Friday, July 15, 2016

Teetering On the Brink

For any baseball team with playoff aspirations, a 13-14 record in the month of June is unacceptable. A record one game below .500 in the heat of summer traditionally projects mediocrity across the second half of the season. For other teams, June is typically so terrible that fans patiently await the arrival of the "June Swoon." That team, of course, is the Rockies. When that same Rockies team finished June of 2016 with a 13-14 record, I started wondering if this was the beginning of a new era in Rockies baseball. Those thoughts evaporated in July. A disastrous road trip through Los Angeles and San Francisco resulted in a lone victory in six attempts. Luckily, the last home stand before the All Star break provided an opportunity for redemption as the lowly Phillies visited Coors Field. . . where they managed to take two of the four games against our local nine. That was not the way anyone wanted to finish the first half of the season.

With the All Star break ending today, the Rockies own a 40-48 record; eight games below five hundred, sixteen games behind the (MLB best) Giants in the National League West, and seven games out of the Wild Card. But there is some good news accompanying the 3-7 slide in July - the Rockies became sellers.

Courtesy of Getty Images
Dick Monfort has a reputation for viewing his team through purple colored glasses and letting his skewed view affect team decisions. If his team hovers around that .500 record as the trade deadline approaches, the organization tends to be the lone believers that they are in contention. As a result, they overvalue, and subsequently hold onto, assets that could be moved for younger talent. What the July slide has created is a sizable gap between the Rockies and the actual contenders. Even Monfort should agree that this is not the year for the Rockies to be in the mix. Trading off a few assets like Jorge De La Rosa, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, or some of those veteran bullpen arms would go a long way to continue what Jeff Bridich has done in his year and a half on the job - bolster the farm system for the next few years.

And in the next few years, we could be looking at something special. The biggest knock on the Rockies for the life of the franchise has been the lack of competent pitching. Now for the first time since the playoff seasons on 2007 and 2009, the pitching staff finally looks. . . dare I say. . . competitive?

  • Jon Gray has shown why his name was atop the prospect charts since being drafted third overall in the 2013 MLB draft. Gray's power arm is missing bats at an increasing rate - he averages 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He has also reduced his walks and hits per innings pitched from his rookie campaign from 1.623 to 1.173. That one less base runner every two innings has reduced traffic and improved his overall performance. Gray's issue this season has been his bad inning; a single inning each game where he struggles to control his pitches. Thankfully, he recovers quickly and minimizes damage.
  • Tyler Chatwood has been dominate on the road (1.30 ERA, .183 BAA) and quite the opposite at Coors (5.32 ERA, .299 BAA). Even a slight improvement from Chatwood at home makes him a solid #2 or #3 starter for any major league team, much less a Rockies team that struggles to maintain success on the bump. 
  • Tyler Anderson was called up in June to fill a rotational hole that Eddie Butler, Chris Rusin, Jordan Lyles, and Christian Bergman had destroyed emptied (although Rusin was not the issue). All Anderson has done is provide a safety net for the back end of the rotation. In six starts, Anderson owns an ERA of 3.03, 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings, and a WHIP of 1.262; all while averaging nearly 6 innings per start. For an organization that has defined how to tax a bullpen, getting 6 innings consistently out of a start has been a godsend. 
  • Chad Bettis has pitched phenomenally. His alter ego on social media, Bad Chettis, has not. While the Bettis/Chettis has been a replacement level player (-0.1 WAR), he has not pitched poorly enough to be eliminated from the future of the Rockies rotation. 
  • More talent is coming, too. Jeff Hoffman, the centerpiece of the Tulo trade, will be a late-season call up with the big league squad. Kyle Freeland pitched well enough in Hartford to earn a promotion to AAAAlbuquerque during this season. German Marquez (2.63 ERA in 17 starts) and Antonio Senzatela (1.82 ERA in 7 starts) are a pair of Venezuelan pitchers currently ripping up AA batters for the Yard Goats. Add in a squad of younger guys (Lambert, Castellani, the recently drafted Pint) and this squad finally has quality depth at its historically weakest position. 
Courtesy of Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
The rotation is improving; Boone Logan and Carlos Estevez have provided quality out of the bullpen; the offense ranks in the top five teams in MLB in average, on-base-percentage, and slugging percentage; yet the Rockies' record is only one game improved from last year at this time. One game better than a team that finished with 94 losses and in last place in the National League West. Even with reduced walks and increased strikeouts (the Rockies are middle of the pack in both categories), the pitching staff as a whole still owns the second highest ERA in baseball (5.08), second highest batting average against (.278), and second highest WHIP (1.44). These numbers need to improve if the Rockies plan on being competitive, but we can see the Bridich plan - a shift from the pitch-to-contact era to a new age of power arms, missed bats, and reduced traffic on the base paths. [Seemingly, the inflation of these stats always happens with two outs. Potentially due to their youth and inexperience, Rockies pitchers cannot close out innings. Again the hope is that as the staff garners that experience, their ability to pitch with two outs will improve as well.]

With all the pitching talent on the cusp of breaking into the league, Jeff Bridich and baseball in Colorado might be on the brink of breaking out. Should Bridich convince Dick Monfort to move a few valuable pieces for even more young, talented, pitching depth; optimism will swell at 20th and Blake. 

As a Rockies fan, I should know better. 
Courtesy of Westword

Thursday, July 07, 2016

No Answers to the Hardest Questions

I do not fear much in my life. This statement is not a testament to my macho tough-guy persona. In fact, my entire being is quite the opposite of tough. But I am a 33 years old, 6', 215 pound, middle class, white, suburban male. There are not many reasons to have fear when you are a member of the most privileged group of people in the history of the world.

Yet last night, I could not sleep. I was uneasy. I was uncomfortable. I was scared.

The videos are chilling. A man selling CD's outside of a convenience store bull rushed by an officer, restrained on the ground, and shot point-blank in the chest. A man sitting in his car, pulled over for a busted tail light, following the officer's instructions, and then shot at close range as he reaches for his identification with his girlfriend and daughter in the vehicle.

I own a pair of heavy feet and that extra weight on the pedals has instigated more encounters with police officers than I should probably admit. As the blue and red lights flash behind me and I pull onto the shoulder of the road, the question "Will I survive this interaction?" never crosses my mind. But I'm not black.

Something is wrong with our system when events like these continue to occur. If you are reading this in a search for answers, I am sorry as I have none. I am not in law enforcement. I am not of African descent. I cannot directly relate to either side. But as an observer and (most importantly) a human being, I know that what I see is wrong and something needs to change. At the core, our empathy for people unlike ourselves must improve. That includes me. Different, yet the same. We must remember this.

Please do not interpret my words as an attack against police. As with most groups, the actions of a few stain the reputations of the majority. Members of my family and friends made along my journey have chosen this arduous profession and they deserve our utmost respect. Every day on the job may be their last and this should be commended. While those countless police officers merit our admiration, we must hold accountable those who violate basic humanitarian principles.

Stay safe, friends.