Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
After a surprisingly strong start to the season, the Colorado Rockies predictably faded as the year wore on. Despite that disappointment, the Rockies flashed some potential to be a factor in the near future, provided their front office doesn't screw it all up (SPOILER ALERT: they probably will)
Preseason prediction: The Rockies are able to revive their offense a bit with a much healthier season from Troy Tulowitzki and get a little insight into their as some of their young pitching shows promise while others reveal that they just aren't ever going to be able to hack it in Coors Field. Still, with their obvious problems in the rotation hold them back from doing anything other than competing with the Padres for fourth place in the NL West which they might be able to do given their underrated bullpen.
What Went Right: OK, hold on to your seats because you aren't going to believe this but one of the things that went right for the Rockies is that they got pretty good starting pitching. Well, from the front of their rotation at least. Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Tyler Chatwood all currently boast ERAs of 3.31 or better. When is the last time that the terms "ERA" and "boast" were used in the same sentence when talking about the Rockies? The crazy thing is that it wasn't fluky either. The FIP and xFIP numbers for those pitchers fully support their quality ERAs.
What is even crazier is that they got a mostly healthy season out of Troy Tulowitzki. That is usually a recipe for a winning season for Colorado, but it didn't work out this year through no fault of Tulo who led the team with a 5.4 WAR. Teamed with Carlos Gonzalez and a crazy huge season from Michael Cuddyer (and an assist from the altitude), Tulo helped lead the Rockies to the #1 offense in the National League with a 105 OPS+. The Rockies have thus far badly underperformed their Pythagorean record, but there is clearly something going on in the mountains that portends well for the Rockies' future.
What Went Wrong: As good as the front of the Rockie rotation was, the back was just as bad. Juan Nicasio has struggled all season long with a 4.68 ERA, but the real problem was that the Rox flushed 27 starts down the toilet on the likes of Jon Garland (5.82 ERA), Jeff Francis (6.60 ERA) and Roy Oswalt (8.57 ERA). One can't help but wonder what would've happened in the NL West had the Rockies had a semi-competent #5 starter.
As good as the Rockie offense was, it wasn't without its faults. Todd Helton turned in the worst season of his soon-to-be-ending career with a .315 OBP, 86 wRC+ and -0.8 WAR. Such is the trouble with having a local institution still on your roster even as he rapidly decays. Perhaps it was Helton's "leadership by example" that caused the Rockies to get so little production right next to him at second base. The quadrumvirate of Josh Rutledge, Jonathan Herrera, Charlie Culberson and DJ LaMahieu combined to give the Rockies a mere .295 wOBA out of the second base position though they did finally improve there defensively after Rutledge was moved aside.
Most Surprising Player: The most pleasant surprise for the Rockies was the aforementioned performance of Tyler Chatwood. The young hurler had struggled mightily in his two previous stints in the majors first with the Angels then the Rockies. He hadn't been particularly good in the minors the last two seasons either. There was always latent talent there, but it seemed like Chatwood was never going to come close realize that potential. Well, he went and realized it fully this year and now figures to be a fixture in the Rockie rotaiton for years to come. That is provided he can stay healthy which has been an issue for him.
Most Disappointing Player: I'm cheating and blaming the front office instead of a player. What the Rockies' braintrust did with this team during the season is borderline criminal. Specifically, they should all be summarily fired for their total inaction at the trade deadline. The Rockies got off to a hot start to the season, but by July 31st, it was pretty clear that they weren't going to contend for a playoff spot. That would've been an ideal time to cash in on Michael Cuddyer's career season to net some quality prospects while clearing $10.5 million in 2014 payroll. Did they do that? NOPE. Simlarly, they could've traded veteran closer Rafael Betancourt, especially with the emergence of Rex Brothers as a dominant reliever. Did they do that? Nope and then they watched Betancourt blow out his elbow, likely ending his career and taking away the chance for Colorado to trade him in the off-season. While their quest for quality pitching has been never-ending, the Rockies would've been wise to trade Jorge De La Rosa in the midst of his career season knowing that he is highly likely to opt for free agency at season's end in pursuit of a contract that the Rockies can't afford. Did they do that? Of course not.
There is so much young, up and coming talent on this team and a great core of Tulo and CarGo, but Colorado management passed up on three perfect opportunities to load up for 2014 and beyond for no obvious reason other than they didn't want to trade Cuddyer, Betancourt and De La Rosa because they are such swell guys.
The Future: The Rockies should have a bright future. They've got Tulo, Gonzalez and Fowler as their core and Nolan Arenado poised to be a breakout candidate in 2014 as well as some quality pitching prospects (Matzek and Bettis) on the way to round out the rotation behind Chacin and Chatwood. They might even have some money to spend too with Helton retiring. The question is what will the management do? They haven't typically been inclined to spend a lot of money and they obviously haven't felt incentivized to trade veteran pieces to further their rebuilding project. It is entirely possible, if not likely, that they will simply make a few cosmetic moves that only serve to waste yet another year of Tulowitzki and CarGo's prime. Let's not forget that this is a front office so indecisive that they gave a rookie manager a one-year contract for 2013 and have yet to make a decision on his status for 2014 and beyond. There just may not be an actual plan here.