A friend of mine who lives in the Chicago area recently sent me a magazine from 1999 which had a preview of the upcoming series between the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies at Wrigley Field.
I’m a sucker for nostalgia, so I began reading through it as the Cubs-focused publication broke down some of the key weapons in the Rockies lineup (iconic names like Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla). They also talked about some of the problems in the Colorado rotation and the struggles that Darryl Kile and Pedro Astacio were going through.
A powerful Colorado lineup that was handcuffed by pitching problems? Yes, this is 1999 I was reading about, not recent campaigns.
However, there was a line in the article where the writer was lamenting the lack of speed for the Rockies. He went as far as to say, “When successful in past seasons, speed has been an element of the Colorado attack.”
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Written in 1999, the article was catching the Rockies in the middle of two consecutive seasons where the team would finish 14th in the National League in steals with 67 in 1998 and 70 in 1999. Colorado’s lineup, at the time, simply wasn’t built for speed.
Eric Young, still the franchise’s all-time leader in steals with 180 in 613 games, was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1997 for the aforementioned Astacio. Quinton McCracken, another burner on the bases who was taken by the Rockies in their inaugural draft in 1992, was drafted off Colorado’s roster by the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays in November of 1997.
The duo helped Colorado become the first franchise to have a team hit 200 homers and steal 200 bases in one season. That 1996 campaign, Young (53 stolen bases), Ellis Burks (32) and Bichette (31) were thieves extraordinaire who each swiped more than 30 bases.
But as the decade wore on, the face of Colorado’s offense changed. The Rockies suddenly weren’t built for speed in late 1990s. They’re not built for speed now either it seems.
Last season, Colorado tied for 11th in the National League in stolen bases with 66 swipes. Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu combined for 28 of those. It marked the third consecutive season where the Rockies haven’t stolen 100 bases, following a stretch between 2007 and 2013 where Colorado eclipsed the 100-base mark all but one season.
As a note, Colorado has finished in the National League’s top four in stolen bases just twice since 2002. The Rockies paced the NL in steals in 2008 with 141 and were fourth with 112 swipes in 2013.
Will Colorado be a speed team next year? It seems unlikely. Trevor Story had eight stolen bases in 97 games and David Dahl had five in 63 games. Add them to the Blackmon-LeMahieu tandem for a full season and Colorado still doesn’t hit the century mark in 2017.
Who else can add some speed for Colorado? Raimel Tapia has the opportunity to use his blazing speed to add plenty of stolen bases for the Rockies in 2017. But how much will he be playing at the Major League level in a crowded outfield that already includes Dahl, Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez and Gerardo Parra?
One of the biggest question marks of the offseason is who will come in to play first base for the Rockies. We’ve heard rumors of Matt Holliday, Mike Napoli or Mark Trumbo filling the opening at first base. We’ve detailed many of those rumors in our continuously updated rumors section you can find here. The three players mentioned above are all known for their bat and not their legs, so there will be minimal speed options there.
And what about new manager Bud Black? During his years in San Diego, the Padres finished second or first in the National League in steals for four straight seasons. However, in Black’s first two seasons, including the infamous 2007 season that saw the Padres lose in Game 163 at Coors Field, San Diego finished dead last in the National League in steals.
The bottom line … Black’s teams ran when they had the personnel. When they didn’t, they didn’t.
Colorado is expected to be a strong hitting team next year, following up on a season where the Rockies paced the National League in runs scored for the third consecutive campaign. There should be plenty of offense to go around. However, it looks like that the Rockies will once again be a team that depends more on the long ball and extra-base hits than creating runs with speed.