The Colorado Rockies reversed their record this season, going from 75-87 in 2016 to 87-75 and a spot in the NL Wild Card Game in 2017. The Rockies did lose that NL Wild Card Game to the Arizona Diamondbacks (ARI 11, COL 8), bringing their season to an abrupt end, but it is still a season they can be proud of. It was only the fourth trip to the postseason in franchise history, after all.
In Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado, the Rockies had two legitimate MVP candidates in 2017. Arenado set new career highs in doubles (40), batting average (.309), on-base percentage (.373), slugging percentage (.586), and OPS+ (132) while also chipping in his usual 37 homers and 130 RBI. He is a good bet to finish in the top five of the MVP voting for the second straight year.
Blackmon had an unreal season, hitting .331/.399/.601 (142 OPS+) with 37 home runs and 104 RBI from the leadoff spot. Those 104 RBI are the single-season record for a leadoff hitter. Blackmon won the NL batting title and led baseball in hits (213), runs (137), triples (14), and total bases (387). The smart money is on him joining Arenado in the top five of the MVP voting.
The Rockies have a strong core of position players -- they led the NL in runs this season -- but, for the first time in franchise history, they also have a great young group of pitchers as well. Yes, Jon Gray did get hammered in the Wild Card Game, but he still had an excellent season overall and is a legitimate top of the rotation starter. He is the headliner for this up-and-coming Rockies staff.
Consider the top seasons in franchise history by pitchers age 25 and under:
- 2013 Jhoulys Chacin: +5.8 WAR
- 2009 Ubaldo Jimenez: +5.6 WAR
- 2004 Joe Kennedy: +5.6 WAR
- 2008 Ubaldo Jimenez: +3.8 WAR
- 2001 Jhoulys Chacin: +3.7 WAR
- 2013 Tyler Chatwood: +3.4 WAR
- 2017 Kyle Freeland: +3.3 WAR
- 2017 Jon Gray: +3.2 WAR
- 2006 Jeff Francis: +3.2 WAR
- 2017 German Marquez: +3.1 WAR
Three of the 10 best seasons by a Rockies pitcher age 25 and under happened in 2017. And Gray, had he not missed two and a half months with a foot injury, likely would've cleared +5 WAR this season, maybe even +6 WAR. Look at it another way: Gray posted a 3.18 FIP this season, the best in franchise history regardless of age. FIP is based on getting strikeouts and limiting walks and homers, three very important skills in Coors Field, and Gray did all of that better in 2017 than any Rockies pitcher ever.
The team's pitching depth goes beyond Gray, Freeland, and Marquez. Both Jeff Hoffman and Antonio Senzatela showed promise this season, and 20-somethings Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis are still around as well. Anderson was slowed by injuries this year but pitched well in a long relief role late in the season. Bettis missed most of the year while receiving treatment for testicular cancer. .
Keep in mind these are not out of nowhere seasons for these Rockies pitchers. They were all highly regarded as minor leaguers. Gray was the third overall pick in the 2013 draft, picked right after Kris Bryant. Freeland and Hoffman were the eighth and ninth overall picks in the 2014 draft, respectively, sandwiched between Aaron Nola (seventh overall) and Michael Conforto (tenth overall). Baseball America ranked German as the 53rd best prospect in baseball coming into 2017. There's a lot of talent here.
Of course, Coors Field has a way of conquering even the most talented pitchers, and injuries are always a risk as well. Pitchers get hurt. That's what they do. And that makes it especially important that the Rockies have so many quality young starters and not just one or two. If anyone breaks down or takes a step back with their performance, there are others ready to step in. The more pitching the better, especially in Colorado. The Rockies have more of it now than ever before, giving the team a chance to make postseason trips an annual thing going forward.