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Rockies 2023 End of Season Report: a Slog from Start to Finish

Nolan Jones waits to catch the ball at first base while playing for the Colorado Rockies against the Cincinnati Reds.

The Rockies were out of the race from the get-go to no one’s surprise but themselves. They still appear to be far from contention.

The Colorado Rockies did not come close to playing .500 ball. Owner Dick Monfort boldly predicted before the season that his club could win 81 games, when few others thought they would come close to that total. Well, it turns out the majority was right, as the Rockies only won 59 games, down from 68 in 2022. The franchise that has not figured out how to pitch at elevation looked even further from finding an answer this season.

Colorado was ravaged by injuries this season, but even so, the outlook was bleak to begin with. Key contributors SP German Marquez, SP Antonio Senzatela, 2B Brendan Rodgers, and 1B CJ Cron each missed significant time. But the team with a paltry amount of analytics and nonexistent depth could not cover the innings. The Rockies gave a ton of playing time to guys who simply aren’t good enough to be in the Majors. There were a couple of breakout performances, but there were far more players who won’t play again.

Thankfully, the organization has finally realized they have fallen behind the development curve. The Rockies are sneaky good at scouting and drafting, but they struggle to improve their prospects, especially on the pitching side. They are building a new pitching lab, which was sorely lacking. It may still take years to compensate for past failures, but at least they are aware of their issues.

Another promising sign is that the Rockies made a number of sell trades at the deadline. That might seem like a non-story, except they have bafflingly held onto pending free agents in recent years, most notably SS Trevor Story. Colorado improved its farm system instead of wasting the opportunity.

Shield Your Eyes

No matter where you look, the Rockies were bad on both sides of the ball. The pitching was last in ERA at 5.67 and in FIP at 5.24, and the offense was 20th in OPS at .715. When you take park effects into account, it does not get much better on the mound, but it gets way worse at the plate. The pitching staff only improves to 25th in ERA-, where they were 13% below average. The lineup, though, comes across as downright dreadful, as their 78 wRC+ means they were 22% below average.

Similar to the Washington Nationals, this team had a distinct lack of power and strikeouts, but that is even more problematic at elevation. In the rare year where the Rockies make the playoffs, they can paper over an uninspiring rotation with a dangerous lineup. But this season, they did not have enough good hitters to stay competitive. They finished 26th in home runs, and it is easy to see why: only two players hit 2o home runs, and none hit 25. OF Jurickson Profar was so underwhelming the team cut him, and OF Kris Bryant looks nothing like the player who won an MVP award.

There are two reasons why no pitchers want to play at Coors Field. The obvious one is that fly balls carry farther, leading to some cheap homers. What is harder to notice is that with less drag, pitches do not move as much. Rockies hurlers are well aware of that, but even so, they finished a distant 30th in strikeouts. With Marquez undergoing Tommy John Surgery, no other pitchers on the team have dominant stuff. The Rockies used lots of guys in 2023 who pitch to contact, and that is a terrible formula in Denver.

It’s Not All Bad

It is hard to imagine the Rockies competing in 2024, but they might have the pieces to make a run in 2025. Though last offseason was quiet, they made a couple of shrewd moves. Buying low on OF Nolan Jones paid off, as the rookie was the biggest breakout on the roster, with an OPS+ of 138 and a team-leading 4.3 WAR. He provides some much-needed protection for 3B Ryan McMahon and DH Charlie Blackmon, though all three are lefties.  SS Ezequiel Tovar did not hit much in his rookie season, but he played elite defense and can still improve at the plate.

For as bad as the rotation was, the Rockies put together a pretty solid bullpen. They wisely claimed RP Brent Suter during the winter and should have traded him, but at least they are interested in an extension. Colorado did trade RPs Brad Hand and Pierce Johnson and got a better return than expected, led by RP Victor Vodnik, who already debuted. RPs Jake Bird and Justin Lawrence were overworked in the second half, but they showed they are capable relievers.

On the farm, the Rockies have a potential star and plenty of complementary pieces.  SS Adael Amador reached AA after raking in High-A, and some outlets think he is now a top-10 prospect. The trajectory is similar for OF Yanquiel Fernandez, but he has a more limited ceiling with some struggles in Hartford. Many of their top prospects played in AA in September and will likely debut at some point next year. C Drew Romo got to AAA and will fight for a roster spot in the spring. The Rockies have drafted lots of pitchers recently, so most of them are still far away. Look for SP Joe Rock to debut in the first half.

Times are still tough in Colorado, but at least the end is in sight.

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