2018 Season Preview: Colorado Rockies

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

87-75

88-74

82-80

824

757

After their sixth-straight season with 85 or more losses, the 2017 Rockies were an interesting team, just not interesting enough to be considered a real threat to perennial winners in Los Angeles and San Francisco. But the NL West went haywire last season and the Rockies were the secondary beneficiary, nabbing the second Wild Card spot by a single game.

Colorado does not lack for star power, employing two of the best all-around players in the game at third base and center field. It was a strong starting rotation and dominant relief corps that was primarily responsible for the uptick in wins, however, as the team ranked 29th in pitching WAR from 2011-2016 before climbing to 8th in 2017.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, Chris Iannetta

No doubt the Rockies know where their bread is already buttered, and are trying pretty hard to make sure both sides stay that way. Re-signing Jake McGee and bringing in Davis and Shaw to replace Greg Holland and Pat Neshek keep the relief options pretty well in line with 2017 when they were a key to Colorado’s pitching strength – four relievers were worth at least one win last season, including Neshek’s impressive 22 post-deadline innings. Iannetta suffered through two years of depressed BABIPs in 2015 and ‘16 but rebounded in a big way last year with the Diamondbacks and is consistently useful at worst. With the underperforming Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy as the primary catching options following the departure of Jonathan Lucroy, upgrading at C was a must.

Key Losses – Jonathan Lucroy, Greg Holland, Pat Neshek, Tyler Chatwood

The rotation boasted strength in numbers last year, as seven pitchers started at least fifteen games, and that depth will take a small hit after the departure of Chatwood. Among those seven starters were four 2017 rookies and two more 2016 rookies – Chatwood being the odd man out – so one could certainly argue that having “been there” will prevent the need for more help. As noted above, Holland, Neshek, and Lucroy have been capably replaced by Davis, Shaw, and Iannetta, probably a slight upgrade collectively in terms of overall talent.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

81-81

80-82

78-84

The projections don’t much like the Rockies to ride the upswing from last season, though. The primary worry here is on the pitching side, as the offense should be about as productive, though depth is a major concern. Outside of Jon Gray, though, Colorado has no 150-inning arms or above-average starters; German Marquez and Tyler Anderson should be good, and after that things get worrying. The bullpen is headlined by three great options in Davis, McGee, and Shaw, then Chris Rusin and pretty much nothing else. There is, oddly enough, too much depth in the rotation to use it all and not quite enough in the ‘pen – a problem that may solve itself.

Key Players:

As the only two above-average members of the lineup, Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon have quite a burden to bear. That may sound ridiculous considering the stat lines of some Rockies hitters, but outside of the perpetually underrated fantasy stud DJ LeMahieu, there are holes all over the place. The rotation has the opposite problem, with a ton of options and no obvious answers, leaving German Marquez to step up and become a legit No. 2 behind staff ace Gray. With low walk rates and a downright reasonable 15.4% HR/FB in 2017, he has the ability to survive Coors and make the rotation the true strength of the Rockies.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

The timing of Brendan Rodgers’ 2018 debut will depend on both his performance and that of incumbent SS Trevor Story. If Rodgers is struggling, or Story hits another 20 homers in April, the kid is likely to stay down until September. A strong debut by Rodgers and question marks at short could see the top prospect in a Rockies uniform by midseason, however, as he split 2017 fairly evenly between A+ and AA. Similarly blocked is Ryan McMahon, who was never going to debut at 3B with Arenado on the team and now has Ian Desmond, Gerardo Parra, Raimel Tapia, and Carlos Gonzalez also vying for time between the corner outfield spots and first base. McMahon likely has the best bat of the five but may get squeezed back to AAA.

Future Outlook:

For the last two decades, the Rockies have either been off or on, though it’s mostly been off. 2017 was only the third season since the mid-’90s with a loss total between 75 to 85; even last year they were 13 games over .500 through the first half of the season and one game under in the second. Unlike previous iterations, they should be able to assemble a strong core of pitchers, particularly in the rotation, but with free agency looming on stars Blackmon and Arenado with no real heirs apparent, the team may not have the bats to win long-term. Baseball, she is a fickle mistress.

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