LOS ANGELES — Connor Joe sat in the visitors' dugout at Dodger Stadium and pondered a question that's been eating at him for weeks.
Where did it go wrong? How did he go from one of the Rockies' top contributors to someone who may not have a place on the bench next season?
"I think if I were able to put my finger on it, I'd be able to make the adjustment," Joe told The Denver Gazette on Sunday, visibly subdued as he reflected on his season. "I don't know."
This was not the Joe fans became enchanted with a year ago, the one whose name they chanted when he came to the plate. His smile flashed through the stadium, his energy contagious to everyone who came out to watch him play.
This year started off great for Joe as he took over the leadoff spot for the Rockies. He started 72 of the Rockies' first 81 games, hitting .270 with an on-base percentage of .370.
He was thriving.
Until he wasn't.
His July could be chalked up to just being a bad month. But then August came and one bad month turned into two. By September, he'd become an almost permanent fixture on the bench, playing in only seven games that month and starting just five.
He had just 18 hits in 37 games in the second half of the season.
"We all wish we knew the answer for that," manager Bud Black said.
They sat down and looked at his mechanics, but everything looked the same as it did in the first half. So they started looking to see if he was being pitched differently — he's not a secret anymore and teams usually make adjustments once they have enough data on a player. That, for the most part, checked out too.
Fatigue could be blamed. It is, after all, his first time going through a grueling major league season from start to finish. He debuted in 2019 with the Giants, but only lasted a week. In 2020 he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and he missed the entire shortened season as he underwent treatment. Last year he played just 63 games with the Rockies, spending most of his time in Triple-A.
"Everyone feels fatigued," he said. "I can't contribute it to that. I don't want to use that as an excuse."
As the team tried to crack down on what happened, Joe continued to work. But to no avail.
Joe, a workhorse, never slowed down. He took swing after swing in the cage, trying to do everything he could to get back on track.
Nothing seemed to help.
"It's been tough mentally," he said.
The Rockies could have optioned him, and the argument can be made that they should have. But they kept him, still believing he could revert back to the player they saw at the beginning of the year.
"It means a lot to me," Joe said of the team's decision.
Joe was diagnosed with a right serratus strain last week, taking him out for the final eight games of the season. It's not expected to impact his offseason work and he should be fine when spring training starts.
Whether he has a spot still come March, though, is up in the air.
Joe can play first base and both corner outfield spots, although he doesn't excel defensively at any of the positions. His best asset is his on-base percentage, but rookie Sean Bouchard has shown in the last month of the season he can also fill that role.
The Rockies are evaluating whether they can afford to keep Joe on the 40-man roster. It helps that Joe will have an option next year, so he could be assigned to Triple-A.
The goal, obviously, is to return to the major leagues. But Joe knows he needs to put in the work this offseason to earn his way back onto the roster.
"I love being around this group," Joe said. "I really enjoy the coaching staff. The second half hasn't gone the way we wanted it to, but to be around the guys, just to watch them work — watching them work makes me a better baseball player. Seeing them compete in a game makes me a better baseball player."