Permit me a bit of whimsy. I’m in the process of moving, and the analytical portions of my brain have been occupied by imagining how I’m going to Tetris my moving truck for maximum efficiency. While preparing to say goodbye to the Midwest and head eastward (which means I’ll also be saying farewell to the last five innings of west coast baseball games), I started to think about which players on the 2014 Rockies have contributed most to the Rockies wins. I’m not talking about “wins” as in Wins Above Replacement, and I’m not thinking about “contribution” as much as “happened to have played and did something during a win.” Below is an incomplete list of what combination of personnel and performance constituted the Keys to Victory for the 2014 Rockies. In the midst of a rough season, we can think about what could have been. In fact, what could have been, was–there just wasn’t enough of it.
There is no better place to start than with the starting pitchers. It is oft-observed that the 2013 rotation had a handful of very good pitchers, a larger handful of terrible ones, and a Juan Nicasio shaped gray area in the middle. Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, and Tyler Chatwood started 81 games, and the Rockies went 49-32 in those games. If you add in the next two most effective starters, Nicasio and Jon Garland, to make a full five-man rotation, the team record is still 67-57.
You might expect the 2014 Winningest Rotation to be quite a bit worse, but it’s actually pretty good. The Rockies have gone 31-23 (.574 winning percentage) in games started by De La Rosa, Nicasio, Chatwood, Jordan Lyles, and Jair Jurrjens, and have gone 12-38 in games started by all of the others. It remains to be seen who will fill the void left by Jair Jurrjens and the Rockies solid record of 1-1 (.500 winning percentage) in the games he started, but the team shall soldier on. Additionally, this theoretical Key of Success isn’t the story about a solid set of five starts, but it’s really about one. De La Rosa started 42 percent of the 31 victories these five pitchers put together. The Rockies only have a winning record in the games he and Juan Nicasio started, but the addition of the middling records of the other three pitchers helped create the confederacy that is the Winningest Rotation.
This rotation needs a bullpen, however. It is well known that the 2014 Rockies have challenged the parameters of what constitutes a functional major league bullpen, but a bullpen they have. In fact, of the 13 pitchers used in relief this season, three have appeared in more games that the Rockies won than the team has lost. The Winningest Bullpen is made-up of LaTroy Hawkins, Adam Ottavino, and Boone Logan. Hawkins is the most unsurprising member of this august group. As the team’s closer, he generally only appears when the Rockies are already winning, so the 27-10 record the Rockies have when Hawkins enters a game is to be expected. Early in the season, Adam Ottavino was designated as a Setup Man, which likely also accounts for the winning record (27-23) the Rockies have when he pitches.
Interestingly, the Winningest Bullpen is rounded out by Boone Logan, who has arguably been the Rockies worst reliever in 2014. The Rockies are 15-10 in games he’s appeared in. Conversely, Tommy Kahnle, who has arguably been the best reliever in 2014, isn’t even close to being included. The Rockies are 8-29 in the completed games in which he has appeared. Comparing and contrasting their individual numbers demonstrates how fickle pitching in relief can be and how hard it is to crack the Winningest Bullpen. Logan has a 6.11 ERA compared to Kahnle’s 2.77, and a 4.61 FIP as opposed to Kahnle’s 3.76. Kahnle’s sample is much bigger, as he’s pitched 55 innings compared to Logan’s 17. On the surface, Kahnle is the surprisingly effective reliever and Logan is the multimillion dollar bust. But I wouldn’t be surprised if one year from now Kahnle is the Worst Reliever in the Rockies bullpen and Logan is the Best. Back to comparing their performances: Logan’s expected FIP is 2.67 compared to Kahnle’s 4.01. This is due to Logan’s 28.6% HR/FB and Kahnle’s mark of 7.7—Logan’s will likely fall as Kahnle’s rises. The same goes for Logan’s .372 BABIP against and Kahnle’s .214. But enough of that aside, as it doesn’t change the fact that the Key to Success for the Rockies pitching is to have a rotation of De La Rosa, Nicasio, Morales, Chatwood, and Jurrjens, and to have Logan, Hawkins, and Ottavino in relief
Of course, these pitchers need run support. It comes rarely in the form that we would want or expect, but the Winningest Bat belongs to Charlie Blackmon. The Rockies are 9-0 (1.000 winning percentage) when Blackmon has three hits. Not three or more—three. Blackmon had three hits in a game three times in April, twice in May, and four times in June. The Rockies only won eight games in June, and in half of those games Blackmon had three hits. Ergo, if Blackmon had three hits in a game more frequently, the Rockies would have had a better record. Notably, if Blackmon has five or more hits in a game, it isn’t a Winning Formula. He’s actually done that twice so far this season, and the Rockies are just (.500 winning percentage). Blackmon’s five-plus hit games are the Jair Jurrjenses of the Rockies offense—satisfactory, but not a Recipe for Success. Blackmon hasn’t had four hits in a game this season, so it’s unclear whether or not such a game would be more Winning than three hit games, but it’s safe to say that the range of outcomes go from victory to defeat and nowhere in between. On a final one might expect lineups that include both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzales to be a Winning Combination; however, the Rockies are just 25-26 for games in which they were both in the starting lineup.
The Rockies have won 43 games through Saturday, July 26, and only in two of those games has the team came close to achieving a Perfectly Winning Game. That is, a game in which Charlie Blackmon has three hits, the game was started by one of the five members of the Winningest Rotation, and include each of the three relievers of the Winningest Bullpen. They did come close twice though. On April 5, Blackmon went 3-4 in support of Jorge De La Rosa’s four and one-third innings of work. Ottavino and Hawkins helped shepherd the team to a 9-4 victory against the Diamondbacks, but Boone Logan was on the disabled list and couldn’t help the fulfilment of Perfection (Kahnle and Rex Brothers filled in). Then, on June 24, De La Rosa pitched seven innings with the relief support of Ottavino, Hawkins, and the compared to Logan less Winning Left-Hander Brothers. And Blackmon had three hits in four plate appearances in this 10-5 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals.
In a season with more losing than winning, it’s not surprising that the team has yet to reach what we can now recognize as the apex of victory. It’s also not likely to happen this year. Blackmon is still a regular in the daily lineup, but Logan is currently on the disabled list again, Hawkins and Ottavino remain active in the bullpen, but one or both might be traded in the next week. The rotation is even more questionable: Chatwood is out for the season, Jurrjens no longer plays for the Rockies, Lyles is still on the disabled list, Nicasio is in Triple-A, and by this time next week, De La Rosa might be a Yankee. With the help of hindsight, we can now see that the Keys to Victory for the 2014 Rockies were amorphous and fleeting. Now armed with the knowledge we’ve accumulated, however, the Road to Success in 2015 is becoming clearer.