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Team Roundup: Rockies

Friday, November 2, 2018


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Colorado Rockies

2018 Record: 91 - 72
Second Place, NL West
Team ERA: 4.33 (20th)
Team OPS: .757 (6th)


What Went Right


The Rockies nearly won their first division title in team history and fell one win short of tying their franchise record of 92 victories. They tied with the Dodgers for first place in the National League West after 162 games, so they had to play a tie-breaker game and lost it. That bumped them into second place, although they did qualify for the Wild Card Game for the second consecutive year. Last season they lost the Wild Card game to the Diamondbacks but this year they pulled out a victory against the Cubs to advance into the playoffs proper. They were then swept by the Brewers in the National League Division Series. Third baseman Nolan Arenado was once again the star of the show offensively, leading the National League with 38 home runs and finishing second in RBI with 110 (one behind Javier Baez). Shortstop Trevor Story rebounded from a down 2017 season with a superlative 2018 campaign. He slashed .291/.348/.567 with 37 home runs (one behind Arenado for the NL lead), 108 RBI and 27 stolen bases -- setting career highs in every category. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon registered a .291/.358/.502 slash line with 29 home runs, 70 RBI and 119 runs scored, which was still a great year even though it wasn't anything like his MVP-caliber 2017 campaign. Outfielder David Dahl missed two months with a broken foot but when healthy he proved he could be the next big Coors Field fantasy beast. He batted .273/.325/.357 with 16 home runs and 48 RBI in just 249 at-bats at the young age of 24. The pitching staff's 4.33 ERA as a group was the fourth-best mark in team history (their 4.14 ERA in 2010 -- "The Ubaldo Jimenez Year" -- was their best ever). Left-handed starter Kyle Freeland came out of nowhere to approach ace status in only his second major league season. He went 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA, which is a remarkable feat anywhere but in Coors Field that is simply amazing. His 2.85 ERA was the second-best mark for any qualified Rockies' starter ever (behind Marvin Freeman's 2.80 ERA in only 112 innings during the strike-shortened 1994 season). 23-year-old right-hander German Marquez went 14-11 with a 3.77 ERA in 33 starts and struck out 230 batters (a new team record) in 196 innings. Wade Davis set a new Rockies' record with 43 saves on the season even though he was so shaky at times that he was rumored to have a weak grip on the closer's job. Veteran reliever Adam Ottavino had the best season of his career, turning in a 2.43 ERA with 112 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings. Reliever Seunghwan Oh was excellent (2.53 ERA, 10.13 K/9 in 25 games) after being acquired from the Blue Jays over the summer. Scott Oberg went 8-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 56 relief outings.

 


What Went Wrong


Highly esteemed young starter Jon Gray recorded a woeful 5.12 ERA and had to be sent to the minors for awhile to regroup. Chad Bettis' 5.98 K/9 was the fourth-worst strikeout rate in the majors (min. 120 IP) and it predictably resulted in a 5.01 ERA in 20 starts and seven relief appearances. High-priced free agent reliever Bryan Shaw was a total bust, registering a pitiful 5.93 ERA over 61 games. Jake McGee was another expensive reliever and he was even worse than Shaw -- McGee had a 6.49 ERA in 61 games and the Rockies still owe him another $27 million over the next three seasons. First baseman Ian Desmond earned $22 million dollars while limping to a .236/.307/.422 stat line with 22 homers and 88 RBI in 619 plate appearances. Those are not bad numbers (especially when you add in the 20 steals) but it is not what the Rockies were hoping for when they shelled out that pile of cash. He was very poor defensively as well and is already 33 years old and still has at least three more years on his contract with an option for a fourth season. Second baseman DJ LeMahieu's three-year streak of hitting over .300 came to an end. He hit .276/.321/.428 this year with 15 home runs, 62 RBI, 90 runs scored and six stolen bases. Without the elite batting average he is merely a fringe starter in fantasy terms, and when you factor in this was likely his last season playing half his games in Coors Field he becomes a player to avoid on draft day next year. Outfielder Gerardo Parra had a .284 batting average but managed only six home runs and 53 RBI in 142 games. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez used to be a perennial early-round draft pick in fantasy leagues but those days are in the rear-view mirror if you can still see them at all. He batted .276/.321/.428 with 16 home runs and 64 RBI and stole only five bases in 132 games. He is not likely to return to the Rockies next year and would be lucky to find an everyday starting job anywhere in baseball.

 


Fantasy Slants


** 3B Nolan Arenado has very consistently been one of the fantasy game's premier hitters ever since breaking into the league in 2013. The only thing he doesn't do at a superstar level is steal bases -- he has swiped only 13 bags in his six seasons combined. His RBI production declined a bit this year -- this was the first time since 2014 that he didn't drive in 130 or more runs. All of his other stats were at or near his career bests. He slashed .297/.374/.561 with 38 home runs, 110 RBI and 104 runs scored. He is one of the best overall hitters in the National League and with a bit of luck in the batting average department could win a Triple Crown some day. He has one more year left on his contract with the Rockies and it remains to be seen how his numbers would be affected by leaving Coors Field. He has shown big home/away splits throughout his career. In 438 home games he has slashed .320/.374/.609 with 108 home runs and 376 RBI. In 436 road games he has slashed .263/.318/.469 with 78 home runs and 240 RBI. That is a huge difference that provides a flashing warning sign to avoid overpaying for him if he ever joins another team.

 

** RHP Seunghwan Oh started the season with the Blue Jays and went 4-3 with a 2.68 ERA in 48 games. When the Blue Jays fell out of contention they traded him to the Rockies for well-regarded prospects Forrest Wall and Chad Spanberger. His fantasy owners probably didn't like the deal because it sent him to Coors Field but the altitude didn't faze him much. He registered a 2.53 ERA in 25 relief outings down the stretch for the Rockies. The Rockies will surely exercise their $2.5 million contract option to keep him around for 2019. With his closing experience he would likely be the Rockies' first choice for the ninth inning if Wade Davis falters.

 

** With second baseman DJ LeMahieu likely to depart in free agency, top prospects Garrett Hampson and Brendan Rodgers are poised to duke it out for the job opening. Rodgers has the better pedigree but Hampson is no slouch and could get the first shot. Hampson is 24 years old and got his first taste of the majors this year, batting .275/.396/.400 in 24 games for the Rockies. He has a leadoff batter's profile with a contact-oriented approach at the plate that leads to high batting averages, few home runs and lots of stolen bases. He swiped 38 bases between two levels of the minors and the majors this year. Rodgers is 22 years old and was the third overall pick of the 2015 draft. He spent most of this season at Double-A and was promoted to Triple-A for the final month of the season. He has a better shot at stardom than Hampson and is a more complete hitter, although he doesn't have Hampson's wheels.

 

** Corner infielder Ryan McMahon is another hotshot young hitter with a chance to make an impact for the Rockies. He put up some big numbers at the plate throughout his minor league career but has struggled to get the job done in the majors the last two seasons. He is still just 23 years old and hasn't yet received a chance to play every day in the majors to show us what he can do. It may take an injury to either Ian Desmond or Nolan Arenado for him to get a starting role but fantasy owners should be ready to pounce if he does.

 

** Shortstop Trevor Story has developed into an all-around fantasy force. He ranked third among all fantasy shortstops in 2018, behind only Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez. That means he outranked the likes of Manny Machado, Trea Turner and Alex Bregman. Story can hit for average and power with the best hitters at any position -- and he steals bases by the dozen. His 27 steals this year were totally unexpected considering he hadn't stolen more than eight in a season before. He batted .291/.348/.567 with 37 home runs and 108 RBI as well. That production ranked him number eight overall among all hitters on the Yahoo Baseball player rater this year. He has been inconsistent in his young career thus far (he had a lowly .239 batting average in 2017) and because of that fantasy owners might be wise to think twice before drafting him in the first or second round of drafts this spring, even though that is the price we'll have to pay to get him on draft day. He made big strides in improving his strikeout rate this year (34.4 percent in 2017, 25.6 percent in 2018) after setting a Rockies record by striking out 191 times in just 503 at-bats last year. If the 25-year-old continues to improve as much next year as he did this year he could be an absolute monster.

 

** David Dahl has siezed a starting job in the outfield and profiles a lot like the player he is replacing -- Carlos Gonzalez. As a prospect Dahl made headlines with off-the-field issues and seemed to suffer a major injury each season but his talent was on full display whenever he took the field. He can hit for average, hit for power and steal bases. Combine that with Coors Field and magic might happen. Over the last two years he has played 140 games for the Rockies, going .293/.341/.518 with 23 home runs, 72 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 471 at-bats. He is 24 years old and has the potential to develop into a star.

 

** Outfielder Raimel Tapia earned a lot of helium as a prospect in the minor leagues by hitting for very high batting averages and stealing bases by the bushel. Unfortunately he doesn't have much in the way of power -- he's hit just three home runs in 223 at-bats with the Rockies over the last three seasons. He isn't a little guy though, so maybe he will develop some thump eventually and become a good fantasy option.

 

** Starting pitcher Jon Gray went 10-4 with a 3.67 ERA in 20 starts in 2017 and carried high hopes into the 2018 campaign. He managed a 12-9 record this year but his ERA ballooned to 5.12 in 31 starts. That bloated ERA will scare away a lot of fantasy team owners on draft day. The good news is his peripherals were still very good, especially considering the Coors Field factor. His 9.56 K/9 was 16th-best in the major leagues. His 3.52 K/BB rate was 24th-best. Among qualified starters, only Nick Pivetta and Zack Godley had an unluckier BABIP than Gray's .314 mark. Gray was similarly unlucky with his strand rate and HR/FB rate. All these factors combined to form a very good 3.47 xFIP for Gray, which was 16th-best in the majors. Gray seems poised for a strong bounceback season in 2019 and could be a draft day bargain, although owners shouldn't be overly eager to draft any Rockies pitcher due to the Coors Field effect.

 

** Starting pitcher Kyle Freeland had one of the best seasons a Colorado Rockies pitcher has ever had. He went 17-7 with a 2.85 ERA in 33 starts. He surrendered just 17 home runs -- only six on the road. All the factors that make Jon Gray a bounceback candidate for 2019 are reversed for Freeland. Freeland's peripherals were approximately league average. His 173:70 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 202 1/3 innings is nothing special. He benefited from an unsustainable 82.8 percent strand rate and an 8.5 percent HR/FB rate. He is a pitcher who will likely be drafted too early in fantasy drafts this spring as team owners bank on him repeating his good fortune this year.

 

** Starting pitcher German Marquez is the best of the Rockies' crew of good young pitchers. He went 14-11 with a 3.77 ERA in 33 starts this year and that solid performance is backed up by strong peripherals. He notched 230 strikeouts against just 57 walks in 196 innings. His 3.10 xFIP ranked 8th in the major leagues. He is just 23 years old and is already nearly an ace. He has a 95 MPH fastball and a four-pitch repertoire. The only thing holding him back from fantasy stardom is the specter of Coors Field. If you have the guts to draft a Rockies pitcher next year, make it Marquez.

 

** Closer Wade Davis set a new career high and a new Rockies club record by notching 43 saves this year. On the flip side, his 4.13 ERA was more than twice as high as his career average since he became a relief pitcher in 2012, which was his last year with the Rays. From 2012 to 2017 as a reliever he recorded a remarkable 1.63 ERA in 324 2/3 innings. What happened to cause the unpleasant increase to 4.13 this year? His strikeout rate, walk rate and BABIP were all very near his normal levels. The biggest difference was the strand rate, which averaged 86% from 2012-2017 but fell all the way down to 67% in 2018 (league average is 73%). Some of that might be blamed on poor defense by the Rockies and some can be blamed on the huge outfield dimensions of Coors Field, but most of it was probably just bad luck that won't repeat in 2019. Davis finished the season strong with a 25:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last 18 innings. Draft him with confidence as one of the first closers off the board on draft day.


Key Free Agents: DJ LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Holiday, Drew Butera, Gerardo Parra (Rockies declined his option), Adam Ottavino, Seunghwan Oh (team option likely to be exercised).

 

Team Needs: Catcher -- Chris Iannetta and Tom Murphy haven't fared well with the stick and are not known for their defensive skills. Tony Wolters is a defensive specialist with an impotent bat. Backstop is really the only offensive position they need to fill as they have good prospects lined up at all the other defensive positions. The pitching staff is young and good but no team ever has enough pitching to be satisfied. The rotation is set at four spots with Freeland, Marquez, Tyler Anderson and Gray. If the team has money to spend this is the best place to get the most bang for their buck. They will likely be in on all the big-name starters this winter, although it is doubtful any of the best pitchers will be eager to make Coors Field their new home, so they will likely have to settle for a lesser option or a guy looking to bounce back after an injury. Look for the Rockies to add a couple of relief arms though they probably won't overspend like they did for Shaw and McGee. They would surely love to have Adam Ottavino return but he will find lots of teams willing to pay him handsomely.

 




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