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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.