The Car’s On Fire
It’ll be difficult to express just how miserable the Rockies’ offense was in 2020 with words alone, so maybe some numbers will do the trick. As a unit, Colorado’s hitters sat second from the bottom in wRC+ with a collective mark of 76, just above the 73 wRC+ mustered by the similarly miserable Pittsburgh Pirates. Only one Colorado hitter– wah-unn, regardless of sample size– managed an OPS+ that was greater than 110. Trevor Story, thank you for your contribution.
The Rox ranked 22nd in the league in total home runs, which is unforgivable for a team that plays half its games in MLB’s most notorious hitter’s park. All seventeen players who stepped into the batter’s box for the Rockies in 2020 combined for 2.7 fWAR. By FanGraphs’s estimate, Jose Ramirez, Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts and Fernando Tatis, Jr. all put up better fWAR figures by themselves. Two other players, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon, tied them.
They gave 43 PA to Drew Butera and his OPS+ of 1 (one). David Dahl, one of the few bright spots for the squad in 2019, slashed .183/.222/.247, and now he’s gone. Matt freaking Kemp was their primary designated hitter. The front office continued their dogged quest to completely screw up Ryan McMahon‘s development by underutilizing him and playing him out of position, and it looks like they’re trying to do the same to Brendan Rodgers. Overall, the Rockies’ hitters were some of the very worst in the major leagues, and that fact almost certainly isn’t going to change moving into 2021.
There’s No Driver At The Wheel
The only people saving this team from the Detroit/Pittsburgh/Texas chasm, record-wise, were the three workhorses at the top of the starting rotation. Antonio Senzatela led the team in rWAR, while Kyle Freeland and German Marquez ranked third and fourth on the team, respectively. Outside of that very solid top three, Colorado’s starters start to look considerably shakier. Jon Gray‘s still not back to being his old self, and even if he finds his borderline-All-Star form in 2021, he’ll be a free agent once the season concludes. Neither Ryan Castellani nor Chi Chi Gonzalez look like they’re able to plug the gaps in the rotation. Swingman Austin Gomber, the “centerpiece” of the Nolan Arenado deal, could provide some help to the beleaguered starting staff, but he should probably be deployed mostly as a reliever.
The story over in the bullpen was pretty similar to the story of the rotation. As usual, outside of a few choice hurlers, the Colorado bullpen was a flaming heap of garbage. Daniel Bard continued to be the best comeback story in baseball this side of Trey Mancini, and Colorado got some useful innings out of Yency Almonte and Tyler Kinley. Outside of that trio, Colorado’s relievers were a mess. The unit as a whole put up a 6.77 ERA (132 ERA-), complemented by a 5.56 FIP. All those numbers distilled into -0.6 fWAR, a figure which sat only above Philadelphia, Seattle, and Miami. Wade Davis, the final remnant of Colorado’s $106 million free agent reliever boondoggle from the 2018 offseason, rode off into the sunset after putting up an ERA+ of 76 during his tenure in Colorado.
It’s a shallow group, to be sure, but for once the relief staff might be the least of Colorado’s worries.
It Went Like This
The Rockies are a miserable, moribund squad, and last season was only the beginning of the descent from their 2018 peak. Daniel Murphy (he was still playing in 2020, you know) retired. Ian Desmond opted out of play in 2020, and he’s gone on record saying that he’s opting out of the 2021 campaign as well.* Trevor Story will be gone at the end of the year as well, assuming he’s not booted out the door beforehand with a check for $100 million in his hand. Charlie Blackmon is still owed a cool $55 million over the next three years, and his glove is declining rapidly.
The Rockies have largely transcended questions of player performance; they are now forced to ask themselves questions about whether they have enough players to field a team. mlb.com’s depth chart for the Rockies still lists Ian Desmond as the left field starter. His backup, Garrett Hampson, is simultaneously the backup second baseman, third baseman, shortstop, and center fielder. This isn’t a Dodgers-esque situation, where a club has several legitimate utility options that can slot in all over the diamond. This is an instance of a team simply not having any starters. Garrett Hampson and Raimel Tapia can’t each start at two positions at once on a given day.
The Rockies’ depth was atrocious even before one of their starting outfielders opted out, and now it’s almost low enough for the Rox to have serious concerns about getting nine men on the field. What happens if one of the utility guys gets hurt? What happens if management deals Trevor Story? These are questions that Jeff Bridich and Dick Monfort apparently don’t want to consider.
*this section is not meant to be a critique of Ian Desmond for opting out of the season; it is meant to be an examination of how his departure affects Colorado’s roster.
We Woke Up One Morning And Fell A Little Further Down
The Rockies weren’t quite in the Pittsburgh/Detroit/Texas shadow realm in 2020, but they sure as hell are down there now. Even the Orioles have a clear way forward as they begin to graduate some of their top prospects. For the Rockies, however, there’s no way up. A Nolan Arenado trade could have been a bridge to a new generation of talent in Colorado, but Bridich and Monfort kicked that can down the road until all they could get for the best player their franchise had seen since Todd Helton was Austin Gomber and a couple of scratch-off lottery tickets. Rockies ownership even sent $50 million to St. Louis along with the former face of their franchise.
This trade is shameful. The way the Rockies seemingly went out of their way to piss off their best player and then paid another team a fortune to get him out of town produced one of the most embarrassing spectacles in the history of U.S. American sports. It’s a moment that will define the Rockies’ specific brand of failure until they luck their way into dark-horse-Wild-Card-contender status again twenty years down the line. And unfortunately for their fans, it looks like it might well be twenty years before the Rockies are competitive again. While most major outlets haven’t published comprehensive farm system rankings yet, the Rockies’ system was already languishing in the bottom quarter of farms across the league even before the abbreviated 2020 draft. By FanGraphs’s estimate, nineteen-year-old Zac Veen is Colorado’s only top-100 prospect, and he’s years away from making any kind of impact at the big league level.
For Sure It’s The Valley of Death
Prognosticators across the MLB landscape are forecasting a long, dark 2021 at Coors Field. Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA system stuck the Rockies with a 60-102 projection, the worst among all thirty teams. Dan Szymborski added a “PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT” graphic to his visual representation of the Rockies’ depth chart. Simply put, there isn’t any reason for optimism in Denver.
To put a pithy little bow on the end of this diatribe, the Rockies suck. They sucked last season, they suck now, and they’ll probably suck even harder in the near future. Their owner and their GM promised that they wouldn’t suck, but they didn’t do anything to prevent the team from sucking, and then they sucked so much that they were forced to ship off a franchise cornerstone coming off of the suckiest season of his career for a sucky return. In just under two years, Colorado’s owner and GM managed to completely ruin a 2018 squad that, despite its massive roster holes, had some promise. Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado were perennial All-Stars and borderline MVP candidates, and the front of their rotation could go toe-to-toe with any lineup in baseball. They had promising young talents in David Dahl and Ryan McMahon. Brendan Rodgers was still a top prospect.
And now all that promise is gone. This team is doomed. Maybe Bridich and Monfort should have interpolated a little harder.