Colorado Rockies 2023 Season Preview
In the midst of a 68-94 season, the Colorado Rockies only used 43 different players. This wasn’t a case of injury or a season filled with minor league debuts of note. This was just a bad, bad baseball team. The sad part is that the 2023 season doesn’t look a whole lot different.
There is no incentive for Colorado to go on a wild spending spree. It is also just inherently difficult to do that because pitchers don’t want to go play in the thin air and hitters don’t want to deal with the challenges that come with going from high elevation at home to sea level on the road, as most Rockies hitters end up with lopsided splits. But, even if the Rockies could go all “drunken sailor”, there’s no reason to right now. Competing with the Dodgers and Padres is a pipe dream.
For a team that lost 94 games and largely limited prospect upside, the additions for this season are Mike Moustakas, Harold Castro, Nolan Jones, Connor Seabold, Pierce Johnson, Brad Hand, Brent Suter and Nick Mears. Under money hit the board quickly at some books that opened their season win total as high as 70, but it now sits at 65.5, nine games lower than the Diamondbacks and 16 games lower than the Giants.
Explanations of the stats used in this preview can be found in my “MLB Stats to Know” article.
2023 Colorado Rockies Odds
(odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 20, click for updates)
World Series: +50000
NL Pennant: +20000
NL West: +18000
Win Total: 65.5 (100/-120)
Make Playoffs: Yes +2500 / No -10000
Colorado Rockies Offense
The Coors Field grading curve is a tough nut to crack because it is just such a good park for offense for a variety of reasons. In some respects, I think the adjustments to an equation like wRC+ are too big for Coors Field because of the “Coors Field Effect” that takes place on the road. Annually, the Rockies hit way better at home than on the road because of a few factors. The thin air provides less resistance to the flight of the ball. The outfield is very spacious, leading to a lot of hits. Pitches don’t move as much or don’t end up where pitchers expect them to because of the atmospheric conditions.
However, as much as those things help the Rockies at home, they hurt them on the road. In last year’s preview, I wrote about how the Rockies (from 2011-21) had slashed .296/.356/.492 with an 18.9% K% and an 8.0% BB% in 32,402 plate appearances at home. On the road, however, the Rockies had slashed .235/.295/.375 with a 24% K% and a 7.2% BB% in 31,610 PA. That’s a 61-point difference in BA, a 61-point drop in OBP and a 117-point drop in SLG. They walk less, strike out more and hit for a lot less power.
Last season continued the trend. Colorado batted .283/.345/.458 at home with a 19.3% K% and an 8.1% BB%. On the road, they batted .225/.284/.336 with a 24.3% K% and a 6.7% BB%. Yes, batting at Coors Field is a nice luxury, but what it does to hitters on the road cancels out nearly all of the advantage. Those are downright pathetic away numbers, but the Rockies have yet to find a way to adapt and I’m not sure there is one. It is just an occupational hazard and one that makes it extremely difficult for the Rockies to be a good team. They’ve had two winning seasons since 2010.
But, this offense was a special kind of bad in 2022. The Rockies scored fewer than 700 runs for the first time ever in a 162-game season. Eight players had at least 400 plate appearances and one had a wRC+ above league average. It was C.J. Cron, who was 1% better than league average. wRC+ is a park-adjusted metric, so it does punish hitters for succeeding at Coors Field because everybody should, but it doesn’t have the same effect on the road, where park factors are largely irrelevant because the Rockies are dealing with more hurdles than other teams.
There were 20 players that had plate appearances for the Rockies last season and three had a wRC+ over 100. Cron, Kris Bryant (181 PA - 125 wRC+) and Sean Bouchard (97 PA - 158 wRC+). Colorado scored 456 runs at home (5.63 R/G) and 242 runs on the road (3.11). They were outscored by 155 runs on the road and 20 runs at home, but they did go 41-40 in the friendly confines. They were 27-54 on the road and were beaten by five or more runs 30 times overall.
Are there any reasons for hope on the offensive side? Three injuries have already cast a dark cloud over the season. Randal Grichuk had sports hernia surgery, though he is only expected to miss 2-3 weeks of the season. Bouchard tore his left bicep and he is likely out for the season. He hit 23 homers in just 96 games between Triple-A and MLB last season. Starting second baseman Brendan Rodgers, who is a decent hitter and had an elite defensive season last year, separated his shoulder and tore his labrum and could be out for the year.
Rodgers was nearly a league-average bat in 2021 and posted a 92 wRC+ last season, but that was one of the better marks on the team and played well after getting off to a 4-for-51 start in April. He had a .286/.342/.441 slash after that hideous beginning to the season. But, he’ll be missing out on a really important year as a cornerstone player in his prime.
If healthy, Cron and Bryant should produce. Cron hit 29 homers with a .257/.315/.468 slash. He battled back spasms in Spring Training and back issues seem to nag for a while, so we’ll see. He did hit 22 of his 29 homers at home, where he posted a 132 wRC+ compared to a 74 wRC+ on the road. The 31-year-old Bryant had two month-long absences before just calling it a season on August 1.
This is a big year for the Rockies in a couple of ways. First, top prospect Ezequiel Tovar should get a lot of run, especially with the injury to Rodgers. He’s swung it well in the minors and has good speed, which will be conducive to this year’s rule changes. He played nine games in his age-20 season with Colorado last year, but he’ll be able to go through the growing pains of the season. He’ll turn 22 in August and makes good contact, but does have some holes in his swing.
The second is that some payroll flexibility is coming. The Monforts are covering $16 million on Nolan Arenado this season. They’ll also be getting Charlie Blackmon off of the books, as his six-year deal is set to expire. However, they also have impending free agents in German Marquez, Grichuk, and Cron. They’ll be open for business at the Trade Deadline. Marquez has a club option, but if a trade suitor comes calling, they’d be hard-pressed to say no.
Colorado Rockies Pitching
As if everything going on with the park factors and home/road splits wasn’t enough, the new shift ban is really going to hurt a Rockies pitching staff that already has more than enough to deal with. It makes sense to induce as many ground balls as possible in Colorado. The ball can’t carry if it’s hit on the ground and the outfield is so big and spacious that there is a ton of ground to cover. As a result, the Rockies have tried to push their pitchers towards sinkers and sliders to induce worm-burners.
Last season, the Rockies were sixth in GB% overall and fourth in GB% at home. Well, more ground balls are going to find holes now without the shift. Given the inherent challenges of pitching in Colorado, like all the hits on fly balls and liners, plus a higher rate of walks with pitches that are more difficult to command, the last thing this Rockies pitching staff needed was more traffic on the bases.
As it is, the Rockies had a 5.30 ERA at home, which was nearly half a run higher than anybody else. Their 65.2% LOB% was the lowest in baseball. Their 17.9% K% was the lowest in baseball. And now more dudes are going to get on base.
Furthermore, the same issues that hurt hitters going from Denver to the road hurt the pitchers as well. Citing last year’s preview once again, I wrote that the comparison between Rockies pitchers at home and on the road looks vaguely familiar. In 7,640.1 innings at home from 2011-21, the Rockies have a 5.22 ERA. Opposing batters have posted a .284/.347/.467 slash and a .349 wOBA. Colorado pitchers have an 18.5% K% and an 8.2% BB% at home. On the road, Rockies pitchers have a 4.45 ERA and opposing batters have a .259/.333/.425 slash with a .328 wOBA. The K% bumps to 19.7%, but the BB% also climbs to 9.3%.
Last season, the Rockies threw 740 innings at home and batters slashed .283/.341/.471 with that low 17.9% K% and a 7.6% BB%. They had a 5.30 ERA and a 4.44 FIP, which just illustrates the defensive issues and how hard it is to strand runners with an anemic strikeout rate. On the road in 685.1 innings, the Rockies allowed a .261/.338/.419 slash with a 20.2% K%, but a big spike to a 9.8% BB%. They had a 4.83 ERA with a 4.33 FIP.
The pitchers are unquestionably more effective on the road, but not nearly enough to compensate for what happens to the offense. And we can assume a lot of these numbers to hold because a lot of the usual suspects are back. Marquez has had lopsided home/road splits in just about all of his seasons in Colorado and I hope he finds greener pastures with his next contract. Last season was uncharacteristically rough for him with a 4.95 ERA and a 4.71 FIP. Those were his highest marks ever in a full season. He gave up 30 homers in 181.2 innings, a nine-homer increase from the previous season in just 1.2 more innings pitched.
His home/road splits were way more defined last season. He posted a 6.70 ERA and opposing batters had a .392 wOBA against him in Denver over 87.1 innings. He had a 3.34 ERA and a .289 wOBA against in 94.1 innings on the road. For context, Freddie Freeman had a .393 wOBA for the season last year. Javier Baez had a .291 wOBA. So, hitters in Denver performed like Freeman against Marquez, while hitters on the road performed like Baez. I really hope he gets traded for his sake.
Kyle Freeland lowered his HR/FB% from 16.4% in 2021 to 9.5% in 2022, yet still managed to have a 4.53 ERA. His xERA of 5.11 speaks to a career-worst 42% Hard Hit% and a career-worst Barrel% of 9.7%. With a big decrease in K%, we can deduce that Freeland got pretty fortunate. He allowed a .257 wOBA with the bases empty, but a .332 with men on and a .320 with RISP. His K% did improve in the second half and he clearly pitched better overall, but I’m not buying much stock here.
The rest of the rotation appears to be Jose Urena, Austin Gomber and Seabold, though Seabold only has six MLB starts to his name. Antonio Senzatela is coming back from ACL surgery and could return in May or June, but he’s a ground ball guy to worry about. Gomber has had problems staying healthy and sticking in the rotation, plus his K% dropped in a big way last season as well. Urena had a 5.01 ERA with a 4.65 FIP in 97 innings with a horrendous K/BB ratio and a 49.7% GB%. He’s definitely a guy that will be negatively impacted by the shift ban.
Lucas Gilbreath had to have Tommy John surgery, so one of the better relievers is sidelined. Daniel Bard was outstanding last year with a 1.79 ERA and a 2.86 FIP in 60.1 innings, but Carlos Estevez is gone and Tyler Kinley (also hurt) was the only other reliever with at least 25 appearances to post an ERA under 4.00. The Rockies have several arms on one-year deals, including Johnson, Hand, Suter and Dinelson Lamet, so they’ll hope to get something for those arms at the Trade Deadline.
The Rockies were actually 43-50 at the All-Star Break and on pace for about 75 wins, but they had a miserable second half going 25-44. The Rockies were -62 in run differential at the Break, but -113 in run differential over the final 69 games. Not nice.
What’s strange about how bad Colorado was is that they were 8-11 against the Dodgers and 10-9 against the Padres. Of the 33-43 record against NL West teams, nine games of that sub-.500 record were because of the Giants, who were 14-5 against the Rockies.
Player to Watch
SS Ezequiel Tovar: One of the potential bright spots is Tovar, who has tremendous speed and could really enjoy a good triples park at home. Scouting reports on him have a lot of give and take, though. He’s only 21, so he’s still very young and has shown good contact skills in the minors, but he also chases a lot of pitches and Major Leaguers will exploit that weakness in a big way. But, he is a quality defensive player and defensive prowess means more than ever for an infielder given the rule changes. While ownership can be cheap, the Rockies should let him run wild from the start and not worry about losing out on some dollars down the line. This is the type of year and environment to let a kid like this play.
Colorado Rockies Season Win Total Pick
I think this will once again be one of the worst teams in the NL. The Rockies have had a really hard time overcoming the challenges that Coors Field presents on the road and this won’t be the group that suddenly figures it out. Colorado also has one of the smallest analytics departments in baseball and that can’t possibly help the team’s chances of figuring things out.
They’re going to deal with a ton of traffic on the bases in home games and they’re going to have to hit even better than usual to overcome that with a lot of low-strikeout pitchers and ground ball dudes. That being said, there is no grand value in betting under their season win total. I think they will struggle immensely, but the odds already very much reflect that.
Lean: Under 65.5