The Colorado Rockies are coming off a 74-87 season where they finished fourth in the National League West for the third year in a row, finishing 32.5 games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants and a combined 84.5 games worse than the previous season division winners since 2019. Those finishes fell on the heels of a pair of postseason performances after making the playoffs in just three of their first 24 seasons in their brief history.
Colorado Rockies Last Season Performance
A fourth-place finish in the NL West in 2021 is a bit misleading since the case could be made that the division was the most difficult in baseball, with two juggernauts in the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. It also included a San Diego Padres team that had been built for success in 2021, and even though they fell short in that effort, they were still a formidable opponent for much of the season.
The Rockies were marginally better following the All-Star break, with a 34-36 record compared to a mark of 40-51 in the first 91 games. Part of that was because of some improvement shown by the bullpen, but on the season, the relief staff had a 4.88 ERA with 26 blown saves.
The bullpen also had a 2.07 strikeout to walks ratio, which ranks them near the bottom of the National League in that measurement. It also gave up 345 of the team’s 796 total runs after taking over games that were begun by a competent starting pitching unit.
German Marquez was the leading starting pitcher on the staff, posting a record of 12-11, a 4.40 ERA, and 176 strikeouts in 180 innings pitched. The 26-year-old made 32 starts with three complete games, averaging 5.6 innings an appearance.
Offensively, the Rockies were second in the National League with a .249 overall team batting average and .254 among non-pitchers. They were led by first baseman CJ Cron, who hit .281 with 28 home runs and 92 RBI, all the best on the Rockies’ roster.
Third baseman Ryan McMahon was also a major contributor with a .254 batting average, 23 home runs, and 86 RBI. The Rockies were also encouraged by the breakout season of 24-year-old second baseman Brendan Rodgers, who in 102 games was able to post a .284 batting average while adding 15 homers and 51 RBI.
The biggest problem for the Rockies was their road record of 26-54, where they were shut out 16 times. Coors Field and its mile-high elevation have always been a big advantage to the Rockies, but the converse also held true in 2021, and any improvement for the team needs to begin with its performance away from home.
Colorado Rockies Off-Season Changes
The Rockies began the offseason by taking the interim tag off General Manager Bill Schmidt, who had been serving in the role since May 3rd and was the organization’s scouting director since 1999. They also promoted Danny Montgomery to vice president and assistant general manager of scouting, and Zack Rosenthal was named vice president and assistant general manager of baseball operations and assistant general counsel.
The biggest move by the Rockies was to sign CJ Cron to a new two-year, $14.5 million deal, after which the 32-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent. Locking down their biggest offensive contributor is a big move that could help the Rockies compete for a playoff berth in the tough NL Central.
The team also signed starting pitcher Antonio Senzatela, a 26-year-old who was 4-10 with a 4.42 ERA in 2021. He made 28 starts and struck out 105 batters in 156.2 innings on the mound, with his salary increasing from $7.25 million in 2022, the last year of his current contract, to $14 million for the 2027 season.
Elias Diaz avoided arbitration after he and the Rockies came to terms on a three-year extension for $14.5 million through the 2024 season, with his pay moving from $3 million in 2022 to $6 million for 2024. Diaz hit .246 with 18 home runs and 44 RBI in 2021, throwing out 42% of opposing base runners attempting to steal.
Following a 7-8 record, 5.21 ERA, and 20 saves, closer Daniel Bard was signed to a one-year deal for $4 million that let the sides avoid arbitration. Bard will be 37 during the 2022 season, so it’s not surprising that the Rockies weren’t comfortable offering a longer contract.
Top reliever Tyler Kinley signed a deal that will pay him $1.025 million in 2022, with the team agreeing to arbitration following 2023 and 2024, after which the now 31-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent. Kinley appeared in 70 games in 2021 with a record of 3-2, an ERA of 4.73, and 68 strikeouts in 70.1 innings on the mound.
The Rockies also signed reliever Jhoulys Chacin to a $1.25 million deal, who was technically a free agent, to remain with the team another year after he went 3-2 with a 4.34 ERA in 46 games. The 33-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2022 season.
Finally, starting right fielder, Charlie Blackmon agreed to his one-year player option for $18 million after making $21 million for the 2021 season. It’s the final year of a six-year, $108 million deal that Blackmon inked prior to 2018. The 34-year-old hit .270 with 13 home runs and 78 RBI in 150 games.
The Rockies also made some changes to the coaching staff, with Darryl Scott replacing pitching coach Steve Foster, who moved onto a role to oversee pitching for the organization. Scott was promoted from the bullpen coach position, and he was replaced by former Marlins’ rehab pitching coach Reid Cornelius.
After assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar was fired, the Rockies named Andy Gonzalez from within the organization and P.J. Pilittere, formerly with the Yankees, to assist hitting coach Dave Madagan.
Colorado Rockies Key Additions
The Rockies were primarily focused on maintaining continuity within the franchise and didn’t bring in any new talent prior to the December 2nd lockout. With the contract extensions that they were successful in executing, they have a few issues to address when the lockout ends, and given their success in locking up existing talent, Rockies fans can expect continued activity prior to the season.
They probably need to address some bullpen concerns and will be looking to replace shortstop Trevor Story, one of the few targets they failed to bring back for 2022. A shutdown starter may also be on the list, but they can be expensive, and there not be many left shortly after league activity begins again, whenever that occurs.
Colorado Rockies Key Subtractions
By far, the most impactful loss to the team was Story’s departure after the 28-year-old hit .251 with 24 home runs and 75 RBI in 142 games of action. His high strikeout total of 139 wasn’t a positive, but he led the team in runs scored with 88 and was second in slugging percentage behind Cron’s .530 at .488. Story was solid but not spectacular in the field, committing 14 errors, the most on the Rockies, with a .975 fielding percentage.
Starting pitcher Jon Gray became a free agent following a season where the 29-year-old posted a record of 8-12 with an ERA of 4.59 and 157 strikeouts in 149 innings pitched. He had the second-most starts on the Rockies’ staff with 29, and like Story at shortstop, the organization will need to find a replacement for Gray, whether through free agency or from the minor league rosters.
A potential replacement for Gray could have been the fifth starter, Chi Chi Gonzalez, except his 3-7 record and 6.46 ERA didn’t exactly excite the Rockies, as they sent him to the minors, and the 29 opted for free agency instead.
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Colorado Rockies Head Coach Analysis
Bud Black is in the final year of his contract to manage the Colorado Rockies. The former major league pitcher has a 349-359 record for the Rockies, after previously managing the San Diego Padres from 2007 – 2015 and compiling a mark of 649 – 713.
Black had a record of 121-116 in the major leagues, playing for six teams during a 15-year playing career, with most of his highlights coming in seven seasons with the Kansas City Royals. He was a part of the Royals’ 1985 World Series championship team, starting 33 games and posting a record of 10-15 with a 4.33 ERA in 205.2 innings pitched.
The best season for Black came in 1984, when he had a record of 17-12, an ERA of 3.12 with eight complete games among his 35 starts, and a career-high 257 innings pitched. He ended his career in 1995 after starting 10 games for the Cleveland Indians with a record of 4-2.
Black began his coaching career with the Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels, where he served as the pitching coach from 2000-2006 when Mike Scioscia was the manager. The Angels won the World Series with the Angels in 2002 with their victory over the San Francisco Giants.
Following the 2006 season, Black interviewed for the Giants’ vacant managerial position, but the job went to San Diego Padres head coach Bruce Bochy. Black ended up replacing Bochy in San Diego, taking over a team that had finished first in the NL West for two consecutive seasons and lost in the National League Division Series both times.
However, in almost nine years with team, the Padres failed to make it to the postseason and was fired by the team in 2015 after starting the season 32-33. Black later turned down an offer to manage the Washington Nationals and served instead as a special assistant for the Los Angeles Angels for the 2016 campaign.
Bud Black inherited a Rockies’ team that in 2016 had finished the season with a record of 75-87 with a third-place spot in the NL West. The team had failed to reach the postseason in nine consecutive years, last making a playoff appearance in 2009 after the firing of Clint Hurdle 46 games into the season.
In Black’s first two campaigns with the Rockies, they made a pair of postseason appearances, finishing second in the NL West in 2018 at 91-72 and bowing out in the National League Division Series 3-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers. If the front office of the Rockies feels they’ve given Black enough pieces to work with to field a competitive team in 2022, a sub .500 season could be his last one managing in Denver.
Colorado Rockies Injured Players at the Beginning of the Season
Starting pitcher Austin Gomber, who was 9-9 with an ERA of 4.53 and 113 strikeouts in 115 innings pitched in 2021, went down with a stress fracture in his back on September 4th and missed the rest of the season. On November 7th, he was removed from the 60-day injured list and is expected to be ready for spring training without having to undergo surgery.
With Gray opting for free agency, the healthy return of Gomber will be good for the starting rotation that is strong enough to keep the Rockies competitive in most games. The only other player on the Rockies’ 40 man roster who is listed on the injury report is relief pitcher Scott Oberg, who hasn’t pitched since the 2019 season.
He underwent successful surgery in March to remove blood clots from his right arm, and his inclusion on the roster indicates the team is confident of his return in time for spring training. Oberg went 6-1 for the club in 2019 with a 2.25 ERA and five saves which followed a 2018 season when he posted a record of 8-1 and an ERA of 2.45.
Colorado Rockies Prediction for 2022 Season
The Rockies made a lot of good moves in the first two months of the offseason, and a healthy return of Oberg to the bullpen could be just the thing to help them make an improved showing from 2021. The offense should again be solid, with most of their dependable bats back in the lineup for 2022.
The starting pitching remained mainly intact from a year ago, and the young staff should see improvement with more experience, but the bullpen will still need attention when the team is again allowed to make some moves in the free-agent market. Another factor that plagued them in 2021 was the Rockies’ poor play on the road, which will need to be addressed along with any roster additions, but that may also improve with the continued seasoning of a young lineup.
The return of Oberg could be a real key, but his effectiveness after multiple surgeries and two years out of pitching will have to be evaluated during spring training. If he can bring an element to the Rockies that’s been lacking since 2019, the Rockies could be one of the surprise stories of MLB odds 2022.
They still find themselves in a very difficult division, however, with the Giants, Dodgers, and Padres willing to spend a lot of money that the Rockies probably aren’t willing or able to match. Still, as the Oakland A’s and other small-market teams have shown in the past, judicious use of payroll can result in postseason success.
If Black can push the right buttons and make the proper moves with the pitching staff, the Rockies should be able to improve from 2021, at least getting to .500 and possibly challenging for the second wild-card spot, depending on what occurs in the rest of the National League. If the Rockies decide to push the reset button before the trade deadline and jettison some salaries, all bets are off as to where they end up by the end of the season. Check out their MLB Lines.