2016 Fantasy Baseball: Colorado Rockies Team Preview
I feel bad for the Rockies sometimes. In all sincerity, I recognize the constant struggle that persists with playing baseball in Colorado, and the “Coors Effect” has begun to stretch well beyond just the group of guys that take the field everyday. The front office hasn’t had the easiest time convincing free agents to come play for the ball club, which has forced the organization to get a little creative with how they construct their team from year to year.
There have been some good Rockies teams in the past, but those successful seasons are really few and far between. There were the Blake Street Bombers, the 1995 team that brought playoff baseball to Colorado for the first time with four different everyday players eclipsing the 30 home run mark; the 2007 team that reached the World Series by winning 21 of their last 22 games including a 13-inning, one-game playoff against the Padres; and the 2009 team that turned an 18-28 start around after a managerial change to win the Wild Card with some promising youth that never quite panned out as hoped.
Winning has just not been sustainable in Colorado, which in a way, makes the 22-year-old franchise fascinating. It’s anyone’s guess what it is going to take to make the Rockies a good team. They have made some drastic changes to the ballclub in the past year, most notably trading All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays in July of last season. But the moves they have made in the 2016 offseason have left many people across MLB scratching their heads. The organization essentially sold their franchise player after several years of trade rumors and losing but have acted this offseason as if they are not in the stage of rebuilding. Additions to the 2016 team include Gerardo Parra, Jake McGee, Jason Motte, Mark Reynolds, and Chad Qualls. But even with what seems to be a plan in place, it’s hard to envision the Rockies being any better than a .500 team.
2016 Projected Lineup
Charlie Blackmon CF
Jose Reyes SS (Suspension Pending)
Carlos Gonzalez RF
Nolan Arenado 3B
Gerardo Parra LF
DJ Lemahieu 2B
Mark Reynolds 1B
Nick Hundley C
Despite playing half their schedule a little over a mile above sea level, the Colorado Rockies ranked only ahead of the Phillies and White Sox in offensive WAR for 2015. Sure, they got less than 100 games out of both Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Dickerson; however, neither of those players are returning in 2016 and they have both been replaced with lesser hitters. Jose Reyes faces a suspension and possibly jail time as well for a recent domestic violence incident, and is no longer the same spark-plug player he was in his Mets’ heyday regardless. Gerardo Parra, on the other hand, is coming off the best season of his career, but he still posted a wRC+ mark 11 points lower than Dickerson who was at a 119 wRC+ in his 234 plate appearances last year. We can probably expect a similar performance out of Parra this year thanks to some of the benefits of Coors Field, but Reyes is a total wildcard. The declining skillset and injury risk that comes with Reyes make him a “must-avoid” in terms of fantasy value, and that’s before even knowing exactly how much time he will miss after he’s disciplined by MLB.
With the offense taking a step back from it’s already precariously perched position in 2015, the club will once again need to rely heavily on their bright spots from last year, Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez. Arenado emerged as a superstar in his age 24 season by leading the National League in home runs with 42, RBI with 130, and total bases with 354. The Steamer projections on Fangraphs have Arenado’s slugging percentage dropping about 30 points from last year and his home run total coming back down to 29. Even still, he’s an elite third baseman on both sides of the ball at his point in his career and could be just as productive this season if he improves upon his low walk rate and high O-Swing percentage. While Arenado is an aggressive and dangerous hitter, he does tend to chase balls out of the zone a lot at a 39.9% clip and only has a 5.5% walk rate.
CarGo’s game has similar flaws in that plate discipline category, but he really showed just how gifted of a power bat he is when healthy. Gonzalez reached a new career high with 40 home runs, 30 coming from July-on. The power for CarGo is awesome, but there are definitely a few aspects of his game worth keeping an eye on. Unlike Arenado, GarGo’s home-road splits are a bit concerning, and his numbers against lefthanded pitching are even worse. In 195 plate appearances against lefties in 2015, Gonzalez hit just .195 with five homers as opposed to his .301 average with 35 long balls against righties. If the Rockies are not in the playoff hunt come Trade Deadline time, they may very well ship CarGo off to begin the rebuilding process, and fantasy owners should do the same in that scenario considering his drastic splits.
Of all the Colorado Rockies players, however, the best option for fantasy purposes is Charlie Blackmon. The 29-year-old outfielder really improved in multiple areas of his game last season, jumping from 28 steals to 43 and improving his OBP by 12 points. Blackmon also slugged .450 with 17 homers in 2015, making him a strong 20/20 candidate and a great pick for category-based leagues.
2016 Projected Rotation
Jorge de la Rosa LHP
David Hale RHP
Chad Bettis RHP
Chris Rusin LHP
Jon Gray RHP
One saving grace for the Rockies’ pitching staff is that they are all fairly young with the exception of Jorge de la Rosa. There is always the potential for upside with four out of five starting pitchers still in their 20s; however, none of them were particularly impressive last season. One of the apparent strategies in place for the 2016 Rockies is a heavy use of the fastball. Being that breaking pitches don’t have quite the same bite in the high altitude of Coors Field, Colorado features three starters – Chad Bettis (60.2%), Jon Gray (63.9%), and David Hale (63.1%) – who have plus-fastballs and throw them over 60% of the time. In addition to this method to constructing a staff, GM Jeff Brutus has aimed to create a more athletic roster behind them as evidenced by the signing of Gerardo Parra to improve the defense in that spacious outfield.
CL Jake McGee LHP
SU Jason Motte RHP
Jordan Lyles RHP
Jairo Diaz RHP
Chad Qualls RHP
Another method in the attempt to counteract the Coors Effect, the front office has focused on shoring up the bullpen with the same sort of pitchers with exceptional fastball command. Newly acquired Jason Motte and Jake McGee will assume the set up and closers rolls respectively and have both thrown their fastball more than any other relievers in the league. Motte has thrown the pitch nearly 84% of the time, and McGee sits at a whopping 92.7 fastball percentage. Having a deep bullpen also allows the Rockies the luxury of getting their starters out of the game after two or three times through the lineup to keep the opposing offense off balance.
Farm System & 2016 Season Outlook
Although the Rockies do have one of the better farm systems in baseball, not many of their prospects are anticipated to make an impact for the 2016 ballclub. Both pitcher Jon Gray and catcher Tom Murphy maintained their prospect status after playing with the big league team last season, but they will need to turn their respective power games into more consistent production. While both were productive in their small sample size – Murphy with a .543 slugging percentage as a catcher, and Gray with a 8.89 K/9 and a fastball that gets up near 100MPH – neither showed enough to be a strong Rookie of the Year candidate, which Colorado would sorely need to compete with the likes of the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West. Prospects Trevor Story and Cristhian Adames will likely duke it out for playing time with Reyes’ imminent suspension looming, but both are really just to bridge the gap until the 3rd overall pick Brendan Rodgers is MLB ready. It’s not entirely clear just what the Rockies are planning for their future, but with the foundation they’ve built here in the farm system, they can definitely become a winning team, just not this year.