Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine

Younger Than Yesterday

How in the world did the Rockies avert an eighth consecutive season of falling attendance? They spent only one game on the high side of .500 and fell to 29-49 by early July. Since 1998, when the NL West, expanded to five teams, the Rockies have never finished higher than fourth.

Maybe the weather was responsible. According to the National Weather Service, Denver "finished slightly above normal in temperature and... below normal [in] precipitation."

Pray for more good weather, Colorado fans.

Last year, Colorado signed veterans Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, and Royce Clayton to buy some time while the prospects developed. General Manager Jim O'Dowd and skipper Clint Hurdle dutifully played up the veteran presence and character of their squad. "We're not very good, and signing Clayton isn't a solution" makes for a poor marketing campaign.

This offseason, the Rockies adopted a policy of masterly inactivity, stirring occasionally to see if anyone would (please!) take the contracts of Preston Wilson and Charles Johnson off their ledger. Denny Neagle's corporeal presence is gone but his corpulent salary lingers on. Their contracts have seemingly imbued a state of organizational paralysis.

As a result, the prospects will play, consequences be damned. To their credit, O'Dowd and Hurdle aren't throwing out the "we could surprise people" clichés. The Rockies will struggle this season, period, and no one suggests anything different.

2005 will be a referendum on the farm system. If all goes well, you could be witnessing the primordial soup that will evolve into the next great Rockies club. If not, you'll be watching a random bunch of guys who were fortunate enough to play Major-League ball during 2005. The weather should be nice.


"If you throw five or six rookies out there, you run the risk of disaster." - Toronto G.M. J.P. Ricciardi

Did Ricciardi have Colorado in mind when he made this statement in his Batter's Box interview? Colorado will probably lurch their way to another superficially impressive offensive performance, but with so many untested players, any prediction carries a high level of variance Last year, guys like Castilla, Burnitz, and even Clayton offered at least some measure of certainty. Going into this season, six of the eight ostensible everyday players have less than 145 games of Major League experience. Check out that last column:

# Player Pos Age PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ Games

1 Aaron Miles -S 2B 28 559 .293 .329 .368 67 142
2 Clint Barmes SS 26 75 .282 .320 .437 80 32
3 Todd Helton - L 1B 31 683 .347 .469 .620 159 1135
4 Preston Wilson CF 30 222 .248 .315 .391 68 809
5 Matt Holliday LF 25 438 .290 .349 .487 98 121
6 Garrett Atkins 3B 25 33 .357 .424 .536 129 40
7 Brad Hawpe - L OF 25 118 .248 .322 .400 72 42
8 J.D. Closser - S CF 25 121 .319 .364 .398 83 36

Last year, Colorado finished second in the NL in average and on-base percentage, third in slugging, and fourth in runs scored. And guess what? Their offense was terrible. Thanks to Coors Field, a Rockie player had to bat .292/.367/.473 just to be average. Colorado batted .275/.345/.455 last year, good for an OPS+ of just 90. Only two NL teams scored fewer runs on the road.

In 2002, Closser was a seemingly harmless throw-in to the 2002 deal which sent LOOGY Mike Myers to Arizona for Jack Cust. Closser has exhibited strong but not awe-inspiring performances in three high-minor seasons. He ought to provide an effective replacement to Charles Johnson with more hits but fewer homers.

The veteran Helton lords over the grim offensive landscape. He is a near-perfect combination of contact, power, and patience, and he gets very little help. As he said before the 2004 season, "It's not going to do any good if I am coming up with two outs and nobody on." Colorado's #1 and #2 hitters combined for a .327 OBP, and Helton plated only 96 runners despite batting .347 and slugging .620.

Aaron Miles, a 27-year-old rookie, enthusiastically donned the mantle of former Rox legend Neifi Perez. Miles defended capably and batted .293 but offered minimal power or patience, resulting in well over 500 at-bats that barely exceed replacement-level. Colorado acquired Miles straight-up for the much younger Juan Uribe, who enjoyed his breakout season with the White Sox.

After failing his late-season trial run in 2003, Atkins returned to Colorado Springs and produced a line of .366/.434/.578, followed by a nearly identical performance in a brief call-up to Denver. He won't replace Vinny Castilla's 35 homers but has a reasonable chance to surpass him in terms of total production. Atkins is a third baseman in name only and would play first if not for the presence of Helton.

The time is now for Barmes, a 26-year-old whose slow development necessitated last year's signing of Royce Clayton. Barmes batted a career-best .328 and displayed newfound power repeating in Colorado Springs, then acquiited himself in a September call-up. Nevertheless, he's far from a sure thing, and Relaford may end up with the majority of at-bats.

Younger than Barmes, Atkins and Closser, Holliday provided one of the few bright spots in 2004. After repeating AA in 2003, he skipped AAA and provided a competent bat that was desperately needed with the losses of Wilson and Walker. Holliday's uneven minor-league career and dire road numbers (.240/.287/.367) beg the question of whether he can stick as a regular.

Fresh off an NL-best 141 RBI in 2003, Wilson limped through Spring Training with a knee injury, struggled badly at the plate and missed two-thirds of the season outright. The Rockies would love for another team to assist in paying the $12 million he'll earn, but he'll have to reestablish his fitness and competence first. Wilson is the center fielder by default and would be better suited to a corner.

Hawpe announced his big-league debut with authority last May, batting .563/.588/1.000 in his first six games. He batted .191 the rest of the way, but his eye-opening line of .322/.384/.622 at Colorado Springs makes him the putative favorite for right field. Like Atkins, Hawpe moved from first because of Helton and is a defensive maladroit. He'll share the position with Dustan Mohr.

Colorado's bench is a grab-bag of decent youngish talent and veteran presence. They will receive plenty of at-bats. Luis Gonzalez probably would make a better everyday second baseman than Miles, but he'll resume his duties as supersub. He can do anything but pitch and catch. Like Gonzalez, Desi Relaford can play almost anywhere and has the veteran status that ostensibly compensates for his weaker bat. Dustan Mohr and Jorge Piedra make a solid duo of backup outfielders. The righthanded Mohr will start often against lefties despite his significant reverse split, and Piedra could steal at-bats from a slumping Hawpe or Holliday. Catcher Todd Greene will continue to swing for the fences and condescend to draw a walk every month or so. Greg Norton and minor-league stalwart Andy Tracy will fight for a pinch-hitter spot. Colorado is expected to trade or release Charles Johnson before Opening Day.


Fans won't have Shawn Estes and Jeff Fassero to kick around any more. Unless Darren Oliver claws his way onto the roster, 30-year-old Jamey Wright will be the rotation's elder statesman. The 2004 Stats:

Player	                Age 	GS	ERA	ERA+	 IP	H/9	HR/9	BB/9	SO/9 
Jason Jennings 26 33 5.51 92 201 10.8 1.2 4.5 6.0
Joe Kennedy - L 26 27 3.66 138 162 9.0 0.9 3.7 6.5
Shawn Chacon 27 0 7.11 71 63 10.1 1.7 7.4 7.4
Jamey Wright 30 14 4.12 123 79 9.4 0.9 5.1 4.7
Jeff Francis - L 24 7 5.15 98 37 10.3 2.0 3.2 7.8

Jennings has backslid for two years running since a fine 2002 that rightfully earned him Rookie of the Year honors. He did provide a respectable 4.60 ERA after a catastrophic opening month in which he surrendered 36 runs in six starts. Unlike several high-priced free agents, Jennings has maintained his health and sanity pitching in a low-g environment, and for that Colorado inked him to a two-year deal. If he stops walking a batter every other inning he'll help his team immensely.

Washed out in Tampa at the tender age of 24, Kennedy rebounded to become the first Rockie starter ever to qualify for the ERA title with a sub-4.00 ERA. His peripheral stats indicate he wasn't quite that effective, but by and large he kept the ball in the park and on the ground. Colorado pitchers have a long and storied history of fleeting success, so even one more quality season from Kennedy is by no means a certainty. Send some luck his way.

Back into the rotation goes Chacon, fresh off his soul-destroying tenure as a closer. He allowed two baserunners per inning, walked one of every six batters faced, and generally pitched about twelve levels below replacement. In the process, he somehow saved 35 games. Chacon has pitched reasonably well in two of three seasons as a starter but has yet to stay healthy enough to qualify for an ERA title.

Wright has pitched at roughly a league-average level during five seasons in Colorado despite walking more than he's struck out. How does he do it? By keeping the ball in the park? A low hit rate? Voodoo? Well, no, he really doesn't do anything well except keep the ball on the ground most of the time, and that seems enough to maintain a career. Colorado would gladly take 180 innings and a 5.25 ERA.

In 346 minor-league innings, Francis allowed only 22 homers. He has surrendered eight in his first 36 Major-League innings. Actually, Coors Field can't take the blame for this, as Francis surrendered five of those eight homers in a pair of jittery starts at Atlanta and San Francisco. Still, the unsettling question for O'Dowd and company is whether to add "Colorado pitching prospect" to the land of make-believe along with unicorns, mermaids, and civil political discourse. The 24-year-old Francis may be the Rockies' best pitching prospect ever. He has allowed fewer than seven hits per nine runners and sports a 5/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the minors. If he doesn't pan out, who will?

Darren Oliver hasn't posted a league-average ERA since 1999, but a solid camp could land him in the rotation. 1997 2nd-round pick Aaron Cook pitched successfully, albeit with terrifying peripherals, before being sidelined with blood clots in his lungs. He could return by June.


With the word "closer" reduced to an epithet after Chacon's 2004, Colorado enters the season without one. Colorado set Major-League records with 34 blown saves and 39 losses. So, let's say there's room for improvement.

Brian Fuentes has the best track record of success in Colorado though with minimal closing experience. He doesn't throw hard or induce grounders, seemingly a bad idea in Denver, yet his weird delivery results in a high strikeout rate. He pitched better last year than his 5.64 ERA would indicate. Chin-Hui Tsao may have the inside track on the closer's job. The club moved the former top rotation prospect to the bullpen out of concern for his shoulder. Tsao features a repertoire of blazing fastball and hard slider that makes him a more conventional closer candidate. Scott Dohmann is another converted starter who debuted successfully last year and will pitch in high-leverage situations this season. Dohmann let the ball take flight and allowed eight homers in just 46 innings but otherwise pitched well enough to minimize the damage.

Those three could pitch in any bullpen in the Majors. Beyond them, the cast becomes motley. Eddie Gaillard returns from Japan after three years as a top closer. Unforturnately, he pitched there for five years, and the last two weren't pretty. Aaron Taylor comes over from Seattle and will get another shot as a Major-League pitcher. For the last three years, Taylor has mowed down batters in AA and AAA only to fail utterly in brief big-league trials. He is fully recoevered from shoulder surgery. Relief prospect Ryan Speier laid waste to Texas League hitters last year (33 hits allowed in 62 innings) and might make the squad despite no AAA experience. Javier Lopez, who pitched well for Colorado in 2003 but collapsed last season, Allan Simpson, Vlad Nunez, and journeyman David Cortes will fight for the remaining spots.


Last year, my computer told me that St. Louis would be the class of the NL Central, and I chose not to believe. This year, it tells me the Rockies will win 71 games. I think that's the upside, and my computer is taunting me for last year's impudence.

Not one aspect of this team inspires confidence. They features an offense filled with prospects and guys who just happen to be young, dubious defense at third and throughout the outfield, a mediocre rotation and a shaky bullpen. The upside to Colorado's plan for 2005 is monetary savings and quickly learning who can play. The downside is discovering they can't, and there's no safety net. This team could be scary-bad, and in a worst-case scenario they could become fifth division-era club to lose 110 games.

Acknowledging my computer's superior intellect, I'll go with a win total in the upper sixties and a last-place finish.

Colorado Rockies Preview | 15 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
CaramonLS - Tuesday, March 01 2005 @ 02:05 AM EST (#104046) #
Thats one of the most offensive (as in terrible) offenses I've seen Colorado field in a long time.

Does management even try?
Magpie - Tuesday, March 01 2005 @ 06:53 AM EST (#104048) #

Good job there, Lucas, although your computer sounds like a starry-eyed optimist to me. After trading Larry Walker last year, after losing Burnitz (37 HRs) and Castilla (35 HRs), Jennings might be the second best hitter on this team.

Look closely, Blue Jays fans. This is what a Truly Awful situation looks like.

Does management even try?

Finding a baseball strategy that works at altitude - the next person to figure it out will be the first. I think management has tried, but nothing has worked (not that they stick with anything long enough to find out) - and now they just don't know what to do. They don't have a clue, they know they don't have a clue. They've run out of ideas...

Mike Green - Tuesday, March 01 2005 @ 09:31 AM EST (#104055) #
Brilliant writing, Lucas. I can't say I disagree with the conclusion. So, bring on the cats.

While the Rockies are starting a number of inexperienced players, the players involved are not really hot prospects, save for Francis. The really interesting ones, third baseman Ian Stewart and shortstop Chris Nelson, are a year and a half away at least.

So, the long-term strategy seems to be:

-sort through the pitchers
-wait for some of the deadweight contracts to come off the books
-develop the premium talent slowly
-buy the additional talent that will clearly be needed to compete in 2007 or 2008.

Light a candle for the patient Rockies' fan.

Lucas - Tuesday, March 01 2005 @ 10:06 AM EST (#104064) #
For what it's worth, the Rockies will have money to spend next year. In 2005, they'll pay $12 to Wilson, $9 to Johnson, $10 to Neagle (assuming they lose Neagle's grievance hearing, which they should), and $7.5 to the departed Larry Walker. All of that, $38.5 miilion, disappears in 2006.

Helton gets $12.6 this year and $16.6 through 2010(!) and $19.1 in 2011(!!!), but at least for now, he's earning his money.
Mike Green - Tuesday, March 01 2005 @ 10:35 AM EST (#104067) #
Todd, you've got to carry that weight, carry that weight a long time...

Now, if Rockies' ownership follows Rogers' wise example and sets a 3 year budget beginning in 06, the team can go with a much lower payroll in 06 and then spend when the talent arrives.
Pistol - Tuesday, March 01 2005 @ 10:47 AM EST (#104069) #
I actually just looked up Helton's contract this morning. Dugout Dollars listed that the contract can be voided after 2007, but wasn't more specific than that. My quick Google didn't find out anything more.
Mick Doherty - Tuesday, March 01 2005 @ 11:06 AM EST (#104071) #
Marketing campaign theme:

Todd Helton! Preston Wilson! Hey, at least you've heard of them ... right?

And you've heard of bat day and ball day? The Rox are going to offer "Attend three home games, win a chance to pinch-hit in a key late-inning situation" promotion.

Magpie - Tuesday, March 01 2005 @ 11:41 AM EST (#104075) #
The Rox are going to offer "Attend three home games, win a chance to pinch-hit in a key late-inning situation" promotion.


But actually, it's not a promotion.

They're looking for talent.

Jordan - Tuesday, March 01 2005 @ 12:27 PM EST (#104081) #
Todd Helton, starting first baseman, New York Yankees, 2007.

You heard it here first.
Thomas - Tuesday, March 01 2005 @ 01:41 PM EST (#104090) #
Ian Stewart looks like he'll be a heck of a hitter. It'll be nice to see what he can accomplish in Coors.

Imagine what Barry Bonds could do in Coors. I'm sure someone must have run a pretty detailed simulation but I've not come across it. However, even he couldn't save this lineup.

Of course, I will be rooting hard for Francis to suceed. I'm predicting 13 wins and a low 4 ERA. Say, 13-10 with a 4.14 ERA.
Thomas - Wednesday, March 02 2005 @ 10:45 AM EST (#104166) #
I swear I had no idea how close my prediction was to Francis' ZIPS line when I posted it.

It gives me strange new confidence in my prognosticating ability.
Craig B - Wednesday, March 02 2005 @ 11:02 AM EST (#104170) #
Finally, the Rockies are doing what I've thought they should do all along. Well, barring the idea of fielding a *good* offense. Since they don't want to do that (they've never really done that) the Rockies' best move is to use young, unproven players in the field.

Why? Two reasons stand out for me. First, is that young guys tend to be better defenders, and team defense is extremely important in Coors Field, probably more than in any other ballpark (especially outfield defense - Coors has by far the largest outfield in the majors). Second, and more important, is that giving young players exposure in Coors Field and letting them compile gaudy park-inflated numbers is a really good way to generate bargaining chips for the Rockies to trade for actual good players.

The Rockies have developed some very good young players in their time, but they've never been willing to give them an extended chance, aside from Helton. Even Juan Uribe, who is a very fine young player, got unceremoniously dumped in a hurry. Atkins is the real deal in my view, Holliday played fairly well for a rookie (the Coors Road Effect hurt him, but he may get used to it and overcome it some), and Closser is exactly the type of high-average player who should benefit from Coors (remember, Coors benefits most the guys who put the ball in play and have a little power - not the high-K, HR hitters like Preston Wilson). I think 70 wins is a good prediction for them - it's tough to lose more than that when you have as much of a home-field advantage as the Rockies do.

It's still a bad team, but they will be tough to beat at home with their pitching.
Jim - Wednesday, March 02 2005 @ 12:22 PM EST (#104181) #
'First, is that young guys tend to be better defenders, and team defense is extremely important in Coors Field, probably more than in any other ballpark (especially outfield defense - Coors has by far the largest outfield in the majors).'

Hmmm.. I think the BP 2005 essay on the Rockies promotes the exact opposite of this. Their point is to shoot for 1250 (if I remember right) runs and whoever gets you to that number plays the field.

I don't know if they can ever come up with a plan until they actually get good players to see what happens. The last few Rockies teams were going to lose everywhere, so it's tough to take a lot out of their results.

Personally, I have no idea what they should do, but they have a lot of interesting prospects at least.
Craig B - Wednesday, March 02 2005 @ 01:08 PM EST (#104186) #
Jim, I agree that you have to shoot for 1250 runs (actually you only need 1200 or so to win almost 100 games). That's the "right" way to play in Coors Field - I know, having played dozens of seasons now in Coors Field in various DMB leagues and simulations.

What I mean is, given that the Rockies have never wanted to do that and show no interest in doing that, what should they do? What's the second-best medium-to-long-term strategy for building in Coors? I think they should concentrate on turning over their hitters regularly, playing good defense and hoping to develop good young players or trade them for better ones on the strength of their Coors-inflated numbers.
6-4-3 - Wednesday, March 02 2005 @ 08:55 PM EST (#104241) #
I googled Helton's contract too, and I found a couple posts on different message boards saying that Helton can void the contract in 2007, and he has to declare his intention to void the contract during the 2006 off-season. So, yeah, the Rox have no way out of the contract, unless the Yankees feel like they're one first baseman away from winning the Series.
Colorado Rockies Preview | 15 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.