Spring 2015 is upon us. Spring Training in Arizona has been under way all month, with mixed results so far for the beleaguered Colorado Rockies. Meanwhile, in Denver, Rockies fans await the regular season with mostly dim expectations. What can we really expect for the Rockies in 2015?
Baseball fans across the city can be heard screaming towards Coors Field, almost in unison, "We need pitching!" While I acknowledge pitching is a weakness the team constantly struggles with, the needs of the team go deeper than this.
Compare the Colorado Rockies to their major division rival, 2014 World Series Champions San Francisco Giants. The Giants were a wild card team last year; despite winning the World Series in 2010 and 2012, they were not the favorites to win it in 2014. They weren't the favorite for the National League pennant. They weren't the second choice, nor even the third.
So how did they win? It's easy enough to look at the talent on that roster, but again, it goes deeper than that. The Giants were not content to rest on their laurels, or to excuse away weaknesses on the team because they had a winning record. Nor did the Giants take their major injuries lying down. No matter how a series against a given team turned out, the Giants continued to strive towards improvement, because the Giants understood that is the only way to reach a World Series.
Back in April 2014, when the Rockies were looking like the best offensive baseball team the league had seen in years, none of the weaknesses on the team were addressed. It wasn't until a long losing streak in May that the team began to take these concerns seriously; they brought up pitchers from the farm teams to attempt to replace those who were struggling but it was too late. Instead, the pitchers who weren't struggling suffered injuries, exposing their alarming lack of depth for the rotation.
Among other weaknesses that were not addressed in 2014 but were major contributing factors to their losing record were relief pitching, defense at the catcher position, and road offense. The Rockies have one of the most glaring splits in batting averages at home versus the road. They had multiple games we lost by one run or two; they are among the worst teams for win percentages in close games. And while it's always fun to scream, "PITCHING!" to an owner who isn't listening anyway, many of these games saw a lack of run support provided to the pitcher; sadly these games seemed to coincide with a good night for the pitcher, who still walked away with a loss.
There is hope. The Rockies off season consisted of, if not a complete overhaul of their bullpen, at least a significant cleansing. Their off season was fairly quiet, but almost every move we made involved signing pitchers. Kyle Kendrick joins the rotation, and even if he wasn't the number 1 at his former team, and even if he doesn't become the Rockies' ace, either, he's still a significant improvement over last year. Meanwhile, they signed Nick Hundley, a veteran catcher with sound defense. There's a guy who won't give up multiple runs on one wild pitch. I like him already.
I do see the Rockies improving; they have more depth at starting pitching and our rotation is more solid than it was a year ago; none of our pitchers are coming off of major injury. Will we contend in our division? Likely not. Will we reach the playoffs? Even less likely. I predict an improvement of 10-15 games, which separates me from all the fans who are yelling crying 100 losses as if it's guaranteed to happen. Dick Monfort still isn't listening.