by Andrew Beaudoin
2021 Record: 74-87 (.460 win%, 4th in NL West)
2021 Payroll: $95,828,833 (18th)
Projected 2022 Lineup:
1. DH Charlie Blackmon, .279 AVG/.348 OBP/.461 SLG, 1.0 fWAR
2. LF Kris Bryant, .271 AVG/.360 OBP/.485 SLG, 2.3 fWAR
3. 3B Ryan McMahon, .258 AVG/.335 OBP/.462 SLG, 2.2 fWAR
4. 1B C.J. Cron, .269 AVG/.349 OBP/.512 SLG, 1.6 fWAR
5. 2B Brendan Rodgers, .280 AVG/.326 OBP/.474 SLG, 2.0 fWAR
6. CF Randal Grichuk, .266 AVG/.314 OBP/.494 SLG, 1.3 fWAR
7. SS José Iglesias, .289 AVG/.326 OBP/.425 SLG, 1.3 fWAR
8. RF Sam Hilliard, .229 AVG/.299 OBP/.439 SLG, 0.0 fWAR
9. C Elias Diaz, .266 AVG/.326 OBP/.439 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
Projected 2022 Rotation:
1. Kyle Freeland, 163.0 IP/5.52 ERA/1.54 WHIP, 1.4 fWAR
2. Germán Márquez, 193.0 IP/4.94 ERA/1.43 WHIP, 2.4 fWAR
3. Antonio Senzatela, 180.0 IP/5.68 ERA/1.54 WHIP, 1.2 fWAR
4. Austin Gomber, 149.0 IP/5.39 ERA/1.51 WHIP, 1.1 fWAR
5. Chad Kuhl, 107.0 IP/5.92 ERA/1.59 WHIP, 0.0 fWAR
Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:
1. Daniel Bard, 66.0 IP/4.92 ERA/1.46 WHIP, 0.2 fWAR
2. Alex Colomé, 70.0 IP/5.24 ERA/1.53 WHIP, 0.0 fWAR
3. Carlos Estévez, 63.0 IP/5.18 ERA/1.44 WHIP, 0.0 fWAR
After yet another fourth-place finish in the NL West, the 2021 Rockies found themselves once again beating the “expert” preseason projections but falling short of owner Dick Monfort’s disillusioned vision of being a playoff team. It really is a strange time to be a Rockies fan, so let’s dive into one of baseball’s most overlooked and misunderstood teams.
The Rockies opened their offseason by naming Bill Schmidt the fourth general manager in club history, removing the interim title he was given upon Jeff Bridich’s abrupt resignation in May 2021. An internal hire for GM was pretty on-brand for the Rockies, and the status quo is being upheld around the entire front office. It took Dick Monfort just six months to fire Scott Van Lenten, the very man Monfort hired away from the Nationals to revamp the Rockies analytics department. That department now reportedly consists of just five employees. But hey, it’s 2022! Who needs an analytics department when you’ve got a party deck?
The stage for the Rockies offseason seemed set at the 2021 trade deadline. With only Mychal Givens being dealt for a pair of prospects at the July deadline, the Rockies headed into the offseason with more questions than answers on their lineup card. Some of the recognizable free agent departures this year included Chi Chi Gonzalez, who posted a 6.10 ERA across three seasons as the fifth starter for the Rockies, Chris Owings, who batted a respectable 129 OPS+ but only played 38 games due to a hand injury, and Josh Fuentes, Nolan Arenado’s overshadowed cousin who failed to make an impact with his bat at the major league level.
While those players put faces to the phrase “replacement level,” the Rockies did have to swallow two major departures. At the end of the season, the Rockies decided not to tender a qualifying offer to Jon Gray. It was an economic gamble – rather than spend $18.4 million dollars for one year of Jon Gray, the front office wanted a longer contract with lower annual value. The Rockies reportedly offered Gray a 3-to-4-year deal in the $35-$40 million range. He felt he could earn more money than what the Rockies were offering, and he was right.
In free agency, Jon Gray signed a four-year deal worth $56 million with the Texas Rangers and will serve a prominent role in their rotation as they look to be competitive in 2022 and beyond. The Rockies’ gamble failed to pay off, and so they lost in Gray one of the most prominent pieces of their rotation – the mullet-rocking fan-favorite who whacked a memorable 467-foot home run in 2017.
While Jon Gray’s departure left a big hole in the Rockies roster, it can hardly compare to the one left by star shortstop Trevor Story. Although Story’s departure was a foregone conclusion by July, he will be sorely missed in Colorado. In his six years with the Rockies, Story earned two All-Star nods and won the Silver Slugger twice. And though he holds the record for the longest home run of the Statcast era (505 feet!), his other tools make him a superstar. Story is a three-time member of the 20-20 club and was a finalist for the Gold Glove in 2019. Story earned every dollar of his $140 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.
The Rockies did tender a qualifying offer to Story, so they now own an extra pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. And who knows, maybe the Rockies strike gold again! After all, Trevor Story was selected with a compensatory pick after Octavio Dotel signed with the Blue Jays ahead of the 2011 season. At the end of the day, an extra draft pick is meager compensation for Rockies fans who watched Trevor Story develop into the player he is today, but rest assured that I’ll be rooting for him to crush baseballs over the Green Monster for years to come.
Just like that, the Rockies lost two of their superstars in as many years. Maybe someday I’ll be able to tell my kids about the times I watched the Rockies play with both Arenado and Story on their roster… they’ll never believe me. Maybe their disbelief will be justified – the last few years have been disappointing for Rockies fans, and with a farm system consistently ranking in the bottom-ten, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope for the future.
If the current Rockies top prospects like Zac Veen, Benny Montgomery, and Michael Toglia don’t pan out, the future of the franchise will depend entirely on a series of signings and trades by a savvy GM. But hey, Jeff Bridich is gone! And this offseason, Bill Schmidt has been very busy.
At the beginning of the offseason, the Rockies put an end to their years-long first base experiment. Ever since the great Todd Helton retired in 2013, the Rockies have employed an interesting carousel of aging veterans at first; a list that includes Justin Morneau, Mark Reynolds, second baseman Daniel Murphy, and shortstop Ian Desmond. It seemed that C.J. Cron was bound for a similarly uninspiring fate when he signed a minor league deal with Colorado in 2021.
Instead, Cron’s bat powered him to a team-leading 28 home runs and earned him a well-deserved pay raise. After his resurgent 2021, the Rockies signed Cron to a two-year, $14.5 million extension. While Cron may never make the postseason with the Rockies, he will serve an important role as a leader in the clubhouse and hold the fort at first until prospect Michael Toglia is ready to take over at the major league level.
After the lockout, the Rockies officially closed the book on the Story era (he hadn’t signed with Boston at the time), signing slick-fielding shortstop José Iglesias to a one-year, $5 million contract. The Rockies will be the 32-year-old’s sixth team in just five years. Iglesias’s glove-first play will fill a much-needed hole in the infield behind a ground-ball-heavy pitching staff. Though he wasn’t quite as sharp in the field in 2021, a defensive rebound will make Iglesias’ contract worthwhile as the Rockies search for their next franchise shortstop.
Following the departure of Jon Gray, the Rockies looked to bolster the back end of the rotation, signing Chad Kuhl to a one-year, $3 million contract. Despite being named the Opening Day starter for the Pirates in 2021, the 29-year-old Delaware native had a disappointing year that included a move to the bullpen halfway through. Even if he meets the same fate in Colorado, Kuhl was far from a big splash in free agency; with his small contract, the Rockies won’t feel pressured to keep him in the rotation if he starts to struggle.
What would a Rockies offseason be without bringing in a high-leverage reliever? Step aside Greg Holland, no thanks Bryan Shaw! But seriously, please don’t remind me about Wade Davis. This year, the Rockies bring in right-handed pitcher Alex Colomé on a one-year, $4.1 million contract. The 33-year-old Dominican has notched 155 saves over nine years of service in the MLB. Colomé figures to assume the closing duties for the Rockies to open the season. Even if his stats fail to match his numbers from his 2016 All-Star campaign, Colomé will steady the back end of the notoriously-shaky bullpen.
But hold onto your hats, because the Rockies aren’t done yet! In arguably the most shocking transaction of the offseason, the Rockies brought in slugging third baseman and outfielder Kris Bryant. The longtime Cub and 2016 NL MVP decided to take his talents to Coors Field for the next seven years in a deal that guarantees him $182 million and a full no-trade clause to boot. It’s big, but is it too big?
Even I can’t deny that the Rockies have a bad history with big contracts – just look at Nolan Arenado, Ian Desmond, Mike Hampton, and former GM Jeff Bridich’s “super bullpen” trio from 2018. Only time will tell how Bryant’s contract will play out. At the very least, Rockies management is trying to make amends with their fans by signing a legitimate star who wants to play in Denver. Could it just be a ploy to fill the stands and sell jerseys? Maybe, but let’s stay a little optimistic here!
Kris Bryant will be a fan-favorite for years to come, but what exactly does he bring to the table for the Rockies? First and foremost, he’s an integral part of Bill Schmidt’s offseason plan to shore up the outfield. There were six Rockies who appeared in the outfield in 2021, and they all combined for 54 home runs. Kris Bryant is here to answer Schmidt’s prayers – Bryant has hit more than 25 home runs in all but one of his full professional seasons, topping out at 39 in his 2016 MVP campaign.
Bryant is a welcome figure for the Rockies, and he’ll serve as a sparkplug in their offense for years to come. Originally a third baseman, the Rockies have announced that he’ll serve as their primary left fielder. For those of you getting Ian Desmond flashbacks, don’t worry – Bryant has played over 250 games in the outfield, so he should be able to settle in just fine. The expectations are high for Bryant in Denver, but the thin Colorado air should make his life easier on the offensive side of the ball.
Not satisfied with just one new outfielder, Bill Schmidt turned to the art of the deal to land another piece for the Rockies struggling outfield. On March 24th, the Rockies sent Raimel Tapia and prospect Adrian Pinto to the Blue Jays in exchange for power-hitting Randal Grichuk and the perennial fan-favorite Cash Considerations. This trade, just like Raimel Tapia would in the middle of an inning, came out of left field. Tapia proved to be a great leadoff man for the 2021 Rockies and he was always fun to watch, whether it was his helmet falling off as he hustled for a triple or (as Nick Groke of the Athletic aptly described) his “gangling” style in the outfield.
The Rockies also parted with Adrian Pinto, a 19-year-old second baseman who put together an MVP-winning campaign in the Dominican Summer League in 2021 but has no other professional experience otherwise. It should be a win-win trade for both sides: the Blue Jays needed a lefty bat with some speed, and the Rockies wanted more power in the outfield.
In return, the Rockies will get more than just Grichuk; they’ll also get about half of his contract money through the 2023 season. At half-price, they get a solid power bat with little else attached. While Grichuk may not be the best answer for the Rockies outfield woes, his bat will add some much-needed pop to the middle of the lineup.
Grichuk hit a career-high 31 homers with Toronto in 2019, and could challenge to beat that mark this year in Colorado. In terms of Bill Schmidt’s goal of adding power to the outfield, consider it a success. I suspect that it won’t take Grichuk long to fire up the fountains when he arrives at Coors.
Against all odds, Bill Schmidt and the Rockies front office put together a surprisingly wild offseason. Schmidt found success in the offseason by doing the opposite of his predecessor. The last time the Rockies spent more than $1 million on an MLB free agent was in December 2018 when they signed Daniel Murphy to a two-year deal. Even though this offseason won’t catapult the Rockies into relevance anytime soon, it hints at a changing front office philosophy that could usher in a new era of Rockies baseball.
2022 Season Preview:
The Rockies enter the 2022 season with an imposing offensive lineup, featuring a newly-reshaped outfield that aims to provide more power, a category that the Rockies have found themselves lacking over the last couple of seasons. With Raimel Tapia now playing north of the border, Charlie Blackmon is set to step back into the leadoff role for the Rockies. Blackmon, the elder statesman of the Rockies, struggled in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, hitting just 6 home runs in 59 games. His power did not return last year, as he ended his campaign with just 13 round-trippers.
Entering his age-35 season, Blackmon will try to turn things around from a power perspective, an area which doesn’t often age gracefully. He will still hit for a high average, though his .270 mark last year was the lowest of his professional career since he broke into the league in 2011. While I don’t expect Blackmon to hit above .300, an average around .280 with roughly 20 homers would be a great season for him.
Though Blackmon’s magnificent beard and flowing locks make him easy to spot in the vast Coors Field outfield, you might have to look for him in the dugout in the top half of every inning. With the National League embracing the designated hitter rule, Blackmon seems to be one of manager Bud Black’s top choices for this role. On the days that he doesn’t DH, look for Blackmon to once again patrol right field. Though he was moved to right field after a disastrous 2018 season in centerfield (-12.3 UZR), Charlie has adapted well, posting a respectable 4.3 UZR in right last year. In all likelihood, the success of Sam Hilliard will determine whether Blackmon serves as the designated hitter or starts in right field on most days.
When Charlie Blackmon starts as the designated hitter, Sam Hilliard will most likely play in right field. The 28-year-old lefty has yet to play a full season with the Rockies. He’s another young player struggling to carve out a role for Bud Black, who prefers experienced players in his lineup. An escape from the playing-time Catch-22 he’s currently stuck in will require an impressive season from Hilliard. He ideally profiles as a “three true outcomes” (K, BB, HR) hitter, but with a career walk percentage below 10%, maybe “two true outcomes” is more appropriate.
Hilliard presents with impressive power – he hit 14 home runs in 81 games last season – but his free-swinging ways led him to an unsightly 36.6% strikeout percentage. When Hilliard gets on base, his plus speed allows him to steal bases at a high rate. In fact, he hasn’t been caught stealing at the major league level yet, although he’s only played in 144 games. His glove is competent, though not spectacular, so it won’t hold him back from earning an everyday job. Hilliard has an intriguing profile – at the very best, he could be a 25 HR, 15 SB player. However, his playing time is very much in jeopardy, so consistent struggles could send him back to the minors just as easily.
The newly-acquired Randal Grichuk is set to open the season as the Rockies everyday centerfielder. His bat will provide some power in the middle of the order, though it might not do much more than that. His career walk rate is a slim 5.6% and he doesn’t exactly tear it up on the basepaths. But when Grichuk hits the ball, he hits it hard: his raw power landed him in the top 10% of the league in maximum exit velocity last year. If he can maintain a fly ball rate north of 40%, he should be a lock for 30 home runs.
Unfortunately, he sometimes elevates the ball too much; a career-worst 17.2% of his fly balls last year didn’t make it out of the infield. When the ball doesn’t leave the park, the vast expanses of Coors Field should help Grichuk’s BABIP rebound from the .266 mark he posted a year ago and inflate his batting average. Though Grichuk will likely start the year in centerfielder, his career metrics point to significantly better defense in right field. If his glove doesn’t stick in centerfield, he may swap with Sam Hilliard and push Charlie Blackmon to more appearances as the designated hitter.
As we turn to left field, only one name surfaces on the depth chart: Kris Bryant. Bryant has spent most of his career manning the hot corner, but the Rockies want to use him in the outfield as they already have their third baseman in Ryan McMahon. Bryant will bat in the top third of the lineup and should consistently set up scoring in the early innings. Though his bat is no longer as strong as it was in his 2016 MVP season, he will still be by far the best offensive player on the Rockies. He bats for average and power, but one underrated aspect of Bryant’s game is his speed – he swiped ten bags in 2021 and was only caught twice. The last time he had more than ten attempted steals was in 2017. I don’t know if the Rockies will give him the green light often, but even in his age-30 season, Bryant could be an underrated threat on the basepaths.
On the defensive side of the ball, Bryant isn’t quite as solid in the outfield as he was at third base. In 2021, Bryant posted a -2.3 UZR in left field. Despite his solid sprint speed, he struggled to get the best jumps on fly balls in 2021. However, this will be the first season where he will make the majority of his starts in the outfield, so he should be able to adjust and get to fly balls faster as the season progresses. While the addition of Bryant hardly elevates the Rockies to contender status, his presence will help get the Rockies back on track as they look to be competitive sometime in the near future.
Coors Field features the second-largest outfield in the majors, second only to the Royals’ Kauffman Stadium. Unfortunately, the Rockies still aren’t allowed to add another outfielder to cover all of that territory. This means someone has to sit on the bench to start the year. Though not projected to be regular starters, both Connor Joe and Yonathan Daza provide nice outfield depth for the Rockies.
After an eternity in the minors and an eight-game cup of coffee with San Francisco in 2019, Connor Joe put together a very solid 2021 with Colorado. In 63 games, he hit 8 home runs and slashed an impressive .285/.379/.469. The 29-year-old San Diego native primarily played in left field, though he also made 14 appearances backing up C.J. Cron at first base. For Joe, consistency with the bat will lead to playing time, but his versatility will prove invaluable.
At the same time, the new designated hitter rule works in his favor – he will be able to play the field if Bud Black decides to give Kris Bryant or C.J. Cron a day at the DH position. If he can repeat his 2021 numbers (and many of his underlying statistics point to this being a likelihood), Joe will cement his place in the Rockies starting lineup. It’s not a stretch to predict a breakout season from Joe – he’s a player-to-watch this year.
While he’s also projected to start the year on the bench, Yonathan Daza has a vastly different profile. A career .264 hitter over 151 games at the major league level, Daza’s game looks a lot like another familiar face: Raimel Tapia. He almost never walks, but he pairs that with a low strikeout rate thanks to a slim 9.5% swinging strike percentage. When he makes contact, Daza hits the ball into the ground over 55% of the time and can often be seen legging out close plays at first.
A prolific stealer in the minors, Daza has just 3 steals to his name in the majors despite having plus speed. As you might expect from someone following the Tapia pipeline, Daza has almost no power. It’s hard to envision Daza challenging for a starting role this year, but he can fit anywhere in the outfield and his speed provides value on the bench in case the need for a pinch runner arises.
As we turn to the infield, we find a handful of familiar faces, led by first baseman C.J. Cron. Cron was nothing short of spectacular in 2021 for the Rockies, and they’re hoping he can build on his success in 2022. Unlike many hitters, the move to Coors Field wasn’t the driving factor behind his incredible season – his HR/FB ratio last season (18.7%) was actually lower than it was when he was with Tampa Bay and Minnesota in 2018 and 2019.
Last season, Cron showed marked improvement in pitch selection, and that helped him post a walk rate nearly double his career average and strike out less. This also helped him find pitches to mash, as he nearly tied his career high in home runs with 28 long balls. Not only did Cron lead the Rockies in homers in 2021, he also led all qualified Rockies hitters in wRC+ (127). With his big power, Cron figures to bat cleanup for the Rockies, and with high-average hitters Charlie Blackmon and Kris Bryant batting ahead of him, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Cron to push for 100 RBI. Cron is a core piece of the Rockies offense this year, and if he stays healthy and continues to mash, he may end up putting together the first All-Star campaign of his career.
The longtime Rockies top prospect, Brendan Rodgers, will serve as the Rockies starting second baseman for the 2022 campaign. A flurry of injuries to his back, shoulder, and hamstring – not to mention Bud Black’s preference for seasoned players in his lineup card – made for a slow start to Rodgers’ major league career. However, his 2021 was nothing short of impressive. Though he started his season batting in the bottom third of the Rockies lineup, Rodgers hit 15 home runs as he climbed up the batting order, ending the season as the two-hole hitter.
Though he won’t open 2022 in the early parts of the order, Rodgers has earned his job as the Rockies second baseman. The 25-year-old isn’t without his question marks, however. He rarely walks, getting a free pass just 4.4% of the time in his major league career and never posting a walk rate over 9.4% in the minors. In the field, Rodgers is fine at second but better at shortstop. I’m confident he’ll be able to adjust at second this year, and he has a very competent partner in José Iglesias to turn double plays with. Still very young, Rodgers has been pinned by many as a breakout candidate. Barring another injury, this will be his first full season in a Rockies uniform. If he can stay patient enough to draw more walks while maintaining his above-average power, Rodgers will prove his worth in the Rockies lineup.
Behind Brendan Rodgers on the depth chart is the speedy Garrett Hampson. Don’t let his plus-plus speed fool you, Hampson can also hit for surprising power. The 5’11” second baseman and center fielder hit 11 home runs in 2021 and collected 17 stolen bases. Hampson rarely walks, but this is where the Tapia/Daza comparisons run dry. Hampson is able to elevate the ball much better than the other speedsters in the organization. He’s also a significantly better fielder – his 99th percentile sprint speed makes him a great defensive choice in centerfield.
If Hampson wants more playing time, he’ll have to post an OBP above his career .298. Otherwise, Hampson will end up as a lethal pinch-runner, but not much more than that. Entering his age-27 season, Hampson has little room for error if he wants to establish himself as a regular in a Rockies uniform.
On the other side of the keystone is newcomer José Iglesias. Although Iglesias built his career on a solid glove, he struggled in the field in 2021, posting a negative UZR for the first time in his career and committing more errors than he had before. He’ll certainly have lots of opportunities to prove himself – the Rockies’ ground-ball-heavy pitching staff will keep him plenty busy at short. While Iglesias’ glove comes with a handful of questions this year, his bat should remain steady. That’s not to say that Iglesias will lead the batting order or any sort of offensive production for that matter; he’s a contact-first hitter with unremarkable speed and power. Iglesias won’t challenge for double-digit homers, but his .277 career batting average should help him turn the lineup over in the middle innings.
Iglesias should have no problem finding holes in the vast expanses of Coors Field where he can slap singles and get on base for the top of the lineup to drive him home. The Rockies know what they’re getting out of Iglesias, so he doesn’t have to be a big offensive contributor for his contract to pay off. While he’ll chip in the occasional steal and home run, the Rockies most need him to be consistent in the field and get their pitchers off the mound and into the dugout.
On Iglesias’ days off, Alan Trejo could fill in early in the season. The 26-year-old is projected to make the Opening Day roster, but will likely ride the bench. In 50 plate appearances last year, Trejo slashed an uninspiring .217/.260/.326 with one home run. With two options remaining on Trejo’s book, he’ll likely be shuttled down to Triple-A Albuquerque when MLB rosters shrink from 28 players to 26 at the end of April.
Back at the hot corner this year is 2021 Gold Glove finalist Ryan McMahon. Last year, McMahon did a great job making Rockies fans forget about his legendary predecessor by making some ridiculous plays at third base (including a nasty between-the-legs tag). Along the way, McMahon led all NL third basemen with 13 Defensive Runs Saved and he led the entire National League with 2.6 Defensive Wins Above Replacement.
McMahon is the Rockies best defender, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him winning a Gold Glove, although he has to get past five-time Platinum Glove winner Nolan Arenado first. Not just a glove-first player, McMahon also has plus power, collecting 23 round-trippers in 2021. He walks a healthy 10% of the time, but his .243 career batting average leaves much to be desired when the ball isn’t flying out of the park. Still just 27, McMahon has time to make an adjustment and become an even more valuable player for the Rockies. The front office clearly believes in McMahon – they signed him to a six-year, $70 million contract extension, ensuring that he will be a member of the Rockies core for years to come.
Returning behind the dish for the 2022 season is Elias Díaz. The former Pirate had a resurgent year in 2021, finally finding power and consistency at the big-league level. His 18 home runs were by far his career best, and he also set career highs in runs, RBI, and BB%. It was an excellent season at the plate for Díaz, but potentially one he won’t be able to repeat as he enters his age-31 season. Unless he completely regresses with the bat, it should still be a successful season for Díaz.
The Rockies don’t need Díaz to be a world-breaking offensive catcher because of the enormous value he provides behind the plate. According to Fielding Bible, Díaz ranked sixth in the major leagues with 9 Defensive Runs Saved in 2021. He threw out would-be base stealers 42.1% of the time, good for second-best in the MLB last year. Overall, Díaz collected 1.6 fWAR – that’s tied for the fourth-best season by a Rockies catcher. His efforts in 2021 earned him a three-year extension, so look for Díaz to stick around behind the plate until Rockies’ second-ranked prospect Drew Romo reaches the majors.
If Díaz starts to falter, Dom Nuñez will likely pick up more starts. The 27-year-old California native has only appeared in 97 MLB games and his bat has struggled mightily at the major-league level. Though he hit double-digit home runs in 2021, his power is offset by his poor bat-to-ball skills. Nuñez has struck out in more than 35% of his trips to the plate and owns a career batting average of .187. He has a decent eye, walking in almost 13% of his plate appearances last year, but he still remains an offensive liability.
Unfortunately for Nuñez, Statcast believes he’s overperforming almost all of his expected numbers at the plate, so even the meager numbers he put up last year might not be repeatable. On the other side of the dish, the outlook is just as dim. Nuñez accounted for -6 Defensive Runs Saved and only threw out 20% of runners attempting to steal a base. I’m hoping Nuñez can put together a better 2022, otherwise he may find himself back in Triple-A Albuquerque.
On the other side of the ball, the Rockies return four starters who will stay in the rotation the whole year. With Gray gone, the core four needs to be consistent to be successful this year. Leading the way is southpaw Kyle Freeland, who will look to build on a solid 2021 season that earned him the starting nod for Opening Day in 2022. The Denver native will be making his second Opening Day start, the last one coming after a 2018 campaign that saw him finish fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting. While Freeland is unlikely to approach his sterling 2.85 ERA from 2018, his underlying statistics are approaching the same levels from 2018.
In 2021, he posted a career-low BB/9 (2.83) and a career-high K/9 (7.83). His first few starts didn’t go well – Freeland missed the early part of the season with a shoulder injury and needed time to adjust. In the second half, however, Freeland posted a sharp 3.69 ERA, giving up three runs or fewer in 11 of his 14 starts. Freeland will look to build on his strong second half as he kicks off the Rockies season this Friday. Regarding his Opening Day nod, Freeland remarked that he’s “excited to take it on and get the season rolling.” The city of Denver will soon be on their feet cheering for the hometown kid to regain his 2018 form as he leads the Rockies rotation in 2022.
Following Freeland in the rotation is Germán Márquez, and that comes as a surprise to many. After two consecutive Opening Day starts, Márquez will watch the first game of the year from the dugout. One reason for this could be his inconsistency in 2021 – the Venezuelan righty put together a campaign filled with highs and lows, but not much in-between. A rough May outing in San Francisco saw him yield 8 runs and only record two outs before getting the hook, but in late June he delivered the best game of his career: a one-hit complete-game shutout performance against the Pirates at home. There’s no doubt that Márquez has the skills to succeed at Coors Field – he pitched to the tune of 3.67 ERA at home (backed by a strong 3.66 FIP).
Strangely, Márquez floundered on the road, posting 5.38 ERA. His road FIP of 4.14 points to some bad luck, so there’s still reasons to be hopeful for a successful 2022 campaign. If there’s one area Márquez needs to work on this year, it’s command. Not only did he post a BB/9 above 3.00 for the first time in his career, he also led the league with 15 wild pitches. Márquez also couldn’t find his form following his first career All-Star Game, pitching to a forgettable second-half ERA of 6.12. Márquez knows how to pitch at Coors, and he’s got he talent to be the ace of this Rockies rotation. He’s looking sharp in Spring Training (10 K, 2 BB, 1 ER in 6.2 IP), so we’ll see if he can get out of the gate hot and find some much-needed consistency in 2022.
Behind Márquez is fellow Venezuelan right-hander Antonio Senzatela, who quietly put together an excellent 2021. His 4-10 record doesn’t capture just how effective he was last season. Senzatela only gave up 12 home runs across 156.2 innings and led all Rockies pitchers with 3.5 fWAR last year. 2021 marked Senzatela’s third consecutive season with a ground ball percentage north of 50% and his refined command brought his BB/9 down to a sterling 1.84. This combination allowed him to pitch deep into games; when Senzatela takes the mound, he can last a long time.
Last season, he pitched at least 6 innings in 18 of his 28 starts. Not only did he go deep into games, he did a nice job avoiding horrible starts last year. After an ugly 7 ER in 3.1 IP routing to start his 2021 campaign, he settled in and allowed more than 4 runs in his starts just twice the rest of the way. He provides immense value to the Rockies, and if I could fill the rotation with four more clones of Senzatela, I’d do it in a heartbeat. His consistency is unparalleled, and he could easily be the most valuable Rockies starter again this year.
In the four-hole, the Rockies turn to Austin Gomber, who they hope can put together a strong campaign in 2022. Acquired from St. Louis in the Nolan Arenado trade, the lefty put together some truly puzzling splits in 2021. At Coors Field, Gomber pitched to a stellar 2.09 ERA, but in 68 innings on the road, he recorded a 6.22 ERA. While it might be cause for celebration that a Rockies pitcher had such success at home, I doubt that a repeat performance will occur.
Gomber benefited from a ridiculous .211 BABIP at home, and his 3.87 FIP at home points to some negative regression on the way this year. But why did he perform so poorly on the road? The surprising answer: Coors Field. If we dig a little deeper, we can find the root cause of his road struggles – the long ball. His home HR/9 was just 0.95, but on the road, that number ballooned to 1.99. The difference didn’t stem from his fly ball percentage, which was only 1.8% higher on the road. Instead, Gomber was benefitting from long fly balls not making it over the deep walls of Coors Field.
While all Rockies pitchers (as well as Royals pitchers, for that matter) benefit from their large stadium, Gomber’s home-road splits fit exactly into this narrative. This finding represents a potential red flag for Gomber going into 2022. The key for Gomber this year will be limiting fly balls – the generous dimensions of Coors Field will only be able to save him half of the time.
The first four pitchers in the rotation are more or less locked in, but the fifth spot is still up for grabs. The recently-signed Chad Kuhl is currently penciled in as the fifth starter. Kuhl’s 2021 campaign was nothing short of disappointing. He ended the year with a 4.82 ERA and a disheartening 5.31 FIP to match. After 14 starts for Pittsburgh, Kuhl was relegated to the bullpen where he still couldn’t find consistency. Ever since his Tommy John surgery in 2018, Kuhl has struggled with both command (4.99 BB/9) and the long ball (1.5 HR/9).
The latter statistic is concerning – Kuhl gives up a lot of fly balls and line drives, and his new home is unforgiving at best. Unless the Coors Field humidor turns into a hot tub session for baseballs, Kuhl will more than likely struggle to keep balls in the park. Kuhl throws a solid slider, but batters hardly struggle with his other offerings, especially his four-seamer. Opposing batters slugged a heinous .587 off of it in 2021, and an unspeakable 1.176 (yes, that’s still SLG) against it in the abbreviated 2020 season.
Despite his red flags, Kuhl is set to open the season as the Rockies’ fifth starter. While I have low expectations, Kuhl’s place in the rotation will give Peter Lambert (fresh off of Tommy John surgery) and top Rockies pitching prospect Ryan Rolison time to adjust to pitching in Coors Field before being forced into a rotation role. Barring a complete career turnaround, look for Kuhl to move to the bullpen as the season progresses.
Kuhl’s main competition for the fifth rotation spot will come from veteran lefty Ty Blach. The Denver native and former Giant and Oriole signed a minor league contract with the Rockies in December but has impressed during 2022 Spring Training. A pair of home runs across 9 innings of work inflated his spring ERA to 4.00, but his control has been impressive so far – no walks so far. Blach will almost certainly make the major league roster, though I suspect he’ll start the year in long relief. The southpaw will be a welcome addition to the Rockies bullpen.. Of course, if Chad Kuhl falters, look for Blach to take his place in the rotation.
One dark-horse candidate to fill the final rotation spot is 29-year-old Ashton Goudeau, although he might not make the major league club out of Spring Training. If he does, he’ll also slot in as a long reliever with a shot at the final rotation spot. Keep an eye on Goudeau if he cracks the roster to start the year.
Scheduled to open the year in middle relief is a trio of familiar faces. Longtime Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacín returns to the bullpen for a second consecutive season, and is looking to build off of an impressive year. After two rough years where he pitched for three separate teams, the righty returned to Colorado. In his homecoming, Chacín became more effective at inducing ground balls and slashed his HR/9 from 2.18 in 2019 to a solid 1.12 in 2021. His low BABIP (.242) from last year points to potential regression, so repeating his solid numbers might be a challenge.
Fellow righty Tyler Kinley is looking to build off of a solid 2021 as well. Kinley has solid underlying numbers despite his 4.73 ERA from last season. While his primary offering, a low-90s slider, performed swimmingly, his fastball did not. Opposing batters slugged .530 against his heater in 2021, and that contributed to him nearly doubling his career HR/9. If Kinley can regain form with his fastball, he will prove to be a solid option in the middle innings and could earn a role in high-leverage situations.
Joining Chacín and Kinley is the left-handed Lucas Gilbreath. The Westminster, CO native ended 2021 as one of the best Rockies relievers. In his first taste of major league action, Gilbreath did a good job getting swings and misses from his filthy slider. But like many relievers with good stuff, Gilbreath struggled with walks, issuing free passes to over 12% of the batters he faced. His 2021 success might not be easily repeatable – he benefitted from a .250 BABIP and his FIP was nearly a whole run higher than his ERA. However, as one of just two lefties in the bullpen, Gilbreath is set to see a lot of action in 2022.
Stuck in between middle relief and a higher-leverage role is Robert Stephenson. Acquired from Cincinnati for Jeff Hoffman in 2020, Stephenson has arguably the highest ceiling of any Rockies reliever. Everything went right for Stephenson in 2021 – he lowered his career walk rate and home run rate while striking out more than one batter per inning and inducing a lot of ground balls. While this was happening, Stephenson’s BABIP was nearly 20 points higher than his career average, so he could be even better in 2022. While he might not match his 3.13 ERA this year, the 29-year-old will serve a critical role in the Rockies bullpen this year. Roster Resource doesn’t think he’ll start the year in a 7th inning role or beyond, but don’t be surprised if Stephenson ends the year as a setup man or even the Rockies closer. He’s for real.
Both of the projected setup men to start the year closed out games for the Rockies in 2021. Daniel Bard returns for another year after a resurgent 2020 that earned him the Comeback Player of the Year award. Unfortunately, Bard’s 2021 wasn’t quite as impressive. He issued more free passes and gave up nearly twice as many home runs on fly balls. Though his 2021 was a step back in terms of surface stats, Bard’s FIP (4.28) was nearly one run lower than his final ERA (5.21). Bard will likely take a step in the right direction this year, and with a great pitch mix, including a particularly nasty sinker, he could end up challenging newcomer Alex Colomé for saves.
Bard’s fellow setup man to start the year is Carlos Estévez, the flamethrowing righty from the Dominican Republic. Estévez collected 11 saves last season after taking the job from Bard in the second half. Estévez likes to throw his fastball almost two-thirds of the time, but had relatively little success with it last year. Opposing batters hit .295 off of it and were able to elevate and drive it out of the park far more than his other offerings. It’s not that his fastball is bad, but Estévez fails to generate swings and misses when he throws it up in the zone. His chase rate across all of his pitches in 2021 landed in the (bottom) first percentile of all qualified pitchers. Unless he can get batters to whiff at his offerings more, Estévez could find himself replaced by Stephenson or Kinley in the late innings.
At the very back end of the bullpen is the veteran closer Alex Colomé. Colomé began his 2021 campaign as the closer in Minnesota, but quickly lost his job to Hansel Robles due to poor performance. When Robles was dealt at the deadline, Colomé settled back into the ninth-inning role. From August 1st onward, he collected 15 saves and posted a 3.38 ERA. The Rockies are hoping he keeps up his momentum from the second half of last year. Colomé is a ground-ball pitcher, an unusual characteristic for a closer, but this might play nicely at Coors with a solid infield defense behind him.
Colomé only throws two pitches: a sharp cutter that generates a lot of swings-and-misses, and a four-seam fastball that got him into a lot of trouble last year – batters hit .371 off his fastball in 2021. His ground ball-heavy style will make for some exciting ninth innings at Coors Field. If those outings get too exciting, look for Daniel Bard or Carlos Estévez (or my personal favorite, Robert Stephenson) to take on closing duties in his place.
On the whole, it’s not the worst lineup of Rockies to trot out there and take the field, but it’s a far cry from the 91-win roster from 2018. If I were to remain levelheaded and pick two regression candidates, I’ll take C.J. Cron (could fail to cross 20 HR threshold if his bat goes south) and Austin Gomber (no way he posts a home ERA below 4.00). As for breakout candidates, give me Brendan Rodgers (25 home runs is very doable) and you had to see this one coming – Robert Stephenson, the future closer of the Rockies. You heard it here first.
Record Prediction: 78-84
After three consecutive fourth-place finishes in the NL West, the Rockies finally seem to be headed for… more of the same. In their 28-year history, the Colorado Rockies have never won or lost more than 98 games. During the lockout, I was tempted to assign the Rockies triple-digit losses for the first time in their history, but now I’m not so sure. The front office finally spent significant money on major league free agents. Will Bill Schmidt’s offseason splashes send the Rockies past September? Probably not, even with the expanded postseason allowing one extra team from the NL to qualify.
Given the stiff competition in the NL West this year, it’s hard to envision the Rockies finishing any higher than fourth. Their second-half surge in 2021 brought the Rockies within striking distance (4.5 GB) of the Padres last year, so a third-place finish, while unlikely, isn’t entirely out of the question. That said, it would take the entire state of California breaking off and sinking into the Pacific Ocean for the Rockies to win their first NL West title this year.
Instead of spending my waking hours dreaming of that day to come, I think I’ll settle for beating the Diamondbacks in the race for fourth place. Of course, sometimes the wheels just fall off, as they did for Colorado in 2019. My final prediction lies on the more optimistic side – I’ll say the Rockies win four more games than they did last year but still finish fourth in the NL West.
One of the most important yet mysterious factors directing the Rockies’ fate this year is their home park: Coors Field. If you watched the incredible 2021 Home Run Derby, you know what I mean. “Coors,” as the locals call it, is a pure hitter’s haven tempered slightly by a humidor but boosted by the gigantic outfield. Perhaps not surprisingly, the combination of elevation and park dimensions, dubbed “The Coors Effect,” impacts the Rockies far more than visiting clubs. But the impact it has on the Rockies might not be what you would expect.
While long home runs and high-scoring games have become the norm at Coors Field, the Rockies tend to struggle uncharacteristically after they leave Colorado. The Rockies couldn’t get anything going on their first game of each road trip in 2021, going 4-9 overall and scoring 36 runs in those 13 contests. If we zoom in on the first half, the Rockies went 1-7 in such contests and put up just 9 runs in those 8 games. Even when we factor in their poor overall road record (26-54, .325 win%) and slow start overall (40-51 in the first half, .440 win%), these numbers point to a larger issue.
If the Rockies can somehow figure out how to battle the Coors Field “hangover” early in road trips, they could outperform expectations in 2022. Just as they have in every season since 2016 (barring a pandemic-shortened 2020 disaster), I expect the Rockies to win more than half of their games at home. Their success or failure will depend on how they compete on the road, and if their second half rebound from last year is any indication, there might be reason for hope after all.
Turning to their schedule, the Rockies are lined up against AL Central for interdivisional opponents in 2022. It will be the last time the Rockies face just one division from the American League as the MLB transitions to a more balanced schedule for 2023 and beyond. While AL superstars like Shohei Ohtani and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. won’t be visiting Coors Field, the Rockies still get to host José Ramirez, Luis Robert, and rising star Bobby Witt Jr., among others.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you! This preview probably contains more than you ever wanted to know about the Rockies, so as a treat for your dedication, I’ve listed a handful of series that I think will be interesting to watch in 2022:
April 7-9 vs Los Angeles Dodgers
That’s right, it’s Opening Day at Coors Field! This series will set the tone for the entire month of April as the Rockies face a loaded Dodgers lineup that has its sights set on another World Series. Last year, the Rockies opened their season with a surprising 8-5 win over the Dodgers, and I know the city of Denver would love to see history repeat itself. I’ll be bold and predict that the Rockies take one game of this series, which might be more than they get in the entire six-game set they have in Dodger Stadium to close the season.
June 10-12 at San Diego Padres
Believe it or not, the Rockies took 11 of 19 games against the Padres in 2021, even winning two of the three series they played in San Diego. This will be the first time the Rockies visit Petco Park in 2022, so I’m looking forward to them picking up where they left off as they try to stump their division rivals on the road yet again. The two clubs will also play a double-header on the 11th to make up for the first week of lockout-canceled games. The Rockies posted an uninspiring 4-8 record in their seven-inning double-headers of 2021, so hopefully the extra two innings can make a difference this year.
July 26-27 vs Chicago White Sox
The Rockies will kick off a late-July homestand with two games against an imposing White Sox lineup. I’m choosing this short series for the entertainment value – who doesn’t want to see Eloy Jiménez and José Abreu sock a couple of home runs? They won’t be Kris Bryant’s natural rival anymore, but maybe he can break their hearts again. If everything goes south on Tuesday night, stick around for Wednesday: it’ll be one-dollar hot dog night on the 27th, a deal that can make up for even the worst blowout!
August 23-24 vs Texas Rangers
It’s about time the MLB changed the Rockies’ “natural rival” to a team they can actually compete against! I was getting tired of watching the Astros march into Coors Field every year and hand the Rockies a couple of losses. While a two-game midweek series might not be the most interesting thing to watch, it will mark the first time Jon Gray returns to Denver with his new club. I’m not sure which team will have the better record, but both lineups feature impressive bats and mediocre pitching. That alone should make for an entertaining midweek showdown.
Player to Watch #1: OF Kris Bryant
Who else could it have been? Bryant steps into the Rockies lineup as the unquestioned “guy.” He’ll be the face of the team as the Rockies move into the post-Arenado/Story era. Sure, his surprise signing has its haters, but I’m sure he’s content to make a ton of money, live in a beautiful state, and hit a lot of home runs. It’s about as pressure-free as it gets, and that might help his game.
Bryant’s harshest critics gripe about his 2021 season, calling it a major step back from the rest of his career. It’s true, his 123 wRC+ was the worst of his professional career outside of the shortened 2020 season, despite it still being well above-average. Given his new home, Bryant should easily regress towards the positive. The spacious Coors Field will help him bat at least .280, and he should easily surpass the 25 home runs he hit in 2021. If everything goes right, he could conceivably challenge for 35. Is that too ridiculous? Perhaps, but the career 43% fly ball hitter is set to get a big boost from his new home. It won’t be long until the superstar is sending baseballs onto the concourse and beyond in Denver.
Player to Watch #2: LHP Ryan Rolison
The Rockies top pitching prospect had an up-and-down 2021. He found success at the High-A and Double-A levels, only to struggle in Triple-A ball to the tune of a 5.91 ERA resulting from an inflated 1.38 home runs per nine innings. It wasn’t all his fault, Rolison broke his finger early in the 2021 season and later had to deal with appendicitis, so he was only able to throw 65.1 innings across all three levels.
Rolison will open the year with Triple-A Albuquerque, but I expect him to be called up later in the season. If Ty Blach and Chad Kuhl underperform, Rolison could step in as the Rockies fifth starter, but if one of them impresses, Rolison will likely start his major league career as a long reliever. Keep an eye on Rolison as he opens the year in the minors, but take his Triple-A stats with a grain of salt. The Pacific Coast League is very hitter-friendly, but it’s the perfect preparation for an MLB debut at Coors Field!
Player to Watch #3: OF/1B Connor Joe
One of the bigger surprises from 2021, Connor Joe returns with a vengeance. The signing of Kris Bryant makes his path to playing time significantly harder – Joe made the majority of his starts in left field last year. Joe is a bona fide breakout candidate for the 2022 season, and not just because of the 116 wRC+ he posted in 63 games last year.
For starters, Joe has a discerning eye at the plate, walking over 12% last year and striking out just over 19% of the time. He only swings at pitches outside the zone 18.8% of the time, and when he does, he makes contact at a 52% clip. He doesn’t make many mistakes at the plate; he waits for the pitcher to do that. When he gets a pitch he likes, he can really whack it. His maximum exit velocity last year was 113.3 mph. That puts him just outside the top 10% of major leaguers and in between Matt Chapman and J.D. Martinez – some pretty good company.
If Joe can maintain his sneaky power and his average launch angle of 14.6 degrees, Joe could challenge for at least 20 home runs. The only thing he’s missing is a clear path to playing time in what could be a legitimate breakout year.
Categories: 2022 Season Preview