The Colorado Rockies have been fond of veterans in recent seasons for several positions. This year is no different as both Daniel Murphy and Matt Kemp were expected to help lead the offense. Instead, they have struggled through the team’s first 30 games and could be in danger of falling further on the team’s depth chart.
Colorado Rockies Veterans Struggling
The Rockies are not the oldest team in the major leagues but they do have a handful of players who are at least 30-years-old. Charlie Blackmon and Daniel Bard are two who are excelling this year but several others have faltered badly in 2020. Murphy, Kemp and Wade Davis are three players who were supposed to do big things this season but instead have crumbled outside of a few individual moments.
Murphy is the biggest offender this season. He is tied for fourth on the team in home runs at three. The problem is that the rest of his hitting has deteriorated. Murphy’s slash line has fallen for a third-straight season in 2020. It currently sits at .256/.292/.378. That is significantly worse than 2019’s .279/.328/.452.
Some of Murphy’s decline could be pure bad luck; his BABIP is almost 40 points below it’s career average but that’s not everything. There’s still time to reverse this trend but Murphy will have to start hitting the ball hard again. Statcast has his HardHit% at 22.7 in 2020. His career hard hit rate is 36.2 since the system launched in 2015.
The Struggles Aren’t Limited to Murphy
The team also had high hopes for Matt Kemp in 2020. The 35-year-old was great as recently as 2018 when he hit .290/.338/.481 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, Kemp collapsed in 2019 with the Cincinnati Reds and hasn’t bounced back enough this year. He is hitting just .246/.338/.385 with two home runs and 19 strikeouts in 74 plate appearances. His power has also disappeared which is alarming even for someone who will play half of the season at Coors Field. Statcast has Kemp with a 26.1 hard hit percentage this year. His career rate is 38.5 percent.
The team had hoped Kemp’s career success at Coors Field would make up for his age. Kemp has traditionally dominated the Rockies at their home field with a .324/.387/.603 slash line. The .993 OPS would be Kemp’s fifth-best for any ballpark and it has by far the largest sample with over 400 plate appearances. He isn’t quite that dominant this year but is still good with Coors as the background. He is hitting .297/.366/.486 at home with seven strikeouts. His two home runs have both come at his new home park. Kemp might be struggling overall but it looks as though Colorado can still rely on him as a home platoon option.
Fixing the Struggles
The team may be starting to recognize Murphy’s inability to produce after its recent losing streak. Josh Fuentes started at first base for the first time this season, and he produced value. Fuentes went 2-for-5 albeit with three strikeouts. The Rockies also used Ryan McMahon at first for several games last week. Using a combination of McMahon and Fuentes at first allows the team to do two things. First, it keeps Murphy off the field. Second, it lets the team work Brendan Rodgers into the lineup more often. Rodgers is far below replacement-level right now but there is time for him to get experience going into 2021.
Kemp should be strictly limited to designated hitter at home against left-handed pitchers. That maximizes his overall production based on 2020 splits. Kemp’s tOPS+ is over 100 both at Coors Field and against southpaws. TOPS+ is a metric that attempts to capture a player’s output relative to their overall production. Murphy is similar with an above-average tOPS+ against right-handed batters and at home. Kemp and Murphy can platoon at designated hitter when the team plays in spacious Coors but neither should be a major option on the road for the next 30 games.
Fuentes, McMahon and Rodgers can easily function as a unit to cover first and second base. The team also has several options for designated hitter on the road. One of the best road tOPS+ marks on the team is backup catcher Elias Diaz. The veteran backstop has a .214/.353/.286 slash line on the road which is not good but it still manages to beat most of the other options. The Rockies are already committed to Tony Wolters and Drew Butera as the primary catching combination. Letting Diaz be the road designated hitter would help maximize his production for the final half of the season.
What This Means Beyond 2020
It is highly unlikely Kemp returns for 2021 at 36 years old. There wouldn’t be a guaranteed spot on the roster even if the designated hitter position remains for the National League. He would be a cheap option but the team really should start pushing prospects towards the major leagues. Ian Desmond will return next season and might take Kemp’s spot as an option against left-handed pitching.
Murphy is the more expensive mistake. He is making $8 million in 2020 but that hasn’t translated to any positive value for the team since he joined it in 2019. There is a mutual option of $12 million for 2021, but the team should, under no circumstances, exercise it. The Rockies have far too many prospects capable of playing first base to allow Murphy to take the field again after this season. It would be smarter to see what Fuentes or another young player can do before handing more money to a failed investment.
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