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Wednesday, January 14, 2004
this article is an example of how the forces of darkness misinterpret coors field. we must be ever vigilant!
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
By Phil Rogers
Special to ESPN.com
Regrets? Those of us who forecast baseball have had a few.
Watching Anaheim play in the 2002 World Series, it was easy to remember writing about how deep the Angels' pitching staff could be after the offseason additions of Kevin Appier and Aaron Sele, and about noting how well they had played in spring training.
But I can't say I picked them over Oakland and Seattle in the AL West.
Watching Florida play in the 2003 World Series, it was easy to remember how the Marlins had made a run at Bartolo Colon over the winter, believing they were close to winning when no one else did, and how we had seen Ivan Rodriguez have a major impact on winning while in Texas.
But I can't say I even gave Florida a second thought when decided between Atlanta and Philadelphia in the NL East.
The time has come to stop picking the Yankees and Braves every year and start playing hunches. So who's going to be the next team to spring a sneak attack?
The Colorado Rockies are that team.
phil's got nothing to lose here. if the braves or the yankees (or the cubs or the red sox) win, then he was just trying to be interesting. on the other hand, if the rockies come through on their 1.5% chance, then he's a genius. actually, their chance is below 1%.
Kansas City would be a decent call, but the Royals' big surprise was winning 83 games a year ago. Baltimore is obviously going to be improved, but third place must be the Orioles' target. They don't have the pitching to challenge the Yankees and Red Sox.
kansas city would be a horrible call.
The Rockies play in the right division. The NL West has historically been a balanced, deep division. It has had a 97-win team in it in five of the last six seasons. But with age and financial reality diminishing Arizona, Rich Aurilia following Jeff Kent out of San Francisco and Los Angeles thus far adding no hitter more significant than Juan Encarnacion, the standard is dropping.
barry bonds, jason schmidt, and 23 detroit tigers would be a contender. so they're the favorite. but arizona is right behind them. sure, they lost schilling, but they didn't get a full season out of him anyway. and brandon webb is a stone killer. you don't find that k/9 with that g/f anywhere. not even kevin brown.
the lineup is good, too. alex cintron and robby hammock are ready to succeed. robbie alomar doesn't help, but he doesn't hurt. they still have luis gonzalez, and they added a pretty good first baseman. i wonder who gets to keep #11.
i better stop or i'll convince myself they'll take the series. regardless, the rocks are third at best.
Ninety wins could get it done in 2004. That's 16 more than the Rockies had in 2003, but GM Dan O'Dowd's latest approach just might bridge that gap.
uh . . . no. and no.
For starters, the Rockies should have won 77 games a year ago, according to Bill James' formula factoring in runs scored and allowed. Assuming the intangible factors of luck and managing balance out, the Rockies can reach 90 with a 13-game improvement in talent.
managing is tangible. bobby cox is a good manager. tony larussa is a good manager, despite his inability to work with young pitchers. is clint hurdle a good manager? the odds are against it.
If Colorado improves and gets lucky, as Florida (+3 in the Pythagorean standings) did a year ago, it could climb above 90 victories. That just might be possible.
Here are five reasons why:
1. There's the obvious thunder in the middle of this lineup. A team that has Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Preston Wilson, Vinny Castilla and Jeromy Burnitz hitting 3-7 is going to score some runs, both at Coors Field and on the road.
The difference between Burnitz and Jay Payton, who he is replacing, is minor. But the Rockies have upgraded in a major way at third base (Castilla), where O'Dowd somehow got tricked into going with Chris Stynes as his primary player a year ago.
And look for a good season from Walker, whose erratic production has been almost of Juan Gonzalez proportions. He has lost a ton of weight (25-30 pounds) and is working out with a strength coach for the first time in his career. If it helps him stay healthy -- he hasn't played 150 games in a season since 1997 -- then the Rockies take a major step toward the first division.
let's start the discussion with the rockies' home/road splits. in 2003, rockies hitters hitters had 2749 ab, 329 bb, 491 k, 183 2b, 26 3b, and 113 hr. that's about a .107 .821 .143 wal con pow. on the road, they got 2769 ab, 290 bb, 643 k, 147 2b, 5 3b, 85 hr. the power numbers jump out, but look at the strikeouts. road wal con pow = .095 .768 .111. the rockies on the road have average power; at home they have above-average power. but contact goes from bad to above average. it's clear that altitude has a bigger effect on contact than power.
there are lots of mitigating factors: hitters seem to do better than we expect once they leave coors field. the pitching numbers are another surprise; we'll run them in a minute. regardless, it's a lot easier to make contact in coors than out of it.
ok. phil's first point is that the lineup will score "some" runs.
do i have to take this seriously? regardless of how much "some" means, the rockies are not a good hitting team unless they lead the league in runs scored. i'm sorry, that's just the way it is. last year, the rockies were 6th in the majors with 853 runs. they didn't even lead in runs at home, finishing second to the boston red sox. on the road, they were a pathetic 26th.
jeromy burnitz is gonna love coors field, but what the rockies need is actual talent. a healthy larry walker is not gonna make the difference between horrible and great. and vinny castilla will be a disappointment. he already makes good contact, so coors won't help him as much. this offense is bad bad bad. what phil's doing here is overstating every possible chance for improvement. it's one of his favorite techniques.
2. The infield has been rebuilt to help a pitching staff heavy on ground-ball pitchers. Royce Clayton remains a vacuum cleaner at shortstop. He and Castilla comprise a massive fielding improvement over the Opening Day lineup a year ago, which had Jose Hernandez at shortstop and Stynes at third.
i'm gonna end this here. phil figures he's established the superiority of the offense, and spends the remaining four points using his favorite technique on the pitchers. the pitching is similar to the hitting: not good enough. and groundball pitchers are not the correct pitchers to get in high altitude. they need velocity. i'll get more into that in a later post. see if you can find the rest of phil's mistakes.
While Hernandez and Stynes actually ranked higher than Clayton and Castilla in range factor in 2003 (Hernandez was 12th among major-league regulars at his position; Stynes was third), this is more of a reflection of the nature of Colorado's pitching staff than their abilities. Ask any scout.
actually, it's more a reflection of the fact that range factor is a bunch of bullshit.
sorry, i couldn't resist.
Clayton and Castilla will not only be more reliable, but will gobble up ground balls. That could be a key to a rebound season for 2002 Rookie of the Year Jason Jennings while helping Aaron Cook establish himself.
Cook, long a minor-league standout, has a 5.69 ERA after his first 160 big-league innings. He sometimes seemed discouraged because of the fielding behind him in 2003, and no wonder. Kevin Brown and Brandon Webb were the only NL starters who threw a higher percentage of ground balls than Cook, who nevertheless saw hitters bat .317 against him.
3. Scott Elarton has finally recovered from shoulder surgery and is ready to assume the potential he showed in 2000, when he won 17 games for Houston. He's been working with pitching guru Bus Campbell, a treaure in the state of Colorado, who helped Roy Halladay turn his career around.
Campbell says that Elarton is ahead of where Halladay was at this time last year. That's scary.
Denny Stark, who was 8-1 with a 3.21 ERA at Coors Field in 2002, is also healthy after a season marred by injuries. The Rockies figure to open the season with Jennings, Stark, Cook and Joe Kennedy as their top four starters.
O'Dowd signed Jeff Fassero (another guy who induces ground balls) with the thought the left-hander can possibly take over the final spot in the rotation. Chin-hui Tsao could factor in for the second half after opening the year at Triple-A.
4. Shawn Chacon, an All-Star before being bothered by tendinitis last year, should have success as the Rockies' closer. Jose Jimenez was adequate a year ago, but Chacon has the potential to turn into a major success, along the lines of Eric Gagne.
Maintaining his velocity has been a problem, as it was with Gagne, but shouldn't be an issue working out of the bullpen. The bullpen around Chacon is a concern, however, as the Rockies have lost both Jimenez and set-up man Justin Speier.
5. Aaron Miles was an astute acquisition who could put up Rookie of the Year numbers as the second baseman. He'll have to play well in spring training to win a battle with veteran Damian Jackson, but don't be surprised if he scores 100-plus runs.
Miles, 27, is a late-bloomer who earned MVP honors in the Double-A Southern League two years ago. Without any advanced shortstops in their system, the White Sox gave him up to take a chance on Juan Uribe.
Miles is an intriguing offensive player who seems to fit Coors Field perfectly. He hits for a high average (.313 the last two years between Double-A and Triple-A) and is hard to strike out. He's only 5-foot-8, but is extremely strong. The ball jumps off his bat. He won't steal a lot of bases, but is an exciting baserunner.
Miles and Clayton, who is likely to hit second, will get challenged by pitchers with Helton, Wilson & Co. behind them. That's exactly the kind of scenario that David Eckstein thrived in two years ago with Anaheim. Miles could follow that example, helping the Rockies down the path traveled by the Angels.
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com.
shake off the evil! don't let it stick to you!
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