It was another tough year for the Rockies as they limped to a last-place finish in the NL West for their fourth consecutive losing season. The club’s big free agent addition Kris Bryant provided a decent .851 OPS before succumbing to a foot injury after just 181 PA. On the plus side, Daniel Bard came out of nowhere and converted 34 of 37 saves with a brilliant season, one of the best in the history of the team.
We’re obliged to at least acknowledge their home/road splits as they were, once again, drastic. At home, they finished with the best team wOBA in baseball at .345 and they also had the best batting average at .283, along with the tenth-most home runs. On the road? Last in home runs and wOBA and 25th in batting average. The upcoming season could be an interesting one as they might very well be solidifying their future double-play combination.
2022 stats (581 PA): .266 AVG, 72 R, 13 HR, 63 RBI, 0 SB
For better or worse, I’m always interested in post-hype players. In which case, Rodgers might make sense as we try and rummage around a roster that won 68 games a season ago. Once upon a time—and by that I mean 2015—the Rockies selected the then-18-year-old third overall out of Lake Mary High School in Florida as the heir apparent to Troy Tulowitzki. Four years later, a strong showing with Triple-A Albuquerque in the PCL precipitated his call-up in May 2019.
But then he got hurt: a torn right labrum that required shoulder surgery and ended his season. It was a tough recovery as the righty later acknowledged that he couldn’t lift his arm above his head for a month after the procedure. Then as he was about to break in again, the madness that was 2020 hit, which for the former first-rounder brought an unexpected demotion. After spending the first few weeks at the Rockies’ alternate site, the club brought him back. But then his shoulder barked again and torpedoed his season after only seven games. In 2021, a hamstring strain on a stolen base attempt in spring training sidelined him until late May.
The point here is to say that the beginning of the former prospect’s MLB career has been disjointed, to say the least. So where does that leave us? His stats last year weren’t great, but really the most important thing was that he was able to reach a career-best 581 PA.
Sourced from our player pages, there are some intriguing elements to his batted-ball profile. One is that he showed an affinity for going the opposite way at a rate well above league average. Combine that with a K rate that is now well below 20% and he could be a solid contributor in batting average—Steamer has him at .279 this upcoming season. The key to reaching his ceiling will be whether he can tap into more game power. But based on scouting reports earlier in his career which cited his excellent bat speed, he could have a ceiling worth chasing after. Plus, a 112.2 max EV last season might give us a little inkling into the latent power potential in his bat.
He’s no longer the Rockies’ future shortstop. Spoiler alert, we might get to him later. But now that the former first-rounder has finally put a full season under his belt, one which netted him a Gold Glove too, his confidence might just be at an all-time high. Who knows, maybe we’ve yet to see his peak. Sometimes it takes longer. Consider Dansby Swanson. Selected first overall out of Vanderbilt in the same draft by the D-Backs, he didn’t post a 100 wRC+ until his age-26 season.
2022 stats (AA) (295 PA): .318 AVG, 39 R, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 17 SB
If you’re a dynasty leaguer or prospect enthusiast, you’re well aware of the 21-year-old by now. The right-handed hitting shortstop had himself quite the year, putting up a .405 wOBA across 66 games with Double-A Hartford. Adding further intrigue, he swiped 17 bases on 20 attempts while in Hartford. However, a significant groin injury put him on the shelf until mid-September when he returned to action with a brief, five-game stint with Triple-A Albuquerque.
And then, of course, he got the call-up. So how did that go? Not too shabby, considering he’s in the record books as the franchise’s only player to pick up their first two hits on the first two pitches they saw, both coming courtesy of Sean Manaea. By all accounts, the Venezuelan, whom the Rockies signed on his 16th birthday, is already tremendous defensively.
But he was really starting to turn heads with a career-best .932 OPS in Double-A before the injury put him on ice. As his first two at-bats illustrated, he’s an aggressive hitter so keep that in mind if you have an eye for OBP formats. Recently released Steamer projections have him pegged at 451 PA with a .280 average, 16 HR, and nine steals. His prospect report via MLB.com notes that he added some strength last year and it really began to manifest in his bat. Just ask Clayton Kershaw who would’ve had a clean final start of the year if not for the rookie.
2022 stats (60.1 IP): 1.79 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 69 K, 6 W, 34 SV
As far as spotting potential busts go, this one is the proverbial low-hanging fruit. Bard’s season was undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises of the year. And that’s underselling it. Once one of the game’s top relievers, the Red Sox released the right-hander in 2013 after he just couldn’t throw strikes anymore. A minor league odyssey ensued which included stops with the Pirates, Rangers, Cardinals, and two with the Cubs, before concluding with an appearance for the GCL Mets. And that was it; he retired on October 3rd, 2017.
Fast forward two years after a minor league deal, and we’re talking about one of the greatest seasons from a relief pitcher in the history of the Colorado Rockies. So how did he go from a 5.21 ERA and 1.60 WHIP to last year’s greatness? I’m not entirely sure. But at least part of the answer has to do with his sinker; He threw it 49% last year, up from just 12% in 2021 as he shifted away from his four-seamer. Let’s take a closer look at how the sinker performed using numbers from our player pages.
Bard still throws hard, that’s for sure. Last year his sinker’s average velocity ticked up to 98. It also featured a below-average chase rate (O-Sw%) of 21%. Combine that with a SwStr% and CSW% that although improved, were still close to the league average and you have a pitch that seems very reliant on BABIP which, judging by the expected stats, leaned in his favor quite a bit last year. He himself even acknowledged “…some batted ball luck.” None of that is, of course, surprising—any pitcher who survived playing half their games at Coors Field with a WHIP under 1.00 must have had some things go right.
This isn’t all to say that relievers can’t be successful leaning on sinkers. We’ve certainly seen plenty, Clay Holmes is a recent example. But his featured a more robust chase rate of 29% and SwStr% of 11.8%.
Bard’s slider was, as you’d expect, excellent and held batters to an xwOBA of .205 while returning a SwStr% of 18.3%, both well above league average. But then again, his slider performed similarly well in ’21 and yet, a 5.60 ERA was the result.
The difference was a sinker that defied expectations. For as terrific as the results were last season, the proverbial pendulum swung in the opposite direction the year prior.
As far as strikeouts go, the former Red Sox didn’t stand out from the crowd. His 28.2% K rate ranked 49th among qualified relievers. That’s not a bad clip by any means, but his margin for error is squeezed by a walk rate of 10.2%. Those are the two main concerns I have for Bard: the questionable control and leaning on a sinker that I’m just not confident can repeat. Bard’s comeback story was one for the ages and even included a stop as a mental skills coach for the D-Backs. The movie practically writes itself. But his season seemed almost too good to be true. Add to that a park that renders pitching a perilous endeavor and it becomes almost too easy to conjure a letdown.
2022 stats (632 PA): .257 AVG, 79 R, 29 HR, 102 RBI, 0 SB
The former Angel produced a career-high 102 RBI and finished just one shy of tying his high watermark in home runs. But some underlying numbers paint a less enthusiastic picture—his K rate climbed from 21.4% to 25.9% and we saw a decline in xwOBA from .386 to .338. Whether or not that’s predictive is anyone’s guess. But at the very least, it makes me hesitate given that he’ll probably carry a decent price tag following a career-high in PA and RBI.
And he finished the year on a dreadful note slashing .218/ .283/ .373 with seven home runs across his last 51 games. I don’t think it’s necessarily indicative of a loss in skills, but it does make me wonder about the soon-to-be 33-year-old, who is on the final year of a two-year pact; If he were to struggle, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him cede at-bats to a younger player like Elehuris Montero for instance, who was a piece of the Nolan Arenado deal.
More than anything for me, it’s a replaceable skill set and one I’d rather search for later in drafts. Last year, for example, we saw Christian Walker surge after first busting out in 2019. Rowdy Tellez hit 35 home runs, by far a career-high. This upcoming season there will certainly be some interesting buybacks late in drafts that could provide some pop at first base—names like Luke Voit or Josh Bell come to mind, although the latter being a free agent makes him even more of a wild card. Speaking of which, there’s also Anthony Rizzo, José Abreu, and Trey Mancini, too. At this point in the very early stages of the offseason, the first base landscape is wide open creating some opportunities that could be worth gambling on later in drafts. Plus, the veteran righty’s profile last year wasn’t without its own blemishes, and given that the team is far from competitive, I don’t think it would be too terribly surprising to see his role diminished later in the year.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler @reldernitsuj on Twitter