The Island of Misfit Teams: The Elimination of the Colorado Rockies

It’s September, and that means the playoff races are heating up in Major League Baseball. However, not everyone makes it to the promised land. Tom Wright tells us what went right and what went wrong in the elimination of the Colorado Rockies.

For yet another year, the Colorado Rockies have done their best to try to stem the loss of offense across Major League Baseball. The Rockies are second in the NL in runs scored (just four behind the league-leading Arizona Diamondbacks) and first in the NL in runs allowed. Yet again, the Rockies are nowhere near contention, but while they haven’t provide many wins for the Coors faithful, they’ve at least been able to provide fireworks.

The major problem with the Rockies’ topping all hitting categories on both offense and defense is that the league leader in runs scored has pushed across 639 runs, while the leader in runs allowed has permitted 744 opposing runners to cross home plate. In other words, the Rockies’ run differential is underwater by over 100 runs, and it’s tough to win a whole lot of games when your opponents are outscoring you by an average of one run per game. The other problem is that if you play in Denver, “league-leading offense” isn’t necessarily synonymous with “good offense.” In a stadium where a well-placed bunt could travel 300 feet, the Rockies’ “second-in-the-league offense” has in fact only posted a 91 OPS+. As always, the problems on offense become apparent when the Rockies’ batters are tested at sea-level; this year, those batters responded to the road test with a meager .232 batting average. The good news for the Rockies is that the offensive futility can be pinned on the two positions (first base and left field) that can be most easily upgraded, since the rest of the lineup has been pretty good for a team with a large pool of young talent waiting just one level down, that’s a good sign.

And then… there’s the pitching. For most of the Rockies’ history, the management in Denver has had no idea how to put together a pitching staff in the high altitude, and this year appears to be no exception. Unlike previous years where the Rockies tinkered with novel (and ill-advised) concepts like six-man rotations or mega-contracts to the Mike Hamptons and Denny Neagles of the world, this year’s management team was content to let the young Rockies pitchers take their lumps on the mound and wait for their top-five farm system to begin to bear fruit. It’s little surprise, then, that most of the pitchers on the staff have performed horribly. Two of the seven pitchers with double-digit starts for the Rockies (including the nominal “#2 starter”) have ERA’s in the 6’s, and another is currently at 5.90. Three more are elsewhere in the 5’s. The bullpen was similar, as the pitchers besides closer John Axford had ERA’s that clustered in the high 5’s and low 6’s. It wouldn’t matter if Coors Field were located on the moon… those are some bad numbers.  

The highlight of the 2015 Rockies’ season, though, was that the Rockies were finally able to end the strange saga of Troy Tulowitzki. After the 2010 season, the Rockies decided that Tulo was their shortstop of the future, and they rewarded him with a ten year, $157 million deal that would keep Troy in Denver through the 2020 season. In retrospect, one might have wondered whether it was wise to tie the franchise fortunes to a player who had only succeeded in playing a full season in just two of his first four years as a player, but 25-year-old perennial MVP candidates don’t exactly grow on trees, so the Rockies ignored the flags and bet the franchise on Tulo. The result was less than optimal, as it turns out that “Tulowitzki” is Polish for “glass,” and the Rockies franchise would soon be held in limbo by Tulo’s annual “will he or won’t he play?” dance that made him both impossible to depend on and impossible to trade. This year, Colorado had the unexpected good fortune of a relatively healthy season from Troy, and they pounced on the opportunity, unloading Tulo’s massive contract on the first team to show any interest in taking on the freight. The most surprising part of the story is that there was actually a team willing to take on Tulowitzki’s enormous contract, but PT Barnum did have a quote about one of those being born every minute…

Colorado last made the playoffs in 2009. They have never won a World Series.

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*Click here for the entire Island of Misfit Teams collection.

Tom Wright has also written about the James Shield trade and Bud Selig.

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Check out Lisa Carney’s look at Shelby Miller.

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