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The Baseball Notebook


June 4, 2010 3:47 PM

The Chasing Of Chase

Chase Utley is generally considered the best second baseman in the National League, indeed in all of baseball. He's a great ballplayer and worthy of the accolades. Even with his recent slump, which mirrors that of his team, he's still having another very strong year at the plate. But the last couple seasons his defensive numbers have slid. This position, along with shortstop and centerfield, are too important to base on offense alone, and consequently I can't give Chase the nod for the Notebook's All-Star vote as we sit here in early June.

Finding fault is one thing, but finding a replacement is another. Dan Uggla is very solid, but he has the same profile--good hitter, weak afield. He's a poor man's Utley, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but if that's what I'm looking for I'll drink real Coke instead of the generic brand. Other contenders who are
strong defensively have very weak bats, and I don't want to lose sight of the fact that position players are more likely to win a game with their bat than with their glove. But there is one who's offering a more complete package. Kelly Johnson in Arizona is actually slugging higher than Utley right now (.537 to .503). While he's 29 points behind in OBP (.387 to .358), Johnson is still an offensive asset and he rates substantially above average in the field. For these reasons I give him the nod at second base.

The aforementioned three players are the class of a relatively weak field. Martin Prado is a rising star in Atlanta, and isn't far from breaking into the elite himself. Brandon Phillips in Cincinnati is a credible and consistent contributor, but it takes a big leap to get from where he's at to All-Star status. Beyond that, there's not a lot. David Eckstein is well past his prime. Luis Castillo teases occassionally, but never really steps it up to the highest level. Blake DeWitt's shown flashes with the bat in Los Angeles and Akinori Iwamura has collapsed in Pittsburgh. National League second basemen are very strong at the top, but there's a huge dropoff into the middle class.

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The Colorado Rockies haven't set the world on fire off their playoff run of last season, but at 28-25, they're right in the mix of a tough four-team race in the NL West. The Rocks trail San Diego by four games and hot on the heels of the Giants and Dodgers. For a team that dug themselves a twelve-game hole early last season, this has to feel like they're sitting pretty. And they are similar to the Cubs, whom we looked at yesterday (See Recent Posts). The Notebook's favorite indicators, while not nearly as strong as with the Cubbies, do look good for Colorado.

My indicator profile starts with a basic look at how a team ranks in runs scored and ERA, and then how they do in OBP and slugging, both in terms of what they produce and what they allow. If the OBP and slugging don't reasonably correlate to the runs being scored or allowed, I consider that a crude indicator of likely change. Put simply, if you're getting runners on base and driving the ball, you are going to score. If you're stopping teams from doing the same, you'll keep them off the scoreboard. Temporary fluctuations can be caused by a run of bad luck, but it's not likely to go for a full season.

In the case of Colorado, they are a respectable seventh in runs scored, while ranking even better in OBP (6th) and slugging (5th). That suggests slight improvement ahead. The ERA is an excellent fourth and the fact that the pitchers ability to stop people from getting on base and hit for power correlates to that, suggests the staff is in position to remain strong.

The flaw in projecting based solely on this, is that it assumes everything will hold static.
Therefore we also look at individuals who may be above or below their potential. In the case of Colorado, it looks fairly stable. Miguel Olivo's probably a little bit over his head, but that can be offset if Todd Helton hits for a little more power (.371 slugging through Thursday) or Seth Smith can get on base a little more (.322 OBP). The pitching staff is where it will get interesting. This is a very top-heavy rotation right now. Ubaldo Jiminez, with an 0.78 ERA and the NL MVP if we had to pick today, is carrying a staff that has two starters with ERAs over 6, and Aaron Cook on 4.97. Somebody has to step up when Jiminez comes back to merely Cy Young level rather than superhuman. Jhoulys Chaci is pitching well right now and Jorge de La Rosa might be back from the DL the middle of this month. I think the Rockies can bank on getting continued good starting pitching, albeit a little more balanced than is the case right now.

In the bullpen the story is the opposite. They're balanced, without a clear stopper. Franklin Morales was in the role before an early injury moved Manny Corpas into closing duty. Both get the job done, though neither inspires fear. Joe Beimel has been lights-out, although his history suggests someone a little less dazzling will eventually emerge. Matt Belisle and Randy Flores can also be turned to with confidence.

On balance, Colorado is right on the verge of the playoffs, and needs just a little improvement. Everything is lined up for them to get just that.

We'll see you back here on Sunday night to recap Week 9.

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