Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Colorado Rockies 2008 Preview: Mile High Expectations

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

The Colorado Rockies played in the first World Series in the history of the franchise. Groovy enough for me. In fourth place with a 64-63 record on August 23, the Rockies blew into the postseason by winning 26 of their last 36 games, including 14 of their last 15. The magic continued for the first two rounds as the Rockies swept the Phillies and the Diamondbacks before finally running up against the Red Sox juggernaut in the World Series.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Led by Matt Holliday, the Rockies scored 860 runs in 2007, second in the National League. While benefiting from Coors Field, which increased offense by almost 10%, the Rockies were not entirely a Coors creation, scoring the fifth best total of runs in road games in the NL.

CF Willy Taveras
SS Troy Tulowitzski
LF Matt Holliday
1B Todd Helton
3B Garrett Atkins
RF Brad Hawpe
C Yorvit Torrealba
2B Jayson Nix or maybe someone else

Taveras' lack of skills as a leadoff hitter were covered up by his shiny .320 batting average. If he falls below .300 he shouldn't be leading off. Everyone gets extra cookies for spending half of the year batting in Coors. On the road this lineup is still above average, but only just so.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Finishing in the middle of the NL pack in runs allowed while playing home games in Coors Field is a solid accomplishment, and that's what the 2007 Rockies did. Amazingly, three teams allowed more runs in home games last year. Only four allowed fewer in games played on the road.

SP Jeff Francis
SP Aaron Cook
SP Ubaldo Jimenez
SP Franklin Morales
SP Jason Hirsh

CL Manny Corpas
RP Brian Fuentes
RP Taylor Bucholz

Francis is clearly the ace of the staff. Oddly, he didn't pitch any better on the road in 2007 than he did at Coors. Morales has a very high upside but isn't completely polished and could start the season back in triple A. I'm just not a believer in Cook; guys who strike out 3.31 batters per nine innings tend to have short shelf lives. Kip Wells and Mark Redman are in camp, for some reason, hoping to snag a back of the rotation spot. Corpas took the closer job during a Fuentes injury; either are capable of doing the job and Clint Hurdle might want to consider using them both in the role.

Witnesses for the defense

Here is the true reason for the success of the 2007 Rockies. Rookie shortstop Tulowitzski and new centerfielder Taveras turned the Rockies into one of the outstanding defensive teams in the majors. The Rockies spent years trying to figure out what kind of pitching would work best in Coors Field; the answer is, the kind that works in front of a great defense. The Rockies need to quickly resolve the question of who is going to play second base, as they cannot afford a merry-go-round at a key defensive position.

Farm aid

Morales pitched well for the Rockies down the stretch, albeit on a very short leash. He still has some work to do on his command, but will be given every chance this spring to show that he's made progress there. Nix is no star prospect but looks like he'll be at least a league average second baseman; his scouting reports as a defensive player are very good. Pitcher Greg Reynolds, the team's first pick in the 2006 draft, has the potential to be a solid addition to the rotation at some point this year, but a sore shoulder in 2007 may hinder his development. Shortstop Chris Nelson is a strong prospect but is now blocked behind Tulowitzski; he might make a good trade chit if the Rockies are in contention again.

Watch out for that tree!

This is a category I usually reserve for older guys. Aaron Cook is 29, but pitchers with his K/IP profile don't have long careers. Any slip in his stuff or in the defense behind him and he could add two runs to his ERA. Todd Helton still has value at age 34, but is not the player he once was; Coors helps mask the decline.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The Rockies will remain a good team and a reasonable contender in 2007. The NL West is very competitive (well, except for the Giants) and I think that the Diamondbacks and Dodgers are better ballclubs on paper, while the Padres can't be counted out either. Of course, games are played on grass (or pseudo-grass) and not paper; no one saw the 2007 Rockies as a real contender, did they?

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