Monday, November 19, 2007

Further Evidence I Suck at Predictions

but in my defense, nobody really saw this magical year coming for Colorado. In fact, as late as September 16, it looked like the same old story and they'd be lucky to finish a few games above .500 (in my preseason predictions, I gave them an 81-81 split and that was about all I was hoping for before the late-season surge kicked into gear). Now it's time to review my individual player predictions, some of which I was close on and some of which I completely missed the boat on (Tulo and Jeff Baker coming to mind). Also note that I only compare predictions with those players who started and finished the year on the team, to spare us the pain of reliving the John Mabry/Steve Finley/Tom Martin experiments.


Jeff Francis, LHP
Projected: 15-10, 4.05 ERA, 201 IP, 135 K, 32 starts
Actual: 17-9, 4.22 ERA, 215.1 IP, 165 K, 34 starts
Result: My Nostradamus skills weren't too bad here. Jeff eked out two extra wins and got bailed out by the offense on the occasion of a few poor starts to keep the loss total south of double-digits, and discovered a strikeout knack to bump him about 30 K's north of the figure I estimated, but in general, this is a close prediction. Kudos to me. Hit.

Aaron Cook, RHP
Projected: 15-12, 4.12 ERA, 215 IP, 95 K, 32 starts
Actual: 8-7, 4.12 ERA, 166 IP, 61 K, 25 starts
Result: Cookie was sidelined by injury again, cutting back on his numbers quite a bit further than I estimated. He definitely didn't come close to the record total I envisioned (but I did hit the ERA nail on the head, go me). He also came 40 innings shy of 200, so I definitely got it wrong on the IP total and gave him too many K's. Miss.

Rodrigo Lopez, RHP
Projected: 8-14, 5.31 ERA, 170 IP, 101 K, 24 starts
Actual: 5-4, 4.42 ERA, 79.1 IP, 43 K, 14 starts
Result: Er, clearly, I miscalculated on this one. Lopez wasn't the 9-18 horror I'd been steeling myself for from the 2006 Orioles, and in the early going he even looked good, but then he made the ill-advised choice of trying to pitch through elbow problems and got blown up. Shut down in August and became a free-agent, may not pitch until August of next year. Miss.

Josh Fogg, RHP
Projected: 10-15, 5.24 ERA, 165 IP, 85 K, 30 starts
Actual: 10-9, 4.94 ERA, 165.2 IP, 94 K, 29 starts
Result: Fogg discovered a way to be good, or at least not bad, in select spots this year, earning the moniker "Dragon Slayer" for his tendency to beat other teams' aces. Still, a world-beater he isn't. I gave him too many losses and an ERA slightly higher than what he ended up with, but nailed win total and IP and came within 9 on the Ks and 1 on the starts. Hit.

Jason Hirsh, RHP
Projected: 7-4, 4.05 ERA, 93 IP, 56 K, 10 starts
Actual: 5-7, 4.81 ERA, 112.1 IP, 75 K, 19 starts
Result: I didn't foresee Hirsh earning a starting spot when I made my predictions (of course, a few weeks later, he got the #4 job). He had moments of brilliance, especially early in the season against the Padres and a six-inning shutout of the Mets in July, but at other times got completely bombed (especially by the Cards) and missed most of the second half of the season due to an assortment of freak injuries. Still projected to be a key contributor next year. Miss.

Taylor Buchholz, RHP
Projected: 3-4, 4.65 ERA, 75 IP, 32 K, 4 starts
Actual: 6-5, 4.23 ERA, 93.2 IP, 61 K, 8 starts
Result: Another one of the pitchers the Rox acquired in the Jennings deal, Bucky was supposed to be a starter, but didn't impress in that role and found a solid and reliable role as the pen's long man. I missed on the win/loss total (although got it right that there was one more than the other) came within the ballpark on the ERA, but muffed IP/K/starts. Miss.

Brian Fuentes, RHP
Projected: 4-2, 3.15 ERA, 31 SV/37 SVO
Actual: 3-5, 3.08 ERA, 20 SV/27 SVO
Result: Oh, Fuentes, I may never forgive you. You've etched yourself into the same unfortunate category as Jose Jimenez, Shawn Chacon, and Jose Mesa, first with your choke job in June and then almost single-handedly destroying the Rockies' prospects for a comeback in Games 3 and 4 of the World Series. Off on the win/loss, quite close on ERA, and predicted six blown saves; he blew seven, and each of them were agony. Hit.

Jeremy Affeldt, LHP
Projected: 1-1, 6.04 ERA, 1 SV/3 SVO
Actual: 4-3, 3.51 ERA, 0 SV/4 SVO
Result: So I underestimated Affeldt; for most of the season he was a decent seventh/eighth inning guy out of the pen before hitting a major wall in September. Still, he wasn't as shitaceous as I was grimly expecting him to be (come on, he's an ex-Royal like Mark "All Star" Redman). Miss.

Manny Corpas, RHP
Projected: 3-2, 3.34 ERA, 2 SV/3 SVO
Actual: 4-2, 2.08 ERA, 19 SV/22 SVO
Result: Clearly, I did not foresee Corpas becoming Studly McStudlerson at closer after Fuentes turned into Choky McChokerson, but so it happened. Manny became a legit flamethrower and a true ninth-inning guy with the mental toughness needed to make everyone feel really confident when he got the ball to close it out. I'll happily take a Miss on this one.

LaTroy Hawkins, RHP
Projected: 1-1, 4.77 ERA, 2 SV/ 5 SVO
Actual: 2-5, 3.42 ERA, 0 SV/5 SVO
Result: He's LaTroy Hawkins, what can you say? He comes to pieces if you attempt to use him as a closer or in any inning later than the eighth, but as a seventh-inning guy, he's generally useful. We can bring him back, maybe, if he takes a pay cut and is used in his proper role. Miss.

Note that I don't have any numbers to toss around for late-season studs Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales, Ryan Speier, etc. They opened the season in Triple-A and weren't marked for promotion, and when Speier was first up, he sucked, so he was quickly sent back. Elmer Dessens, Mark Redman, Ramon Ortiz, et all, aside from being names that I hope I never have to hear in conjunction with the words Colorado Rockies again, were late-season additions. Tom Martin was FINALLY given his walking papers after being as bad as everyone, including me, predicted ( 2-3, 5.64 ERA were my choices, 0-0, 4.91 was the actual). But Jimenez and Morales figure to play a big role next year, and Speier will be back if they don't retain Affeldt/Hawkins et all, and may be back on his own merits as well. 2008 will definitely be an interesting season... as long as Dan O'Dowd does not shoot himself in the foot first by re-signing Shawn Chacon and/or signing Brett Tomko (seriously, I heard he was thinking about that). In what universe and under the influence of what drug is that improvement, Dealin' Dan?

Okay. Now for the hitters.

Todd Helton, 1B
Projected: .318 AVG, 21 HR, 90 RBI, .430 OBP, .490 SLG, .920 OPS
Actual: .321 AVG, 17 HR, 91 RBI, .434 OBP, .494 SLG, .928 OPS
Result: Man, did I nail this one. I called the resurge in average, maintained the crazy OBP, gave ol' Todd a few too many homers, but other than that, I came within a few decimals on everything. Hit.

Jamey Carroll, 2B
Projected: .301 AVG, 2 HR, 27 RBI, .363 OBP, .390 SLG, .753 OPS
Actual: .225 AVG, 2 HR, 22 RBI, .317 OBP, .300 SLG, .617 OPS
Result: Okay, so in case I was thinking I was getting good at this from the success of Todd, here's Carroll to bring me back to earth. He hit at a miserly rate, had a terrible OBP/SLG, but oddly enough, I did get the power numbers right. Fell back to earth after a flukey 2006. Do not let him be the starting 2B next year with the likely departure of Kaz (to the Chicago Muthafriggin Cubs, who I hate with a passion unmatched... except for the Yankees). Miss.

Kaz Matsui, 2B
Projected: .262 AVG, 3 HR, 30 RBI, .327 OBP, .436 SLG, .763 OPS
Actual: .288 AVG, 4 HR, 37 RBI, .342 OBP, .405 SLG, .778 OPS
Result: I'll say I came closer to a hit than a miss on this. I underestimated the strong season Kaz would put together on the rebound in terms of batting average, but HR total, RBI, OBP, SLG, and OPS were all fairly close to what I called, his higher OBP and lower SLG equaling out to quite close on the OPS. Hit.

Clint Barmes, "SS"
Projected: .237 AVG, 7 HR, 27 RBI, .270 OBP, .330 SLG, .600 OPS
Actual: .216 AVG, 0 HR, 1 RBI, .237 OBP, .297 SLG, .534 OPS
Result: Dear God, Clint Barmes. He makes me shudder. When I gave him these generous totals, I was assuming he might, due to Hurdle's maddening love for him, take away playing time from Tulo. Instead, he was even more nauseating than my underwhelming numbers, which says a lot about that Miss. Do not, in the name of all that is holy, make the Rockies brass think that he will be an even barely acceptable fill-in for Kaz next year.

Troy Tulowitzki, Zeus
Projected: .282 AVG, 8 HR, 45 RBI, .330 OBP, .340 SLG, .670 OPS
Actual: .291 AVG, 24 HR, 99 RBI, .359 OBP, .479 SLG, .838 OPS
Result: Erm... hem... HOO BOY. I was wow-really-sorry-Tulo-let-me-bear-your-children-in-apology off on this one... I have learned my lesson. Purple Baby Jesus is the truth. And no Team Jesus jokes. Thank you. Clint Barmes-esque Miss.

Garrett Atkins, 3B
Projected: .331 AVG, 33 HR, 130 RBI, .400 OBP, .567 SLG, .967 OPS
Actual: .301 AVG, 25 HR, 111 RBI, .367 SLG, .486 SLG, .853 OPS
Result: I overvalued Atkins, but he would have come quite a bit closer to my totals if he hadn't spent the first two months of the season in a horrid slump -- he got untracked after that and hit something like .340+ after the All-Star Break. Although not the MVP-caliber I thought, still a solid season. Miss, but only due to May.

Brad Hawpe, RF
Projected: .301 AVG, 27 HR, 95 RBI, .399 OBP, .530 SLG, .929 OPS
Actual: .291 AVG, 29 HR, 116 RBI, .387 OBP, .539 SLG, .926 OPS
Result: I actually came fairly close on dear ol' Brad. I clearly should have called that average for Atkins, and Hawpe didn't ever make it north of .300, but I was within 2 on the homers and extremely close on OBP/SLG/OPS, only undervaluing him on RBI. Hit.

Jeff Baker, RF
Projected: .312 AVG, 14 HR, 46 RBI, .385 OBP, .477 SLG, .862 OPS
Actual: .222 AVG, 4 HR, 12 RBI, .296 OBP, .347 SLG, .643 OPS
Result: Holy flying Batman underpants. I guess the fact that Baker hit .368 after his 2006 call-up blinded me to the fact that he is not, in fact, Dante Bichette reincarnated. Seeing as I was expecting him to play much more than he did, and to be a whole lot better than he is, it makes sense as to why I Missed fairly badly here.

Ryan Spilborghs, RF/CF
Projected: .270 AVG, 5 HR, 25 RBI, .330 OBP, .415 SLG, .745 OPS
Actual: .299 AVG, 11 HR, 51 RBI, .363 OBP, .485 SLG, .848 OPS
Result: Yet another case in which I'm perfectly happy to be wrong. Spilborghs arrived and provided an immediate spark, although he faded badly down the stretch when he had to play every day. Still, he's a very valued part to have-- good fourth outfielders are underrated, and I'll again be fine with taking a Miss here.

Cory Sullivan, CF
Projected: .272 AVG, 3 HR, 31 RBI, .317 OBP, .375 SLG, .692 OPS
Actual: .286 AVG, 2 HR, 14 RBI, .336 OBP, .386 SLG, .722 OPS
Result: Sullivan did slightly better than I gave him credit for in all categories, and provided singles-hitting skills off the bench if very minimal power. I really missed in RBI/OBP, but otherwise the projection is close enough that I'm going to call this a Hit, dammit.

Willy Taveras, CF
Projected: .260 AVG, 1 HR, 17 RBI, .314 OBP, .323 SLG, .637 OPS
Actual: .320 AVG, 2 HR, 24 RBI, .367 OBP, .382 SLG, .749 OPS
Result: I undervalued Willy T, but it didn't look like I had at first; he had an awful start to the season and couldn't get on base to save his life. Then came a 5-for-6 April 25 game against the Mets (which I happen to have attended) and he was off and running, literally, as his biggest impact came on the basepaths (33 stolen bases). Still, he needs to find a way to a) get on aside from beating out bunts, and b) stay healthy. His speed does us no good if he keeps getting something wrong with his legs. Miss.

Matt Holliday, LF
Projected: .339 AVG, 38 HR, 125 RBI, .390 OBP, .600 SLG, .990 OPS
Actual: .340 AVG, 36 HR, 137 RBI, .405 OBP, .607 SLG, 1.012 OPS
Result: Called it. Holliday's transformation from middling minor-league maybe-shoulda-played-quarterback prospect to legit MVP candidate (who won't get it, judging by the way the Rockies have been robbed blind this offseason) is complete. He was almost completely in line with what I called for him in February, and dear God, can Scott Boras just go away so we can re-sign him? (Yes, I also enjoy beating my head on brick walls). Hit.

Yorvit Torrealba, C
Projected: .250 AVG, 6 HR, 44 RBI, .299 OBP, .405 SLG, .704 OPS
Actual: .255 AVG, 8 HR, 47 RBI, .323 OBP, .376 SLG, .699 OPS
Result: Yeah, my prediction looks pretty similar to the actual production, and until the deal fell through at the eleventh hour, the Mets were actually prepared to pay 3 years/14.4 million for this. Also, he let 61 of 76 runners steal... good lord. Redeeming factor: Great with the pitchers, especially all the Latino youngsters. Still, time to move on. Hit.

Chris Iannetta, C
Projected: .270 AVG, 8 HR, 50 RBI, .375 OBP, .387 SLG, .762 OPS
Actual: .218 AVG, 4 HR, 27 RBI, .330 OBP, .350 SLG, .680 OPS
Result: Yeah, I missed it, but Iannetta was given only a minimum of playing time and seemed unready in the early going. However, he matured during the season and after a brief demotion in August, hit .348 the rest of the way down the stretch, proving that he is capable of learning at and playing at this level. Still only 24 and looked to as the Rockies' catcher of the future. Which means they'll sign some crappy veteran Kendall/Barrett/et al to take his place again. Poor Ian. Pretty face. Miss.

Overall: I came quite close on some, missed badly on others, and, like everyone else, didn't foresee the 21-of-22 surge or the fact that they actually won the NL Pennant before getting creamed by the Red Sox. Still, it was quite a thrilling and magical season that I'm extremely glad to have been a part of, and I eagerly await 2008. *

* Now if Chacon/Tomko/et all get signed, or Carroll/Barmes/Quintanilla is dubbed the starting second baseman, I reserve the right to change my opinion...

** Oh what the hell. If I wanted to jump off, I could have done so before now...

*** Although as everyone knows, being a Rockies fan is hard.

**** Shut up, Charlie/Dick Monfort.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tulo vs. Rollins/Braun -- WHAZZA?

Anyone who has followed baseball on more than a superficial level for the past few years can name you a list of the sport's perpetual doormats – the Cubs, the Royals, the Cubs, the Devil Rays, the Cubs, the Rockies – or not. Hold the phone, at least on the last two. While the comically inept North Siders are still waiting to cash a world championship check for the first time since 1908, the Royals are held in the thrall of David Glass, and the Devil Rays are hoping that a long-term rebuilding plan with young stars Scott Kazmir, Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, and Evan Longoria propels them from zero to hero in a brutal AL East, the Rockies are finally reaping the rewards of their own retooling plan.

The Rockies, brought to baseball's exclusive fraternity in 1993, won a wild card in 1995 on the strength of the Blake Street Bombers – Castilla, Walker, Bichette – and their helium-inflated statistics, taking advantage of a home park that played like a pinball field to offset suspect pitching and raise fans' hopes for a glorious future for the toddler franchise. Unfortunately, the promise never materialized, and watching their brothers in expansion, the Marlins, capture a championship two years later stuck in their craw. It must have required the Heimlich when the Fish did it again in 2003, earning a World Series MVP performance from some kid named Josh Beckett and upsetting the heavily favored Yankees in six games, Aaron Boone's previous ALCS heroics notwithstanding.

While the Marlins were building a winning product and then promptly dismantling it, the Rockies were struggling to build anything at all. They clambered over the ledge of respectability exactly once after 1995, carving out an 82-80 ledge in 2000 back when Coors Field was still Coors Canaveral and pitchers dreaded entering the thin air for the inevitable 10-9 slugfest. The problem was that the Rockies lacked any good arms of their own, a deficiency they attempted to remedy after 2000 by two of the most justifiably mocked free-agent deals in history, ludicrous 7-year/$120 million and 5-year/$51 million pacts to Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle, respectively (two names that cause Rockies fans to exhibit a Pavlovian twitch, close seconds being Lance Painter, Shawn Chacon-as-closer, and Jose Mesa).

Unsurprisingly, the deals failed; nobody could pitch in Coors, or at least not well. After the 2002 season, the Rockies attempted a new solution, storing their baseballs in a climate-controlled humidor to stop them from shrinking, drying out, and consequently traveling 400 feet over the outfield fences (the deepest of any park in baseball for this very reason) if connected with a bat. This solution worked at least in theory, but it didn't matter if nobody on the team could throw them past said bats. Signing free agents to big deals in the era of overspending had left the Rockies' farm system shallow on talent and offering no quick fixes for a team destined to bottom-feeding in a weak NL West (dubbed the Worst after the Padres nabbed a playoff spot in 2005 with an 82-80 mark).

2005 was a year significant for other reasons, although the organization didn't yet realize it. With their seventh overall first-round pick in the June amateur draft, they took Long Beach State shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who had fortunately dropped low enough on the table for them to pick him up; the Seattle Mariners were seriously considering him and passed at the last minute, taking catcher Jeff Clement instead. At 6'3" and 205 pounds, Tulowitzki was a big shortstop in the vein of Cal Ripken. He'd later prove that this was an apt comparison in more ways than one.

Tabbed as a decent-to-good MLB player sometime in the future, Tulowitzki took every expectation and ran with it. He spent the shortest amount of time in the minor leagues of any Rockies player, ever, never played an inning at Triple-A Colorado Springs, and first arrived in Denver in August 2006 for a late-season showing, hoping to unseat incumbent Clint Barmes for the starting shortstop job. Tulowitzki hit .240 with one home run and six RBIs in 96 at-bats over August and the remainder of September; not completely terrible, but highly touted prospects had certainly done better, leading manager Clint Hurdle to announce that it was a "competition" for Tulowitzki and Barmes coming into Spring Training 2007.

Barmes himself had once been heralded as the shortstop of the future after starting 2005 (again, a significant year) batting .400, but after the unfortunate and much-mocked "deer meat" incident where he broke his collarbone returning from a hunting trip, he was a ghost of his old self and barely cleared the Mendoza line on his return to the big leagues. But as soon as camp convened in Tucson the next year, it became clear that he was the one headed to Colorado Springs, not Tulowitzki. The 22-year-old impressed with his poise, maturity, intuition, and raw skill, and broke camp as the starting shortstop.

Unfortunately, both rookie and team started out in their accustomed rut; Tulowitzki hit sub-.200 for the first few weeks of the season and the Rockies languished to 18-27 out of the gate. Then Tulowitzki, a rookie never afraid to play the role of a veteran, let his teammates know that the losing which they'd been so used to was no longer acceptable.

The result? The best record in the NL, and second-best in baseball to the Yankees, from May 22 (70-49). The best team batting average in baseball (.280) at the end of the season, now with the humidor cutting down on the cartoonish video-game numbers. The best ERA (3.65) after the All-Star Break. And a phenomenal rookie shortstop centering the middle of the infield which became integral to the best-fielding team of all time – the Rockies' cumulative .989 fielding percentage edged out the short-held record (by the 2006 Boston Red Sox) by a few decimals. Surely Tulowitzki would be rewarded with the NL Gold Glove (despite a long-held bias against giving it to rookies) or the NL Rookie of the Year against top competition Ryan Braun.

The result? He got neither.

The Gold Gloves failed to recognize Tulowitzki's stellar glovework up the middle, instead awarding it to Jimmy Rollins. While Rollins became something of a media darling for his self-assured pronouncement that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East (and then making good on it – while aided largely by the Mets' spectacular collapse reminiscent of Philadelphia's own team in 1964) he was an inferior defender to Tulowitzki, who pioneered the spinning, across-body throws ala his hero, Derek Jeter, that routinely landed him on SportsCenter.

Not convinced? Let's take a look at the numbers. Rollins started every one of the Phillies' 162 games at shortstop. He had 717 total chances, handling 706 of them cleanly while recording 227 putouts and 479 assists and turning 110 double plays with second baseman Chase Utley. This was good for a .985 fielding percentage (third in the NL behind Tulowitzki and San Francisco's Omar Vizquel) and a 13.23 range factor (measuring the balls outside of his numerical range that he reached instead of the third baseman or the second baseman). He had a zone rating of .824; all in all, a solid defender and a key component of the Phillies' defense (which made 89 miscues for a .986 overall FP). But Gold Glove? Not if you believe the award should go to the best defender at every position.

Tulowitzki started 155 games at shortstop, missing one or two during his early-season woes and when manager Hurdle decided to give old stalwart Barmes a shot. Despite this, he had 834 total chances, 117 more than Rollins, handling 823 of them cleanly – in other words, he made the same amount of errors in almost 13% more opportunities. Tulowitzki recorded 262 putouts, 35 more than Rollins, and had a whopping 630 assists, beating Rollins by 151. He was part of 139 double plays with second-sacker Kaz Matsui, edging Rollins/Utley by 29, and in all these categories, he was tops in the NL. His .987 fielding percentage in the hole again led all of baseball at his position.

And if this wasn't enough, his range factor beat out Rollins again; Tulowitzki reached close to 16% (16.16) of the balls that weren't in shortstop territory. His zone rating was .866, bettering Rollins by 0.042. And oh yeah, there was that fact of the best-fielding team ever (the Rockies made 68 errors for a .989 FP. In an equally egregious oversight, Todd Helton, who made 2 errors all year for an almost-stellar .999 mark, was somehow passed up for the Gold Glove in favor of Chicago's Derrek Lee, who made 7).

And yet, no Gold Glove for the mantelpiece for the rookie sensation. In a text message to the Denver Post, Tulowitzki shrugged it off, jokingly asking if he'd won the Silver Glove and pointing out that the Rockies captured the NL pennant while the Phillies watched on TBS after being upturned in three during the division series. But he still had a shot to claim postseason hardware in the NL Rookie of the Year category, considered a two-horse race between himself and Milwaukee third baseman Ryan Braun (early favorite Hunter Pence dropped out of sight after a midseason wrist injury).

Tulowitzki lost.

True, it was in one of the closest ROY votes in history (winner Braun edged Tulowitzki by two votes). It's hard to ignore the 23-year-old Braun's epic offensive season; called up on May 25, he hit .324 in 451 at-bats, with a .370 on-base percentage, a .634 slugging percentage, 34 home runs, 97 RBIs, and 26 doubles. He scored 91 runs, walked 29 times and struck out 110 times.

In contrast, Tulowitzki hit .291 in 609 at-bats, with a .359 OBP and a .479 SLG. While setting the NL rookie shortstop record for homers, he hit 24 of them, with 99 RBIs and 33 doubles, scoring 104 runs. He walked 57 times and struck out 130 times; while he had a tendency to chase, as evidenced by the high K rate, his eye was clearly better than Braun's. If judged purely on offensive merits, this was Braun's award; Tulowitzki was good but Braun was better, a pure hitter who seemed only primed to improve.

The problem was that this is an award who should recognize the most complete player, and that's where the complications begin to develop. To use the word defense for what Braun did at third base was charitable. Tulowitzki's stellar glovework has been covered; Braun, in contrast, made 26 errors in 112 games at third base (in 248 chances) for a historically bad .895 fielding percentage. To show how poor this is, consider this: Gary Sheffield fielded just under .900 with the Marlins in limited duty as a third baseman in 1993, but the last regular position player to field under .900 was 1978 Red Sox third baseman Butch Hobson at .899. And before him, you have to look back to 1916 and third baseman (there seems to be a trend) Charlie Pick of the Philadelphia Athletics, also .899. And Braun was lower than all of them. He was the worst defensive every day third baseman in a long, long time.

Consider these numbers: a 6.34 range factor and a .697 zone rating for Braun, who was routinely taken out for a defensive replacement in close games with the Brewers ahead, no matter the offense lost with his bat. And then there's this: the plus/minus rating system to judge the difference between defenders. Braun had a -41 rating, the worst for any player in baseball, which meant that he made 41 fewer plays than the average third baseman. Tulowitzki's was +35, the highest at his position again – he made 35 more plays than the average shortstop. That equals out to 80 plays and almost 50 runs a year. Braun is a player made for the AL and the fielding-shielded designated hitter.

And then again, there's this. The Brewers folded up the tent in the second half of the season, allowing the miserable Cubs to take the Central (and be rolled three-and-out by the Diamondbacks in the opening playoff round). All the Rockies did was make history with an unprecedented 21-of-22 run, at one point winning 11 in a row before having their win streak snapped by Brandon Webb on September 28 to put them in the position of having to win their last two games (and have the San Diego Padres lose their last two – and most coincidentally, against the Brewers) just to force a one-game playoff.

That night, Tulowitzki hit a grand slam and the Rockies rolled to an 11-1 win over the Diamondbacks and edged out a 4-3 victory the next day. The Brewers beat the Padres that night and then again, setting up a showdown between Colorado and San Diego on October 1 at Coors Field.

The Rockies fought valiantly for 12 innings with the score tied at 6, having a home run taken away from Garrett Atkins and incorrectly ruled a double, and then they put in Jorge Julio, who promptly served up a two-run homer to Scott Hairston. The Rockies seemed destined for a disappointing exit. Then came the bottom of the 13th inning, facing a do-or-die situation against all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman.

Kazuo Matsui led off with a double. Tulowitzki shot another one in between Scott Hairston and Mike Cameron (who, playing with a broken hand, likely couldn't have corralled it anyway) to bring the Rockies to within 8-7. Very shortly, he scored the tying run on Matt Holliday's triple, and a few minutes and a disputed slide later, the Rockies were the NL Wild Card winners at 90-73, one year after finishing a dismal 10 games south of .500 at 76-86. Don't get the Rockies wrong, they appreciate the Brewers' contribution – but Tulowitzki brought fire, skill, intangibles, a never-say-die attitude, and raw presence to the team, and yet couldn't be rewarded with anything for it? It's a shame.