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Rockies Top 5 reasons for hope in 2020

Drew Creasman Avatar
November 9, 2019

Anyone who watched all of the Colorado Rockies 2019 campaign knows that there are plenty of reasons for despair over the future.

In almost every way imaginable, the season fell apart spectacularly and now both local and national analysts are already telling you that the Rockies are completely stuck with a bad roster that has no financial flexibility, a bad farm system and, therefore, no means to improve for 2020.

Some of this thinking is rooted in truth, but much of it is also founded on weak logic that misses far more relevant factors.

While the wider world seems intent on searching for ways that Colorado can get totally fleeced in trading away their best players, the club itself has made it clear that there is no rebuild coming and that they absolutely intend to compete in 2020.

Why do they believe that? And why should – in the face of all this skepticism – Rockies fans still hold out hope?

Here are five reasons.

5. Starting Pitching

We begin where we left off in discussing the five biggest reasons the 2019 season went under water: starting pitching.

It is always a good sign when the biggest problem area from one season can be seen as a huge potential boost for the next.

We begin with the new and improved Jon Gray. Coming off the best season of his career so far, the numbers tell us that Gray has actually been remarkably consistent despite how tumultuous it has felt at times.

He has basically been a 3.0 fWAR pitcher throughout his entire career and is on his way to becoming the best all-around pitcher in Rockies’ history. His 2018 campaign was undoubtedly disappointing, but other than his struggles in the middle of that season, he has been a force for Colorado, posting park-adjusted numbers (ERA-) of above average-to-borderline-elite in three of his four years at MLB.

Gray’s 2019 was quietly one of the better single seasons in Rockies’ pitching history with a 3.84 ERA and 150 strikeouts in 150 innings.

German Marquez took a step back from his impressive performance in 2018, but managed to ride the roller coaster and still come out as an above-average pitcher.

Other than successfully reducing his walk rate, Marquez had a worse year by a full run in terms of ERA (3.77 to 4.76) due in large part to a handful of implosion starts.

One way to look at this is with frustration that he didn’t take the next step forward. Another is to say that he handled the league adjusting back to him better than any of the Rockies other young pitchers.

The best news here is that there is still plenty of unlocked potential for Gray and Marquez as they enter into their physical primes. Gray now has 641.1 innings under his belt and Marquez has tossed 552.2 at 28- and 25-years-old, respectively.

Then, of course, there is Kyle Freeland who is basically just a gigantic ball of questions marks and potential at this point.

We don’t know how much of his disaster season was the book being written on him by the rest of the league, mechanical issues he opened up about and tried to fix, the “juiced” baseballs, and just pure dumb luck.

Most of Freeland’s peripherals carried over from 2018, but his home run rate skyrocketed to over two long balls per nine innings. Though he looked much better after a stint in Triple-A to work out some issues, we still don’t know what to expect from the Colorado lefty.

What we do know is that he has the potential to dominate for an entire season and that he has the mental strength to outduel the winningest pitcher in postseason history in a do-or-die game.

How you feel about Freeland is a current Colorado Rorschach Test.

If you think he has been found out and is unlikely to return to top-of-the-rotation, or even mid-rotation status, then the Rockies are in dire straights indeed.

However, if you think that Freeland can at least find his way back to being no worse than a solid number three in the rotation, then the Rockies actually have a surprisingly easy path back into competing for a National League Wild Card.

It’s also still the case that even under a best-case scenario situation for their top three, the Colorado club will still need to figure some things out in the rest of the rotation. That’s why this isn’t at the top of our list.

They have some interesting internal options including youngsters with high risk/high reward potential in Peter Lambert and Antonio Senzatela and veterans with high floors and lower ceilings in Tim Melville and Chi Chi Gonzalez.

Acquiring some additional starting pitching via trade or through free agency should absolutely be on the table to shore up this area. Such additions could possibly turn some of these depth options into bullpen arms.

Either way, the Rockies rebound in 2020 is going to require leaning heavily on Gray, Marquez and Freeland… which may sound scary right now to fans, but could just as easily end up sounding scarier to opposing lineups by May.

4. Team Pedigree

Baseball seasons can be long things to be sure, but it is pretty amazing how quickly people forget that we are talking about a team that is largely unchanged from one that tallied 91 wins just a year ago.

Yes, there are some key differences, but the core remains about 90 percent the same.

One of the strangest narratives that has inevitably crept up after such a disappointing season is that the Rockies were never actually good to begin with. According to the theory, 2017 and 2018 were mirages, but 2019 was “the real.”

They went 178-147 in making back-to-back postseasons and then began 2019 by going 40-34. So, over a sample size of 399 games (from April 3, 2017 to June 20, 2019), Colorado played at a 55 percent clip at 37 games over .500, good for fourth best among all NL clubs.

From this point, their closer imploded, their best player got hurt but played through putting up the worst numbers of his career, and a truck of injuries backed over the team through the worst stretch of baseball in franchise history.

Going 19-48 over their next 67 games sunk the season and made everyone feel bad.

To act as if these 67 games are more indicative than the 399 that preceded it is a bit disingenuous regardless of the run differential.

3. Fixable Issues

It may feel like the Rockies’ biggest problems are fundamental. A terrible record and lackluster baseball for 67 games will do that. But a step back reveals that their issues are quite fixable.

They need to explore the market for pitching of all kinds. We’ve discussed the starting rotation and the bullpen clearly had issues as well. But like with the centerfield situation, many of these issues began to iron themselves out while very few people were still watching.

Scott Oberg is a great place to start a bullpen and Jairo Diaz and Carlos Estevez give the ‘pen some high-end flamethrowing potential. It’s even worth wondering if Wade Davis or Bryan Shaw can bounce back a bit.

Either way, the larger point is that relievers are volatile. The fact that the Rockies don’t have any money to spend may actually just end up saving them from themselves, considering dropping cash on the bullpen is arguably what has them in this position in the first place.

With one or two outside additions and one or two guys stepping up from inside the organization, Colorado can take an area that cost them a ton of games in 2019 and turn it into a strength in 2020.

2. Philosophical Changes

No one would blame you for tuning out the final two months of the Rockies season but if you did, you may have missed some things.

Wade Davis is no longer the closer, Scott Oberg is.

Ian Desmond is no longer the center fielder, David Dahl is… when healthy.

After that, Raimel Tapia took over Desmond’s starts against righties and Sam Hilliard emerged as a major factor in the outfield moving forward.

Ryan McMahon is an unquestioned everyday player now and an occasional major asset at first base.

Garrett Hampson is good now.

The Rockies have cut ties with veteran players that their history suggests they might have otherwise been overly loyal to. It began with Mike Dunn during the season and they had to eat some money on that one.

They saved money by recently non-tendering Chad Bettis and Tyler Anderson and were also fine letting other clubs scoop up Sam Howard, Pat Valaika, and Rico Garcia.

These are the kinds of players that the team has held onto for too long in the past, hoping that the guys they have closer relationships with can become the vital glue pieces that every team needs.

But after a year in which the bottom of the roster was a disaster, the Rockies have shown that they are going to be proactive toward a fresh approach on the fringes.

On the coaching staff side, the Rockies have let go of Darren Holmes and promoted Darryl Scott to the role of bullpen coach.

Scott has been in the organization since 2009, so while he could inject some new energy into the MLB rotation through his close relationship with the players, it is the man replacing him in an organizational role that should have us all wondering about the possibilities.

Steve Merrimen has only been with Colorado for a year, is seen as a far more analytically-minded pitching coach than anyone the club has used before, and now has a much more important job toward deciding the direction of Rockies’ pitching system-wide.

None of these changes qualify as blockbusters but every single one of them fits firmly into a category that shows a shift in how the Purplers are going to approach 2020.

1. The Core is Young and Good

All the concern over Colorado’s farm system would make more sense if the average age of their core ballplayer wasn’t 26 years old.

Players on the upswing of their careers still in or at their prime:

Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, David Dahl, Ryan McMahon, Jon Gray, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Scott Oberg, Carlos Estevez, Jairo Diaz, Raimel Tapia, Garrett Hampson, Tony Wolters, Chi Chi Gonzalez.

Players approaching their prime:

Brendan Rodgers, Sam Hilliard, Peter Lambert, Antonio Senzatela, Yency Almonte, James Pazos, Phillip Diehl, Jesus Tinoco, Dom Nunez, Yonathan Daza, Josh Fuentes.

That’s 25 names.

They won’t, but if the Rockies simply cut veterans Ian Desmond, Jake McGee, Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Daniel Murphy, the could field a 25-man roster with talented up-and-coming ballplayers.

Of course, depth is important and so they shouldn’t go to that extreme. But do not be surprised if they do go this route with one or two of these players given how much potential they have to take over in their stead.

The Colorado Rockies need to be extremely aggressive at filling out the fringes of their roster this offseason. Landing on one or two reclamation projects to smooth out the rotation, bullpen, and potentially defense could go a long way toward getting the franchise back on track.

But these are the players who will get them where they need to go.

It’s hard to believe after what we just witnessed, but the Rockies still have the most talent at the top of their roster than they have ever had.

They’ve earned the right to prove that this core is capable of winning 90+ games again, that they can get back to the pace they were playing for nearly 400 games before falling apart for 70.

They have the best left-side of the infield in all of baseball, two All-Stars in the outfield, a future All-Star at second base, three starting pitchers with top-end talent, a steady, reliable closer, veterans with impressive resumes primed to bounce back, and youngsters primed to break out.

That’s why they are building around them rather than tearing it down.

Let’s see what happens next.

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