Our next contestants on the Post-Mortem series are the first team from one of the Western divisions to be eliminated from the playoff race and the only team out west without 70 wins…please welcome, the Colorado Rockies!
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
What Went Right: Carlos Gonzalez had a 20/20 season for the third year in a row. Dexter Fowler took some big steps forward as an every day starter despite the usual ridiculous home/road splits we've all come to expect from Rockies players. Tyler Colvin's bat really matured in platoon duty. Eric Young Jr has developed into a solid fourth outfielder (yes, outfielder and not infielder). Wilin Rosario leads the team in homers as a rookie. Josh Rutledge is smashing the hell out of the ball in his brief playing time this year. The duo have Matt Belisle and Rafael Betancourt have been a dominant end-game relief pair.
What Went Wrong: The preseason trade of Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom for Jeremy Guthrie was a complete disaster, and the later trade of Guthrie for Jonathan Sanchez compounded that fact when Guthrie succeeded in Kansas City and Sanchez continued to pitch awful with his new team. Troy Tulowitzki got hurt yet again and played in just 47 games this year. Despite that awesome power, Rosario's plate discipline is atrocious, and getting his OBP to .300 has been a challenge all year. Michael Cuddyer has missed plenty, and has been overpaid in comparison to other corner outfielders signed this past offseason. Todd Helton missed over half the season with a hip injury. Pretty much every starting pitcher the team rolled out this year was a different level of bad, including the soft-tossing veterans (Jamie Moyer, Jeff Francis) and the young "future stars" (Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Christian Friedrich, Juan Nicasio, Jhoulys Chacin), though several of those players were plagued by awful BABIPs.
Most Surprising Player: Eric Young Jr. It was actually hard to pick someone as surprising on this team, because everyone is playing as I expected (or worse). But Young has improved across the board (no doubt thanks to a 60 point BABIP increase over last year and a career-high swing percentage), and has turned into a real solid bench player. Young has stolen 14 bases in just 198 plate appearances, and has hit four homers (coming into the year with just one in his career). Young has transformed himself as a player from "running and nothing else" type of guy that he was prior to this year into a more nuanced mix of speed with a little bit of pop. I think that's a lot more valuable than the guy who does nothing but slaps singles, walks, and runs.
Most Disappointing Player: So many to choose from…I'm going to go wtih Drew Pomeranz, who was acquired in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade with Cleveland last year, was the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft, and was the #30 prospect in baseball coming into the year. In 19 starts this year, Pomeranz has an ERA north of 5.00, he's seen his strikeout rate fall a notch from where it was in AAA early in the season, and he's seen his homer rate spike to a point where it's never been before…not even at AAA Colorado Springs, nearly as bad of a park for pitchers as Coors Field. He's getting trashed even worse on the road than at home, and I really have to think that the ridiculous 75 pitch limit instituted by Jim Tracy and Dan O'Dowd is sabotaging his (as well as Colorado's other young pitchers) development in the long run.
Prospects Up: How sad is it when Tyler Matzek walks six batters per nine, and that's considered a step up for him? After the disaster that was 2011, the Rockies will take any sort of improvement with him. Rosario's power has translated well to the majors, and made him an actual solid looking backstop. 19-year old Trevor Story's first year in full season ball was a rousing success, blasting 18 homers and stealing 15 bases. Former Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker took major strides as a player, increasing his walk rate by 5% and dropping his strikeout rate by 6% and increasing his slash line across the board.
Prospects Down: Highly touted Nolan Arenado has seen his power fall down a tick, and while he's still only 21, it's disappointing to see. Peter Tago walked more hitters than he struck out for the second straight year. I touched on Pomeranz already, but Alex White (acquired in the same deal) has been just as middling in the majors. 2009 first round pick Tim Wheeler saw his homer output fall from 33 in 2011 to a whopping two in 2012, although in 200 less plate appearances.
The Future: The Rockies have some nice impact bats in the farm system, but aside from Wheeler, none will likely be ready next year. The team's offense can definitely compete with the best in the league (even if they struggle on the road), but the management of this team is something that needs to change. Since his miracle playoff run in 2009, Jim Tracy's winning percentage has dropped by at least 5% every year, bottoming out at .400 through 145 games this year. GM Dan O'Dowd has been on the job for just shy of 13 years, and his philosophy on how to build a team seems to change every couple years, and that's not a way to build long-term success in a place where mediocrity is largely the norm. If the Rockies can get ahead of the curve a little bit like a team like the Astros are, maybe they can have more years like 2007. Sustained, long-term success is something that just isn't going to happen with Tracy and O'Dowd continuing in their current positions.