The Rockies Are Still in an Enviable Position

The Rockies have lost five of their last eight games, a stretch that began last Thursday with a walk-off, extra-inning loss in Philadelphia. They’ve also lost sole possession of first place in the process, although they retained a share of it entering play following yesterday’s win. Still, things looked a lot better just a week ago. Overall, the team’s 83 wRC+ ranks 27th in the majors. They rank the same lowly 27th even when pitcher hitting is removed from the equation. Clearly, reinforcements are needed, right? Well, yes. But here’s the thing: they’re coming from inside the organization.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been getting questions in the FanGraphs After Dark chat about Carlos Gonzalez. Am I worried? Is it time to cut bait? Is he all done as a productive player? The answer is no. Gonzalez didn’t go from a .366 wOBA player to a .287 wOBA player overnight. A couple of years ago, I gave up on Gonzalez. In a piece titled, “Did the Rockies Miss Their Window to Trade Carlos Gonzalez?” I opined basically that Gonzalez was done. Here’s a choice quote:

He’s hitting ground balls at a career-high rate, and his hard-hit percentage is a lowly 23%.

Let’s take a look, shall we, at Gonzalez’s 2015 production before and after that article.

Carlos Gonzalez, 2015 Splits
Dates PA HR GB/FB ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
4/6-5/6 98 2 1.83 0.124 0.202 0.265 0.326 0.261 44
5/8-10/4 510 38 1.22 0.297 0.284 0.336 0.581 0.384 128

So, count me as hesitant to write off Gonzalez. Now, that’s not to say there aren’t troubling signs afoot. Let’s take a look at Gonzalez’s Statcast stats, as of Thursday.

Carlos Gonzalez, Exit Velocity Stats, 2015-2017
Year BBE Avg EV (mph) Avg FB/LD EV (mph) Avg GB EV (mph) 95 MPH+ %
2015 428 89.9 94.4 87.0 169 39.5%
2016 456 90.1 93.2 88.7 189 41.4%
2017 148 87.9 92.5 85.8 53 35.8%
2017 Lg Avg 86.9 92.4 82.7 33.4%
SOURCE: Statcast

This is a good news/bad news sort of table. On the bad side, we can see that Gonzalez has experienced notable drops in both his average exit velocity and the percentage of balls hit with a 95-plus mph exit velocity, specifically. On the plus side, his drop in FB/LD exit velocity is less pronounced than his GB exit velocity, and he’s still above average in all of these metrics. And that’s all the Rockies need him to be — slightly above (or even below) average. Right now, Gonzalez is rocking a lowly 62 wRC+, which is 11th worst in baseball. If he can bring his numbers up to even, say, a 90 wRC+, the Rockies offense will be much better off.

The same is true of Ian Desmond. Never a bases-on-balls machine, Desmond has drawn walks in just three of his first 122 plate appearances. That’s obviously not going to cut it. Considering, however, that Desmond missed about half of spring training, is coming off of a hand injury, and is playing for his third new team in three years, it probably makes sense to cut him some slack. Not for much longer perhaps, but he gets a little more rope. Ideally, he would stop hitting so many grounders. That tendency has trended upwards the past few years, but he may have passed the point of no return. He’s currently recorded a 59.8% ground-ball rate, which is eighth highest in the majors among those with at least 100 PA.

It’d be one thing if this were the sort of thing that paid off for him, but it never really has. To wit:

Ian Desmond, Career Ground-Ball Stats
Season Team PA AVG SLG BABIP wOBA wRC+
2009 WSN 37 0.216 0.270 0.216 0.213 20
2010 WSN 217 0.253 0.258 0.253 0.229 34
2011 WSN 228 0.263 0.289 0.263 0.244 48
2012 WSN 189 0.317 0.349 0.317 0.292 80
2013 WSN 197 0.239 0.264 0.239 0.222 33
2014 WSN 206 0.291 0.311 0.291 0.267 66
2015 WSN 212 0.288 0.302 0.288 0.259 59
2016 TEX 249 0.293 0.309 0.293 0.263 56
2017 COL 48 0.292 0.333 0.292 0.271 47

Desmond has actually seen a bigger drop in his exit-velocity metrics than Gonzalez did a season ago, but if he was rushed back and is still feeling/has been feeling the effects of his hand injury, then those stats may be a bit misleading. Assuming he gets back to being himself, his stats should pull up from his 58 wRC+ (tied for 18th worst out of 280 with 100+ PA) it will similarly be a big help to the offense. The same is true, to a lesser extent, with DJ LeMahieu (75 wRC+) and Trevor Story (78 wRC+), who are both recording considerably worse offensive numbers than their established record suggest.

Luckily, this isn’t the only area where the Rockies can expect to improve. Tom Murphy and David Dahl should both be back soon. Conservatively, they should both return by the start of the second half, with Murphy seemingly ahead of Dahl’s schedule. When they get back, the Rockies’ hitting depth will be greatly improved. Right now, one of the Rockies’ catchers is Ryan Hanigan. While he brings as many veteran presents as any catcher this side of the immortal David Ross, Hanigan is currently sporting a .256 wOBA/38 wRC+ combo and is projected for just a .291 wOBA moving forward. Murphy is projected for .334/90. That will be a big step up over both Hanigan and Dustin Garneau (.267/44 thus far).

The offensive upgrade from Gerardo Parra to Dahl may be more muted, as Parra has hit much better this season. But what it will do is give the team a better representative for the fifth outfielder/bench bat that every National League team needs if they want to be able to compete in American League ballparks. So far, the team’s main outfielders have been Charlie Blackmon, Gonzalez, Parra and Desmond, butAlexi Amarista, Stephen Cardullo, Raimel Tapia, and Pat Valaika have logged outfield time. They won’t have to anymore, and one of them won’t remain on the roster at all. Probably Valaika, if I had to guess. Valaika hasn’t been bad necessarily, but the projections moving forward have Dahl at .329/86 and Valaika at .294/63. That’s a big difference, and important for two reasons.

First, Dahl is more likely to play on a regular basis than is Valaika. The latter has only started 12 games and hasn’t started in the field since May 21. Second, it’s important for the Rockies’ bench players to all be good hitters because the club is carrying one fewer position player than normal. They have been carrying 13 pitchers, which gives them an extra relief pitcher, but that means one fewer player for pinch-hitting, spot starts, and the like. Valaika has gotten over on the roster due to his positional flexibility, but Amarista can be that guy once Dahl is ready to return.

Of course, neither Dahl nor Murphy may make as much impact in the second half as Jon Gray will when he returns, and he may be back at some point in the next week. The Rockies starting rotation has actually pitched very well in his absence, but moving Tyler Chatwood and his 5.04 ERA/4.87 FIP would be a big step forward for the rotation. No matter who Gray replaces, though, it’ll be an upgrade: he easily has the best projected FIP in the rotation moving forward. Don’t forget, Gray already has the third-most 10-strikeout games in Rockies history. He has the chance to be a very special pitcher and is most likely better than any pitcher who’ll be made available as the trade deadline approaches.

The Rockies have had quite the start to the season. Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado are playing at MVP levels, Greg Holland has been a revelation in his return to the mound, Mark Reynolds is having perhaps the best season of his career at age 33, and the debuts of Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela (and full-season debut of German Marquez) have gone swimmingly. As such, people want the Rockies to upgrade in the trade market, and there’s always a chance that they might be. But the Rockies’ general tendency is to achieve from within, and given that they have two active players who should be turn it around soon, and three good players on the mend, they are going to have plenty of internal reinforcements soon. That’s an enviable position to be in, even if they have no longer have sole possession of first place.





Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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Baron Samedi
5 years ago

dafuuu http://imgur.com/a/tHwpQ ?

This was the lead image for this post in my RSS.

Baron Samedi
5 years ago
Reply to  Paul Swydan

I guess, sort of. Still doesn’t explain why I have to see offensive content.

Baron Samedi
5 years ago
Reply to  Paul Swydan

I’m just kidding. Did not notice the youtube link.

Carry on with your Dad rap.