Colorado Rockies fans are a little depressed this morning. Their Rockies have lost five in a row, two at home to the Diamondbacks and then three road games to the Dodgers — the teams they’re fighting against for the NL West title. It was a terrible trip through the rotation, as the starting pitchers allowed 31 runs in 20 1/3 innings in those losses.
The good news is the road trip continues to San Francisco with Monday’s game on ESPN, with German Marquez facing Jeff Samardzija (10 p.m. ET), and the Rockies are 10-1 against the Giants in 2017. The other good news is that staff ace Jon Gray, who hasn’t pitched since April 13 after suffering a stress fracture in his foot, should start Friday in Arizona.
Still, this recent skid has everyone concerned about the rotation, and that’s understandable given the four rookies in the current six-man group (Gray’s return will likely bump somebody to the bullpen). I submit, however, that the biggest key for the Rockies isn’t the state of the pitching staff, but the ability of the offense to score runs on the road. Consider this chart going back to 2010, which lists the team’s road wOBA in April and then the rest of season wOBA, along with the team’s NL rank in runs scored per game:
As you can see, the offense often starts off well and then goes in the tank the rest of the season, often finishing at the bottom or near the bottom of the National League in runs per game. Only in 2012 did the offense improve after April, and even then it was second-to-last in runs the remainder of the season. Incredibly, the Rockies actually have a winning record on the road in April over these seven seasons, despite an abysmal road record overall. Sure, a lot of those problems have been bad pitching, but struggling to score runs has been a major issue as well. (We won’t go into the reasons why, but this appears to be the Coors Field effect in motion, that the Rockies leave spring training on an equal footing with other clubs and then the more games they play at Coors, the more their brains fail to function on the road.)
Anyway, here’s the same information for 2017:
The offense has actually been better in May and June than it was in April, and even after losing three straight to the Dodgers the Rockies are still 16-12 on the road in May and June while ranking sixth in the NL in runs per game. That’s the good news, that this offense has held it together much better than recent Rockies teams.
The concern, however, is that the offense is actually sort of mediocre. The Rockies are fourth in the NL in runs scored on the season, but that would be the club’s lowest ranking since 2008, when it ranked eighth. The Rockies actually led the NL in runs per game the past three seasons, despite being terrible on the road.
Only three regulars have an adjusted OPS above league average — Charlie Blackmon (131), Mark Reynolds (125) and Nolan Arenado (117). Only the Marlins have a lower walk rate and the Rockies are just ninth in the league in home runs despite playing in Coors Field.
So as important as it is for the rookies in the rotation to keep pitching well and Gray to make a strong return and the bullpen to hold up, it’s just as important for Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez and Ian Desmond to start hitting much better. Among 211 players with at least 200 plate appearances, those three rank 208th (Gonzalez), 197th (Desmond) and 193rd in the park-adjusted stat wRC+ (which measures how a player’s weighted runs created compares with the league average). They’ve been awful. The positive scenario is all three were much better last season and should improve.
The Rockies have just one winning road record in their franchise history, when they went 41-40 in 2009 — the last time they made the playoffs. As trade rumors heat up, the Rockies will undoubtedly be looking for pitch depth — either in the bullpen or maybe a veteran starter. There are obvious reasons to be more optimistic about this Rockies team — despite this five-game swoon — but it seems the key may not be adding pitching, but whether or not CarGo, Story and Desmond can start popping some home runs.