Colorado Rockies: Best Team in Baseball?

Colorado Rockies and Justin Morneau

By record, the Colorado Rockies are clearly not the best team in baseball thus far. Their 14-12 record puts them at third in the National League West just behind the Giants and Dodgers, and they are four and a half games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the best record in the Major Leagues. However, the statistics seem to hint that the Rockies have underplayed in the first month of season and are much better than their record might suggest.

In terms of offense, the Rockies have undoubtedly been the best team in the MLB. Going into Sunday, the Rockies’ .294 batting average is 19 points higher than the second-closest team, the Detroit Tigers. The closest NL team is the Philadelphia Phillies, whose .259 average is a full 35 points fewer than Colorado. Obviously, batting average does not tell the entire narrative, but the Rockies are tops in other offensive categories as well. They lead the MLB in OPS, which is the sum of on-base and slugging percentage, with .816 clip, 50 points higher than the closest MLB team and 85 higher than closest NL team. In terms of individual performance, the Rockies have two of the best offensive players in the early going. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon has a slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of .402/.454/.667 and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has an equally elite line of .342/.449/.646.

Unfortunately, most of the Rockies’ struggles have been due to their pitching, which has not been especially good statistically in April, but there have been plenty of bright spots. Their 4.13 team ERA is bad and 13th out 15th teams in the National League, but the four games that they allowed nine or more runs skew those numbers. When those games are taken out of the equation, the team ERA is 2.92, which would be fourth in the National League. Three of the five projected starters, Brett Anderson, Tyler Chatwood, and Jhoulys Chacin, have spent time on the disabled list already, and Anderson will miss significant time with a broken finger. Chatwood only missed a couple starts, and has been sensational since his return, and Chacin has been making rehab starts in the Minors and is nearing his 2014 debut.

Surprisingly enough, the front of the depleted rotation has struggled much more than the back. Jorge De La Rosa, who started Opening Day, has gone 2-3 with a 5.23 ERA, but he was dominant Sunday against the Dodgers, pitching seven innings and allowing one run on four hits. Also, after a dominant performance in the Rockies home opener, Juan Nicasio has had a tough time as shown by his 5.27 ERA. However, Franklin Morales and Jordan Lyles, who were not even in the rotation at the beginning of spring training, have combined for a 5-1 record and 3.36 ERA, proving that the Rockies have adequate starting pitching depth. Especially with super-prospects Jon Gray and Eddie Butler nearing their respective debuts, the Rockies seem to be in a good position with their rotation, which when coupled with their dominant offense, could make the Rockies one of baseball’s best teams and a powerhouse for years to come.

The bullpen has had its share of issues, but it has shown potential as a cohesive unit so far. It is a work in progress, as both Wilton Lopez and Chad Bettis have already been sent down due to poor play, and Matt Belisle’s two loses and 6.55 ERA have left Rockies fans wondering if he has anything left in the tank. However, new closer LaTroy Hawkins has saved all seven of his chances to the tune of a 2.89 ERA. Boone Logan has pitched like he did with the Yankees, where he established himself as one of the best lefty-specialists in the game. The biggest surprise in the bullpen has been Adam Ottovino, who has racked up 11.1 scoreless innings while striking out 13 and walking just one. The bullpen is not full of former closers like the Dodgers, but the Rockies seem to have a solid corps of relief pitchers.

It might be hard to argue that the Rockies are the best team in baseball so far, but they have been outstanding even with a fair share of bad luck. Not only have they suffered loses to injury, but their superstar outfielder Carlos Gonzalez has suffered a poor start to the year, batting just .247. Once Gonzalez plays to his ability and Chacin comes back, it is not outlandish to believe the Rockies will compete in the NL West with the Dodgers, who the Rockies just took two of three from at Dodger Stadium. Although a few things will have to be reshuffled, the Rockies could soon be one of the elite teams in the game.

Commentary by: Jough Brasch

Sources:
MLB.com

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