Since a 3-12 start to the season, the Rockies have rebounded with 8 wins in 10 games.
Did the offensive woes that led to that dreadful start (and plagued the team at times last year) correct themselves?
No, they didn’t. Here’s a closer look at those issues and what can be done to fix them.
Among National League batters with at least 75 plate appearances, Garrett Hampson (.484) and Ian Desmond (.496) rank third and fourth from the bottom in OPS (on-base pct. plus slugging pct.). Only Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar (.393) and Pittsburgh catcher Francisco Cervelli (.477) have been worse.
Often teams can withstand one black hole in a lineup. One finger in a dam is manageable. But when you've got to wedge another with your toe, the potential for problems grows exponentially. And it's not as if Desmond or Hampson are offsetting their offensive issues with dazzling glove play, as defensive metrics put them both at below average thus far this season.
At first base, where teams expect offensive production, the Rockies are getting little. Among NL first basemen with at least 60 plate appearances, Mark Reynolds ranks second to last in batting average (.204), fourth from the bottom in RBIs (7) and none of the 14 players meeting that criteria have struck out as frequently (39 percent of his plate appearances).
Of course, the Rockies as a team are striking out at an alarming, rally-killing rate. Only Milwaukee (249) has more strikeouts than Colorado (245) in the NL. The key difference is the Brewers have hit 51 home runs, most in the NL, while the Rockies have less than half of that (25). In the risk-reward proposition of big swings, it seems Colorado has suffered only the cost of the risk with little of the reward (and the aggressive approach has left them in the bottom half of the league in walks and on-base percentage).
The team also hasn’t been able to help itself on the basepaths. The Rockies’ nine baserunners caught stealing rank last in the NL, while their 11 stolen bases are tied for sixth. Only Cincinnati, with four steals and eight runners thrown out, has a lower rate of success.
There hasn’t been anyone on the team hot enough to shoulder the burden of the others. There are 90 players in the NL with at least 75 plate appearances, and among the Rockies’ five players meeting that threshold only Trevor Story (30th) and Nolan Arenado (43rd) rank among the league’s top half in OPS.
The Rockies have no one ranked in the NL’s top 15 in any of the Triple Crown categories (HR, RBI, AVG).
So, what now?
Daniel Murphy returned on Wednesday, so he should help cure the first base issues.
Perhaps in the outfield it’s time the Rockies sit Desmond and go with the offense-first look of LF Raimel Tapia, CF David Dahl and RF Charlie Blackmon. That group has a collective slugging percentage of .541, so an argument could be made that it’s worth the defensive risk, even with Coors Field’s expansive outfield. That was the lineup Wednesday against Philadelphia when the Rockies won 9-5 and the outfield went 6-for-13 with four extra-base hits, three runs and five RBIs. If the team really wanted to be bold, it could jettison Desmond (who is owed more than $30 million) and turn to the defensive whiz Yonathan Daza in center.
At second base, D.J. LaMahieu isn’t walking through that door. Brendan Rodgers, however, could. But would the 22-year-old top prospect be redundant at this point? The Rockies already have a pair of 24-year-olds in Hampson, who entered this year as the No. 2 prospect in the organization according to Baseball America, and Ryan McMahon, who has long been considered a top-100 prospect in the game before exhausting his rookie eligibility last year.
Clearly, the organization felt it had the depth at the position to allow LeMahieu to walk into the Yankees’ outstretched arms. But now it needs to figure out which particular player warrants an extended look there, all the while balancing the need to give a young player time to develop and take advantage of what seems like an open window to contend.
In Arenado, Story, Dahl, Blackmon and, perhaps, Murphy and Tapia, the team has the fixtures around which to build a consistent lineup. The Rockies need to figure out the final few pieces to add – or subtract – to build an offense less prone to stalls. If it can, with the arms already in place, another postseason run seems likely.