Friday, October 09, 2009

The Colorado Rockies - 2009 Debrief

This continues a series on debriefing every MLB club for the 2009 series. The series started with a look at the National League West and has already discussed the Padres, Diamondbacks and the Giants. It's now time to feature the Rockies and then tomorrow, the Dodgers. Those last two tasks are difficult as the teams are still playing in the playoffs. This writer, for example, has to certainly eat crow after stating openly that it wouldn't seem likely for the Rockies to win a game against the Phillies. The Rockies did win a game last night and it's just one more unlikely event for a little team that could in 2009.

In a pun very much intended, the Rockies have overcome every large Hurdle this year to get to the playoffs. They are the wild card team because they won more games than the Giants, the Braves, the Marlins and everyone in the Central Division. The Rockies set a franchise record for wins with 92, besting the 90 they produced in 2007 when they were truly the Cinderella story of that season. They did so despite a pitching staff that ranked 17th out of 26 teams and a defense that ranked in the same exact slot. How did that happen?

The first question cannot really be answered as there is no way to measure the answer. Why would a team start the season 18-28 under one manager (Hurdle) and finish with another manager the rest of the season at a 74-42 clip? There is no way of really knowing why it was not going so well under Hurdle and then went so well with Tracy. After all, Tracy has managed other places with moderate results. Was this a case of a really bad situation whose resolution allowed the players to play to their capability? Or would this team have been this good anyway? Who knows. All we know is that they started the season in a huge hole and were ten games under .500 when Tracy took over. That is a deep hole. But the team took off after that including an eleven game win streak.

Not matter where the truth lies, the main facts are that the starting rotation settled down and had a good season 1-5, which no team can state. Their offense, largely due to a resurgence in Tulowitzki. And their closer, Huston Street, turned it on after a truly abysmal start. Let's start with the rotation.

The Rockies have five starters that made all but seven starts for the team. In other words, they each took the ball during their turn and stayed healthy and stayed moderately effective. You can't look at any other playoff team and say that. The Yankees have certainly featured some adventures in their rotation as have the Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Angels, Cardinals and Twins. The five (Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Marquis, Aaron Cook, Jason Hammel and Ubaldo Jiminez) are not spectacular by any stretch. Three of the five walked over 80 batters this year. Only one had a WHIP under 1.350. Only one (Hammel) had a 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio. But the key for these five are that they took the ball every five days all year and kept their team in the game while the offense won the game.

The offense is unfortunately, still defined by Coors Field. Humidor or no, the Rockies had an OPS at home of .849 and only .718 on the road. Compare that to the Yankees who went .858 at home and .822 on the road. The Rockies' batting average and OBP were 50 points higher at home. Their slugging percentage was 83 points higher at Coors. Star shortstop, Troy Trevor Tulowitzki is a prime example. He is Hanley Ramirez at home and well, Troy Tulowitzki on the road. It's a sad fact that Holliday has the ability to overcome with the Cardinals while Todd Helton may never be taken seriously as the star he has been.

But the fact remains that the Rockies finished second in the National League in runs scored, first in walks and OPS, third in doubles, first in triples and second in home runs. They are patient at the plate and will wear out the opposing starter. Five of their regular eight position players finished well over 100 OPS+. Their only positional weakness at bat they have are at catcher, second base and third base.

Huston Street had a good year after a bad start. Street struggled last year, so much so that when the year began, Manual Corpas won the closing job. Corpas struggled immediately and the two were again switched. Much of the success of the team this year can be given to Street who was very good for the last three quarters of the season. And it's a good thing because he didn't have much company in the bullpen. Daley and Morales were adequate. Corpas and Embree were terrible. The team got a late boost by the unlikely trio of Josh Fogg, Jose Contreras and Rafael Betancourt down the stretch. All three were spectacular down the stretch. Betancourt was really effective and finished with a 1.78 ERA in 32 appearances.

The Rockies' fielding needs to improve. Placing 17th out of 26 teams in defensive efficiency is not going to cut it. Tulowitzki had a very good season in the field. The tandem of Iannetta and Torrealba really struggle to throw out runners. Iannetta finished at 26% and Torrealba at a Varitek-like 14%. Watching him during the playoffs, Torrealba's mechanics seem to be most at fault. He is not in a good position to throw and he looks awkward.

The Rockies best prospect already broke into the majors this year and that was Dexter Fowler. Fowler had a successful rookie campaign even though he tailed off toward the end of the year at the plate. He has really anchored down the outfield (goodbye Willy Tavares) and should be an effective player for years to come. He shows good patience at the plate and his power numbers should increase along with his batting average.

Other than Fowler, there isn't much in the Rockies' pipeline. Dhoulys Chacin is a five-star prospect and could get a chance to break into the rotation next year, especially if Marquis walks during free agency.

The Rockies will go as far as their pitching will take them. It would seem difficult for their current rotation to duplicate the amazing durability and stability they provided this year. Jiminez and De La Rosa are good talents and should get better barring injury. It is hard to see them winning more than 88 games next year. But then again, it was hard seeing them win a game against the Phillies and look at that!

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