Monday, March 31, 2008
See you tomorrow anyway.
Top 1st: Wainwright vs. Taveras, Tulowitzki, Helton
Fastball, SINGLE! Willy!!!
Fastball, ball. High inside.
Fastball, hit a very long way... nice catch by Schumaker, robs Tulo of a double (he scorched it). Blah. 1 out.
Fastball, called strike. Questionable.
PO attempt. Give it up, Adam.
Changeup, and Todd whacks it! Double down the line!! Willy T to third! And here comes Matt!
Slider, ball 1.
Fastball, ball 2. Inside.
Curveball, ball 3. Adam is scared of Matt. With good reason.
Slider, ball 4. Bases loaded, one out. Atkins up.
Fastball, ball 1.
Fastball.... OH Excellent, I see in play, runs(s).... groundout, everyone moves up, Willy T scores. 1-0 Rockies! Garrett with the club's first RBI!
Curveball, called strike.
Curveball, fouled off.
Fastball, got a little under it for a fly-out. But a nice start, and we lead. HELL yeahs.
Bottom 1st: Francis vs. Schumaker, Ludwick, Pujols
Ball 1. Jeffrey...
Ball 2. Come on Jeff, get rid of the nerves.
Ball 3. OH COME ON! All fastballs thus far.
Ball 4. Mound visit, please!
Ball 1. Fastball.
Ball 2. Slider. Um, is this NukeLaLoosh or Jeff Francis?
What? A STRIKE? 2-1. 2 on. 0 out.
Fastball.... scary out. Matt catches it. 2 on, 1 out.
Another ball. Somebody sort Francis out.
Ball 2. Ugh. Case of the nerves. Yorvit, talk to him in between innings.
Ball 3. Oy. Slider, for a change. Yorvit is sitting on the fastball.
Ball 4... bases loaded, one out. Not good.
Ball. SOMEBODY TALK TO HIM! He was so sharp all spring.
Ball 2. Why am I not surprised? You will get no calls this way, Jeff.
Ball 3. This is insane! Jeffrey! Christ!
Fouled off. 3-1.
Fouled off again. 3-2. Get out of this inning as quickly as possible...
oh fuck... in play runs....
Double. 2-1 Cards lead. Ah fuck.
Guess what for pitch 1.
Pitch 2: Slider, fouled.
Pitch 3: Off Helton's glove, into right. 4-1. FUCK!
Called strike. Get Izturis out, he sucks.
Fouled back, fastball. 2-2.
Didn't work. Base hit to center, Adam up. Francis, come ON. Nerves or no, don't embarrass yourself.
First pitch: Infield-fly popout. 2 gone.
Curveball, called strike.
Fastball, called strike.
Slider, ball. I really rather hoped we were past all this.
Changeup, hit at Nix, flips to Tulo for the force. Thank god THAT is over with. Blech. Now that's out of your system, Francis? 4-1 Cardinals. Kip Wells was in the bullpen, you inconsiderate bastard. KIP WELLS FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST. Francis is usually GOOD against the Cardinals.
Top 2nd: Wainwright vs. Torrealba, Nix, Francis
Fastball, swinging strike. Do not let Adam get in a groove.
Curveball, called. Eh.
Called out on a questionable "followthrough." Same old Yorvit, stupid umpires. 3-pitch K. 1 out.
High and tight, fouled off. 0-1.
Curveball, ball 1.
Low, ball 2.
Pops out on a slider, 2 outs. This is the weak part of the lineup, but still.
Redeem yourself, buster.
Ball 1, fastball.
Curveball misses low, ball 2. 2-2.
Reached a little outside, fouled off. Count holds.
Slider, misses inside. 3-2. You need this kind of inning too, Jeff. That is, a fast one.
Seventh pitch.... taps softly to Adam, who throws to Pujols for the force. Ulp.
Bottom 2nd: Francis vs. Schumaker, Ludwick, Pujols
How about a re-do? EH?
Ball 1. Nope. Same old same old. This may be a loooong game.
Fastball, in there for (don't faint) a strike.
Changeup, outside corner. Schumaker swings and fails to come up with it. Nice.
Grounded to Todd. That's more like it. 1 out.
Ball. Maybe. I take leave to doubt it, but Francis has given the ump no reason to be generous.
Grounded to Atkins, 2 outs. Much more like it, yes.
A FIRST PITCH STRIKE WHATNOW
So he follows it up with a ball. 1-1.
Urp. Pujols homer. 5-1.
Fastball fouled off. 1-1.
Swinging strike. 2-2.
Ball, way inside. Full count. Jeff needs to shake this one off posthaste.
Fouled. Francis already at 50 pitches. Gadzoinks.
Misses with a changeup. Glaus walks. Four walks. Fuck.
Called strike 1.
Fastball fouled off. 0-2.
Ball in the dirt. Yorvit has to block. 1-2.
Fouled off, still 1-2.
Changeup, fouled off again. No out pitch today. Count the same.
Changeup fouled off again.
Fouled off AGAIN! Goddammit Ankiel, go away!
Finally. Got him fishing at a curveball, K's. Not before more damage. Urgh.
Top 3rd: Wainwright vs. Taveras, Tulowitzki, Helton
Ball 1. Come on guys.
And.... out. Another long one to Schumaker. Arrgh! You started out so well! And go away, Schumaker.
And... base hit to left. Take that, Schumaker. Let's get something going. Tulo on first, Todd up.
Fastball down the pipe fouled off.
High up... and Todd's out. Popped out. 2 out. Tulo on first.
Please continue your reputation as a Cardinals-killer.
Ball, away. 1-0.
Ball, outside. 2-0.
Fastball down Broadway, Matt looks at it. 2-1.
High and tight, watch it there. 3-1.
Pickoff attempt. I wonder if Tulo's planning to run on Molina...
He is. Tulo steals, Matt swings through one. 3-2, Tulo on second.
And... called strike 3 on the hook. I am pretty peeved right now.
Bottom 3rd: LaLoosh vs. Molina, Izturis, Wainwright
Curveball strike 1. LaLoosh can do it too. Maybe.
Ball. Or not. 1-1
Fouled off. 1-2.
High and inside. 2-2.
Fouled off. Count leveled.
Flied out to Brad. 1 out.
Curveball, not close, ball 1. Seriously Nuke, Izturis sucks.
Two more of the same, except fastballs, bring it to 3-0. Good God, Nuke.
Gets the inside corner for 3-1.
Ball. Another fucking walk. 5 on the day for "Game 1 of the Series" Jeff Francis. I don't like this version. Why is it that the teams I root for never win on Opening Day?
Never mind, rain delay. Please wash this one out.
Willy Taveras, CF
Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Todd Helton, 1B
Matt Holliday, LF
Garrett Atkins, 3B
Brad Hawpe, RF
Yorvit Torrealba, C
Jayson Nix, 2B
Jeff Francis, P
Skip Schumaker, LF
Ryan Ludwick, RF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Troy Glaus, 3B
Rick Ankiel, CF
Yadier Molina, C
Cesar Izturis, SS
Adam Wainwright, P (Yes, one of LaRussa's funny ideas. Adam is a good hitter though)
Aaron Miles, 2B
Pregame festivities going on now. I am sadly TV-less, so it'll be Gameday and Purple Row for me. And here. I CANNOT EFFIN WAIT.
LET'S GO ROCKIES!!!!
In the meantime, I'm going to close out the team previews at the eleventh hour with a look at our bench. Scott Podsednik was officially named the fifth outfielder, Cory Sullivan got demoted to AAA yet again, and Ramon Ramirez got traded to the Royals for a Player To Be Named Later (who is a popular fellow). So, it's time to see who will be constituting the backup corps for the purple pinstripes, and Clint Barmes made it. Zoyyy.
OF Ryan Spilborghs
OF Scott Podsednik
OF/IF Jeff Baker
IF Clint Barmes
C Chris Iannetta
#19 R/R Ryan Spilborghs: Spilly, as he's affectionately known, is about as valuable and offbeat as fourth outfielders come. A colorful character who experiments with crazy hairdos and clothing, has his own TV segment on Rockies All Access, and otherwise is as outgoing and exuberant as he looks, Spilly is the life of the party and readily submits to all the (good-natured) ribbing he endures from his teammates (although not without giving as good as he gets). Spilly is a naturally funny person who can make comedy out of any situation, and people like him are good for the chemistry and to balance out the intense leader-types like Tulo, Matt, and Todd. Your basic clubhouse clown (he bought dancing robots last year) Spilly is also an extremely good option to have as a backup outfielder. Last time this season, I was kvetching, with just cause, that his talents were wasted in the Springs and Steve Finley was going to suck; I was proved quite right in this instance. Fortunately, they saw the light and promoted Spilly in May, and as far as I'm concerned, they need to keep him around -- they actually released him on December 21, 2005, and then immediately realizing their mistake, signed him back the same day. Spilly loves Denver, and has moved his entire family (mom, dad, and sister) with him from Santa Barbara so his mom can get the best medical treatment available. Fortunately, Denver loves him too; I've yet to find a Rockies fan that doesn't adore Spilly, and if they don't, then ignore the poltroon. They love his zaniness, or his ability to provide a spark, or generally the fact that he's the sort of guy you spend a long time recounting assorted off-the-wall stories about. (His debut on Rockies All Access this past week was a hit, especially when he, quote unquote, decides to "cook" Atkins' steak).
He's also an entertainment coordinator who bridges the gaps between players and organizes activities in all the cities the team goes to, so they don't just have to sit around the hotel waiting for the game to start. To wit:
“I know everyone here pretty well, so I’m always grabbing different people,” Spilborghs said. “I drag people to do stuff that they’re not going to do. We have a lot of fun.”
Like on the Freedom Trail in Boston. Spilborghs convinced Garrett Atkins, Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki, to name a few, to go on a trek that wound through the city and visited different historical sites.
Baker and Jeff Francis were sitting at a Boston restaurant when they heard the group just before they rounded a corner.
“Spilly’s yelling at Tulo, Tulo’s yelling at Holliday, Holliday’s yelling at Atkins and me and Francis are dying laughing,” Baker said. “It was something I’ll never forget.”
(Not to mention that as inducement, Spilly promised everyone he'd buy them something every time they complained and they'd get ice cream at the end. He does know how to hold an audience).
One more thing: Last year, the Yankees tried to get Spilly (AND Frankie Morales) in exchange for (drumroll please...) Kyle Farnsworth. Aside from the fact that Farnsworth isn't worth a half of these players, let alone both of them, poor Spilly would be miserable on the "25 guys, 25 cabs" Yankees. I somehow don't think they'd take well to him trying to organize expeditions on the Freedom Trail in Boston. In other words, Spilly was born to be a Rockie and to send him anywhere else would result in deep unhappiness for all parties concerned. I love you dearly dearly, Ryan, but shave the damn beard. Bake is right, you do look like a terrorist.
2007 Line: .299 AVG, 11 HR, 51 RBI, .363 OBP, .485 SLG, .848 OPS
2008 Proj.: .292 AVG, 13 HR, 53 RBI, .371 OBP, .476 SLG, .847 OPS
#22 L/L Scott Podsednik: Podsednik will be under a microscope in a hurry while with the Rockies. He hasn't been really healthy since 2004, when he stole 70 bases for Milwaukee, and 2005, when he was a big part of the White Sox' championship run. Since then, he has undergone sports hernia surgeries at the end of three consecutive seasons, and he's taking over the place of Cory Sullivan, who's very popular in the clubhouse and a member of the Rockies fraternity that grew up together in the minor leagues. Also not to mention, the last left-handed older outfielder to be brought in from outside the organization for pinch-hit and bench help was an unqualified disaster. Also, it causes people to ask if the Rockies are a) going to disrupt their remarkable clubhouse chemistry for winning, and b) whether or not this is a bad thing, and c) whether Scott Eric Podsednik can help them do this better than Cory Sullivan. But Podsednik came in determined to prove he could once again be a difference-maker, and on the back of a .302 spring complimented by strong defense, he swayed Hurdle to give him the final spot on the Opening Day 25-man roster. Still, Sullivan is one of the Rockies' best defensive outfielders, and diving catches aren't to be confused with stellar overall defensive ability.
Podsednik is 34, so he's no spring chicken, but he will be asked to be a pinch-runner late in games, a spot starter, and a bat off the bench, and he will also need to perform these roles with a great deal more success than his unfortunate predecessor, or else find Sullivan called up to take his job again. It was a question of organizational depth as well with the Sully vs. Pods deathmatch, as if Sullivan won the job, Podsednik would have asked to be released in order to find big-league employment elsewhere -- with his age and track record, he's not a minor-league scrub. But he will have to both stay healthy and be effective for the Rockies to justify keeping him around, especially since it's already going to be such a closely scrutinized decision. He's making $750,000 to Sullivan's $1 million, and Sullivan is both a better defender and a long-standing friend of the key group, so if he doesn't show a spark off the bench, it's likely happy trails sooner rather than later. If nothing else, we can hope that the Rockies learned from the Finley disaster and are much quicker to pull the trigger this time if Podsednik goes down the drain early. Sullivan will assuredly be back up, but it's Podsednik's play that will see if that's in September when active rosters expand to 40, or much sooner due to incompetence. Pods' OBP (and stats in general) from last year are not pretty. Let's hope he doesn't repeat.
2007 Line: .243 AVG, 2 HR, 11 RBI, .299 OBP, .369 SLG, .668 OPS, 12 SB, 5 CS
2008 Proj.: .277 AVG, 4 HR, 22 RBI, .331 OBP, .380 SLG, .710 OPS
INC/DEC/LEV: INC, or rather, returning to slightly nearer his normal production. If he's healthy and he has Coors on his side, he could turn out to be a very underrated pickup.
#10 R/R Jeff Baker: Bake, as he's not-so-imaginatively nicknamed, plays both corner outfield and infield positions, making him a valuable weapon to have, and now that he plays second as well, you can pretty much stick him anywhere except pitcher (I'm sure he could play catcher if he put his mind to it). He hit .368 in September 2006 after his call-up, fooling some Rockies fans, myself probably included, into thinking that he was the second coming of Dante Bichette and who could play a little third and first as well. Born in Bad Kissingen, Germany (hmmm! Is this a reflection on Jeff's osculating abilities?) and growing up as the son of an Air Force father, Bake is fortunately used to bouncing around. He'll be asked to do that with the club, as he failed to lock down his part in the platoon last season due to hitting only .222; he lost all the spot starts to Sully and Spilly. He DID get a spot start on June 2 (I remember that because it was Photo Day, and I personally asked him if he was starting, as it was during Atkins' horrible slump) ... and promptly grounded into three double plays, which is never exactly the way to make a good impression. As a matter of fact, it had been almost exactly 10 years since another Rockie did it -- Eric Young on June 1, 1997 against the Marlins.
This year, he may play some outfield if Hawpe needs a little time off, and he can also spell Atkins and Helton for starts at third and first. Baker could probably be a starter elsewhere, as he's flashed a power stroke on occasion, and consistent ABs could help him rediscover it -- but he's not going to get them on this club, blocked as he is by a raft of talent ahead of him. He's also going to need to learn how to pinch-hit, as that's also what he'll be used for, and he hit a miserable 9 for 46 (.196) in PHing duty. He was briefly in the second-base derby this year, and dropped 10 pounds and worked so hard there that he now rates his best defensive position as -- yup, second base, the one he just started playing, so he can also be used in the middle infield if the rookie Nix needs an occasional break. But Bake got 26 starts last year, the fewest of anybody on the Opening Day roster, and with his positions all capably filled, he doesn't figure to see much time as a starter again this year, unless (GOD FORBID) Helton or Hawpe go down. Bake himself knows a little about going down, as I was at the August 10 game in which he got drilled in the head by a pitch from the Cubs' Jason Marquis. As I mentioned at the time, it was kind of sick -- his helmet flew off and he just lay on the ground for several minutes while I just kept saying, "Come on, Bake, come on, stand up, be okay, come on." It's never fun to see anybody take one in the noggin, but fortunately, Bake is made of tough stuff and he came away from it with only a concussion. He missed 18 games, but made it back in time for the stretch drive, and in NLDS Game 3, he had the game-winning hit. The game was tied at 1 in the bottom of the eighth, Garrett Atkins singled, and with two outs and him standing on third, Bake came off the bench to deliver the go-ahead single into right field to push the Rockies up 2-1. Three outs and Manny Corpastime later, they were headed for their first NLCS, so the Rockies faithful remember Baker affectionately for this. I also remember him affectionately because he's a very nice and funny guy who took time to chat and hang out with us at Photo Day. (I think my sister Gillian now has a small thing for him due to this). I don't think he'll be quite as bad as he was this year, but nor do I think he's particularly above-average.
2007 Line: .222 AVG, 4 HR, 12 RBI, .296 OBP, .347 SLG, .643 OPS
2008 Proj.: .260 AVG, 5 HR, 18 RBI, .315 OBP, .358 SLG, .673 OPS
INC/DEC/LEV: Very slight INC.
#12 R/R Clint Barmes: By now I am sure you all know what I think of Clint Barmes. I understand he's a very popular guy in the clubhouse, humble, good team player, and close with the rest of the guys, to which I say -- all well and good. But Clint Barmes, while being a nice guy, is shockingly atrocious at baseball. This wasn't always so -- in 2005, he was hitting .400 to start the season, had an Opening Day walk-off homer against Trevor Hoffman (the first rookie ever to hit a walk-off on Opening Day) and looked like a surefire NL Rookie of the Year and the Rockies' shortstop of the future. Then there came a small incident involving deer meat, Barmes, and a little tumble down the stairs, to which he was granted the nickname "Venison" and a sudden and unfortunate end to a promising season. The broken collarbone that resulted from this sidelined him until almost the end of 2005, and he was never the same player afterwards. Defensively, he continues to be a wiz, but he is a bona-fide black hole at the plate. He hit .320 in 25 at-bats in 2003, .282 in 71 AB in 2004, and was an AAA All-Star this year at Colorado Springs, where he went .299/11/44, but Spilly replicated that line almost exactly at the major league level and Barmes, um, did not. In 37 AB, he hit a miserable .216/0/1, and I remember precisely when this occurred (It was on August 11 against the Cubs, in a game the Rockies won 15-2, and Barmes had been put in as a late-inning sub when the Rockies began to kill the Cubs relievers. Or was that when he hit a double and scored, still to my unending surprise? Whatever, I know it was in August).
Hurdle absolutely LOVES Barmes, however (is it the first name? And I know Hurdle likes nice guys, but still.... and NO, he does not like nice guys "like that," or is it just because I have a dirty mind that I have to disclaim this?) so he made the club after the Rox traded fan-favorite Carroll, and is still (it's taking a while) proving that he can be a productive big league player. I take serious leave to doubt that this will finally unfold, and it's just a sad fact that Barmes will probably never be the player he was before the dead deer attack. Still, he'll see time as a pinch-runner, late-innings defensive sub for Atkins, and possibly one or two appearances in center field as well, a position that he started learning last year in an attempt to find more playing time. This being Barmes, he'll have to really force the issue.
2007 Line: .216 AVG, 0 HR, 1 RBI, .237 OBP, .297 SLG, .534 OPS
2008 Proj: . 224 AVG, 1 HR, 7 RBI, .282 OBP, .302 SLG, .584 OPS
#20 R/R Chris Iannetta: It's been an up-and-down road to the bigs for young backup backstop Iannetta. He's looked to as the Rockies' catcher of the future, and was thought to be a potential darkhorse Rookie of the Year pick going into 2007. It didn't happen, as Iannetta struggled with growing pains that eventually led to his demotion to AAA in August; he'd hit .158 in April, .222 in May, and .250 in June, culminating with a 1-for-8 (.042) July that sealed his fate. He is a very patient hitter (at times too patient) and he'd let himself get worked too deep into pitcher's counts, therefore limiting the number of good pitches he'd see in any given at-bat. A hard and dedicated worker, the serious and intelligent Iannetta (he graduated with a math degree from UNC Chapel Hill) took the demotion and worked with it, and on his return to the big leagues, he hit .357 in August and .308 in September. Still, Dan O'Dowd publicly announced this
spring that if Iannetta didn't show something, he'd risk being sent back to the Springs and have Edwin Bellorin be the backup catcher instead. Iannetta retorted that such an idea was "dumb" and marched out to prove it, showing that catcher will be (hopefully) a position of strength. He and Yorvit hit a combined .391 in Cactus League play, and in a game I watched last week against the Brewers, Iannetta hit a homer completely OUT of the ballpark. He has the ideal body for a catcher -- short, stocky, and very strong -- so once he does figure out how to get the ball and bat into the correct angle with each other for maximum velocity, he can definitely send them a long way. (I know from personal experience that he also has very big hands. Which is good for someone supposed to catch small speeding spheroids for a living, after all).
Catchers aren't usually power hitters, but Iannetta cranked 13 in 2005 (split between Class A Modesto and AA Tulsa) and 14 in 2006 (split between Tulsa and AAA Colorado Springs) so the stroke is definitely there; it's a matter of getting the average to consistently follow. He's hit .303 in his minor league career, so it's far from impossible. Iannetta is also quite good at catching baserunners stealing, as he has a strong arm and quick reflexes, and can just fire a bullet down to second for his buddy Tulo to lay the smackdown on the thief. (This is one area in which he easily beats Yorvit). He's also a good game-caller (no matter how much the pitching staff loves Yorvit) and has become something of Cook's personal catcher, since he recognizes that Aaron can throw pitches aside from fastballs. (Iannetta was behind the dish for Cookie's 74-pitch complete game against the Padres last year). Iannetta does have someone breathing at his heels, which is unusual for a prospect, but Michael McKenry has favorably impressed the Rockies brass and will be opening the year at High-A Modesto with a chance to move up faster. Still, if this is the year Iannetta can stand up and lay claim to the starter's job, he will see much more playing time than he did last year, and move into full-time starter mode as Yorvit's contract expires at the end of '09. He's already shown what's possible, now the trick is consistency.
2007 Line: .218 AVG, 4 HR, 27 RBI, .330 OBP, .350 SLG, .680 OPS
2008 Proj.: .266 AVG, 6 HR, 36 RBI, .344 OBP, .367 SLG, .711 OPS
INC/DEC/LEV: Slight INC.
Well, now that's finished, it's a little less than two hours until the Rockies open their 2007 NL Champs defense against the 2006 NL Champs (and World Series champs, which the Rockies sadly failed to get) Cardinals. I'll post lineups as soon as I see them and will otherwise liveblog.
LET'S GO ROCKIES!
Man, it feels good to write that and have it mean something.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Also, Kip Wells' M.O.: Get demoted to the bullpen because you suck, and then whine that you want to be a starter. He's already annoying me a lot, and that has done nothing to endear him further. Listen, buster, you were 5-17 as a starter last year with an ERA above six (6.27 to be exact). Much as it may pain me to say it, you were ... slightly good as a reliever, 2-0 and 2.31 ERA. If you want to stay in the big leagues, which is a slender surety as it is, maybe you should shut your mouth and try helping the team. I have pretty much unlimited and insane love for each guy on the Rockies. Most of them, that is. You are noticeably exempt. You seem to think you were "entitled" to a starting spot, when you were epically awful as a starter last year and came in knowing it would be a competition. Argh. Please get off my team already.
Luckily, despite all these pitfalls of the pitching, the Rockies still have a stacked lineup to their credit. In some of these starts, they will be needing it. And with the exception of Willy Taveras, two of their chief cannons can be found in the expansive Coors Field outfield. The three starters get previewed today, and Spilly and whoever the fifth outfielder ends up being will be included with the rest of the backup corps in "Bench."
LF Matt Holliday
CF Willy Taveras
RF Brad Hawpe
#5 R/R Matt Holliday: At last, the long-kept secret that is Matt Holliday is starting to get out to the world, mainly thanks to the play last October 1st that will go down as "The Slide." Barreling face-first into home plate and Michael Barrett's foot, hitting his head and dazing himself while bloodying his chin, Matt vaulted the Rockies over the Padres in the one-game playoff for the NL Wild Card and the club's first postseason appearance since 1995. If the Broncos have "The Drive," now the Rockies have "The Slide," as I think I can watch the bottom of that 13th inning over... and over... and over, and never get tired of it. Despite being the actual MVP, Matt was robbed of the award in favor of Jimmy Rollins, the East Coast media darling. Matt had better numbers all around, as this handy little chart shall show you:
Holliday: .340 (NL batting title winner). Home: .376. Away: .301
Rollins: .296 (in Citizens Bank Park, which plays like pre-humidor Coors) Home: .300. Away: .293.
Holliday: 137 (NL RBI leader)
Rollins: 212/716 (he couldn't even tie with 80 more ABs)
Outs Made/Plate Appearances:
Rollins: 527/778 (LED THE MAJORS)
XBH (Extra-Base Hits)
Holliday: 92 (1st in NL)
Rollins: 88 (2nd in NL.... not even all those extra triples could get him by)
RC/G (Runs Created/Game)
So basically, if triples and stolen bases outweigh all the other categories, then yes, Jimmy Rollins was the MVP. And proceeded to hit .182 with 1 HR and 4 RBI in the three-game sweep suffered by the Phil-Phils against Matt's Rockies in the NLDS. Whereas Matt hit .289 in the postseason with 5 HR and 10 RBI. But naturally, since everything in the baseball world happens on the East Coast, it was the "Coors Field effect," regardless of the fact that the Bank is even more extreme of a hitter's park than Coors now that the humidor has been installed. I already wrote a whole treatise as to how Tulo was robbed of the Gold Glove by Rollins and the ROY by Braun, and I wasn't REALLY intending to do so here, but I couldn't resist showing how much the deserving candidate did not get picked. Not that I have a pro-purple bias or anything.
Holliday is one of the hardest workers in the game. After an uninspiring minor league career (he never hit higher than .276 or 16 HR in a full season) he dropped close to 20 pounds, changed his diet, and works out every day with religious fervor (true story: Holliday was in Panama to play for Team USA, and refused to miss a workout despite the fact of his hotel lacking a gym -- he just used his luggage for curls and bench presses). He has a Tulowitzki-like will to continue to improve, and he believes that he'll be disgusted with himself if he's not still an elite player at age 35 or so. Born in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Matt was an All-American quarterback prospect coming out of Stillwater High, one of the highest-rated recruits in the nation, and the Kansas City Chiefs GM sent him a letter begging him to choose football over baseball. He dropped all the way to the seventh round of the 1998 draft since teams weren't sure which sport he was going to choose, and the Rockies were able to sign him in July of that year. Nobody knew it yet, but they were sitting on a gold mine -- nine years later, he wouldn't be a two-sport promising youngster but instead one of the best players in baseball, leading a previously moribund franchise to their first NL Pennant and their emergence from MLB's cellar.
This past offseason, Holliday received a 2-year, $23 million extension that will take him to his age-30 season and the end of his arbitration, and Rockies fans everywhere are adamant that he be re-signed, but his agent is the evil Scott Boras who will demand nothing less than top dollar. If Helton's contract expires around this time, there may be enough lucre to retain Holliday, who by then will be established as hands-down the best left fielder in baseball (and he was chosen as that already). A premier offensive talent and no slouch on the field (3 errors with 296 putouts, 7 assists) and 306 total chances for a .990 fielding percentage) Holliday is a fearsome middle-of-the-order bat who will be hitting cleanup this year and given plenty of chances to send runners in a homeward direction. He incorporates a signature high leg-kick and isn't the most patient hitter, as he'll be swinging on the first pitch almost all the time, but usually manages to hit it a Mile High anyway. Matt has increased his AVG, HR, RBI, OBP, and SLG every year that he's been in the majors, leading to the question of just how much higher he can go. Just repeating 2007 would be legendary. Going even higher? Well, the big man can do it. Here's something interesting for you: In 2007, Matt hit .338 off fastballs, .373 off curveballs, .331 off sliders, and .429 off changeups, and his RC/27 was 9.04, so nine Matts in the lineup would put you up about 9 or so runs a game. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was .380, so basically if he puts wood on it, you're generally screwed. Good luck finding a weakness, pitchers of the NL. I'd anticipate seeing Holliday in New York for his third All-Star game this summer.
2007 Line: .340 AVG, 36 HR, 137 RBI, .405 OBP, .607 SLG, 1.012 OPS
2008 Proj: .335 AVG, 38 HR, 135 RBI, .415 OBP, .620 SLG, 1.035 OPS
INC/DEC/LEV: Slight INC.
#3 R/R Willy Taveras: Willy T, as he's known, is a speed merchant that adds the fleetfoot element to Colorado's lineup of mashers. Willy T will never be mistaken for Holliday, as he's a slender, speedy, punch-and-judy hitter with a grand total of 6 career homers, but he does have 101 career stolen bases. With Kaz's departure, Tulo and Jayson Nix will both be running more, but Willy T remains the primary speed option -- assuming he's healthy, as nagging quad injuries limited him to only 97 games last year. He led the majors in bunt hits last year, but had to overcome a slow start and is looking a little anemic in spring thus far this year. He can use his speed to discomfit opposing pitchers, and with Tulo hitting in the #2 hole, it can limit the number of offspeed pitches he sees if the catcher needs to worry about Willy T stealing. Since Tulo murders fastballs, this is only to the better, and as long as Willy T doesn't come up gimpy, he'll likely be running wild on the basepaths. The problem is, that's really the only dimension to his offensive game, and he has trouble getting on base consistently -- last year's .367 OBP was by far the highest of his career, and he walked only 21 times to 55 K's. He doesn't have much power for extra bases, with 2 HR, 13 doubles, and 2 triples, but if he ever does get the ball into the green, he can push outfielders into making mistakes and take the extra base simply because he can outrace a speeding baseball. (No word on his ability to leap tall buildings with a single bound).
Defensively, Willy T had 223 total chances, 212 putouts, 7 assists, and 4 errors for a .982 fielding percentage, and he might have made the play of the year in NLCS Game 2 against the Diamondbacks. With two runners on, two outs, and the Rockies nursing a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh, Tony Clark hit a laser into no-man's-land between right and center. It looked like extra bases, a Diamondbacks lead, and a win in that game for Arizona could have changed the entire complexion of the series -- but Willy T charged across what looked like a mile of Chase Field grass, extended his glove, and dove fully extended to come up with the ball and end the inning. Clint Hurdle, who had been heavily criticized for daring to put Willy T back into the lineup after the Rockies had already won 17 of 18, suddenly looked like a genius again, but Willy T didn't provide any offensive pop, hitting only .167 for the NLCS with 1 stolen base, 2 walks, and 5 strikeouts. Still, he's projected to be the starting center fielder, and if he gets injured or is too ineffective, either Ryan Spilborghs, Cory Sullivan, or Scott Podsednik (depending on whether Pods or Sully wins the fifth outfield spot) may spell him. 162 games is a long season, after all (as the players themselves like to remind us in their interviews) and Willy T barely got to 100 of them last year. And his speed isn't much of an asset if he can't get on base, but if he can a) replicate his moderate success on this front and b) avoid messing with his legs, which constitute basically his entire value as a player, he can provide the effective catalyst at the top of the lineup.
2007 Line: .320 AVG, 2 HR, 24 RBI, .367 OBP, .382 SLG, .749 OPS, 33 SB, 9 CS
2008 Proj.: .312 AVG, 2 HR, 27 RBI, .359 OBP, .377 SLG, .736 OPS, 37 SB, 8 CS
#11 L/L Brad Hawpe: Brad, as long as you play him against righties, is an unholy terror at the plate. He hit .315/24/94 off righties, but a meek .214/5/22 against southpaws, and it's been his issues with lefties that have kept him from developing into one of the premier corner outfielders in baseball. (LET IT BE NOTED, however: Brad hit a 14th-inning, go-ahead and game-winning home run against the Padres on September 21, in the middle of the streak in which the Rockies literally had to win every game. This homer came off Joe Thatcher, one of the tougher lefty pen-men in the NL, AND in San Diego at night, in one of the hardest parks to hit it out of. He also hit a two-run blast off the Dodgers' Jonathan Broxton, another tough setup man, for a 5-4 Rockies victory on September 19). Brad hit .316 in September and October with 26 RBI, so he showed up when he was most needed, and hit .438 in the Rockies' vital last 12 regular season games. A patient but streaky hitter, Brad can go through stretches in which he'll absolutely crush anything near the plate and then stretches where he strikes out like Adam Dunn. (At one point last year, he went 26 straight games with at least one K). Still, a final line of .291/29/116 isn't at all shabby, and Brad was rewarded for his performance with a three-year, $17.25 million contract that buys out his arbitration years and his first year of free agency. If he can get over his lefty issues, it's not good news for the rest of the NL, but it IS good news for Rockies fans, who can enjoy watching Hawpe put that sweet swing on the other half of opposing pitchers as well.
Brad has firmly established himself as a fearsome run-producer, but in a lineup with Holliday, Helton, and Tulowitzki, he (and Atkins) tend to get overlooked. With a 2-6 that's among the best in the game (Tulowitzki-Helton-Holliday-Atkins-Hawpe) you can appreciate exactly how talented the Rockies are when they have a 29 HR/116 RBI man hitting in the sixth hole, Jayson Nix (.292/11/58 in AAA last year) hitting seventh, and, well, Yorvit hitting eighth, but still. Brad ranked sixth in RBIs in the entire NL last year, is a cleanup hitter on many clubs, and is on the tail end of Colorado's Murderer's Row -- that's food for thought about how strong the offensive cannonade here is. (They're going to need it as well....) Defensively, Brad can struggle when he has to go back on balls and doesn't have the greatest range, but what he does have is a cannon arm reminiscent of the days when Larry Walker was cutting down runners from the right-field corner. The pitchers know that Hawpe's arm will keep opposing batters from getting too cheeky on the basepaths, so as long as he can get to balls quickly, he'll keep them honest and only to second instead of constantly going first-to-third on balls hit to right field.
Coors Field helps, of course, but it should be noted in any disparate split of home and road average, that curveballs and breaking pitches act very different in Denver, humidor or otherwise, than they do elsewhere, and so every hitter has to recalibrate how he sees them on the road. Brad hit a perfectly serviceable .273/10/49 on the road, and to be honest, I get really tired of talking about the "Coors Effect" when discussing Rockies stats. If they signed elsewhere (God forbid, I love them too much to ever lose them) they'd adjust how they saw pitches and be just as good there. Good hitting mechanics are good hitting mechanics, and although Brad's swing is still a little long, it wouldn't be a great handicap elsewhere. Brad was responsible for 7.5 runs created on average in a game, and his RC/27 was 7.57, which means that nine Brads playing 27 outs (your standard nine-inning baseball game) would score about 7 runs. In his first taste of postseason action, Brad hit .282 overall, with 1 HR, 4 RBI, and a team-leading 8 walks, and since he's excited to be a Rockie and to play with this group of guys, all of whom are like family to him and the rest of the Rockies' close and dynamic clubhouse, I'm sure he'll have a chance to improve on those numbers soon.
2007 Line: .291 AVG, 29 HR, 116 RBI, .387 OBP, .539 SLG, .926 OPS
2008 Proj.: .295 AVG, 27 HR, 112 RBI, .390 OBP, .525 SLG, .915 OPS
That concludes our extra-thpecial preview on the Rockies' outfield. The bench will be covered next, and despite my generally, um, interesting approach to scheduling, that will be the whole team before the season starts. YAY! I can't wait. Then I can get back to all my various fascinating ideas.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Disclaimer: I usually enjoy reading Deadspin. I get a chuckle out of a lot of their posts, and especially football-wise, it's extremely amusing. I just do wonder as to why they pick that to link to, and why everybody has to take it as their mandate to come over and make it worse. I was struggling pretty badly that October, as last semester in general was extremely hard for me, and I was dealing with a lot of emotional issues that started before the Series and were made worse by it. As my next post attested, I had to give it all up for a while because it was just not something I could deal with in my emotional state the way it was. Depression is something I have started to have to deal with, not necessarily welcomed, but last October's bout with it came at a particularly inopportune time. As my friends can tell you, and as I can tell you, I was pretty much a wreck. I was unhappy, homesick, lonely, isolated, and really struggling while 1600 miles from home, made worse by the ugly results of the Series, and... yeah, I am still angry about this, especially since it was bothering me since before I even knew where all the know-it-alls came from. I removed the offending post and the comments with it, and the result of that was that I banned anonymous users from making comments on the blog. Flame wars are fine elsewhere, but not here; that's simply not what this blog is for. I'm fine with feedback, not trolling.
As for all the Red Sox partisans that came along to sneer at me for being such a fool for even daring to support the Rox: I am a fan of my team, the same as all you. What am I supposed to do, fly the white flag pre-emptively and sigh, "Oh no, the mighty East Coast juggernauts are going to destroy my overmatched Munchkins? I can't believe I'm so foolish as to think this small-market Western team that's just won 21 of 22 can have any chance against these ESPN darlings! Oh... the Sox are going to win in three, the Rockies are just completely doomed, it was all a fluke, Red Sox Nation 4Ever!" No. You believe, I believe, we all know how it turned out, you were justified, yadda yadda yadda. You're certainly not doing much for your perception as some of the most loutish fans in baseball. If you want to come along and engage in some friendly debate, I'm always up for it. If you want to troll, you will find your comments deleted. 18-1.
One of the anonymous posters did have the grace to come back later and apologize, which I am grateful for. And since this is five months later, I doubt that anyone who came here then will see this now, but it still bothers me and I figured I wanted to air some of my left-over resentment from that. If you by some chance HAVE come here from Deadspin, or anywhere else, after the long-past history of the 2007 World Series, welcome. You will find various interesting featurettes, most of which showcase my probably inaccurate predictions, insane love of my team, and general anticipation for 2008. Most of which, remarkably, are probably sentiments you share. I am, remarkably, more than a bad reaction to a bad game, and if you'd like to look around, do so. Thanks.
Friday, March 21, 2008
- Corpas looks good in recovering from taking the loss yesterday. 1-2-3, pitches crisp, and a few feeble ground balls were all the Flubs could get off him.
- Typical Brian Fuentes outing. Two quick outs, then a 3-1 base hit and a 5-pitch walk before a laser off the bat of Mark De Rosa is turned into the end of the inning thanks to Spilly's good read on it, instead of a double.
- Atkins, of all people, hit a triple. He's had a relatively quiet spring (0 HR, 4 RBI) so it's good to see him flash a little power. Also, it's always kind of amusing to watch him rumble around the bases. Atkins is a big fella and not exactly a speed demon, as everyone made sure to point out to him when he hit the inside-the-parker last year.
- Tulo is locked in. Every time he was up, he hit a bullet, and although he did get picked off once, he made up for it with an easy steal. Someone is ready for the season to start.
- Big man Mattie, however, looks a little asleep at the moment. 0-4 with a pair of K's, but he had a bad swing on his last at-bat and still almost managed to hit the ball out of the yard. As you can tell by looking at his arms, the man is freakishly strong.
- "Angular velocity" had me laughing all afternoon. George Frazier, one of the TV analysts, started it by having the sideline reporter ask Jeff Francis (a physics major) what it was, supposedly for his daughter's school project. Francis laughingly demurred and protested he didn't want to look like a nerd on camera, but could explain it later if need be. Undeterred, the FSN RM crew therefore made a habit of asking every player they interviewed after that what it was. A few of the best:
Matt Herges: "I think you'd better ask Jeff. He probably invented it."
Jeff Baker: "Whoa, dude, I'm a hitter, not a pitcher. I dunno."
That's what I love about spring training -- even though it's winding down and everyone is focusing on preparing for the season and securing jobs, they can still have fun and joke around. Gah, I love this team, and yes, it is always extremely annoying that I have to leave spring break and go back to TV-less New York just a few days before the season starts. On April 4, the home opener, I will be in class, giving a presentation about something I am passionate about -- which not so coincidentally will be baseball -- and the instant it's over, I shall grab a dinner to go and flee back to my computer to watch it. I can't wait.
In the meantime, it's time to preview the Rockies' deep and talented infield. Yes, two consecutive posts, 'tis miraculous. Also, I'll only examine the five projected starters here (including catcher) and everyone else will get their due in "Around the Horn: Bench."
1B Todd Helton
2B Jayson Nix
SS Troy Tulowitzki
3B Garrett Atkins
C Yorvit Torrealba
#17 L/L Todd Helton: The elder statesman of a team that's no longer Todd and the Toddlers, Helton's long and distinguished career, and patience with a pretty awful set of seasons in the early oughts, was finally rewarded last year with the Rockies' miracle run to the Series. One of my favorite memories ever is of Helton catching the throw from Tulowitzki to end Game 4 of the NLCS, with Byrnes on his face in the dirt, and then just throwing up both fists and screaming, dancing across the infield, as giddy as a schoolboy. Close on its heels is the image of him tossing off his helmet, screaming like a wild man, and flinging himself into the arms of his euphoric teammates after his unbelievable walk-off homer against Takashi Saito and the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 18th. I've memorized the call for that play, and the sight of Helton, mad with joy, stage-diving into a mob of arms, still gives me chills after the dozens of times I've watched it. No longer rumored to be on his way out, Helton seems to be thrilled to be where he is, his love for the game rekindled, and 2007 was a great starter gift to give a guy who's been through hell and high water with the club since the beginning of his career. But he, and everyone else, wants to get to the very highest peak this year, and you can bet that everyone in the organization was thinking particularly of Helton when they were celebrating last year. Still, champagne fades. Todd wants back, and he's going to set an example with hard work to get there.
One of the acknowledged clubhouse co-leaders (Holliday and Tulo being the other two) Helton is still a force at age 34. His days of .372/42/147 monstrosities are behind him, but he's still a solid line-drive hitter who will wear a pitcher out with his remarkable patience. Helton has an outstanding idea and awareness of where the strike zone is, and a typical at-bat for him takes at least five or six pitches before he finds something he wants to square up on. He hasn't hit below .300 since his rookie season of 1997 (.280) and his remarkable patience leads to lots of walks, which means his OBP is well north of .400. (He walked 116 times last year against 74 strikeouts). Helton is the only player in history with 10 straight seasons of 35+ doubles, and he'll likely continue that this year, as the balls might not be making it over the fence, but there's plenty of room for them to roam in the spacious outfield of Coors. He sets a great example for the team's many youngsters; when your longest-tenured, most recognizable (although Matt and Tulo are making inroads) franchise player is also your hardest and most dedicated, team-oriented worker, there are good things afoot and it's a key to the Rockies' remarkable close, loving, goofy clubhouse chemistry. Helton is about as far from Bonds as you can get, in his element when he can display his killer dry sense of humor on others, who can then freely dish it back. The Rockies constantly say that there are no egos in the clubhouse, and it's true. Maybe a Giants rookie would quail in fear before attempting to prick His Bondsness with a jab or two, but a Rockies rookie can feel perfectly confident teasing ol' man Helton a little. Of course, you get what you give, as Todd is faster with a quip than just about anybody.
Fielding-wise, it was a total travesty that Helton did not get a Gold Glove last year. He made only ONE ERROR ALL YEAR for a .999 fielding percentage, is one of the best in the game at picking out low throws from across the diamond (saving both Atkins and Tulowitzki throwing errors) and yet somehow got passed up for Derrek Lee, who made 7. I don't get that, and I'm still slightly rankled about the Rockies being shut completely out of postseason awards, no matter how much they themselves insist it doesn't matter. He won't get to all the balls he did a few years ago, since he's not going to be doing bellyflops in the infield at his age, but he's still a key component of the Rockies' defense, which, oh yeah, was the best in all of baseball last year. (And yet failed to rank in the top ten in the MLB '08: The Show video game. The talking heads STILL haven't caught up to the Rockies yet. No matter, Todd will be at the forefront of leading the calvary charge to a repeat this year, whether it's in getting the timely hit, inspiring the youngsters, or patiently answering the same questions about how the hell the Rockies made it back to October again).
2007 Line: .320 AVG., 17 HR, 91 RBI, .434 OBP, .494 SLG, .928 OPS
2008 Proj.: .315 AVG, 18 HR, 89 RBI, .440 OBP, .480 SLG, .920 OPS
#4 R/R Jayson Nix: Nix has had a long slow climb to the majors. The Rockies' top pick in 2001 (44th overall) he's the brother of the equally y-misplaced Laynce (now with the Brewers) and has spent seven years toiling away in the minors. He's played a year apiece at Rookie, A, and Advanced A, and two years apiece in AA and AAA. Since he was 18 when he was drafted, he's still only 25, but the time it took for him to get to this level have raised questions about his ability to contribute to the big-league club. Nix has also been pedestrian with the bat in the minors, never a good sign, but then again, a guy named Matt Holliday didn't have a standout minor league career and got himself to where he is by working his ass off. Of course, Nix, at a relatively slight 5'11" and 185 lbs, doesn't exactly compare to Holliday's massive 6'4"/230 lb, but it goes to show you that if you set your mind to it, you can do it (now I sound like the song "Heart" from Damn Yankees).
Nix hit .294 at Rookie-level Casper his first year, but dropped to .246 the next year at Class A Asheville. He rose back to .281 at Advanced-A Visalia, but struggled through a pair of off-years in AA Tulsa -- .213 and .236, nonetheless making it to AAA Colorado Springs in 2006. He only hit .251 that year, but enjoyed a surge in 2007, finishing with his highest average since Rookie ball -- .292 for the Sky Sox, with 11 HR and 58 RBI, strong numbers for a second baseman, who's generally given leeway to be more of a glove guy than a bat guy. Nix definitely is a glove guy, as Holliday claims he's stopped in the middle of batting practice to watch Nix vacuum up ground balls in the infield, but the hitting has been off and on. He was named MVP of Team USA this past offseason and came to camp with the inside track in filling the positional vacancy left by Kaz Matsui's departure to the Astros. (For the record, I think that that decision will end up being rued by both parties. Kaz benefited from Coors Field and a terrific lineup hitting behind him in a town where he had come to resuscitate his career after a disastrous stint with the Mets. The Astros have no such power, play in hot and humid South Texas, and overpaid badly -- $16.5 million over three years -- for a guy who hit .249 away from Coors. (My internet is being maddeningly slow again... arrgh, so that's a guess, since nothing will load for me).
Nix faces some competition from Jeff Baker for the official nod, but Hurdle has evidently liked what he has seen and the six-man second base derby (between Nix, Baker, Ian Stewart, Clint Barmes, Omar Quintanilla, and Marcus Giles) seems to have drawn to a close with Nix the last one standing. He'll face challenges in proving that he can adjust to Major League pitching and not be a Barmes-esque hole in the lineup, but will have the benefit of hitting seventh or eighth behind a Monster's Row of Tulowitzki-Helton-Holliday-Atkins-Hawpe. His sterling glovework will help to form an airtight seal up the middle of the infield, but honestly, with Tulo out there, we only need a league-average second baseman, as Tulo will probably be fielding a lot of those anyway. Nix is better than that, but the hitting needs to follow suit. He can also provide speed at the bottom of the order -- he's stolen over 10 bags every year since Casper and swiped 24 for the Sky Sox last year. With Tulo and Taveras both running (assuming Taveras is healthy) Nix will help them add the dimension that was lost to some degree with Kaz's departure.
2007 Line (AAA): .292 AVG, 11 HR, 58 RBI, .342 OBP, .451 SLG, .793 OPS
2007 Proj. (MLB): .270 AVG, 7 HR, 37 RBI, .335 OBP, .415 SLG, .750 OPS
INC/DEC/LEV: Hard to say with Nix, as he's never had a big-league cup of tea before.
#2 R/R Troy Tulowitzki: What can you say about Tulo? I have absolutely unshakable confidence in him, and every time someone expresses concern that the Rockies might fall back to earth in 2008, my response is always, "Don't worry, Tulo won't let it happen." A fantastically confident and mature rookie who blasted into stardom in his first full year on the team and was rewarded with a six-year, $31 million contract, Tulo is the real thing. He famously announced last year after the team's 18-27 start that he had never played for a losing team before and wasn't keen to start -- at the time, he was just 22. Some might have looked down their noses at a rookie trying to take on a leadership role, but Tulo craves the spotlight and has never been shy about letting everyone know that hang-dogging, self-pity, lackadaisical, or losing play just doesn't fly. He has ice in his veins and a cannon arm, and some of the plays he makes deep in the hole are positively Ripkenesque. Tulo is big for his position at 6'3" and 205 lbs, but he dropped 10 or 15 pounds this past offseason and is leaner and meaner than ever. Besides, when you're a ball-Hoover the way he is, it doesn't matter what size you are. Tulo wears #2 as a tribute to his boyhood idol Derek Jeter, but at this point, I'd take him in a New York minute over Jeter. A cartoon in the Rocky Mountain News made a bold prediction for the Rockies: "Tulowitzki plays infield all by himself. Rox win NL West." This is a joke, of course, but when you have the range that Tulo does, and are always determined to get to even more balls, it's sort of true. Tulo led all shortstops in fielding at his position (.987) and somehow managed to get gypped out of the Gold Glove to effing Jimmy Rollins, who also stole Holliday's MVP. Not to mention, he now holds the NL record for homers by a rookie shortstop with 24, breaking Ernie Banks' record, and is second overall behind Nomar Garciaparra's 30 in 1997.
Besides all this, Tulo possesses an absolutely out-of-his-head drive to win and improve, and I continue to believe that he had the lion's share of credit in smashing the resigned to losing mentality that existed in the clubhouse before he got here. Hitting .195 in the postseason rankled with him, and continues to rankle with him -- he lost sleep over it and is determined to bring the team better and go farther this year, which isn't something you see in everyone. Tulo has become a superstar-in-the-making -- his at-bats are accompanied by a chant that goes "[Nine claps] TU-LO!", his jersey is worn by everyone from toddlers to middle-aged men, and needless to say, he's got a bit of a following among female Rockies fans as well. College guys paint his initials on their chest and he continually gets big cheers wherever he goes. Last year at this time he was driving a plebeian SUV; this year, he's the proud owner of a $117,000 black Maserati GT, a car he claims to have lusted after since high school. (A Rockies commercial this year shows the Tulo! chant in every phase of our dashing young hero's life -- whether it's in the beeps of his alarm clock, the thuds of a jackhammer outside his apartment, the click of cash register keys when he's buying new sunglasses, or the bang of kitchen utensils when he decides to hit a restaurant with Atkins, who elbows him and grins slyly while Tulo looks rather pleased with himself). He could easily hit 30 HR and 100 RBI this year while providing stellar defense, aside from wanting to chew down brick walls to win games. He is only going to get better and sorry Ryan Speier, if Tulo would like me to have his children, you're out of luck, postseason IOUs or otherwise. With Clint Hurdle managing the NL in this year's All-Star Game in New York, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Tulo was going with him in July. Show those blowhards what they're missing, especially those who insist there's a "steep dropoff" at shortstop after the (NL East) trio of Rollins, Ramirez, and Reyes. Tulo could use work on cutting down the strikeouts (130 to only 57 walks) but he's displayed an uncanny knack for clutch hitting and does his best work under pressure. I am thrilled to have him on the team and wait to see how high he goes.
2007 Line: .291 AVG, 24 HR, 99 RBI, .359 OBP, .479 SLG, .838 OPS
2008 Proj.: .310 AVG, 27 HR, 102 RBI, .370 OBP, .488 SLG, .858 OPS
INC/DEC/LEV: INC. The stars are the limit for this guy.
#27, R/R Garrett Atkins: Atkins is the only member of the core group that has not yet been signed to a long-term deal. Holliday's new deal takes him to the end of his arbitration, Brad Hawpe and Manny Corpas just got 4-year extensions, Tulo has his shiny new contract, but Atkins, conspicuously, has not. The Rockies claim it's because they did, in fact, make long-term overtures last winter but couldn't come to terms on the financial particulars. Atkins is a very money-savvy player who has managed and invested his income well, and he knows his worth and is more pragmatic than romantic about it. Also, he alone of the major role-players has a prospect pressing him from within -- Ian Stewart, the Rockies' top pick in 2003, has long been considered the third baseman of the future, and Atkins himself was once thought to be a stopgap until Stewart was ready. 67 homers and 320 RBI over three seasons will put a stop to that kind of speculation in a hurry, and now it's Atkins who's incumbent and Stewart who's challenging to win the spot. Atkins still has three seasons left before he can test free-agency, and he is under contract for $4.4 million for this year and has said he's comfortable going year-to-year for the rest of his arbitration period. However, his future might not be the only one at stake. He and Matt Holliday are so close, ever since 2002 when they were teammates and roommates in the minor leagues, that Atkins lives with the Holliday family during spring and has been known to babysit Matt's two sons. Matt himself has said in an interview with the Denver Post that Garrett's future will affect his own, so if the Rockies are thinking about retaining their MVP candidate long-term, they may also need to keep his best buddy. (Hey, every superhero needs a sidekick).
It's a testament to Atkins' pure baseball skill that he went .301/25/111 last year, and that was an off-year due to his horrendous May; at one point his average had dipped as low as .219. He batted a ridiculous .349 after the All-Star break, however, and was tops in all of baseball with 79 RBIs in 81 games from June to September. He has a smooth, sweet swing that would seem slump-immune, but he's gotten off to a slow start in March -- not as if you can read too much into spring statistics, but he will need to avoid a season-opening slump such as the one he suffered through last year. (Then again, the whole team will need to avoid that as well, so he's just one of many). Atkins is a converted first baseman who has never been the best at fielding the hot corner, but he has a strong arm and has worked on improving his range (although with Tulo to the left, you can give him a little leeway). His right side can still use some work, as it seems that he won't get to anything hit down the line, but he played outstanding D in the postseason and was no slouch in keeping up his end of the Rockies' top-ranked defense overall. His fielding hit a rough patch when his hitting did; in general, May just wasn't that kind to him. It's unlikely he'll start out in that kind of funk again, and although it's also unlikely he's going to show any marked improvement, a .300+ average with 25-30 HR and 100+ RBI doesn't leave a whole lot wanting. If Stewart can't force the issue at third this year, he may be dealt to bring in one of the top-flight arms it's looking as if the club may need, and if that happens, Atkins will likely get his long-term deal. In a perfect world, so then will Holliday.
2007 Line: .301 AVG, 25 HR, 111 RBI, .367 OBP, .486 SLG, .853 OPS
2008 Proj.: .305 AVG, 23 HR, 115 RBI, .372 OBP, .495 SLG, .867 OPS
#8 R/R Yorvit Torrealba: Yorvit was thisclose to becoming a New York Met after signing a $14.4 million, 3-year deal with them, but the arrangement fell through at the eleventh hour and he returned to Colorado, where he's comfortable, where he's developed an excellent rapport with the pitchers, and where he hopefully will be able to throw out a baserunner to save his life. 32 of 34 baserunners were successfully able to steal during the latter half of the season, which Yorvit attributes to a cranky shoulder, and insists it'll be healed this year. His ability to speak Spanish with young pitchers Morales, Jimenez, and Corpas is also a plus, and the rest of the staff raves about his game-calling. He's not going to light the world on fire offensively, but did have a key home run against the Diamondbacks in Game 3 of the NLCS, and has sometimes shown a knack for producing big hits in key times. Not necessarily last year, as he hit .201 with RISP and generally excelled at producing weak ground balls to the left side instead, but it's something he has done before. If healthy, Yorvit will hit around .260, high single digits in homers, and 40-50 RBI, but if he can help tutor the valuable young Latin arms that the club is counting so highly on, I may be persuaded to overlook it.
2007 Line: .255 AVG, 8 HR, 47 RBI, .323 OBP, .376 SLG, .699 OPS
2008 Proj.: .259 AVG, 7 HR, 48 RBI, .321 OBP, .366 SLG, .687 OPS
INC/DEC/LEV: Slight DEC.
All right, that's finished -- took me a few hours, but now I feel moderately productive. I'll examine the outfield and bench next, then I have a few fun ideas: "The Ultimate Rockies Playlist" and "30 MLB Teams: Love, Hate, Tolerate" are among the things I have in mind. Mainly, I want baseball back. HOW long now?
RH/CL Manny Corpas
RH/SO Luis Vizcaino
LH/SO Brian Fuentes
RH/LR Taylor Buchholz
RH Matt Herges
RH Ramon Ramirez (or RH Ryan Speier)
LH Micah Bowie
#60, R/R Manny Corpas: Last year at this time, Corpas was a valuable but untested commodity, a fireballing young Panamanian righty who was expected to compete for a slot, but definitely not assured of anything. Fast-forward a season later, and he's the Rockies' unquestioned, postseason-hardened closer with a new four-year contract under his belt and ready to improve on what was a sensational showing in his first year of big-league duty: a 4-2 record, a 2.08 ERA (lowest ever in a full season for a Rockies reliever) 19 saves in 22 opportunities, and 58 strikeouts. Corpas came out of nowhere to take over the closer job when Fuentes (and my mental health) went to hell in June, and he stuck. His five postseason saves tied countryman Mariano Rivera for the single-season record, and if the Rockies had won just once in the World Series (oy) he would have broken it. Manny throws in the high nineties with a nasty slider, and is working on adding a changeup, but when you can throw that hard, you can stick to what works and still be a very effective and underrated closer. I trust him much more than I ever did Fuentes, and I expect higher things from him this year. With a full year in the closer's role, and a re-energized team that's going to be giving him plenty of opportunities, Manny should thrive.
(Interlude while I get totally distracted by Rockies songs I discover and download. New theme song: "Rocktober" by Thomas Tha Franchise. I'm all over it. Click that link, click "Save Page As" to get the MP3 file, and you will have it on repeat such as I do, augmenting my "Rockies" playlist).
2007 Line: 4-2 W/L, 2.08 ERA, 78 G, 19 SV, 22 SVO, 20 BB, 58 K
2008 Proj.: 4-1 W/L, 2.25 ERA, 82 G, 30 SV, 33 SVO, 24 BB, 69 K
#51 R/R Luis Vizcaino: Brought in from the AL, he returns to the NL, where he had his most successful season (2006 with the Diamondbacks). He'll see plenty of Arizona this year from the other side of the ball, and hopefully Hurdle doesn't use him as much as Torre did when he was with the Yankees. Vizcaino ended up with an 8-2 record, a 4.30 ERA, and 62 strikeouts while seeing action in 77 games and 75.1 IP. He hasn't impressed thus far this spring, and injury issues have been complicating the picture, which of course could be a result of all the work he's seen. He and LaTroy Hawkins have traded places and teams, and while Vizcaino is supposed to do his best work with runners on, I just figure he'll be Hawkins Redux -- which is to say, effective if used in the seventh inning or so, definitely no later, and DEAR GOD NOT AS an interim closer. Two years, $7.5 million is a little steep for a guy who's essentially a clone of the guy he was replacing (Hawkins was evidently surprised, with good reason, to hear that they wouldn't up him a couple hundred grand from his $3.25 million club option, but then would shell out twice that for the same part). The problem is, the Rockies are already envisioning using Vizcaino in the high-leverage, late-innings role, and that might be a problem if he shows anything like what he has thus far. Spring stats may be total bollox, but then again, they have to come from the player's own ability. I got to the point of warily trusting Hawkins if he came in for the seventh, figured he'd give up a walk or a hit, but would probably get out of it. If I can get to that same place with The Wiz of Viz, I'll be cool with that. Vizcaino was awful at Yankee Stadium (5.94 ERA) but good on the road (2.77). Of course, humidor or no humidor, Coors remains a hitter-friendly park, so he's definitely going to have to sharpen his jam-escaping skills. He walks too many (43) in comparison to strikeouts (62) which means that he will likely have to Houdini his way out of messes of his own making. Oy.
2007 Line: 8-2 W/L, 4.30 ERA, 77 G, 0 SV/3 SVO , 43 BB, 62 K
2008 Proj.: 3-4 W/L, 4.45 ERA, 70 G, 0 SV/2 SVO, 39 BB, 57 K
#40, L/L Brian Fuentes: If you read this blog last year, especially last June, you will know what kind of heavenly wrath I was calling down on Fuentes after the Road Trip That Shall Not Be Named, an agonizing 1-9 swing through Toronto, Chicago, and Houston on which the Rockies would have gone a perfectly decent 5-5.... were it not for Fuentes turning into a really awful pitcher at a really awful time for it. The patterns were eerie. In each of the games -- each of the games -- Tulo hit a late go-ahead homer, Fuentes would come in, and look like he was going to nail it down. But whether it was one out and nobody on, two outs and nobody on, he would then proceed to send it all to hell in rapid fashion. His most impressive performance was in Houston, when, with two outs and nobody on... he managed to give up a game-winning GRAND SLAM. I just about sold my soul to the Devil, fell on my knees to give thanks when the eight-game losing streak was broken by Francis, and got the "Baseball isn't everything, you know..." talk from my sister. I was in a terrible funk -- breaking things, being horribly depressed, losing my will to live, etc. (I think this was the third time, and I unwisely assumed it would hurt less the next time... nope, hurt more). In any case, that episode led to them "discovering" Fuentes was injured and summarily relieving him of the closer's role; ironically, he went to the All-Star Game the next week.
Proponents of Fuentes like to point out that he has been to the Midsummer Classic three times, but I do not necessarily think that means a whole lot. I am also afraid it may have shot my trust in Fuentes for good, especially after he single-handedly erased any chance of a Rockies comeback in Games 3 and 4 of the World Series. Like Clint Barmes, this is another player that O'Dowd perplexedly refuses to hear trade offers for; hopefully Fuentes can have a good first half and then be flipped for a high-upside prospect arm. Brian is just incubating the hot seat until 22-year-old Casey Weathers, the Rockies' top draft pick in 2007, is ready for the Show (he's likely to start the year at Double-A Tulsa, since his showing in Spring Training proved he's got a ways to go yet). He's still a sidewinding lefty reliever, which in itself means he has trade value, and the Tigers, Yankees, and Phillies have all inquired about him recently. I'll accept Fuentes, of course, and pray that he does well since I know how agonizing it is when he doesn't, but sooner rather than later, he should be thanked for his good service to the team and given his walking papers. Hopefully Weathers will be pressing him by the end of this season or the start of '09.
2007 Line: 3-5 W/L, 3.08 ERA, 64 G, 20 SV/27 SVO, 23 BB, 56 K
2008 Proj.: 2-3 W/L, 3.34 ERA, 60 G, 2 SV/4 SVO, 25 BB, 49 K
#35, R/R Taylor Buchholz: Bucky, as he's known, is a shamefully underrated and underused part of the Colorado bullpen. He was acquired with Jason Hirsh and Willy Taveras in the Jason Jennings trade (still highway robbery on our part) and was originally tabbed to be a starter, but struggled in that role and was moved to the bullpen for the first time in his pro career. He found an instant home there; he had gone 1-3/5.98 as a starter, but went 5-2/2.70 as a reliever and declared himself perfectly content with his new role. He has a sub-3 ERA this spring and has always been a reliever that I trust implicitly ... when he got to play, which wasn't a whole lot last season. However, the brain trust seems to have finally seen the light, and will be giving Bucky more innings this season, something which I am perfectly fine with. He uses a fastball and curve, mixing in the occasional changeup and slider, but having only two main pitches probably hurt him as a starter. Quiet, soft-spoken, and intelligent, Bucky always seems to be the forgotten man (a running joke in my house last season involved him and Chris Iannetta being locked in a bathroom due to their lack of playing time) but if he keeps pitching this way, he won't be any longer. With both Hirsh and Willy T suffering injuries (Hirsh has a rotator cuff problem that will keep him out of the opening of the regular season, and Willy T played in only 97 games last year) Bucky has emerged as the most stable of the trio, even though Hirsh was the Astros' top pitching prospect and the key to the deal. Bucky allowed only 8 HR in 93.1 IP, showing that he can control the fly-ball tendencies that will burn any overly generous pitcher in Coors. But Bucky did better at home (4.03) than on the road (4.41) which is something you expect of Rockies hitters, not of their pitchers. He figures to serve as the long man this season, which means he'll probably get a lot of work until Redman/Towers/Wells get the heck off my team.
2007 Line: 6-5 W/L, 4.23 ERA, 41 G, 0 SV/0 SVO, 20 BB, 61 K
2008 Proj.: 5-1 W/L, 3.89 ERA, 57 G, 1 SV/1 SVO, 29 BB, 67 K
#34 L/R Matt Herges: Herges enjoyed something of a Well of Youth resurgence last year, going 5-1/2.96 -- presumably without PED's, as he was busted a big one in the chops with the release of the Mitchell Report, but swore he was clean in '07. Since he is 38 and has a career 3.82 ERA, I wouldn't be expecting him to duplicate that performance this year, especially since he got lucky with a lot of that. Still, he did provide a steadying presence out of the pen, allowing 4 HR in 48.1 IP and turning in some stellar performances in key games down the stretch. However, I'd look for him to be noticeably more wobbly this year, just because it evens out and he's an aging reliever off the juice. He was tough on righties (.184 BAA) and still hard to hit against lefties (.216 BAA) but the Rockies might have to look for a stretch of time without him, as it all depends if the toad in the Commish's office gets off his duff and hands out punishments for those fingered in the George Mitchell Power Hour Mudslinging Cabaret. Herges has apologized, naturally, and regrets setting a bad example, so I doubt he's going to make the mistake of going back to it. I wish I could trust him to do as well again as he did in 2007, but that was a magical year in a lot of ways and it remains to be seen for the team as a whole if they can keep the dance going and the pixie dust flowing. Last year was their proof that they can, in fact, be a winning club; the challenge in 2008 will be to demonstrate that they can do it on a consistent basis, as they were driving the car crazily and sometimes were dogging along and sometimes were laying on the gas. Herges, like everyone else and more so than others, will have to just keep the Rockcar purring on steadily down I-25, dodging the traffic of the rest of the West. If he can put together a season even remotely close to the last one, he'll be their hidden weapon. If not, he'll probably land on the Giants by the end of the year.
2007 Line: 5-1 W/L, 2.96 ERA, 35 G, 0 SV/2 SVO, 15 BB, 30 K
2008 Proj.: 3-2 W/L, 3.57 ERA, 40 G, 1 SV/3 SVO, 17 BB, 35 K
#61 R/R Ramon Ramirez: Ramirez is a bit of a wild card at this point. He was solid in 2006 (if my internet would stop being slower than Bengie Molina, I'd tell you the exact numbers, but it's having a problem at the moment.... five minutes later, no exaggeration, I discover that they were 4-3/3.46, but that's all I'm going to get, as I accidentally closed the wrong window and will now have to wait another five minutes before it tells me anything more). Last year, Ramirez was almost as dysfunctional as my aging and well-loved laptop, going 2-2 with an 8.31 ERA after suffering injury problems, but the team is hoping he can rebound this year and again be a solid contributor to the pen. He had an unsightly 1.56 WHIP and .313 BAA in '07, allowing 2 HR, 6 BB, and 15 K in 17.1 innings, often getting helped out by his defense (in just one example, I watched him pitch against... the Diamondbacks, I think it was, in which Willy T made a great catch to keep an RBI single to a sac fly, and Holliday charged down a sinking liner in the corner to end the inning and stop a double). To be honest, I'm not entirely thrilled about this prospect, but with Hawkins and Affeldt off to greener pastures, the team does need warm bodies in the pen. If Ramirez doesn't suck, he's welcome to pitch a few innings. If he does, the Cubs can have him, they always can use bad pitchers.
2007 Line: 2-2 W/L, 8.31 ERA, 22 G, o SV/0 SVO, 6 BB, 15 K
2008 Proj.: 0-1 W/L, 5.20 ERA, 20 G, 0 SV/0 SVO, 11 BB, 23 K
#23 R/R Ryan Speier: Speier may be a casualty of the process, as he impressed down the stretch but still has minor-league options left, so he may be the odd man out and therefore relegated to start the season at Colorado Springs again. I have not forgotten, however, that I did promise to have his children after he closed out Game 2 of the NLCS against the Diamondbacks after it had gone into extra innings and Willy T had worked the game-winning walk against a wild Jose Valverde. So if the second Ryan S on the roster makes it back to Denver, he can take me up on this offer if he so wishes and Tulo hasn't gotten there first, as might have happened. If so, he will be out of luck, as he will be in regards to his prospects of making the big-league club, which he would certainly like better. He weebled and wobbled all over the damn place early on, but like everyone else, took it to the next level when it counted and Purple Row (where I post under the name Silverblood) decided that he was the "Ace in the Pen." If Ramirez blows chunks, Speier could find himself ticketed for Denver in the relatively early going. A sidewinding 6'7" righty, he spent a good deal of last year as the Sky Sox closer, had a few bumps on his first stint with the Rox, but made adjustments and was an integral part of the (and I cannot believe I am typing these words) lights-out iron curtain that was the Rockies bullpen in the playoffs. I wouldn't mind seeing him back, and if I do end up having his children, I hope they don't inherit his facial hair.
2007 Line: 3-1 W/L, 4.00 ERA, 20 G, 0 SV/1 SVO, 8 BB, 13 K
2008 Proj.: 2-1 W/L, 4.12 ERA, 24 G, 0 SV/0 SV0, 10 BB, 17 K
#44 L/L Micah Bowie: If Vizcaino is Hawkins, than Bowie is Affeldt. His most recent employer was the Washington Nationals, but the Rockies extended him a chance to attend camp as a NRI (non-roster invitee) and he's made the most of it. Thus far, in six Cactus League appearances, he's yet to allow a run in 7.1 IP, with three walks and four K's. Since his career ERA is a rather untidy 6.01, however, it may be a little much to hope that he's finally figured something out; I should take this opportunity to note that Kip Wells had a 1.16 ERA in camp last year and we all know how that turned out. Your basic journeyman type, Bowie has counted the Braves, Cubs, Athletics, and most recently Nationals among his employers, and the most games he's ever pitched in is 30, set last year in Washington. He pitched a career-high 57 innings, and it should also be noted that his second-highest total, 47 IP, came appended to a 2-6/9.96 (OY!) season with the Cubs in '99. In Colorado, he'll be counted to fill the void of LOOGY left in Affeldt's wake, and if he can be trusted to come in for one or two outs and retire dangerous lefties, that's all he needs to do; he doesn't even need to finish the inning if you just insert him judiciously here and there. He did have a 1.37 ERA in 2006 (19.2 IP) with the Nats, so limited exposure is evidently the key here. Overuse is a ticket to a blowup, probably when we least need it, seeing as that is a general rule of thumb. He did start 8 games in 2007, and if our fifth starter situation gets any worse... well, no. Let's hope it doesn't.
2007 Line: 4-3 W/L, 4.55 ERA, 30 G, 0 SV/0 SVO, 27 BB, 42 K
2008 Proj.: 2-3 W/L, 4.47 ERA, 24 G, 0 SV/0 SVO, 20 BB, 46 K
Other names you might see in the picture: Jose Capellan (talented but erratic, acquired from the Brewers, injury problems in the early going and hasn't seen much work, may be installed at some point) Zach McClellan (had a brief stint, interested in returning when healthy, which he currently is not, nothing particularly special) Juan Morillo (fireballer, not the greatest at control, needs more time in the minors, but power pitchers are always attractive) Josh Towers (bad) Mark Redman (still bad) Kip Wells (three-letter word starting with "b") the Grim Reaper (hey, can't be worse, and would have the benefit of making opposing batters quake in fear instead of anticipation).
Kip Wells' Cactus League ERA: 5.14
Josh Towers' Cactus League ERA: 7.20
Mark Redman's Cactus League ERA: 9.24
Holy hell, that is a lot of pitching incompetence. Can somebody tell me how we had "improving the team" in mind when we signed that junk?
Ahem. I will do my best to get another preview done in sequence tomorrow, much as it may stun those of you well accustomed to my suspect scheduling. In which case it'll be the infield, and hopefully I won't have to write six different blurbs for the second base spot. The competition looks to be down to Nix and Baker, with Nix having the inside track if he gets over the stiff back that will sideline him for the next few days.