he can do both you’re looking at one of the better arms in the game.

Tyler Anderson

Kyle Freeland

If three well above average traditional starting pitchers weren’t enough, Colorado also had Jon Gray on hand. Arguably, the most nationally recognized name due to pedigree, it was he that came in lesser than the others. Part of that was driven by far worse actual performance than the model would suggest over the first half of the season that ultimately led to a demotion to work on “things.” The second half was far worse showing that maybe the team should have just left him alone. The very strong strikeout rate dried up pitifully during that later run, though he mostly did a good job of avoiding the walk outside of the spike preceding the demotion so, perhaps, some good did come out of embarrassing one of their better players. You can also see a leap forward in the exit velocity over the second half, and while much of that comes on the ground, it’s still better to get hit less hard than more. You can see why he was left off the postseason roster, though maybe they should have just let a pitcher pitch.

Jon Gray

A couple of other relievers that impressed were Scott Oberg and Chris Rusin who have both been with the club for several years and mostly operate in the arena of the unheralded. This model had Oberg pitching similarly last year, but Rusin presented as the most effective pitcher on the staff, and both showed quite well this year. Oberg steadily improved his game from more pedestrian heights at the start to end up looking like a true eraser. His improvement came solely on non-balls in play as he ramped up his strikeout rate while pushing his walks off a cliff where they stayed a mostly lifeless corpse for the rest of the year. Rusin was much more around the average with actual results looking a good deal worse until he was able to get things under control. The strikeouts were too low to support his high walk rate, but he seemed to do a much better job managing contact.

Scott Oberg

Chris Rusin

Due to the proliferation of fantasy leagues, Rockies hitters are annually some of the most coveted. In reality, their shiny numbers get dinged heavily by any sort of park adjustment, but even upon leveling the field there were still three players that presented as All Star-caliber considering their defensive contributions at positions of importance. While three All Stars would make any General Manager giddy, the game requires you to bat six more players. There were enough negatives within that group as to push the entire offense down to below average, at best, for much of the season, and often delving down into the kind of treachery that makes any pitcher cringe. Those same pitchers carry the bulk of the burden, but this is a hidden downside of getting depth from starters in the National League as it ensures they bat more often and can pile up horribleness akin to this. Occasionally the actual production would tick up after a particular outburst here or there, but mostly you’re looking at a bad offense that took enough away from an outstanding pitching staff that the team had to settle for the play-in Wild Card game that at least saw them get into the real thing playoffs. Improving here looks like a high priority item for the front office as we head into 2019.

This Cerberus of stars all looked fairly similar at the plate at the end of the day even if their positions, defensive ability and route to producing that offense differs. The cream of the crop, however, is Nolan Arenado who seems to be in the MVP discussion every year, and stands to become an even much richer man next winter. His overperformance is a bit obvious, but even upon regression he was well above average other than the slump. Until we get to the last month or so when everything fell apart. His production crashed due to falling exit velocity, launch angle, walk rate, and an increase in strikeouts. This looks like a guy gutting it out for the team, which also helps explain why they went on to score two runs in three playoff games with the Brewers. It brought the entire seasonal line down from even greater heights so this might be a bit of a better buying point then fantasy folks are used to, but this being his walk year might make that moot. He is still a preternatural defender at the hot corner making him one of the rare players that is elite both at the plate and in the field.

Nolan Arenado

Playing second fiddle for a long time now was center fielder Charlie Blackmon who might be slipping past the average and into what lies beneath as a defender, but most players wouldn’t reach their bonus having to sell this much real estate. At the plate, Blackmon continues to strikeout out around the average, though did show a weird kink in his walk rate as he started the season with an ultra-passive approach before settling in around the average. The production kind of came and went with some real strong runs, but also a couple of poor stretches that lasted long enough to offset a good chunk of the better periods. He is certainly a benefactor of the park as his liner approach plays well when outfielders have so much to cover in front and behind.

Charlie Blackmon

The third head, shortstop Trevor Story, is a fresher face on the scene who merely sought to regain relevance after a disastrous sophomore season in 2017 that was rife with injuries, strikeouts and frustration. Story deserved some of his own MVP accolades this year when you include his acceptable defense at such an important position to go with the stout offensive production. Bringing his strikeout rate down nearly nine percentage points from 2017, where the model saw only Ian Desmond as a worse offensive contributor, still left him worse than average, but playably so. An early commitment to patience played well for awhile, but once the leopard’s spots started to reappear you can see a curious twist where his actual production took off while his expected mostly hugged the average. The model disliked his lower exit velocity during that time, and thought the sustained lower strikeout rate wasn’t quite enough to offset the reduced number of walks. Anything can happen in Coors, which is why Story should be a coveted player going forward, but that gap might be scary enough to see him as a sell high if someone is buying the incredible actual production. Of course, everything knotted nicely to close the season and it was at the higher level so it’s easy to see why that might sound crazy.

Trevor Story

You have to have a catcher or they won’t let you play, and Chris Iannetta was the Rockies version half the time. He looked like a nice option as an average or better hitter by the expectations, but being a big, slow catcher adds credence to the shorter actual production as being more true. Additionally, the good looking walk rate was at least partially inflated by having most of his plate appearances come in front of a pitcher. He hits the ball hard to go with an average or worse strikeout rate leaving him as a nice hitter for a catcher, but the shorter workload did hold him back from being a well above average contributor.

Chris Iannetta

Another guy hitting the free agent market is DJ LeMahieu who has been a studly second sacker for the Rockies since forever. The model saw him falling short a good deal over the first half compared to his expectations, which were also falling pretty much from jump street, too, to be fair. A resurgent close to the season helped keep his head above water on the year, but likely wasn’t enough to help his free agent case as tepid waters have cooled further leaving him without a contract to date. Part of what hurt him last year might have been him trying to change his game up. The spray shows tons and tons of groundballs and low liners, something of a trademark for DJLM. You can see in the exit velocity chart, however, that he made a dramatic departure from his game by getting the ball in the air more often. The tweak appears to have hampered him in reality helping explain his performance gap. There is a noticeable shelf in his spray chart around 20 degrees where he hits tons of balls lower, and few balls higher. Some of the lower trajectories might have a chance to get out, but the meat of the nitro zone is higher, where he doesn’t fly. When LeMahieu seeks to add launch angle it doesn’t help him get to the better contact, only the worse. Getting him back to being himself, which he did in the second half, would go a long way to seeing the old well above average player we’ve all gotten to know.

DJ LeMahieu

In the outfield, Gerardo Parra has been the choice of past and present mostly as a way to compound the error of signing him in the first place, but the future is within reach as David Dahl should have few barriers to playing time next year other than his own body wanting him dead. Dahl showed a wonderful ability to hit the ball hard and at ideal trajectories, but his penchant to strikeout and hardly walk held him back from being a truly above average hitter. As such, he’s going to have to continue to really wallop the ball when making contact, which has been the case so far with a demonstrated ability to lift his hard hit balls in play.

David Dahl

Gerardo Parra

A poor start and utterly no support from his manager turned Ryan McMahon from an interesting guy into an afterthought this past season. He eventually hung around the average, not bad in his 23 year old season, but it will be difficult to see him have more success with the gap in walks and strikeouts. It’s similar to what Dahl showed, but Dahl also hit the ball considerably better, including carrying his exit velocity to the higher launch angles where the ball flies out. McMahon is awfully young, but the team’s hesitation to use him last year and signing of Daniel Murphy for this upcoming season make it hard to envision solid opportunity until Murphy gets hurt or McMahon makes more contact. His longterm future in the game might be decided by whether he gets hot in that month or whatever he’s given. Not really fair, but c’est la vie.

Ryan McMahon

While the downside of good pitchers being healthy and working deep into games meant tons of outs at the plates for those guys at least they had the excuse of being pitchers. Carlos Gonzalez and Ian Desmond were similarly inept hitters who could have potentially created an average player in the outfield corner if they could have just faced opposite handed pitching and showed any glove at all. Instead, both saw far too much time, with the woeful Desmond getting over 600 plate appearances as the team just kept trucking him out there. Both enjoyed long bouts where their actual performance was quite useful, perhaps, keeping them in the lineup the rest of the time, but these are average hitters, at best, playing non-demanding defensive positions. Colorado committing to play guys like Parra, Gonzalez and Desmond, despite the league being filled to the gills with bat-only players that would love the chance to play in Coors, simply because those guys are making money is so incredibly short-sighted. Whatever happens with this team this year they’re going to look back on these few years where they emerged from the muck, and failed to make the couple of hard choices that held them back from being legitimate contenders as a complete waste of one of the nicer cores in the game.

Carlos Gonzalez

Ian Desmond

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

 

 

 

Tony Wolters

 

Noel Cuevas

Harrison Musgrave

Antonio Senzatela

Jake McGee

Bryan Shaw

Chad Bettis