2019 Record: 71-91
Fourth Place, NL West
Team ERA: 5.56 (29th in MLB)
Team OPS: .782 (ninth in MLB)
What Went Right
Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Rockies actually were pretty good offensively. Trevor Story, who received NL MVP votes after a breakout 2018 season, managed to improve in a few offensive categories, hitting .294/.363/.554 with 35 homers, 85 RBI, 111 runs scored and 23 steals. Perennial MVP candidate Nolan Arenado was equally as potent, hitting .315 with a career-best .962 OPS, 41 homers, 118 RBI and 102 runs scored. Those two, along with fellow stalwart Charlie Blackmon, powered an offense that ranked in the top 10 in the league in runs per game, batting average and OPS. A handful of other players, led by Ryan McMahon, Raimel Tapia and Sam Hilliard showed promising flashes at the plate. On the mound, German Marquez and Jon Gray had their moments, with Gray posting a 3.84 ERA in 150 innings of work after a down 2018 season. Scott Oberg emerged as a lockdown reliever, posting a 2.25 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 58/23 K/BB ratio before a blood clot ended his season. Those are positives to build on, right?
What Went Wrong
Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Rockies' pitching was a dumpster fire, and the reason they couldn't make it three straight postseason appearances. Marquez, who was mentioned in the "What Went Right" category, struggled as much at home as he flourished on the road, owning a 6.26 ERA in 13 home starts and a 3.67 ERA in 15 starts away from Coors Field. That he was one of the team's best pitchers, starter or reliever, tells you how the rest of the staff fared, as their collective 5.56 ERA was somehow only second-worst in the majors. Perhaps the biggest failure of the group was closer Wade Davis, who recorded an 8.65 ERA and 1.86 WHIP in 50 appearances. Their offense was their strength but wasn't without its disappointments, as promising young outfielder David Dahl hit .302/.353/.524 but once again missed significant time due to injury. Garrett Hampson, a player that had a shot at winning the second base job in spring, salvaged his season with a strong September but struggled for much of the year. Top prospect Brendan Rodgers wasn't immune from the injury bug, suffering a torn labrum in his right shoulder after just 25 games with the big club. Even the aforementioned Oberg was briefly faced with the possibility of never pitching again, because this is why we can't have nice things, before it was determined he will be OK and is aiming to be ready for spring training.
**Coors Field remains a goldmine for fantasy relevance. At the top of the list is Arenado, who fantasy players surely loved to see stay in Colorado on a long-term deal. The third baseman has produced at such a high level for so long that we take him for granted, but this season he posted career highs in batting average (.315) and on-base percentage (.379) while also mashing 40-plus homers for the third time in his career. He's a picture of durability, too, playing in at least 155 games in each of the past five seasons. Top-end, reliable production is the gold standard in fantasy, and the 28-year-old should once again be a first-round draft pick next spring for his incredibly high floor.
**Trailing closely behind is Story, who followed his fantastic 2018 season with an encore that rivals it. To that end, only three players in all of baseball hit at least 35 homers and stole 23 or more bases: Story, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Christian Yelich. That's good company. It's why Story, like Arenado, deserves to be a first-round pick in 2020 fantasy drafts -- he's one of the game's best power-speed players with a pretty solid floor and the upside that comes with being a great hitter in a good lineup who plays half his games at a launching pad.
**The Jekyll-and-Hyde act for Marquez was disappointing if not surprising given what we've known about Coors Field since, you know, its inception. It was a bummer primarily because Marquez was so stellar down the stretch in 2018 that he gave the appearance of having neutralized the Coors Effect, a testament to just how good he was in that second half. What was confirmed in 2019 is that in a fair ballpark the 24-year-old is one of the game's best pitchers, as evidenced by his 3.67 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 91/17 K/BB ratio over 100 2/3 innings of work away from Coors. His situation isn't likely to change between now and next spring -- the Rockies need to be hoarding good young pitchers, not trading them away -- but what fantasy players shouldn't do is write him off as being another unrosterable Rockies pitcher. It's impossible to recommend starting anyone at Coors at this point, but a curated Marquez could still provide 15 useful starts. Will the price be commensurate with half a season of (very good) production? That's the question. But shrewd fantasy players will at least take a look.
**Blackmon's metamorphosis into a power-only bat is complete, as the 33-year-old stole a negligible two bases (in seven attempts), his lowest total since he played in just 42 games in 2012. The upshot is that he's still a very good four-category producer, hitting .314/.364/.576 with 32 homers, 86 RBI and 112 runs scored this season. As the Rockies fell out of contention manager Bud Black began tinkering with different lineup constructions, trying Blackmon in the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 spots in the lineup along with his traditional leadoff role, so it's unclear where he might settle in the Rockies' lineup come 2020. A move out of the top spot might knock off a few runs scored but could add a few more RBI, a fairly even trade. So long as fantasy players recognize that they're no longer getting stolen bases from Blackmon, he should be a strong contributor for squads again next year.
**If Oberg can return with the form he showed in 2019, the closer job is his to lose. He struck out 26 percent of the batters he faced this year, pairing a mid-90s fastball with a brilliant slider. The blood clot issue is worrisome, especially since it's not the first time he's dealt with one, but if he's back and throwing well in Cactus League play that should be enough for fantasy players to take a gamble on the 29-year-old, especially in light of how poorly the rest of the bullpen performed. It's also still possible that Davis regains a prior form or that Bryan Shaw earns his contract or that a guy like Jairo Diaz or Carlos Estevez takes another step forward, but barring an outside acquisition the closer job seems like it'll be a healthy Oberg's to lose.
**Gray bounced back from a disappointing 5.12 ERA in 2018 to post a 3.84 ERA with a strikeout per inning this year. That's a good reminder that while Marquez is arguably the more talented of the two, the 27-year-old Gray was the No. 3 overall pick in 2013 for a reason. And unlike Marquez, Gray actually fared better at Coors than he did on the road this year, owning a 3.46 ERA at home and a 4.22 ERA outside of Denver. That lines up with his career numbers, as the right-hander is 25-10 with a 4.36 ERA in Coors and 18-23 with a 4.56 ERA on the road for his career. Betting on a guy who has pitched well in an extreme offensive environment to keep pitching well in an extreme offensive environment is a sucker bet, but it's an interesting trend if nothing else. The best way to approach Gray in 2020 may be to assume he'll be usable away from Coors, a la Marquez, and if he continues to show an ability to navigate his home park deftly it's just a bonus.
**If this was being written at the end of August, Hampson would be the guy who squandered a golden opportunity. Fortunately, this is being written in early October, after Hampson hit .318/.368/.534 with five homers and nine steals in the season's final month. That's the kind of dual-threat offensive player we hoped he'd be this past spring, when he battled with Ryan McMahon and Rodgers for the starting second base job. Hampson didn't seize the job despite performing well in spring, and he and McMahon split time at the keystone. After persistent struggles Hampson found himself in the minors, and only in September did he find his footing at the major league level. Despite his forgettable first five months, the 24-year-old showed in that final month what he's capable of, and after playing all over the diamond he should have plenty of opportunity to break camp with a full-time job next spring. If he does, Hampson could hit 15 homers and steal 30 bases in an everyday role. His overall numbers from 2019 might turn off some fantasy players in the draft room, but it won't be surprising if he's a popular sleeper pick in drafts.
Key Free Agents: none
Team Needs: As always, the conversation starts and ends with pitching. The position players are both high quality and benefit from hitting in an offense-rich environment, and even when injury strikes they can call on guys like Hampson, Hilliard, Rodgers and Raimel Tapia for reinforcements. Of course, that's easier said than done, and it's not as though the team hasn't tried -- over the years it has thrown big money at free agent starters (Mike Hampton), traded for established starters (Jorge De La Rosa) and used high draft picks (Christian Friedrich, Tyler Matzek, Kyle Freeland, the list goes on) to try to fill the void. They've hit on a few in Marquez, Gray and others, but they've still got work to do to get back to the postseason. Luring free agents has gotten tougher as time has gone on -- and owner Dick Monfort is already crying poor -- so the team will likely have to deal from its hitting depth if it wants to upgrade its rotation and/or bullpen. An infusion of a couple new starters and a bullpen piece or two would be ideal, paired with a return to form from Freeland and better health for Gray. If they can get even league-average pitching from their staff, the hitting should carry them to a return to the postseason in 2020.