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I recall when the NL expanded in 1993 and created the Rockies and Marlins. It had been announced a couple of years before, and the idea intrigued me so much that my dad actually hunted down a Rockies' T-shirt for me in about 1991. The thing was pretty much worn out before the team played its first game. I guess the thing that captured my imagination was that there hadn't been any expansion since the '70s (the longest MLB had gone without expanding since they started expanding in the '60s), and that was before I was paying much attention to baseball.

(I also remember the FAN radio station broadcasting the expansion draft for the Rockies and Marlins. Dan Shulman was one of the guys doing commentary, and when Colorado drafted Kevin Reimer, Shulman said something like, ďI donít understand this at all. This is a National League team, and Reimer couldnít catch the ball if you handed it to him.Ē)

Then I got over it.



The Rockies just hadn't done much that was very interesting, coming into last year. They had their inflated hitting and pitching stats, due to their high-altitude city, with all that implies, and they won the wild card in '94. But '94 was the only year they were more than a couple of games ahead of .500. Even last year, the Rockies were hanging around .500 until late August, when they put on the jets a bit... and then took off altogether, winning 21 of their next 22 games, a streak that took them right into the World Series. Imagine being a Rockies fan during all that, and seeing a pennant materialize pretty much out of nowhere!

Anyway, the obvious question is, are they a very good team who clustered their success at the end of the year, or are they a half-decent team who went on a hot streak?

I checked their Pythagorean numbers, and found that thereís really not much there to flag. They actually won a couple of games less than their Pythagorean projection suggests, and when thatís broken down into home and road numbers, itís still pretty close on both sides. The big long winning streak in September didnít feature an inordinate number of close games. That 21-1 stretch may have been a fluke, but it was a straightforward fluke.

Strengths

The í07 Rockies had a really outstanding bullpen, with six guys putting up ERAs under 4.00 in significant innings. That wonít happen again, of course; bullpens are rarely that stable over consecutive years, and less so when three of your top guys (Hawkins, Julio and Affeldt) leave as free agents. But theyíve still got Fuentes and Corpas, and they picked up Vizcaino, and they have other guys, so theyíll probably be okay. (Iím particularly intrigued by this guy Corpas. Those are some good numbers.)

Iím not sure whether to call the teamís offense a strength. Itís not a weakness, thatís for sure. Colorado was second in the league in runs scored with 860, which breaks down to 478 home (1st) and 382 away (5th). Well, even if you ignore the home numbers because of Coors Field, fifth is pretty good. Still, the teamís overall OPS+ was 103, which is just a bit better than average. So theyíre all right but not spectacular.

Last yearís offense was, with one exception, stereotypical: power on the corners, strength up the middle. The best hitters were Holliday, Helton, Hawpe and Atkins (LF, 1B, RF and 3B, respectively); the defense-oriented positions all had below-average hitters (Torrealba and Matsui are nothing special; Taveras in centre gets on base all right but lacks power), except for Tulowitzki, a good hitter for a shortstop and young enough to improve. Matsui has moved on, and could be replaced by any one of a bunch of guys who wonít do much to change this outlook.

The starting pitching is similar to the offenseópretty good but not very very good. Solid. No, actually, it was quite a strength for them last year, in that a) they were ninth in the league in startersí ERA despite playing half their games in Coors Field, and b) almost everybody who started games for them had at least an average ERA+ (okay, Josh Fogg (10-9 in 29 starts) had an ERA+ of 97, but heís gone anyway). Of those, Jeff Francis was the best. He had quite a good season but wasnít a Cy Young contender.

Itís a pretty young team, too. Thatís a good thing.

Weaknesses

Rockiesí pitchers donít seem to strike out a lot of guysóthey were only 14th in the league in Ks last year. I imagine this reflects some kind of organizational attempt to cope with Coors Field, but I donít know if you can keep that working in the long term. They do seem to be keeping the home runs and walks down, though, and as far as I can tell they did get more ground balls. So maybe they know what theyíre doing. But Iíd still like to see some more strikeouts.

One thing that did happen to the Colorado hitters last year was that they lost a lot of their power on the road. They still got on base respectably, but their road slugging percentage was third worst in the league.

The Rockies didnít have much of a bench last year. They had Spilborghs as an extra outfielder, and he was fine, but thatís about it.

And they didnít make many changes. Itís one of the things my dad taught me about baseball: You donít change, you donít win. A team that stands pat is only hurting itself; thereís always something you can improve. What changes did they make? Mostly spare parts: Vizcaino to replenish the bullpen, Kip Wells to carry the torch from Josh Fogg, Podsednik, Towers, Chris GeorgeÖ Somebody from that group might really help out, but Iím sure not going to predict it.

I havenít heard a lot about any good young prospects who are going to surge up from the minors and play a role. Well, okay, one: Jayson Nix is in the mix to win the second base job. Other than that, the Rockies are mostly hoping for improvement from young players already on the team, like Tulowitzki, Francis, Ubaldo Jiminez (starting pitcher), Franklin Morales (lefty starting pitcher) and Ian Stewart (outfielder).

Outlook

Thereís a lot to like about this team. I donít think theyíre world-beaters, but theyíve got an engine that runs. Given reasonable luck when it comes to injuries and young players, I donít see why they couldnít approach 90 wins, and that might be enough to make it to the postseson again.

2008 Colorado Rockies Preview | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Magpie - Friday, March 28 2008 @ 01:03 AM EDT (#181591) #
Reimer couldnít catch the ball if you handed it to him

And he was accordingly responsible for a happy baseball memory. In July 1991, Rance Mulliniks lined what should have been a routine single to left field. It wasn't easy, but Reimer somehow converted it into the first inside-the-park homer hit at SkyDome, possibly the first such creature I'd ever seen in person, and definitely the last homer of Rance's fine career.

In Rockies news, Mark Redman has beat out Josh Towers for the 5th starters job. Mark Redman in Coors? Interesting.
Mike Green - Friday, March 28 2008 @ 01:56 PM EDT (#181600) #
In Rockies news, Mark Redman has beat out Josh Towers for the 5th starters job. Mark Redman in Coors? Interesting.

Redman has the advantage of being left-handed.  I guess the Rockies figured that they would rather have Tulowitzki trying to gobble up hard-hit ground balls off Redman than the outfielders chasing long fly balls off Towers.  Marcel had projected both Towers and Redman to have ERAs of 5.20, so it is a marginal thing.
Geoff - Friday, March 28 2008 @ 02:03 PM EDT (#181603) #
I remember that Mulliniks in-the-park home run. One of the most beautiful moments watching baseball was to see Rance, of all people, accomplish an inside-the-parker.

Meanwhile, I do not understand how the Rockies can be considered to contend with that rotation.  Josh Towers is beat out by Mark Redman for the 5 spot? Your #2 pitcher is Aaron Cook? All hope rests on amateur free agents Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales having breakthrough years, with 24 career starts between the two of them? And anchoring the staff is ace Jeff Francis, who is a fine pitcher but shows no signs of being great.

I don't get it. Granted, the rotation didn't lose much from last years winning club by saying goodbye to Fogg, Hirsh and Rodrigo Lopez -- but those guys did enough to keep the team afloat. Gone from the bullpen are Affeldt, Hawkins and Julio (don't laugh - Jorge Julio did alright for the Rockies) Incoming are Vizcaino and Kip Wells (!). Yikes. Can Kip Wells be another reclamation project like Matt Herges last year?

The offense better be luckier than their pitching again if they are to win 90 games.
Chuck - Friday, March 28 2008 @ 03:54 PM EDT (#181609) #
And anchoring the staff is ace Jeff Francis, who is a fine pitcher but shows no signs of being great.

For what it's worth, BP 2008 calls Francis "one of the NL's top 15 pitchers". Not great, granted, but ace caliber, if even at the bottom of the scale.

Geoff - Saturday, March 29 2008 @ 11:49 AM EDT (#181643) #
I'd equate the expertise of Francis as a major league pitcher with that of Gil Meche. They are separated by two years and a few months and 400 IP, but I'd even say I would rather have Meche on my team today with a four-year contract.

The big separation point? The mystique of left-handedness. The notion that a good left-handed pitcher is worth more than a right handed one of equal ability to get outs.

Adding to his mystique, Francis is also a foreign player.

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