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The 5 biggest reasons for the Rockies 2019 failure

Drew Creasman Avatar
October 31, 2019

 

The 2019 campaign was arguably the most disappointing in the history of the Colorado Rockies.

After consecutive appearances in the postseason, they came into spring training with hopes to contend for the division but found themselves well out of contention with two months left in the season, limping to 71 wins.

Let’s take a look at the Top 5 reasons the season went from full of hope to full of heartbreak.

5. Injuries

The challenge with discussing the topic of injuries is that it always sounds like an excuse. Though no player intends to get hurt, it is difficult to truly measure the impact of injuries and consider what-could-have-been.

By quantifying time spent on the Injured List or the quality of the players lost, a host of other important factors can get ignored, like when the injuries occurred and how that changed the roster of the specific team in question.

A rash of injuries right out the gate played a massive role in a 3-12 start for the Rockies. While most IL stints were short-lived, a big part of the issue was that the players who missed time played the same positions.

This meant that rather than going down to a second-string player with MLB experience, Colorado was forced to debut Josh Fuentes and Yonathan Daza ahead of schedule during important early games.

Both players later admitted to getting lost in the moment and would look much better when promoted later in the season.

In the middle of the season, the Rockies largely had their health; however, this is ultimately when they fell apart, which is why this reason for failure ranks last on our list.

Even when the chances of getting back into the playoff race were remarkably slim, the devastation of the rotation by August saw Colorado with five-out-of-five starting pitchers from April’s rotation on the IL.

While this didn’t exactly get in the way of a third consecutive postseason appearance, it may very well have taken a team that would have won 80 games despite all the nightmares and turned them into a 71-win team that almost finished in last place, exacerbating every concern that fans have about the team’s future.

The injuries probably didn’t cost the Rockies their season, but it sure made it appear a lot worse.

4. Lack of Flexibility

Of course, literal injuries wouldn’t have figuratively hurt so bad if the Rockies had come into the season with a more flexible roster.

The big, problematic contracts handed out before this year – the ones Colorado were able to overcome in 2017 and 2018 – became far more troublesome when the injuries occurred and the Rox were stuck choosing between players far too inexperienced to be in MLB or aging and underperforming veterans.

Mark Reynolds floundered on the other end of the Fuentes/Daza spectrum and the club was ultimately forced into doing things like prematurely calling up Brendan Rodgers in order to inject some life into the depth of the roster.

He, too, was bitten by the injury bug (perhaps one of the most underrated reasons the season fell apart). After that, the roster finally settled when Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson – the two players designed to provide much of the roster’s flexibility – played to their potential after slow starts.

But this is still one of the most pressing areas of concern for a team that came out and announced, after the end of the regular season, that they will not be making a “big splash” this offseason.

Whatever flexibility can be created will need to be found in a creative way.

3. The Defense

Arguably the most underrated element of the Rockies failures in 2019 was the giant step backward they took on defense.

The loss of DJ LeMahieu and acquisition of Daniel Murphy is often discussed in terms of how much the Colorado offense lost, but this change hurt so much more on defense in an indirect way.

While McMahon wasn’t quite up to LeMahieu’s standards with the glove – he actually filled in more than admirably – he was able to develop himself into a plus-defender in a very short amount of time. But having him at second base meant you couldn’t put him at first base where Murphy’s defense was nothing short of disastrous.

Furthermore, the Murphy-for-LeMahieu move took Ian Desmond out to center field and pulled him off first, just as he was starting to get the hang of the position. There was reason to believe that this could work out well… but it didn’t.

The Rockies even had to tacitly admit as much after the All-Star break when Desmond shifted to left and a parade of youngsters patrolled the wide expanse in the middle of the outfield.

By then, it was already too late.

The lack of assistance from the defense only exacerbated problems of an already reeling pitching staff who had to battle against themselves, the elements, and numerous extended innings thanks to poor glovework from teammates behind them.

The moment David Dahl, Raimel Tapia, Sam Hilliard and Hampson took over in center, the difference was crystal clear and the group of arms who were filling in for an entire rotation on the shelf with injuries ended up having a pretty solid finish to the season.

The numbers weren’t fantastic. They remained near the bottom of the pack in terms of ERA and WAR among pitching staffs, but the group stabilized and the club went 11-7 down the final stretch.

Every single time Murphy sat and McMahon slid over to first, there was a palpable upgrade in the defensive quality of the entire infield and a reminder of how important it is, especially at Coors Field, to convert as many balls in play into outs as is possible.

Stretched to their absolute limit, one could easily argue that a fundamentally flawed support system was the straw that broke the back of the Rockies pitching staff.

Speaking of which…

2. The Closer

Wade Davis has had a stupendous career.

Under the brightest of lights, in the tensest of moments, he has been among the best relievers in the game.

He has even been arguably great in a Colorado uniform, leading the National League with a career-high and franchise-high 43 saves in 2018 as a key part of a 91-win season for the Rockies.

But 2019 was, by 5,280 feet, the worst year of his career.

He just lost it. While this could devolve into a much longer conversation about the impact of the altered baseballs, his cutter and the massive splits that saw him put up dreadful numbers at home and decent numbers on the road, this recent episode of the DNVR Rockies Podcast does all that and more.

The bottom line is that Davis never recovered from a season of implosions, many of which were solely responsible for turning wins into losses when Colorado was still very much in contention.

Closing can be one of the toughest roles in team sports: when you fail, it can cost the game to your entire team. Davis took six losses and blew three saves which belies how many times he put his club in a position to lose, a fact captured much better by his whopping 8.65 ERA.

You could go broader and place blame on the entire bullpen who also saw poor performances from just about everyone not named Scott Oberg, Carlos Estévez, and Jairo Díaz. But Davis was assuredly the primary culprit.

1. The Starting Rotation

Run prevention was Colorado’s calling card in back-to-back postseason appearances over the last two years and the lack of it was the biggest reason for their downfall in 2019.

The defense did them no favors.

The bullpen sure didn’t help by throwing away more than a few potential wins.

The starting rotation went from the best in the history of the franchise to a comedy of errors in the span of a few months, easily the biggest difference between winning 91 games and winning 71 games.

Other than Jon Gray, who made an inspiring return to the rotation to put up his best season yet after being left off the postseason roster a year ago, every starter struggled.

In fact, this problem got so bad that two pitchers who had achieved success and found their way into the Opening Day rotation, Chad Bettis and Tyler Anderson, both spent most of the year on the IL and are now no longer with the organization.

This forced Colorado to rely heavily on youngsters Antonio Senzatela and Peter Lambert who both showed flashes but also spent a lot of time… learning from their mistakes.

Looking at the advanced metrics that attempt to take Coors Field into account, German Márquez still had a decent season, but it was a big step back from the year before.

A career-high 4.76 ERA isn’t terrible for a guy who throws half his games in Colorado but it’s also too high for a guy with his skill set, especially the swing-and-miss ability.

He did post a career-best 1.81 BB/9 rate but the Rockies need Marquez to be a beast if the team is going to work as designed and he was not.

Of course, that leaves us with the biggest surprise of the season: Kyle Freeland.

After finishing fourth in NL Cy Young voting in 2018, Freeland had such a rough follow-up season that he, like Gray the year before, ended up being sent back to Triple-A to work on some things.

As the man expected to anchor the Rockies rotation in 2019 and beyond, his ERA went from 2.85 to 6.73 and became the biggest symbol for why the season slipped away.

The peripheral numbers were largely the same for Freeland, but he was bitten as much as anyone by the insane home run totals this year, giving up 2.16 home runs per nine innings.

Command issues got the best of him early, to be sure, and the league adjusted to him as well. It was nothing short of a nightmare season.

For those looking for signs of hope, Freeland looked much more in control (though still clearly working on some things) when he returned to MLB, pitching pretty well over his last six appearances sandwiched around a brief leg injury.

In the end, his lost season was also the Rockies’ lost season.

It is interesting to look back at how many ways the Rockies might have weathered the storms but they ended up taking on way too much water as these issues all compiled on top of each other.

Some of these problems might not have been as big if not paired with one of the others but the biggest reason for a crap season is also one of the biggest reasons for hope.

Stick with us this offseason as next we will bring you the five biggest reasons for being optimistic moving forward.

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