After making the playoffs for the first time since 2009, the Colorado Rockies lost in the National League Wild Card round to the Arizona Diamondbacks. But this year the Rockies took massive steps forward as they won 12 more games than they did in 2016. If the Rockies follow these steps, they should expect to see themselves playing in the 2018 NLDS.
Resign Jonathan Lucroy
Before trading for Jonathan Lucroy, the Rockies catchers had some of the least productive catchers in the league. When mostly relying on Tony Wolters and Ryan Hanigan, the Rockies’ catchers had a .272 wOBA, 48 wRC+, .312 OBP and .237 BA in the first half of the season. In the second half of the season after the Rockies traded for Lucroy, the team's catchers improved to .319 wOBA, 79 wRC+, .382 OBP and .267 BA. Lucroy stabilized the worst position group in Colorado.
But Lucroy also helped stabilize the position defensively. Wolters, who led the Rockies in innings, caught 595.5 innings and had a catcher ERA of 5.07. Hanigan caught 257 innings and had a catcher’s ERA of 4.03. Lucroy caught 369.2 innings with a 4.02 catcher’s ERA. But this statistic does not show everything. Lucroy has experience handling playoff staffs. Lucroy caught the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers during their NLCS run and the 2016 Texas Rangers in their ALDS appearance. Lucroy knows how to handle pitchers in playoff situations, and he can help the Rockies young staff develop into a more mature and more intelligent group of pitchers.
Young Starters have to Step Up
The Rockies had a terrific first half largely due to the strong performance from their young pitchers. German Marquez (FIP: 4.40, xFIP: 4.18, SIERA: 4.27), Jeff Hoffman (4.69, 5.00, 4.88),Kyle Freeland (4.15, 4.76,4.99) and Antonio Senzatela (5.00, 4.47, 4.79) all had fantastic rookie seasons, especially in the first half. Each of them had spells where they looked like the best starters on the team. But each of them also struggled, especially after later on during the season when they pushed their innings limits.
Overall, they made tremendous contributions and took some massive steps forward, but they will need to improve even more next year if the Rockies will make a deeper playoff run next year.
Rebuild the Bullpen… Again
While the Rockies were one of the worst teams in baseball before they made the playoffs this season, their bullpen was about as stable as a bridge made of jelly in the middle of a hurricane. Last night’s loss to the Diamondbacks showed, yet again, how much the Rockies need to work on their bullpen.
Pat Neshek and Greg Holland, who handled the 8th and 9th innings during the last half of the regular season, each gave up two runs. Holland had a dominant first half (2.80, 3.73, 3.34) but an abysmal second half (4.99, 4.51, 3.80) of the season and has a $15 million player option, so his return is not guaranteed. Neshek and lefty Jake McGee (2.93, 3.95, 3.51) are now free agents. Mike Dunn (4.47, 4.72, 4.23) and Adam Ottavino (5.16, 5.08, 4.67) both underwhelmed after they both had an excellent start to the season. As of now, the Rockies only somewhat steady options from the bullpen are Scott Oberg (3.50, 3.92, 3.84) and Chris Rusin (3.64, 3.50, 3.35), but neither of them has extensive experience throwing in late game situations.
Add another bat
Offense historically has not been an issue for the Rockies but during the second half of the season, the Rockies struggled to score runs consistently, especially when Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon were not driving them in. During that stretch, they ranked 20th in the league in batting .258 with runners in scoring position and from spots 5-9, Rockies players hit .207 with runners in scoring position. Apart from Arenado and Blackmon, only Jonathan Lucroy (112 wRC+) and Mark Reynolds (104 wRC+) were above league average for the entire year for contributing to the run creation of the Rockies. Carlos Gonzalez (84 wRC+) and free agent signing Ian Desmond (69 wRC+) underwhelmed the most. The Rockies still have four years left with Desmond, so they will have to decide whether they believe he will produce at a higher level next season.
Fortunately for the Rockies, luring a bat to the friendly confines of Coors Field might not be as difficult after the team proved to get back to winning ways. Since Gonzalez and Reynolds are both free agents, the Rockies should look to find a bat at first or in the outfield. While guys such as Eric Hosmer or JD Martinez would instantly improve the Rockies, cost-effective options such as Logan Morrison, Mitch Moreland or Lucas Duda could have tremendous success in Colorado.
The Rockies also have a sneaky second option: use the guys they already have in their system in David Dahl and Ryan McMahon. Dahl looked terrific when the Rockies called him up in 2016, producing .376 wOBA and a 113 wRC+. The Rockies expected for him to become a key contributor this season, but he suffered a stress reaction injury to a rib during spring training and only appeared sparingly in Triple-A Albuquerque. Trusting Dahl would be a tremendous gamble considering the year he has had, but it could pay off substantially for the Rockies if he performs as he did in 2016.
Ryan McMahon, a 22-year-old first base prospect, spent most of the season at Triple-A Albuquerque, hitting for a .433 wOBA and a 161 wRC+. According to MLB Pipeline, he ranks third the Rockies organization, second in first baseman prospects in the league and 55 on the top 100 prospects. During September, he made 24 plate appearances for the big club and recorded three hits.
Resign Blackmon and Arenado
Blackmon and Arenado do not become free agents until 2019 and 2020, but signing these two would signal to the rest of the league that the Rockies plan on contending for the next two or three years. Especially if their young starters blossom into a dominant rotation. For lower budget clubs such as the Rockies, opportunities to win a championship come in windows. They cannot rebuild the entire structure in one free agency period; they have to retain the talent they nourish. If they allow for either one of their main foundational pieces to leave, the Rockies entire project could come falling right on top of them.