Reliving the 2017 Season: Colorado Rockies Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: 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 team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting 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 two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.

Past:

30 – 21: DET SFG PHI CWS CIN NYM SDP ATL OAK PIT

20 – 11:  BAL TOR MIA SEA TEX TBR LAA KCR STL MIN

10 – 1:  MIL

It isn’t hard to see why the Rockies ultimately made the playoffs, if only for a day. Other than a weird diversion in the middle of the season the team consistently ran similar expected production for both pitchers and hitters. Playing in a league where a third of the teams never tried and another third were never going to be caught a team doesn’t need to do much more than play mediocre ball, catch some breaks, and limp into the playoffs. It didn’t hurt that they finished the season on a particular high note for both aspects, either.

It should be noted that park effects are a wonderful concept, but even well-researched adjustments have less efficacy in the most extreme environments. So it is, with Coors Field, the most notorious hitter’s park in the land. Despite these adjustments being applied to both actual and true production you can see that the offense mostly outstripped expectations. The pitching leans that way, as well, though the early part of the season looks quite a bit tighter. Noting this caveat there is still plenty to talk about.

While your fantasy teams typically love Rockies hitters and find their pitchers almost unusable once we adjust for the park effects you can see just how dreadful the Rockies were as a group of hitters this year. At their best they approached the league average, but those spurts were rare. The arms, on the other hand, were exceedingly effective. There was that thousand or so batters faced in the middle that looks like a rough patch for the team, but otherwise there was a lot to like from a unit that rarely receives praise.

Those arms ran what looks like the best pitching staff thus reviewed. League average walk rates paired reasonably well with a strikeout rate just below, but the team was exceptional at limiting the value of balls in play. Even their actual allowed (adjusted for park) still comes in below the league average. It all worked out to around 114 runs above average, which is something I didn’t think I would ever say about a Rockies pitching group.

However, the bats were mostly miserable. Again, we can see a relatively massive gap between true and actual production, with the latter being a little above average, and the former being well below. Factor in walk and strikeout rates that were both below the rest of the league and you can see why they stumbled so mightily. The nearly 139 runs below average more than offset the tremendous work of the pitchers indicating the Rockies were probably closer to a .500 team than a club that won 87 games, but schedule matters, too.

Fantasy players are well familiar with the big guns here. Even neutering their lines to account for their home games left Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado as well above average hitters. DJ LeMahieu is a nice third stick in the lineup going about his business as one of the most contact-prone hitters in the game. Jonathan Lucroy came over at the deadline to acquit himself well after a mostly disastrous run with the Rangers. That’s it for the above average hitters, however, leaving a ton of plate appearances going to guys that could not carry their weight.

No player was more endemic of that than free agent signing Ian Desmond. Long known as a hacky power guy he is finding that skillset doesn’t work so well when you’re not at shortstop or hitting for power. Trevor Story has learned how to live on that position, but strikes out so very often that it will always be hard for him to hold up his end of the line. Carlos Gonzalez looked on his last legs this past season so there is little surprise that the cold free agent market has left him sitting on ice. Guys like Mark Reynolds and Gerardo Parra were nice surprises last year when the team had no idea what to expect out of either, but they look more like bench players on a good team.

After this season Charlie Blackmon will be a free agent and the team will have most likely lost one of their best, most likeable homegrown players in the history of the franchise. The bearded one plays a competent center field, but boy is he fun to watch at the dish. His true production got off to a bit of a slow start as he looked more like an above average hitter, but then he got hot and played like a great one. It was the peak, and he did come down the mountain to follow, but during that time he still looked like a good hitter. He saw much better results during his less productive periods, which is something that you might project him to do going forward as he is such a good hitter. Assuming health he should have another fine season in store before leaving the only team he has ever known.

Another homegrown, legitimate superstar is the Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. You can see less of the peaks and valleys shown by Blackmon, but it all worked out to be nearly the same production. He also showed a much tighter gap between observed and true production outside of a massive gap there in the middle of his season. In less of a Golden Age for the position he might be talked about even more, but those in the fantasy realm would take few players higher than Arenado. I’d expect more of the same going forward, even if park adjustments don’t quite leave him looking as sexy as some of his now younger peers.

LeMahieu is one of the more interesting batters in the game based on his approach. It is one where he almost never pulls a flyball, as noted by excellent baseball scribe Travis Sawchik. He doesn’t hit with a ton of power, but he walks around the average, strikes out well below that and sprays all over the place. It should be noted that while he doesn’t hit for much power, he does hit the ball fairly hard most of the time. He just happens to have so much of that contact on low lines as can be seen here:

(open in new tab to enlarge. IF YOU DARE)

Maybe one ball in the nitro zone if you’re feeling generous with tons and tons of balls below the angle required to reach that stratosphere. Still, he continues to show himself as a professional hitter even if the game is going away from this profile.

The first thing that jumped out when it came to the pitching is how few guys the team relied upon. We’ve seen teams with double the 21 pitchers used to get through the season, but it speaks to the team’s ability to finally keep guys healthy even if a lot of that is luck-driven. Yes, their probable best starter Jon Gray did go on the shelf to mend a foot fracture, but the team received remarkable contributions from several youngsters in his stead. None were better than Kyle Freeland, though. The rookie pitcher showed that strikeouts aren’t everything if you’re able to limit hard contact. German Marquez was another young pitcher who made his debut a year prior, and built upon that initial success with a strong first full season. Tyler Chatwood did well enough to land himself a new three-year contract to go pitch in Chicago even if he looks more competent than incredible here.

Those were the most heavily worked guys, but they also seemed to have done well mixing and matching guys like Antonio Senzatela, Jeff Hoffman, Tyler Anderson and even Jordan Lyles. Gone are the days of the classic five-man rotation, and perhaps no team has embraced the overlap concept more than the Rockies. It helps when you have a stout bullpen that can come in to bail out your nominal starters no matter the inning. Chris Rusin quietly had one of the better seasons of any reliever in the game, while closer Greg Holland showed few ill-effects coming back from Tommy John surgery even if his best performance was more front-loaded than a team would like.

It goes on from there, though, with recent re-signee Jake McGee looking solid, free agent acquisition Mike Dunn joining him, and two-time cancer survivor Chad Bettis finding time in his recovery to be quite good. The team even brought in Pat Neshek who was one of the very best pitchers, in the game last year, let alone relievers, and you can see why the team was so interested in doubling down on its bullpen strategy over this current offseason.

The remarkable start for Kyle Freeland didn’t last all that long as it was followed by a fairly long stretch of being worse than average, but then he got right back on the horse and rode as his last third of the season looks very similar to that quite strong start. Running a league average walk rate, while striking out many fewer such batters can be a lot like playing with fire in Coors Field, but it is a testament to just how good he is at limiting hard contact. There were a couple spikes where batters were able to elevate into the liner zone against him, but it speaks to his persistence that he was able to get it ironed out to get back to leaving batter’s shaking their heads after another mis-hit.

You have to squint to see it thanks to the prolific run environment he starts in 15 – 20 times a year, but Jon Gray is really quite good. It didn’t start off that way for him, but even with the missed time due to the foot issue he was still better than average much of the rest of the season. This could be the year that he combines that electricity with the type of volume that will allow a team to get awfully creative with the back of their rotation. If he is able to stay healthy this year you could be looking at one of the best pitchers in the game even if it isn’t going to show up in more casual metrics.

As a Rays fan I followed much of the minor league career of German Marquez and was somewhat disappointed that the team jettisoned the lad in an effort to consolidate young arms on the farm. There were some ups and downs for him this past season, but there are not many 22 year olds that threw 150 or more innings since the last expansion. He garners plenty of strikeouts, while managing to keep his walk rate lower than the rest of the league, and while the contact might come in a little harder than his teammates you can see why Colorado is so excited to have him.

Leaderboards

Below you will find the very best and worst hitters and pitchers thus reviewed with team aggregate lines ranked below. Lastly you will find team rankings provided by combining the pitching and hitting xwRAA estimates.

 



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