In measures other than the act of playing baseball games five times a week, the Rockies season has been over for quite some time. So it’s useful to read and think about directions the team can take in terms of player qualities and roster management, as well as the players scattered from Modesto to Asheville that will someday populate the Rockies’ roster.
The Rockies of the near future need a catcher. The team of the present has Wilin Rosario, but I will be very surprised if he’s back behind the dish in 2015. By far the quality Rosario lacks that Rockies fans should want in an everyday catcher is defensive skill. At Fox Sports’ Just a Bit Outside, Eno Sarris examines two defensive skills, pitch framing and pitch blocking, and asks if they are mutually exclusive in a catcher’s repertoire. Based on interviews, Sarris reports that catchers believe a lack of bodily movement and staying low while receiving the ball are the skills necessary for pitch framing, while pitch blocking requires the catcher to expand and get on top of the ball. Of course, only an awful catcher would try to frame a pitch in the dirt. It does, however, appear to be the case that catchers who are good at one are not necessarily good at the other. Not only that, Sarris suggests that given the choice between good framing and good blocking, we should desire a good the subtler skillset of the framer. Perhaps notably for Rockies fans, one of the quality framers Sarris addresses is Travis d’Arnaud of the New York Mets. Earlier this summer there were rumors that the Mets and Rockies engaged in talks about a super trade that involved either Carlos Gonzales or Troy Tulowitzki. Any such trade would probably either involve d’Arnaud or catching prospect Kevin Plawecki.
Another area where the 2014 Rockies have been lacking, to put it kindly, is the bullpen. Interestingly, many thought that the bullpen would be a strength for the Rockies in 2014, which illustrates how unpredictable bullpens are. At the Hardball Times, Matthew Murphy, the doyen of bullpen analysis, posits that adding and subtracting from a bullpen should be more heavily dependent on in-season context than other positions. He concludes, first, that the quality of a bullpen determines the impact that a roster addition will have, and this is because relievers should be sought out based on how they will be deployed in high leverage situations. A contending team with only one great reliever benefits more from additional investment than a contending team with three great relievers. Murphy also concludes that high leverage situations present themselves with good starting pitching, so teams should only invest in bullpen arms if the rest of the squad, particularly the rotation, is good. The lesson for the 2015 Rockies is that they would be wise to avoid investing in the bullpen this offseason. If the team is set on exercising LaTroy Hawkins’s option, fine. Based on Win Probability Added, the metric on which Murphy bases his argument, he has been the Rockies only effective reliever in high leverage situations this season. However, the team should withhold significant monetary investments into bullpen help until the team is actually contending. Perhaps they can call it the Boone Logan Rule.
The last article to read is more precisely about the Rockies’ future. New lead prospector at FanGraphs Kiley McDaniel provides an extensive evaluation of the Rockies’ top prospects. Rather than a strict ranking, he tiers the prospects based on how he sees their future value. The top tier for the Rockies—and I suspect the top tier for all teams—is 50+ future value. What that essentially means is a floor of a regular major-leaguer with a higher ceiling. From this perspective, the Rockies system depth looks pretty good, especially considering the level that many of the 50+ players are. One thing to note when reading through this piece—and you must read it—is that McDaniel is a fairly conservative evaluator compared to other evaluators. It will definitely read conservatively compared to the dreams in our heads. In particular, he doesn’t project that any of the Rockies’ top pitching prospects—Jon Gray, Eddie Butler, Tyler Anderson, and Kyle Freeland—to offer future value beyond a number three starter. One of the commenters of the piece pointed that out and speculated what that meant, and McDaniel clarified on a follow-up podcast with Carston Cistulli that it translates to a 70th percentile type of pitcher. So, in terms of 2014 production, someone like James Shields, Yovani Gallardo, or Doug Fister. Given that he claims that there are maybe 8-12 number one starters in all of baseball, I doubt he’s going to give any pitching prospect a future role of number one starter. In any event, the Rockies can win with a rotation of starters whose true talent level lands between a three and a five starter. The Angels have been one of the best teams in baseball this year with a fringe number one and four number four starters. We have to assume that at least one of the Rockies pitching prospects, and possibly two, won’t pan out. But two reach their potential and one exceeds it even a little bit, the Rockies will have a nice young rotation in a couple of years. Now, click the link and bookmark it, because you’ll want to revisit it during the offseason.