Monday, March 1, 2021

Colorado Rockies 2021 Season Preview


       We have arrived in the post-Arenado era in Denver. Out with the old, in with the new could soon become the new Rockies motto, if/when Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon join Arenado, DJ LeMahieu, and if you go a little bit further back, Troy Tulowitzki in star hitters leaving for elsewhere. The Arenado trade itself was a disaster, with the team giving about $50 million away just so the Cardinals could take the  star third basemen, plus no blue-chip prospects came back. All eyes are now on Story, entering his final season before free agency. If the team is bad, and they look that way, he could be traded very soon. 

Offseason additions: 1B CJ Cron, LHP Austin Gomber, RHP Robert Stephenson, RHP Jordan Sheffield, RHP Dereck Rodriguez, 1B Greg Bird.

Offseason subtractions: 3B Nolan Arenado, OF David Dahl, OF Matt Kemp, IF Daniel Murphy, C Tony Wolters, RHP Wade Davis, RHP Jeff Hoffman.

Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: OF Kevin Pillar, RHP Mychal Givens, RHP Chad Smith.

Traded: Jesus Tinoco, IF Tyler Nevin, IF Terrin Vavra.

2020 record: 26-34

2020 placement: 4th

2020 WAR leader (batter): Trevor Story

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Antonio Senzatela

Starting Pitchers

German Marquez had a solid year to increase his odds at becoming the best Rockies pitcher ever (it's not that hard!). In a league leading 81.2 innings, Marquez had a 3.75 ERA with 73 strikeouts, 43 of which came from his curveball. A high spin pitch that batters hit .110 off of, the pitch had a .154 slugging against with a 43.9% whiff rate. The team's WAR leader in 2020 was Antonio Senzatela, who did a complete 180 from his awful 2019. Well, almost a complete 180. His strikeout rate only increased by 0.4%, up to 13.5%, which is still really, really bad. His H/9 dropped by 2.9, to 8.7, and his ERA dropped by over 3 full runs, to 3.44. While he still pitched better than in 2019, Kyle Freeland had a career low 5.9 K/9, with a 4.33 ERA in 70.2 innings. Freeland tweaked his pitching mix, throwing his fastball 15% less, and his changeup went from his third pitch to his primary pitch. From 2016-2019, Jon Gray's lowest K/9 was 9.0, but that tanked in eight starts last year. Gray punched out just 22 batters in 39 innings, with a 6.69 ERA. While he did suffer from shoulder issues, Gray still had a .297 xBA against, and his fastball velocity dropped by two miles per hour. The one acquisition from St. Louis who will play a role in 2021 is Austin Gomber, who was mostly in the bullpen last year, but will be the Rockies' 5th starter. Gomber had a 1.86 ERA with a 2.7 barrel percentage (just two out of 75 batted balls). Gomber's mid-to-low-90s fastball struck out 14 of his 27 batters, and had a .143 average against. Also in the mix is Ryan Castellani, who had a 7.7 H/9 as a rookie last year. However, in 43.1 innings, he walked more batters (26) than he struck out (25). 

Relief Pitchers

Comeback story Daniel Bard became the team's closer after Wade Davis skydived off a cliff without a parachute. Bard had 27 strikeouts in 24.2 innings, with a 3.65 ERA. He throws a high-90s fastball with an elite 2707 rpm spin rate. All four of his main pitches had whiff rates above 20%, with his slider at 32.3% being the clubhouse leader. Scott Oberg missed all of 2020 with thoracic outlet syndrome, meant to help a blood clotting issue that has plagued Oberg throughout his career. The Rockies can hope that Oberg picks up where he left off, at the end of a career season. Oberg finished 2019 with a 2.25 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 56 innings, as batters had a .249 wOBA against him. One concern with Oberg's season was a doubled walk rate, up to 10.3%. 2020 probably kept Yency Almonte's spot in the bullpen safe for at least a year, which is something that Almonte spent the last few years trying to do. His primary pitch is a slider, which had a .173 average against and a 39.2% whiff rate. Almonte also had a 2.93 ERA with a 29.6% hard hit percentage. Former Orioles closer Mychal Givens was having a great season for the O's before a trade to the Rockies. Before, he had a 1.38 ERA, and in 10 games for Colorado he had a 6.75 ERA, putting his season total at 3.63. Batters had a .198 xBA with a 30.4 hard hit percentage against Givens. Hard throwing righty Carlos Estevez got bombed in 2020, with a 7.50 ERA, a 91.8 mph average exit velocity, and 27 strikeouts in 24 innings. Rule 5 pick Jordan Sheffield showed that he could strike out batters in the Dodgers system, striking out 74 with a 3.27 ERA in 55 innings between High-A and AA in 2019. The Dodgers selected him 36th overall in 2016. Robert Stephenson was effective for the Reds in 2019, striking out 81 with a .196 xBA in 64.2 innings. But, 2020 just wasn't his season, as he allowed 11 runs in 10 innings. 10 games is too small of a sample size to write off a player, so Stephenson could regain his old form. Tyler Kinley may have had a 5.32 ERA in 23.2 innings, but his underlying numbers were good. Kinley had a .187 xBA against with a 3.59 xERA, and an elite slider. Jairo Diaz has been in the organization since December 2014, but nothing about his 2020 performance shows that he should be in the 2021 bullpen. Diaz had a 7.65 ERA with a 2.250 WHIP and a 14 H/9. Chi Chi Gonzalez probably won't make the rotation, but he can offer length out of the bullpen. In 20 games (16 starts) in two seasons, Gonzalez has a 5.66 ERA with a 92 ERA+ since coming to Colorado. 


The Rockies may want to be supportive of a designated hitter role for catchers, as Tony Wolters' 41 OPS+ last year was about as good as it gets for them. Wolters is gone now, and the starting catcher looks to be Elias Diaz. Diaz only has a career K% of 17%, and he had a decent hard hit percentage of 41.5% in 26 games last year. Backing him up will be Dom Nunez, a lefty bat with 16 games of MLB experience, all from 2019. He showed in AAA that year that he can hit, mashing 17 home runs with a .921 OPS in 61 games. 


The main addition of the offseason was CJ Cron, who has hit 30 home runs in a season before, and is in camp on a minor league deal. Cron played in just 13 games for the Tigers in 2020, hitting just .190 but he had an .894 OPS. Five of Cron's 26 batted balls were barrels. Cron is fighting for the first base job with Josh Fuentes, who is Arenado's cousin. Fuentes hit .306, but struck out 28.2% of the time. He is not a power hitter, as he hit two homers in 30 games, for a 150 game pace of 10. Drafted 3rd overall in 2015, Brendan Rodgers is 24 and needs to make an impact this year. He went 2-for-21 in 2020, and he has gone 19-for-97 with a .462 OPS in his 32 game career. Entering what is probably the last year of his career, Trevor Story should be enjoyed by Rockies fans before he goes. He may be the best offensive shortstop in baseball, as he hit 11 home runs with a .289 average and an .874 OPS in 59 games. He has cut down on his strikeout rate, and improved defensively over the years. Story also has underrated speed, with a 28.9 ft/s sprint speed, and he led the league in steals with 15. Ryan McMahon will move from second base to become the new third basemen. McMahon hit nine home runs with a .714 OPS in 2020. He strikes out way too much, with a 34.2% K rate. McMahon also had a weak .206 xBA, while missing half of the breaking balls he swung at. Utilityman Chris Owings made the Rockies on a minor league deal last year, and he will attempt to do the same in 2021. Owings was decent in 17 games, hitting .268 with a .757 OPS, while playing all three outfield positions, and all infield positions save for first base. 


David Dahl is out, and Ian Desmond announced on Instagram that he will opt-out of the 2021 season after doing the same in 2020. So, that leaves Charlie Blackmon as the one veteran Rockies outfielder. Blackmon has definitely regressed, but he is still an above average hitter. Now in right field instead of center, Blackmon hit six home runs with a .303 average and an .804 OPS in 59 games. Blackmon mashed fastballs, hitting .355 off of them. Raimel Tapia showed that he could be a speedy starter while hitting for averaged. Tapia swiped eight bases while hitting .321 with a .772 OPS. He doesn't hit the ball hard, with an average exit velocity of 85.3 mph, and he finished with a .330 xSLG. Center field will be a battle between a few guys, with Sam Hilliard acting as the favorite. Hilliard came up late in 2019, and hit seven home runs with a 1.006 OPS in 27 games. His 36 game 2020 didn't go as well, as Hilliard hit .210 with a .710 OPS. Yonathan Daza turned 27 on the day of this writing, but he is still a prospect. Daza has just 44 games of MLB experience, all from 2019. In AAA that year, he hit 11 home runs with 12 stolen bases, a .364 average and a .952 OPS over 89 games. Garrett Hampson can play middle infield and outfield, plus he is one of the game's fastest players. Hampson had a 29.6 ft/s sprint speed in 2020, while swiping six bags. He isn't as talented offensively, with his K rate (32.6%) being much higher than his hard hit percentage (23.4%). 

Projected Rotation
German Marquez (R)
Kyle Freeland (L)
Jon Gray (R)
Antonio Senzatela (R)
Austin Gomber (L)

Projected Bullpen
Daniel Bard (R)
Scott Oberg (R)
Mychal Givens (R)
Yency Almonte (R)
Tyler Kinley (R)
Carlos Estevez (R)
Jordan Sheffield (R)
Robert Stephenson (R)
Chi Chi Gonzalez (R)

Projected Lineup
2B Brendan Rodgers (R)
RF Charlie Blackmon (L)
SS Trevor Story (R)
3B Ryan McMahon (L)
1B CJ Cron (R)
LF Raimel Tapia (L)
CF Sam Hilliard (L)
C Elias Diaz (R)

Projected Bench
C Dom Nunez (L)
IF Josh Fuentes (R)
OF Yonathan Daza (R)
UT Garrett Hampson (R)


The Rockies had so many holes, and trading Arenado just made things worse. The rotation is surprisingly semi-stable this year, but nothing else is. The lineup has a bunch of question marks, and the bullpen is just awful. The Rockies will finish last in the NL West, and miss the playoffs. 

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