The 2014 season for the Colorado Rockies was one to forget. Various injuries, including déjà vu for Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, made it impossible for the Rockies to contend and one of my favorite win total picks from last season was a very easy winner. The Rockies gave up five runs per game overall and went 21-60 away from the friendly confines of Coors Field. Colorado scored nearly half as many runs on the road as they did at home. They were outscored by nearly 120 runs on the road.
When healthy, however, Colorado got off to a 16-13 start. The problem was that they went 50-83 after that. The Rockies were 43-73 against right-handed pitchers and 22-51 against teams with a winning record. Looking at the stats, it’s kind of incredible that the Rockies even won 66 games. They’ve now endured four straight losing seasons and appear ticketed for their fifth straight this season.
Last season’s performance was enough to force Dan O’Dowd to resign, but Walt Weiss was able to maintain his managerial gig, no doubt because of the injuries that no manager would have been able to overcome. The Rockies are in a very difficult spot every year because they cannot entice free agent pitchers to come and watch their numbers get blown up in the high altitude and thin air. That means building a pitching staff from within and O’Dowd was unable to do that. Of course, Jeff Bridich, O’Dowd’s replacement, was formerly the farm director, so some of the blame is on him as well.
How do you fix a team that posted a .322/.372/.529 slash at home and a .228/.279/.357 slash on the road? That’s the question that the Rockies need to answer and the question that oddsmakers would like to have answered as well. BetOnline has the highest number in the market at 72, while 5Dimes and Bovada are both at 71.5.
Key additions: Kyle Kendrick, Daniel Descalso, Roger Bernadina, Nick Hundley
Key losses: Matt Belisle, Michael Cuddyer, Juan Nicasio, Josh Rutledge
If that offseason doesn’t get Rockies fans excited, I don’t know what will. The Rockies parlayed the altitude-inflated performance of Michael Cuddyer into a compensation draft pick, but that was about the best addition that the team made. Kyle Kendrick could be an innings eater as somewhat of a ground ball guy, but the rest of the additions were depth players.
Matt Belisle was one of the Rockies most dependable relievers and Juan Nicasio just never found a home in either the rotation of the bullpen. Josh Rutledge had some inflated production from Coors Field and he’ll be with the Anaheim Angels this season.
Why bet the over?
Colorado can hit when they’re healthy. They weren’t healthy most of last season. The list of hitters that made 550 or more plate appearances is Charlie Blackmon and Justin Morneau. Chris Dickerson would have gotten there because he played in 131 games, but he has sharp platoon splits that hurt his effectiveness against lefties. Nolan Arenado missed significant time. So did Troy Tulowitzki, who still racked up five wins above replacement player in just 91 games. Wilin Rosario was hurt. Carlos Gonzalez was hurt again. The Rockies were pretty good in April until the injuries started. The first domino was Arenado and the Rockies completely suffered without him because he’s a defensive wizard at third base and the rotation is built for ground balls.
There are two ways to look at the Rockies. There’s Colorado at home and Colorado on the road. Even in a horrible season, the Rockies were 45-36 at home because they are built to hit. The offensive numbers were inflated by a .361 BABIP, but it’s Colorado and those things happen. We have to assume every season that the Rockies will be good at home.
There’s another underlying reason, outside of the offense-friendly conditions. Coors Field is not a good park for road pitchers in terms of strikeouts. The Rockies struck out seven percent less often at home than on the road. Why? Well, there could be a lot of reasons. Breaking balls aren’t as sharp. Pitchers don’t know how to pitch to the conditions there. Pitchers change how they pitch and try to outsmart the hitters, which doesn’t work when they hang breaking balls. Whatever the reason, Coors Field is not a strikeout park. Contact at Coors leads to good things and the Rockies make a lot of it.
Troy Tulowitzki was not dealt this winter, which is huge for the Rockies. Tulo posted a .340/.432/.603 slash line last season in 375 plate appearances and above average defense. He had a career year for a lot of players in 375 plate appearances. Unfortunately, Tulo hurt his hip and sat out the remainder of the season. He’s signed through 2020, so if he’s pouting about being with the Rockies, he needs to get over it. He won’t turn 31 until after the season, so decline from age isn’t a factor. He’ll be worth five wins or more again if he can stay on the field.
Corey Dickerson has some platoon splits, but he posted a wRC+ of 104 against southpaws last season, so he could get more playing time this season. Not to mention, Drew Stubbs is unlikely to repeat his offensive numbers, so Dickerson may play more just because of that. But Dickerson hit 24 home runs with a .285/.334/.499 slash. He wasn’t great defensively, but he was just a tick below league average, so there’s a lot of value in him going into this season.
Nolan Arenado is trending up in a big way. He increased power and contact in 2014 and he continued to play well defensively. Arenado went from 10 home runs to 18 home runs in 50 fewer plate appearances and his batting average rose 20 points thanks to a drop in strikeouts. Arenado drove the ball more in general with more doubles and almost added 100 points to his slugging percentage. He’s a guy to draft high in fantasy leagues and a guy to expect big things from this season.
Charlie Blackmon probably won’t hit 19 home runs again, but he does add a baserunning dynamic that the Rockies can take advantage of. Blackmon swiped 28 bases and Drew Stubbs returned to running with 20 stolen bases. Those two may wind up being something of a platoon to keep Dickerson in the lineup every day and, while it will be league average overall, league average at Coors is different than league average anywhere else.
Justin Morneau liked Colorado and Colorado liked Justin Morneau. Morneau posted some strong numbers last season and hit 17 home runs while the light air inflated his slash line. In his age-34 season, Morneau shouldn’t drop off much for this season as he continues to thrive in the light air.
Wilin Rosario and Michael McKendry would make an awesome catching platoon if one of them was left-handed. McKendry actually showcased reverse platoon splits this season and his good plate discipline adds to his Coors-inflated value. McKendry managed to rack up 1.7 fWAR in just 57 games this past season, while Wilin Rosario dealt with injuries and struggled. If Rosario comes back to form, the Rockies are going to get excellent production from the catcher’s spot and that’s hidden value because catchers around the league are poor offensively.
The glass half full approach to Jorge de la Rosa would be that he pitched well in the second half of the season and posted a 3.09 ERA at Coors Field. In the second half, de la Rosa struck out more batters, walked fewer batters, and got a little more batted ball luck. In a place where an ERA anywhere below 4.00 is a good thing, de la Rosa has a shot at that this season.
Jordan Lyles posted a 3.98 xFIP in his 22 starts covering 126.2 innings, so there’s a chance that he can be around league average for the Rockies this season. His rising walk rate has to stop, but with a 52 percent ground ball rate, he has the right type of arsenal for Coors Field. It was his first season in Colorado, so he could make some positive adjustments from season one to season two.
Once Tyler Matzek got comfortable at the Major League level, he was pretty decent. He posted a 3.55 ERA with a 3.78 FIP and a 3.74 xFIP in the second half of the season and struck out over 20 percent of the batters he faced. There’s some upside in the former first-round pick. He was actually better at home than on the road, leaving room for growth.
The regression fairy visited Jhoulys Chacin before his shoulder gave way. In 11 starts, Chacin was 1-7 with a 5.40 ERA. He’s a season away from posting a 3.47 ERA in 31 starts, so there’s potential for him to be in the 3.80 ERA/FIP range if he can go back to limiting home runs.
Eddie Butler should start in the rotation and he’s got some good upside with great raw stuff and a fastball that runs into the upper 90s. He only made three starts for the Rockies and pitched terrible, but Butler spent most of the season in Double-A and probably wasn’t ready for the jump. A full camp with the Rockies might help. Jon Gray could also knock on the door after spending last season in Double-A with a high strikeout rate. The Rockies will have to go with talent and velocity to miss bats and see if it helps.
The bullpen has dependable 42-year-old LaTroy Hawkins in the closer’s role with a solid reliever in Adam Ottavino in a setup role. Obviously this group is a concern and I can’t even pretend to like it.
Why bet the under?
The Rockies were 21-87 when they scored less than five runs in a game last season. How often will a team score five runs in a game? Obviously it’s plausible at Coors Field, but that’s why the Rockies were so terrible on the road. Also, the Rockies struck out seven percent more often on the road than at home. With some guys that have some speed and some ability to drive the ball, strikeouts are especially crippling.
Health is clearly an issue. Troy Tulowitzki is injured every year. Carlos Gonzalez went from 4.7 fWAR in 2013 to -0.3 fWAR in 2014 as injuries and a lack of contact did him in. He has upside when he’s healthy, but you’re betting on a complete unknown with CarGo.
True talent levels are inflated by the ballpark factor of Coors Field. Drew Stubbs was positively awful on the road and he wasn’t alone. Most Rockies hitters dropped in a big way on the road. The big problem is that the pitching wasn’t much better on the road than they were at home. At home, the pitchers posted a 5.05 ERA with a 4.47 FIP. On the road, the Rockies posted a 4.65 ERA with a 4.39 FIP. Given the offensive drop on the road, the Rockies were in trouble right from the second they stepped on the plane.
The rotation doesn’t look to be a whole lot better this season. League average takes on a different definition when you pitch for the Rockies, but Jorge de la Rosa has injury concerns, Jhoulys Chacin isn’t very good and is coming off the same shoulder injury that plagued him during 2012. Eddie Butler and Jon Gray are major unknowns, despite the raw talent. Jordan Lyles is below replacement-level.
The Rockies are also locked in the NL West, which has three teams pegged to win well over 80 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Diego Padres, and the reigning world champion San Francisco Giants. Wins are hard to come by with those teams and that’s as much of a consideration as anything, especially considering how bad the Rockies were away from home.
There’s a lot more to the Rockies’ struggles from last season than just the injuries. It was a performance issue as well. There’s just a severe lack of talent all over the pitching staff and the Rockies have to outhit their shortcomings. They’re a decent defensive team, but not nearly good enough to hide the pitching staff.
Pick: Over 71.5
I’m buying the offense. The Rockies have a lot of guys that spend their fair share of time in the trainer’s room, but what they showed in April was enough to sell me on their potential. The rotation still terrifies me, but in a game so highly specialized with good pitching, the Rockies still rake at home. The way I see it, the Rockies are going to get me over 60 percent of the way to the over at home. Their 21-60 road record has to have some positive regression to it and all it may take to go over the number is 28 or 29 wins on the road, if that. If the Rockies can stay healthy, they can do it.
There’s too much offensive talent on this team for them to challenge the Braves, Phillies, and Diamondbacks for the worst record in the league. They still might because of the starting rotation, but I’ll take my chances that positive regression is coming in some key areas that will generate wins and get us over the win total. I correctly went against the Rockies last season, but the circumstances were different then with a higher number and a higher perception. Now, the value is on the other side.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
It has the makings of a long season in Colorado as the Rockies as the team is projected to be looking up at its National League West counterparts for the third straight season. The Rockies have finished 64 games below .500 over the last three seasons as a lack of pitching depth and various injuries have made life difficult for the team. Despite a great home field advantage that allows the team to be built accordingly, the Rockies have failed to find success and that appear to be the case again this season.
The Rockies were very good at home, posting a 45-36 mark in 2013. It was on the road where the Rockies suffered, finishing 29-52. Only the Marlins had a worse road record. Surprisingly, the Rockies were 38-38 against NL West competition, but that was made possible by a down year overall from the division, with just the Dodgers finishing above .500. For the second straight year, the Rockies were terrible in interleague play. They went 5-15 after an abysmal 2-13 record in 2012. Another two-year trend for the Rockies has been their struggles against left-handed starters. The Rockies were 20-33 against southpaw starters in 2013 and 15-35 in 2012.
Are these things fixable in 2014? Time will tell, but the oddsmakers don’t expect much improvement from the Rockies. LVH Superbook and William Hill both opened with the Rockies at 75.5, with Atlantis Sportsbook in Reno, NV at 76.5. BetOnline.ag opened their Rockies win total at 76.5 (-115 on both sides).
Key additions: Brett Anderson, Drew Stubbs, Brandon Barnes, Jordan Lyles, LaTroy Hawkins, Justin Morneau, Boone Logan
Key losses: Todd Helton, Jeff Francis, Dexter Fowler, Rafael Betancourt, Drew Pomeranz, Josh Outman
There have been a lot of moving parts this offseason for the Rockies. Todd Helton, arguably the best Rockie in franchise history, called it quits at the end of last season. The team signed Justin Morneau in an attempt to fill the void. The Rockies were also one of the league’s most active teams in terms of trading this offseason. In separate transactions, the Rockies added Brett Anderson, Drew Stubbs, Brandon Barnes, and Jordan Lyles. They traded away Dexter Fowler, Drew Pomeranz, and Josh Outman.
The Brett Anderson deal was the first surprise of the winter. The Athletics, who pride themselves on finding value out of inexpensive pitching, were unwilling to pay the price tag the oft-injured Anderson was going to receive. So they took a chance on former top-five draft pick Drew Pomeranz, originally acquired by the Rockies in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal with Cleveland.
The Dexter Fowler trade to Houston has been under a microscope much of the offseason, leading Fangraphs’s Dave Cameron to consider it the eighth-worst transaction this offseason. The Fowler deal opened up the financial resources to sign Justin Morneau and the Rockies were in dire need of starting pitching depth.
After the trade of Josh Outman to the Indians for Drew Stubbs, the team filled its matchup lefty role with Boone Logan. The seemingly ageless LaTroy Hawkins is expected to be a cheap closer in place of Rafael Betancourt, who required major surgery. The Rockies certainly look different this season than they did last season, but are they better?
Why bet the over?
The Rockies offense did put up some gaudy stats, albeit influenced by their park factor. The Rockies had the league’s fifth-best wOBA at .324, tied with the Indians and Rays. The Rockies led the National League in that category and were right up with the American League big boys, which is impressive because, as you all know, the pitchers hit in the NL and that is going to lower offensive production relative to AL teams with a DH. They took advantage of the hitter-friendly conditions at Coors Field to post the league’s third-best home OPS at .808 and second-best slugging percentage behind the Red Sox.
Troy Tulowitzki managed to stay pretty healthy and matched his usual WAR totals, accumulating 5.6 fWAR. He was on par with his 2010 and 2011 seasons both offensively and defensively and he still posted an .850 OPS and a 135 wRC+ away from Coors Field. He’s a legitimate elite talent at the shortstop position, even if Coors Field does inflate his overall numbers.
A sprained finger ended Carlos Gonzalez’s season early, but he was on pace for a career year prior to that. Even still, in just 110 games, CarGo racked up 4.9 fWAR, the second-highest total of his career. This is his age 28 season, so he’s firmly in the prime of his career and his injury was just a freak sort of thing that happens. It wasn’t leg or shoulder or elbow or back-related, injuries that may linger or hinder production, so it’s nothing to be overly concerned about. CarGo will also stay in left field this season, which should help his overall health.
Michael Cuddyer may have found a home in Colorado. He’s the reigning National League batting champion with a .331 batting average and he posted a career-best mark in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, wOBA, and wRC+. Like all Rockies hitters, Coors Field gave his numbers a nice bump, but he still posted a road OPS of .852 and a wRC+ of 136.
Wilin Rosario took the next step in his career, proving that 2012 was no fluke. Rosario is a very valuable player for the Rockies since offensive value from the catching position is hard to find. Another player to watch for the Rockies is Nolen Arenado. Arenado wasn’t regarded as a great fielder in the minors, yet it was his glove and not his bat that shined last season. If Arenado’s offensive numbers begin to translate to the Majors and his glove remains above average, he’ll be a very valuable player that could add a couple more wins to the Rockies. Given the Coors park factor, Arenado was below average offensively. His minor league track record, especially his walk rate and power, could definitely show up in his second season with more familiarity with the pitchers.
Justin Morneau is intriguing in Coors Field. Even though he’s not the player he once was before the concussion, he was still an above average offensive player over the last two seasons. Coors will help his numbers and possibly reinvigorate his career.
Jhoulys Chacin returns to anchor a rotation that went through a lot of turmoil in 2013. By default, this group should be better, as the Rockies were forced to use 11 different starting pitchers last year. Chacin was a wonderful story after missing most of the 2012 season with shoulder inflammation. He posted a 3.47 ERA and suppressed his home run rate in a tough environment. More sliders from Chacin led to an increased ground ball rate and keeping the ball on the ground in Denver is helpful.
Jorge de la Rosa returned from Tommy John surgery in 2011 to have a strong 2013 season. He went 16-6 with a 3.49 ERA. Because of the injury, de la Rosa’s velocity didn’t return and he had to become more of a control pitcher that changed speeds and mixed his pitches. It kept hitters off balance and led to a spike in ground ball rate, fewer walks, and less home runs. If de la Rosa and Chacin can stay healthy, they’ll be the constants in the rotation.
Brett Anderson is the “X Factor” for the Rockies. Exhibiting dynamic stuff when he’s healthy enough to pitch, Anderson once had tremendous control and was one of the league’s top guys at inducing ground balls. Anderson’s mechanics and reliance on a slider really took its toll on his elbow, forcing Anderson to miss large chunks of time over the last three seasons. Since the start of 2011, Anderson has made just 35 appearances covering just 163 innings. He gets a fresh start with the Rockies and still has good stuff if he can stay in the rotation long enough to showcase it.
Joining Anderson in the mix for the final three rotation spots are Juan Nicasio, Tyler Chatwood, and recently-acquired Jordan Lyles. Nicasio is a near-lock to make the rotation as one of the three Rockies that made over 30 starts last season. Nicasio’s 5.14 ERA was ugly, but his FIP was 4.25, signaling that improvement is possible in 2014. His left on base percentage was well below league average and his home run per fly ball rate was a few ticks above average. It’s the third straight season that Nicasio has posted a much lower FIP compared to his ERA and baseball study tells us that Nicasio should start receiving some good fortune.
Tyler Chatwood is an interesting player for Coors Field because of his very extreme ground ball rate. Among starters that threw 100 or more innings last season, Chatwood’s ground ball rate ranked third at 58.5 percent. The Rockies infield combined for 28 defensive runs saved last season, so having a good defense behind Chatwood would maximize his ability. As for Lyles, who moves back to the National League, he’s just entering his age 23 season, so there’s some untapped potential there. Having a better infield defense will also benefit him. If nothing else, the loser of the rotation battle will give Colorado a decent sixth starter.
The bullpen features a lot of interesting arm angles, which makes them difficult to face in a short series. The projected bullpen has three lefties, Rex Brothers, Boone Logan, and Franklin Morales, who started his career with the Rockies. Matt Belisle comes a little bit more over the top than most relievers. A wild card in the bullpen is Chad Bettis, who possesses swing-and-miss stuff, but the Rockies may be hesitant to put an end to their desire to extend him as a starter.
Back in the National League, LaTroy Hawkins’s strikeout and walk rates went in a favorable direction and he did some closing for the Mets late in the season. He’ll enter the season as the closer for the Rockies, but talents like Rex Brothers and Matt Belisle will be breathing down his neck. The saving grace is that a veteran like Hawkins should adopt the right mindset, whether he remains the closer or doesn’t and his insight could be invaluable for the bullpen.
Why bet the under?
Get ready for a lot of sabermetrics to make this case. We’ll start with the Coors Field park factor. Weighted runs created plus, wRC+, is adjusted for park and league factor. The Rockies look better at home because they play 81 games there, but the park factor helps every visiting team as well. The Rockies posted a 94 wRC+ at home, meaning their offensive performance was actually six percent below league average if we consider the Coors Field bump. The Rockies were 25th in wRC+ on the road. Coors Field gives this illusion that this is a good offense. It really isn’t.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the aforementioned Michael Cuddyer. Cuddyer had never posted a BABIP above .328 in his career prior to last season’s .382. Coors Field will inflate BABIPs, since the ball carries more, but for Cuddyer to post a number like that with absolutely no speed in his age 34 season is unquestionably an outlier. Cuddyer could post a good season, especially an above average one for his career, in 2014, but it’s undoubtedly going to be less productive than last season. Add in that Cuddyer is a poor defender and his value will drop.
It’s rare to find a team that relies so much on one player, but when Troy Tulowitzki is hurt, the Rockies suffer. Over the last three seasons, the Rockies are 40 games below .500 without Tulowitzki in the lineup. Even though Tulowitzki is only 29, he clearly seems a lot older with the injuries. He stayed mostly healthy last season, but his production tailed off in the second half and the Rockies went just 28-38.
The Rockies scored 160 fewer runs on the road than at home last season. There’s all the evidence you need to know how much of their offensive production is park-inflated. The pitching staff was about the same at home and on the road. That means they were bad both at home and on the road, allowing a league-high 760 runs.
The Rockies pitching staff is a major area of concern. Jhoulys Chacin has already had a MRI this Spring. For a pitcher with his injury history, that’s clearly not a positive development. Chacin will be shut down with a strained right shoulder and inflammation for at least a week, though likely more. It’d be a surprise if he was ready for Opening Day. Even more than that, however, Chacin is in line for regression. His strikeout rate was well below average and balls in play at Coors Field are never a good thing. His home run per fly ball rate was well below average and any normalization in that will lead to a lot more runs, especially if the increase in ground balls was a one-year thing. Chacin’s SIERA was 4.34, nearly a full run higher than his ERA. SIERA is a form of ERA that takes batted ball data into account and Chacin’s line drive of 24.5 percent is a big red flag.
Rotation mate Jorge de la Rosa looked good in traditional metrics with a nice win-loss record and ERA, but dig deeper and the picture isn’t as pretty. Like Chacin, de la Rosa’s SIERA was nearly a full run higher than his ERA. His line drive rate was over 25 percent and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was just 1.81. He posted a career-low HR/FB rate. There are a lot of “if” statements attached to whether or not de la Rosa’s performance will continue. It could, but if it does, it’s unlikely to be as productive.
With the exception of Anderson, the Rockies will have four below average strikeout pitchers in their starting rotation in one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball. The pitching staff was dead last in strikeouts and walked the fifth-most batters last season. That issue hasn’t really been addressed for this season and the returns from last season weren’t promising.
Pick: Under 76.5 (BetOnline)
Given the depth of the National League West, the Padres and Giants seemingly better this season than last, and the Dodgers projected to be one of the best teams in baseball, somebody has to lose in this division and it looks like the Rockies will be that team. The pitching staff was poor last season and it will take some overachieving to reach that same level this season.
Offensively, the gaudy numbers may be enticing, but they’re park factor based and Rockies pitchers allowed the third-highest wOBA at home. Any bump in offense from the Rockies is negated by their pitchers’ performance at home. This isn’t a very good team and they are a Troy Tulowitzki injury away from being terrible. This under should come in rather comfortably.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.