Nolan Jones is most valuable, Kris Bryan most disappointing

It’s not easy to dish out awards for the 2023 Rockies, given that they own the worst record in franchise history and lost 100 games for the first time. But I’ll give it my best shot.

Most Valuable Rockie: Rookie outfielder Nolan Jones gets the nod over rookie shortstop Ezequiel Tovar and veteran catcher Elias Diaz. Yes, Tovar plays a more impactful defensive position, and Diaz caught more games than anyone in Rockies history and also was the MVP of the All-Star Game.

But Jones’ breakout season — at the plate and in the outfield — is worthy of strong consideration for National League rookie-of-the-year honors. What’s more, he provided some of the most exciting defensive plays and longest homers of the season.

Jone’s MVR statistics are compelling. Among major-league rookies with 400 plate appearances, Jones entered the final weekend of the season tied for first in average (.290) and ranked first in on-base percentage (.383), slugging (.535) and OPS (.918). Jones’ 19 home runs ranked as the fifth-most by a rookie in Rockies history and ranked as the second-most by a left-handed hitter behind only Todd Helton (25 in 1998). Jones has also stolen 18 bases and hit .423 (30 for 71) with six homers with runners in scoring position.

Jones’ 18 outfield assists are the most in the majors and the most in franchise history, surpassing Dante Bichette’s 17 in 1999, despite playing only 90 games in the outfield (Bichette played 144).

Most valuable pitcher: This is tough to call because an MVP on the hill is difficult to find. As manager Bud Black said Friday, Colorado’s starting rotation was “ravaged” by injuries this season. There’s no denying that, but Colorado’s veteran starters struggled when they were healthy, too. The rotation’s combined ERA of 5.92, the worst in the majors and the second-highest in franchise history (6.12 ERA in 1999), is evidence of that.

The bullpen ran hot early in the season but got blown up in the second half, so none of the relievers get MVP consideration.

So the slight nod goes to lefty starter Kyle Freeland over lefty starter Austin Gomber. Most of their basic numbers, save for the win-loss record, are almost identical, and they aren’t pretty:

• Freeland:  6-14, 5.03 ERA in 29 starts (155 2/3 innings), 1.47 WHIP, .300 average against.

• Gomber: 9-9, 5.50 ERA in 27 starts (139 innings), 1.49 WHIP, .297 average against.

Freeland gets a slight edge because he made two more starts and his record should have been much better. He was the ultimate hard-luck pitcher this season, getting precious little run support and getting beat by “that’s baseball” base hits throughout the season.

Gomber bounced back from a terrible beginning of the season (12.12 ERA over four starts) to pitch some solid games, but Freeland was slightly better for the whole, terrible season.

Most Disappointing Rockie: It’s outfielder/first baseman Kris Bryant by a mile. He was paid $28 million this season, but injuries had limited him to 78 games entering the weekend.

Even when Bryant did play, he put up pedestrian numbers: .239 average, 10 home runs, .693 OPS, a 79 OPS+, and a minus-0.9 WAR. His 30.7% hard-hit rate falls below the league average of 38.9%.

Bryant flashed his talents when he came off the injured list on Sept. 11, hitting safely in five of his first six games after his broken index finger healed. But then he hit 2-for-26 with two doubles, one RBI and 11 strikeouts.

Most Disappointing Pitcher: There are a lot of candidates but right-handed reliever Daniel Bard had a trying season from the get-go and his season-long struggles left a huge void at the back of the bullpen.

Bard was an effective closer last season, posting a 1.79 ERA with 34 saves and was worthy of an All-Star Game selection. Just before the trade deadline last year, Colorado gave him a two-year, $19 million contract to pitch for the team through 2024.

This season started off rough when he opened the season on the injured list as he dealt with anxiety. He returned but he struggled with bouts of wildness throughout the season, resulting in a 4.56 ERA over 49 1/3 innings. Most concerning, Bard had more walks (49) than strikeouts (47) and it got to the point that Black was using Bard in a mop-up role. Bard finished the season on the IL with a right flexor strain but the Rockies anticipate he will return fully healthy.

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