Thinking outside the box can be a really great thing. However, it can also be entirely unnecessary, as is probably the case with Jim Tracy’s decision to blow up the conventional five-man rotation with the Colorado Rockies. Going with four starters, each on a 75-pitch limit, is a pretty crazy idea, but even if it somehow worked, there is a much easier and far more effective way to instantly improve the Rockies -- fix the defense.
The fault for Colorado’s 2012 debacle is being placed squarely on the pitching staff, and while the pitching has been horrendous, blaming the losses completely on that group is a little unfair. The reality is that the Rockies are failing at run prevention in general. It’s a team effort. As bad as their starting pitching has been, their defense may actually be worse.
Currently, the Rockies are the worst in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved with minus-59. Only two teams in baseball scored lower than a minus-59 for all of 2011. The Padres are next worst with a minus-28. Ultimate Zone Rating is a little kinder to the Rockies’ defense, as they rank 27th in the majors. No matter how you slice it, they are playing lousy defense. Add that to Coors Field and a bad pitching staff and you have a recipe for disaster.
The problem isn’t necessarily talent. Coming into the season, it was pretty much known that Michael Cuddyer and whoever was at third base would be a liability, but guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler were expected to play Gold Glove-caliber defense. That’s not how it has played out. Cuddyer, Jordan Pacheco and Chris Nelson have been even worse than expected and nobody other than Todd Helton has played up to their abilities. The Rockies rank below league average in DRS at every position other than first base.
The biggest surprise has been Gonzalez. A former Gold Glover, Gonzalez currently ranks as MLB’s worst left fielder in both DRS and UZR. In the past, Gonzalez has been scored poorly by UZR and that’s been hard to accept because he makes so many outstanding plays. However, this season, it’s not hard to believe. Granted, it’s not even half a season, but he seems to have regressed defensively, taking poor routes, making inaccurate throws and so on. Before his recent groin surgery, the two-time Gold Glover Tulowitzki also struggled (for him), scoring minus-6 DRS.
Perhaps this is cyclical, meaning the defense is bad because the pitching is bad and vice versa. There does seem to be a general lack of focus defensively, but then, you could say that about all aspects of the Rockies’ game right now. In any case, playing quality defense needs to once again become a priority in Colorado. Defense carried the Rockies to a World Series in 2007, the only year in franchise history that their ERA outperformed their FIP. In Coors Field, it is the aspect of run prevention over which the Rockies have the most control and they are paying for neglecting it this past offseason.