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Series preview: The Rockies have come to beat up the Giants

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Colorado has a worse record, but a better team. Something has to give.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Colorado Rockies

I regret to inform you that we’ve reached the Rockies part of the program. This has always been a thorny matchup because no matter where Colorado has been in their competitive window, they’ve always managed to thwart the Giants’ best laid plans. Their recent ascendance timed out perfectly with the Giants’ fall from talent.

Since the second half of 2016, the Rockies are 216-195 (.534) and have appeared in the postseason in each of the past two seasons. The Giants, meanwhile, are 171-234 (.422) in that same span, 17-27 against the Rockies.

But a slightly closer look at the recent head to head suggests something profound: regardless of their point in the competitive window, the Giants have managed to thwart the Rockies’ best laid plans. 14 of those 17 wins by the Giants since the second half of 2016 have come at AT&Oracle Park. A 14-8 home record against a team much better than them with a bunch of bona fide Giants slayers is worth noting.

The Giants have won 140 of 218 (.642) home games against the Rockies since their inception. Their fans don’t like watching them play in San Francisco, San Francisco fans don’t like watching the Giants play in Colorado. What usually happens in Coors is that the Giants take an 8-1 lead after three innings and then lose the game 12-10. In San Francisco, the Giants win 3-1 or something and the Rockies never quite look like themselves.

To that point, they haven’t much looked like the Rockies we expected to start 2019. They’re supposed to be good. Really, really good. Playoff bound. Competing for the NL West! Instead, they’re just 3-9, the second-worst start in franchise history (they started 2-10 in 2005), and they’ve hit just eight home runs — as many as the Giants.

The Rockies have hit as many home runs as the Giants should’ve been the headline of this preview. The offense looks really bad when you dig into it. Their team line of .216 / .281 / .339 puts them in the bottom five of the National League, and by Weighted On-Base Average, their .273 mark is the second-worse in the National League, behind the Giants (.258).

Yes, it has only been 12 games, and their last 8 have come against the Rays, Dodgers, and Braves, but those were all in Colorado. The Rockies are on a five-game losing streak. Those numbers represent 8 games in Coors Field. What the hell is going on?

They’re not hitting the ball hard. Their hard hit percentage of 29.8% is the worst in the MLB. The average exit velocity on batted balls is 85.3 mph, the worst in MLB. They’ve barreled just 4.4% of the balls they’ve made contact on, also the worst rate in MLB. The expected Weighted On-Base Average on just contact (which we went over in this Tyler Austin analysis post) for the team is the second-worst in MLB, but worst in the National League at .325.

The Giants have hit the ball harder than the Rockies in the first two weeks of the season.

That trend is likely to reverse itself very soon. We’d all like to see it start to happen after the Rockies leave San Francisco, but baseball is weird enough that hitting in the bay breezes and wet air might cure what ails them. Even if that’s not exactly the case, it’s pretty clear why the Rockies are in such a funk: injuries.

Daniel Murphy has a broken finger, and Ryan McMahon, the other possible first baseman, is also on the injured list. Garrett Hampson, the starting second baseman — or backup if Murphy was going to play there at times — has a .100 batting average in 31 plate appearances. David Dahl, their Carlos Gonzalez replacement, is out for another week, and then there’s Ian Desmond, who’s not injured in that he’s on the IL, but injured in the sense that he’s not a good major league hitter. As I write this, his OPS+ is 1. I say again:

It’s not a good lineup they’re running out there every night. That doesn’t figure to be a setback, though. The Giants don’t seem to be able to handle batters they’ve never face and since this is a series preview, that’s something to consider.

The Rockies and Braves were rained out yesterday, but in their 7-1 loss on Tuesday, recent call-up Yonathan Diaz led off and played right field, Raimel Tapia started in left, Josh Fuentes was the first baseman, and Hampson started at second. That quartet went 2-for-16 with 8 strikeouts.

It hasn’t all been about the lack of hitting, though. Rockies pitching did not fair well against the Rays, Dodgers, and Braves, either. They’ve allowed 69 runs, tying them with the Mariners for 7th-most in MLB. The Mariners have played two more games than the Rockies.

They’re in the bottom 10 in MLB for stuff like hard hit rate, average exit velocity, and Weighted On-Base Average and the only real advanced stat where the pitching stands out as being YIKES is in the area of expected slugging percentage — basically, using exit velocity and launch angle on batted balls, what’s the expected slugging percentage of batters who face them — where they rank as 4th-worst in MLB (3rd in the NL) at .467.

That’s what will happen when you face the Rays, Dodgers, and Braves in short order.

From the outset, this looks like a weird series. The Rockies should be better than their record indicates, and the Giants were a Bruce Bochy decision and Erik Kratz slide away from possibly being 6-7, but any series where two teams that haven’t had the luck of any bounces on their side square off figure to be tricky to prognosticate. Then again —

Hitter to watch

The Rockies have Nolan Arenado, who has yet to hit a home run in 2019. Expect that to change at some point this evening. Colorado signed him to a massive extension in the offseason that brings his total deal to $260 million through 2025. Isn’t that great?

In 467 plate appearances and 107 games against the Giants — basically, an injury-shortened full season — he has a career line of .300 / .355 / .575 (.930 OPS): 128 hits (39 doubles, 3 triples, 24 home runs), 91 RBI. Close to MVP numbers, to say nothing of his outstanding defense. In Oracle Park, that line dips a bit to .280 / .336 / .525 (.861), but still with 17 doubles, a triple, and 10 home runs.

We should all enjoy this privilege of watching him play. With Paul Goldschmidt out of the division, the Giant Killer belt goes to Arenado.

Pitcher to watch

Kyle Freeland was the ace of their staff last year, but by the end of the season, German Marquez emerged as The Next Big Arm. Talent-wise, he’s probably their ace now. Last year, he started a game with eight consecutive strikeouts.

He’ll start Sunday’s afternoon finale against Derek Holland.

The most striking aspect of his performance thus far is how Statcast shows him as using six pitches: 4-seam fastball, slider, curve, sinker, changeup, and cutter. His most effective strikeout pitches have been with that curve and slider, though, which you can see in action in the above embed.

Prediction

The Rockies have never swept a four-game series in San Francisco, and as 4-9 as the Giants have been, I don’t see that changing this weekend just because Colorado needs these wins more than the rebuilding Giants do.

I feel compelled to mention here that two of the Giants’ five wins last September came against the Rockies. If either of those losses had been wins, they wouldn’t have had to play a tiebreaker game against the Dodgers, avoided the Wild Card Game, and probably could’ve beaten the Braves in the first round instead of getting swept by the Brewers.

But the Rockies will win three out of four... they kinda-sorta have to at this point.