The Rockies starting pitching is terrible. However, they aren’t the worst in baseball. That distinguished honor currently belongs to the woeful Twins. Regardless, being in the same league as the Twins in anything is a really, really bad sign. The Rockies pitching problems will not be going away any time soon. Sure, they have some valuable arms in the bullpen, but if this continues, they’ll all be worn out. And the starters, oh man, those pitiful starters. They’re all either hurt, ancient, or just flat out terrible.
The mournful starting pitching has been discussed ad naseum though. It’s by far the largest and most obvious problem with this team. Anybody that pays attention to the Rockies is well aware of this fact. However, the starting pitching has been so terrible that it has somewhat overshadowed another giant weakness on the Rockies’ team – defense. Thus far, their defense has been absolutely awful, arguably the worst in baseball. That, combined with the sad, sad state of their rotation, adds up to a catastrophic failure in the run prevention department, which leads to four games under .500 despite one of the best lineups in the NL.
Just how bad are these Rockies on defense? Well, let’s take a look using data provided by both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.
The first thing that jumps out about the 2012 Rockies is that they are dead last in baseball in defensive runs saved. Currently, the Blue Jays lead MLB in that department with a 29 DRS score. The Rockies are at the far opposite end of the spectrum with a -32 (that’s right, negative 32), which is the worst number in baseball by an incredibly wide margin.
For those that prefer UZR as a defensive metric, again the Rockies score as the worst defensive team in baseball with a -14.9. According to the metrics, as a team they have very limited range, commit too many errors, and are below league average in both throwing and turning double plays. See a trend developing here?
Baseball Reference is a little kinder to the Rockies, but not much. Total Zone fielding ranks them as the 25th worst fielding team in MLB. And traditional metrics, like fielding percentage, also don’t paint a very pretty picture. There really is no way around it. Aside from Todd Helton, this team hasn’t been able to handle the leather this year. Long gone are the days of the 2007 Rockies whose defensive dominance carried them to a World Series. As this team is currently constructed, defense is a side note, and that needs to change.
The good news is that, unlike the pitching, we should see improvement in this area. First of all, Carlos Gonzalez has been the worst left fielder in either league so far this season. That won’t continue. There has been much debate about CarGo’s defense. On one hand, he’s a Gold Glover who has often left us awed with electric defensive gems. On the other, the metrics say that he takes too many unnecessary risks and poor routes, scoring negatively as a result. Whatever you want to believe about CarGo’s D, he’s not the worst left fielder in baseball. That we know. We can safely expect improvement there.
The other big problem right now has obviously been Tulo. It is no secret that Tulo leads the team in errors with seven. His inconsistent play in the field has been alarming, but is there really any question about what kind of defender the Rockies have in Troy Tulowitzki? He had a bad month. He’s human. He’s also still the best defensive shortstop in baseball. The errors are unfortunate, but they are fluky and it’s highly doubtful that it will continue. So, there are two spots, left field and shortstop, where we can pretty much bank on regression to the mean.
However, there are some other defensive holes that aren’t likely to change. The first one is third base. Right now, the Rockies aren’t the worst team overall at third base, but they’re close and if Jordan Pacheco starts logging significant time over there, they will be soon. If/when Arenado arrives, we might see some improvement, but until that happens, the Rockies appear to be willing to ride it out with Nelson and Checo. Unfortunately, the end result of this scenario is predictably terrible.
Right field is also a significant problem. There is a lot to like about Michael Cuddyer but his range rating is one of the worst of any right fielder. His DRS is a -6, the lowest of any qualifying right fielder in MLB. Cuddy has made some plays with his arm, but it hasn’t been close to enough to make up for all of his other defensive deficiencies. The Coors Field outfield is expansive and Cuddyer can’t cover it. As long as he’s the everyday right fielder, it’s just something the Rox will have to deal with.
Perhaps some of this is circular – defense gets bored because pitchers are so bad, etc. However, if the Rockies really want to improve their situation, the defense has to improve. Sticking a great defensive team behind a bad pitching staff might be just putting lipstick on a pig, but nevertheless, it is lipstick. There really is no quicker, easier way to improve the pitching staff than by playing better defense. And it is something that this organization used to take pride in. Now, not so much.
As I said earlier, CarGo and Tulo will play better. It’s almost a guarantee. But, the rest of this team has to make a commitment to getting better in the field if they want any shot at being competitive for the rest of the season. The simple fact is that their pitching is too poor to overcome the defense they’ve been playing lately.