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Colorado may not be the worst team in the National League, but they may be the dullest. Florida’s incendiary brand of roster management at least has a macabre entertainment value. In contrast, the Rockies lethargically trudge toward utter pointlessness.

This team is bad. So, instead of prattling on about whether Cory Sullivan can “take it to the next level,” I’d like to discuss what Colorado can do, if anything, to win in the future. If that doesn’t entice you to click the “[More]” link below, I also have a picture of two adorable cats.

You may remember them from last year:

How Bad Are The Rockies?

For much of the season, Colorado played much worse than their grim total of 67 wins would suggest. The Rockies lost 21 of their first 27 games. Only nine teams in MLB history have started worse. They batted .232/.299/.359 on the road and lost forty of their first fifty games away from Coors. On August 19th they had a record of 45-77, on pace to lose 103. Some respectable late-season play salvaged a tie with the inaugural squad of 1993 for the worst record in franchise history.

Colorado performed one task well: they held opponents to a reasonable 5.5 runs per game at Coors Field (an average team would allow about 5.9). Unfortunately, they only scored 5.6 runs per game at home. Outside of Denver, they managed 27 wins, awful and yet par for the course. The Rockies haven’t exceeded thirty road wins since 2000.

An Offensive Lineup

Player 		Pos 	Age 	Bat 	OBP 	OBP+ 	SLG 	SLG+
C Barmes 	SS 	27 	R 	.330 	93 	.434 	98
C Sullivan 	CF 	26 	L 	.343 	97 	.386 	87
T Helton 	1B 	32 	L 	.445 	126 	.534 	120 
M Holliday 	LF 	26 	R 	.361 	102 	.505 	114
G Atkins 	3B 	26 	R 	.347 	98 	.426 	96
B Hawpe 	RF 	27 	L 	.350 	99 	.403 	91
L Gonzalez 	2B 	27 	R 	.333 	94 	.421 	95
Y Torrealba 	C 	27 	R 	.297 	89 	.338 	80

Excluding strike-ruined 1994, the Rockies scored a franchise-worst 740 runs per game last season. An average-hitting team Denver would have scored about 835. Only two of the Colorado’s eight projected starters reached base or slugged better than a league-average level last year. All but Helton are either 26 or 27 years old, and a lingering back injury marred Helton’s 2005, so they do have room for improvement. Still, they project to have a below-average offense. At least half of the players listed above won’t be regulars within two years.

Given their current pitching, how many runs does Colorado need to score to compete for the postseason? Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus suggested as many as 1,250 in a chat session in February of 2005. He later amended his answer to 1,150, then said that “if the Rockies aren’t scoring a thousand runs, they can’t win.” He recommended a scorched-earth policy of roster construction consisting of a “ridiculous offense” and “treat[ing] their pitchers as fungible.”

Let’s try to answer the question with more precision. Colorado has allowed about 5% more runs than an average team (league and park-adjusted) during the past first years. Using last year’s league and park factor, that’s about 875 runs. Also assume the Rockies need ninety wins to have a respectable chance at the postseason. Plugging the numbers into the theorem developed by noted baseball fanatic Pythagoras reveals that the Rockies need to score about 980 runs to win ninety games, given 875 runs allowed. 980 runs is below what Sheehan recommended, but league-wide offense declined in 2005 and Coors Field no longer inflates offense as much as in years past. Ninety wins don’t guarantee October baseball, of course, but they do give fans a reason to show up. Attendance has declined 50% over the last seven years.

980 runs. Colorado plated 968 in 2000 and 961 in 1996, when the league and park favored offense much more heavily. Scoring 980 now is a much tougher task, but it’s not an outrageous or even unreasonable number.

What kind of batting line does Colorado need to score 980 runs? In predicting such things, I’ve developed a formula based on regressing a variety of offensive factors such as average, OBP, slugging, and even steals and caught-stealing, which play a small but statistically significant role. I don’t want to put you to sleep with too many numbers, so suffice it to say that the formula works well (email me if you’re interested). Colorado scored 740 runs last year, and my formula predicted 750.

If Colorado hits .280/.360/.490 and doesn’t act stupidly on the basepaths, they could score 984 runs, a smidgen more than they need to wins ninety games with their existing pitching. A .360 OBP would place them among the top 2% in NL history, and a .490 slugging percentage would surpass their own NL record of .483. Still, if any team has the potential to achieve this level of output, it’s Colorado.

Understand that I refer to Colorado’s offensive potential in the abstract sense. Certainly, the present collective won’t attain 980 runs. Colorado scored a meager 740 runs last season and is essentially relying on internal improvement to tally another 240. Good luck with that.

Incidentally, for 1,250 runs Colorado needs a line of about .310/.390/.550. That’s a team OPS+ of 134.

Pitchers and Perseverance

Rotation 	Arm 	Age 	ERA 	ERA+ 	HR% 	BB% 	SO%
J Francis 	L 	25 	5.68 	86 	3.1% 	8% 	14%
A Cook 		R 	27 	3.67 	133 	2.2% 	4% 	7%
J Jennings 	R 	27 	5.02 	97 	2.0% 	11% 	14%
B Kim 		R 	27 	4.86 	100 	2.5% 	11% 	17%
J Fogg 		R 	29 	5.05 	83 	3.6% 	6% 	11% 
Z Day 		R 	28 	6.85 	61 	2.6% 	14% 	10%
S Kim 		R 	28 	4.90 	93 	2.8% 	6% 	15%
Bullpen 	Arm 	Age 	ERA 	ERA+ 	HR% 	BB% 	SO%
B Fuentes 	L 	30 	2.91 	167 	1.9% 	11% 	28%
M DeJean 	R 	35 	3.19 	152 	0.0% 	8% 	23%
R King 		L 	32 	3.38 	132 	2.3% 	9% 	13%
D Cortes 	R 	32 	4.10 	119 	4.2% 	5% 	17%
S Dohmann 	R 	28 	6.10 	80 	4.2% 	13% 	24%
J Acevedo 	R 	28 	6.47 	75 	4.5% 	5% 	11%
K Yabu 		R 	37 	4.50 	99 	2.3% 	10% 	17%
J Mesa 		R 	40 	4.76 	88 	2.7% 	10% 	14%

Predicting the performance of Colorado pitchers assures failure. Rockie hurlers show a total lack of correlation in year-to-year performance, partly because the park invites high variance and partly because most of them haven’t been very good. A review of the ten Colorado pitchers who qualified for the ERA title with the best ERA+ and their follow-up performances:

Joe Kennedy, 2004: 162 IP, 3.66 ERA , 138 ERA+
Next Year: 7.04 ERA in 92 innings (67 ERA+), traded in July to Oakland for Eric Byrnes, Omar Quintanilla and cash.

Kevin Ritz, 1995: 173 IP, 4.21 ERA, 127 ERA+
Next year: 213 innings in 35 starts, ERA up to 5.28, 103 ERA+

Brian Bohanon, 2000: 177 IP, 4.68 ERA, 127 ERA+
Next Year: 97 innings, 7.14 ERA (73 ERA+), did not pitch in the Majors afterwards

Armando Reynoso, 1993: 189 IP, 4.00 ERA, 123 ERA+
Next year: only nine starts and 52 innings pitched, 4.82 ERA, 103 ERA+

Roger Bailey, 1997: 191 innings, 4.29 ERA, 121 ERA+
Next Year: Suffered multiple injuries in an auto wreck and never again pitched in the Majors.

Pedro Astacio, 1999: 232 IP, 5.04 ERA, 114 ERA+
Next Year: 196 IP, 5.27 ERA, 113 ERA+ (see below)

Pedro Astacio, 2000: 196 IP, 5.27 ERA, 113 ERA+
Next Year: 141 IP with Colorado, 5.49 ERA, 95 ERA+, traded to Houston in July for Scott Elarton.

John Thomson, 1997: 166 IP, 4.71 ERA, 110 ERA+
Next Year: essentially identical line of 161 innings, 4.81 ERA, 106 ERA+

Armando Reynoso, 1996: 169 IP, 4.96 ERA, 110 ERA+
Next Year: pitched poorly for the Mets, only sixteen starts

Jason Jennings, 2002: 185 IP, 4.52 ERA, 108 ERA+
Next Year: similar number of innings, 5.11 ERA, 93 ERA+

Next Year In Sum:
Qualified for ERA title, above-average ERA+: 2
Qualified for ERA title, below-average ERA+: 2
Did not qualify for ERA title, above-average ERA+: 2
Did not qualify for ERA title, below-average ERA+: 3
Did not pitch: 1

This analysis is hardly scientific but does reveal the folly of predicting a repeat of a good performance from any Rockie pitcher. Six of the ten didn’t reach 162 innings the following year (though Thomson missed by the slightest of margins), and only four managed better than a 100 ERA+ regardless of innings pitched.

The thin air destroys everyone eventually, in body or spirit. No Colorado pitcher has five consecutive years of 100-plus innings. Jason Jennings will attempt to become the first this season. The Hall Of Fame will waive the five-year rule if he succeeds. Perhaps the Rockies should immediately trade any pitcher who has a good season.

Colorado does have some talent in its rotation. Young Jeff Francis survived his first full season without completely flaming out. Strangely, Coors Field did not stipulate his 5.68 ERA. At home, Francis had a reasonable 4.88 ERA with acceptable peripherals. Conversely, he allowed seventeen of his 26 homers on the road and his ERA ballooned to 6.40. Aaron Cook pitched well after missing nearly a year because of blood clots in his lungs that required removal of a rib. Cook doesn’t strike out anybody and walks too many, but he keeps doubles and homers to a minimum with a terrific grounder-inducing two-seamer. Byung-Hyun Kim revived his career in Colorado, posting a 4.37 ERA with acceptable peripherals as a starter. Jason Jennings may never recapture his Rookie-Of-The-Year performance of 2002, but he can eat innings with nearly a league-average ERA.

Likewise, the Rockie bullpen has an adequate front four in Brian Fuentes, Mike DeJean, David Cortes and Ray King. A suspect back end (Jose Mesa, Jose Acevedo, Keiichi Yabu, the batboy, your brother-in-law David) will cause problems. Interestingly, I would have expected Colorado to need many more pitchers than their competitors, but history indicates otherwise. From 2000-2005, the other fifteen NL teams had an average of 18.6 pitchers throw at least ten innings in any given season. Colorado used an average of twenty. That is higher, of course, but inferior pitching and late-season call-ups for meaningless games could be partial reasons in addition to the thin air.

Charles In Charge

Last February, Club CEO Charlie Monfort signed general manager Dan O’Dowd and manager Clint Hurdle through 2007. As repoted by’s Thomas Harding, he credited them with “pulling the franchise out of a hole… more serious than being below .500.” The hole appeared when Colorado signed Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle to $172.5 million in contracts but continued to lose on the field and in the stands. Per Monfort, “we lost well over $50 million on contracts that weren’t successful. When you’re losing money and your team is no good, that to me is a crisis… That’s been our loyalty to Dan because he did get us out of those contracts. Dan, I think, did a fantastic job there.”

To answer your question: the GM who signed Hampton and Neagle was Dan O’Dowd.

Monfort proclaimed that the Rockies could win the NL West. He also said the Rockies could win the Powerball lottery and a pony. If you’re going to wish, wish big.


Despite all my snark, I believe the Rockies can contend for the NL West as early as 2007. If Ryan Shealy and Jeff Baker progress as hoped and the team signs a couple of big bats to replace the dross in the lineup, Colorado could make some noise. Management acumen will play a large role in this resuscitation, and, well, there you may have a problem.

As for this season? 67 wins again. No pony.

2006 Colorado Rockies Preview | 23 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Joe - Thursday, March 09 2006 @ 04:48 PM EST (#142195) #
eeleye - Thursday, March 09 2006 @ 04:54 PM EST (#142196) #
That is the funniest picture I ever saw. I am seriously laughing my brains out right now.
Ron - Thursday, March 09 2006 @ 05:30 PM EST (#142198) #
I thought Francis was a bit of a disappointment last season.

He was brilliant in the minors but I'm not sure what his upside is. Before he reached the majors, I thought he had number 1 potential but I'm not so sure anymore. Of course he has only had one full season under his belt so anything can happen.

Gitz - Thursday, March 09 2006 @ 05:41 PM EST (#142200) #
Can any pitcher in Colorado have upside? It's a shame. Francis has pretty good equipment, but that is essentially useless at Coors. Away from the Rockies he'd be compared favorably to Scott Kazmir. As it is, he'll be lucky to be Joe Kennedy.

And, yes: all those pictures are funny.
CaramonLS - Thursday, March 09 2006 @ 06:38 PM EST (#142202) #
Rockies should consider trading Francis so he at least has a chance to have a promising major league career.

But as for the Rockies, if they want to be sucessful, they need to completely retool their offense with Solid, above average players and manage to lock those guys up some how.

The thing about Colorado, is if you have a good season Offensively, you can get a pretty fair amount of money.. More money than you are actually worth.

Take Preston Wilson. Is he worth the 12.5 million dollars he got in 05? Best bet is to sign FAs who like to swing a lot of Flyballs to the warning track.

Concentrate on Infield defense, make sure you get groundball pitchers and just try to control the damage done by other teams, hopefully you get a real fluke ground ball DP to end innings.
Magpie - Thursday, March 09 2006 @ 11:17 PM EST (#142214) #
As usual, there is very little to be optimistic about. But I'll offer this - the Rockies did improve as 2005 went on. They were really, really, really horrible through the first two months - they were 14-35 heading to the last day of May. They weren't just below .500, or below .400 - they were looking up at .300.

From that dismal point, they went 53-59 the rest of the way, despite Barmes being out of the lineup much of the time. Which ain't great, but still..

Magpie - Thursday, March 09 2006 @ 11:20 PM EST (#142215) #
All of which you mentioned, in the paragraph that my eye unaccountably skipped over the first time...
3RunHomer - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 09:47 AM EST (#142219) #
Hmmm. Building with youth seems like the only option to me, and that's the approach the Rockies are (finally) taking. A flurry of trades isn't going to bring them much in return for "talent" that hasn't done a lot yet. As noted, most of the players are 26 - 27 ... if breakouts are coming, they'll come soon. It's silly to trade players before their career year (sell high).

Someone's got to pitch -- why trade a cheap young talent like Francis?

If the Rockies are going to make a move, wouldn't it make more sense to trade Helton? He's their one star player past his career year and they have a younger replacement ready in Shealy (who probably can't play the outfield).

PS - love the pony pic.
Mike Green - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 09:53 AM EST (#142220) #
A contender in the West in '07? Sure. If you play in the West in 07, you're a contender as of now. Mediocrity has its priveliges.

Four Seamer - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 12:08 PM EST (#142224) #
Someone's got to pitch -- why trade a cheap young talent like Francis?

It would seem to me that each time the Rockies develop a premium pitching talent, they should deal him immediately before he reaches the bigs for some hitting help, on the theory that the Coors effect compresses the talent differential (ie, the difference between a premium talent and a league average pitcher would be much smaller in Colorado than in any other park) and letting him pitch in the major merely depresses his future trade value. In summary, the difference in performance between Francis and the next available pitcher is smaller than the expected improvement in performance of the player Francis could net in a trade over that player's replacement, if such a pitcher was traded after his AAA year but before putting up Coors-inflated numbers. I'd be interested to know whether this hunch could be validated statistically.

Mike Green - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 12:39 PM EST (#142227) #
Intuitively, one would think that the logical approach to playing in Coors is acquiring groundballers who don't issue walks and a good infield defence, especially up the middle. The Rox pitching last year actually wasn't too bad (FIP of 4.66), but didn't really fit this model, as they gave up more fly balls than average. Curiously, the Rox gave up fewer home runs per fly than average.
Newton - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 01:09 PM EST (#142229) #
The Rockies only recipe for success:

Devote virtually the entire payroll to offence (favouring power) and draft and develop, almost exclusively, young pitchers (who demonstrate the potential to keep the ball in play) to provide a perpetual source of Coors fodder. Not sure what the profile of a successful (for the year or two its possible) coors pitcher is but I'd imagine the safest types would be fastball-change-up bread and butter guys who don't rely on movement as much as deceptive deliveries.

It's all they can do.
Mike Green - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 02:27 PM EST (#142232) #
I don't really agree. While it's true that the Rockies have never really had a starting pitcher sustain success, a couple of things should be said. The ballpark is no longer the extreme thing that it was- consistent park factors of 110-113 are not really grossly out of line with some other parks in history.

The club has also never really had much pitching. John Thomson was an average pitcher with the Rox, and with other clubs. Same with Shawn Chacon, who will likely return to the Yankees as an average pitcher (that's very useful to them). Joe Kennedy wasn't even average. A good pitcher can succeed in the current Coors, as Mel Parnell and Ellis Kinder did in Fenway, when it was a favourable hitter's environment.
Newton - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 02:56 PM EST (#142233) #
I'm not sure if the number of runs scored in Coors is an adequate measure of the impact that playing in Colorado has on a pitcher.

The ball simply moves differently at that altitude making it nearly impossible to develop any consistency. You essentially need to learn to pitch at home and on the road somehow moving seamlessly from home start to road start without fouling up mechanics and feel.

It would be interesting to examine the statistics of visiting pitchers and to see if the success of rockies hitters at home exceeds more than what simply park effect should provide.

What exactly where the changes the rockies made to the park? Did they attempt to somehow regulate the atmospheric conditions?

Mike Green - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 03:18 PM EST (#142234) #
Have the Rox every had a fine fielding middle infield combination? Not that I can think of. What I would do is the classical development model with a variation. Defensive strength down the middle of the diamond, power at the corners and heavily ground ball/low walk/lowish K rotation. League average run scoring in the NL last year was 720; league average runs allowed in the NL was 731 (interleague play accounts for the difference). The Rox should aim for league average or just above runs allowed (say 750) and 850-900 runs scored.
AWeb - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 03:26 PM EST (#142235) #
The main thing I recall the Rockies doing was storing the baseballs in a humidor; apparently the lack of humidity dried the balls out, so they became slightly smaller and harder, hence, they went faster and farther once struck. Also, they were harder for pitchers to use, because they were hard to hold onto properly. I think they started this in 2003, when the park factor dropped from 125 or so on average, to 115 or so. So it appeared to make a big difference.

Colorado pitching has been better than Tampa Bay's, looking at both top end performance and overall team ERA+. Which is to say they were better than a terrible team, so back-handed compliments for the Rockies all around. Colorado's offense has been below average (looking at OPS+) for most of their history. It's said every year about them, but they must stop thinking a good year in Colorado (unadjusted numbers) means something. A player must look like he's very good (Holliday) or great (Helton) before they are actually performing at better than an average level. For instance, Koskie line of 337/398 gave him an OPS+ of 94. Colorado's Atkins had a 347/426 line, for an OPS+ of 92.
Newton - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 04:09 PM EST (#142236) #
Groundball pitchers are movement/touch pitchers.

Precisely the type of pitcher that would be most affected by the constant shift from high to low atmosphere.

I can't wait for the first big league team to play on the moon (doubt I'll be around).
Ducey - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 04:26 PM EST (#142237) #
"The ball simply moves differently at that altitude making it nearly impossible to develop any consistency. You essentially need to learn to pitch at home and on the road somehow moving seamlessly from home start to road start without fouling up mechanics and feel."

Where is your evidence for this? (Not being critical just have never heard of this and find it hard to believe it would make much difference to a 95 mph fastball over 60 ft.) If true wouldn't this mean all visiting pitchers would be screwed up when they came in and then again on their next appearance away from Coors?

Using the numbers Mike posted (more fly balls but not necessarily more homers) it seems that defence in the outfield might be key. If teams are slugging better but not really hitting way more homers then this points to more double and triples - maybe they could get three true centerfielders to chase down everything in the outfield gaps.
Newton - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 04:31 PM EST (#142238) #
Ducey: I've read articles with respect to this phenomena in the past, most specifically relating to the movement of curveballs. The articles were based on the subjective impression of pitchers who talked about how difficult it was to adjust to the different conditions from start to start.

I posited the same question re: performance of visiting pitchers in Coors above. I'd be very interested if anybody was aware of any such studies, specifically whether they performed worse than park effect would dictate. Stats in the starts directly following a coors start would also be interesting.
Newton - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 04:43 PM EST (#142239) #
Interesting discussion of the Coors Home/Road adjustment phenomena here:

A quick google search reveals all kinds of stuff on this.

One guy suggests having the Rockies play in a pressurized dome, if logistically possible that would probably be the best answer.

CaramonLS - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 04:44 PM EST (#142240) #
I think Colorado would do wonders making its AA home in Calgary, to help young pitchers get adjusted to getting shelled at high altitude.

If you've ever seen a game at Burns/Foothills, there is usually a lot of balls being hit out.

It would also give me a better alternative than Northern League baseball.

Either way, the only way you can really have a sucessful staff is making your pitchers get those balls on the ground, and probably make your staff feel it is OK to get slapped around the park. I think some pitchers being mental midgets is something that is often overlooked, especially when you pitch in Colorado.
Mike Green - Friday, March 10 2006 @ 05:32 PM EST (#142243) #
The primer discussion is from 2002. At that point, Coors had been playing as by far the most extreme hitter's park since 1900. The elimination of the humidor has changed that since.

If you look at the team home/road splits since 2003, it seems to be the hitters who get more messed up than the pitchers. The team batting lines in away games 2003-5 are: .239/.316/.388, .246/.315/.403 and .232/.299/.359. It reminds me of the Cub hitters of the 80s, although those were better clubs.
Newton - Saturday, March 11 2006 @ 12:29 AM EST (#142259) #
The humidor doesn't affect altitude, it only impacts the hardness of the baseball.

Balls travel 8 percent furter at that altitude and curveballs move 25 percent less (i've seen the same numbers in a few articles today).

rockie hitters have to get used to nasty movement when they leave home and the pitchers get fouled up, its plain old physics.
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