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The Coors Effect

April 11, 2011 2:25 PM

Rockies Report: April 11

So, a week and a half in the books, and the Rockies are sitting at 6-2.

Unlike the usual April slow start, the Rockies are winning right out of the gate.  The old adage says, pennants can't be won in April, but they can be lost.  Last year, after starting the season 11-12, the Rockies spent most of the season playing catchup.  And that was a big reason why the Rockies finished the season in third place in the West.

Another reason?  The Rockies didn't take care of the bad teams on the schedule.  Yes, you can argue that the Rockies are 6-2 largely because they've played two games against the Diamondbacks and four against the Pirates.  But a big part of being a contender is winning the games you're supposed to win.  See, last season, while the Diamondbacks were going 65-97, they went 9-9 against the Rockies.  And the Rockies went 3-4 against a Pirates team that won 57 games.  So it's good to see the Rockies winning the games they should.  And winning games on the road!  Those four games against the Pirates were in Pittsburgh.

Well, for the weekend series, the Rockies only hit .238 as a team.  No, the big reason why the Rockies have started so well is the pitching.  The pitchers are doing what they're supposed to do away from Coors Field; while the Rockies were hitting .238 in the Pirates series, the Pirates were hitting -- get this -- .191.  So far in this young season, Rockies pitchers have a 2.86 ERA, second best in the NL (behind San Diego.)  And that's with virtually no contribution from Ubaldo Jimenez, who gave up six runs in his only start.  Think about how good this pitching staff will be when Ubaldo is back to health.

Okay.  While there's not a lot to report about with the pitching staff -- basically everybody's pitching well, even if Huston Street makes you want to reach for the antacid every time he gets the ball -- there's, uh, the offense?  With the team currently hitting .249, there's certainly room for improvement (though, I kind of doubt the pitching staff is going to keep up a 2.86 ERA all season.)  Troy Tulowitzki isn't going to bat .214 all season, and Carlos Gonzalez is eventually going to hit a homer.  Those two things we know.

But there's also Ian Stewart, currently 0-for-12 on the season.  And not playing a whole lot.  Some of it all has to do with injuries, but Jose Lopez presents an acceptable option to play the hot corner.

And then there's Jonathan Herrera.  Really... seven walks in 18 plate appearances?  I mean, last season Herrera had eighteen extra-base hits in 517 plate appearances -- and that's counting what he did in Colorado Springs!  I like that Herrera can work a walk, but really, what are pitchers thinking working him out of the strike zone so much?  He's probably not going to get himself out (he has no strikeouts this season, by the way.)  On the other hand, he may have just earned himself the second-base job.
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April 7, 2011 6:03 PM

Rockies Minor League Preview

The full-season minor leagues kick off their seasons tonight.  Here's a quick breakdown of what to look for from each affiliate.

Colorado Springs Sky Sox

Top Prospects
: Rex Brothers, Jordan Pacheco, Charlie Blackmon
Others to Watch: Bruce Billings, Chris Nelson, Eric Young Jr., Cole Garner

Like most AAA teams, the Sky Sox mostly function as extra depth for the big-league club.  Pitchers like John Maine, Clayton Mortensen, Matt Daley and (eventually) Greg Reynolds, and hitters like Alfredo Amezaga, Mike Jacobs, and Willy Taveras aren't prospects any more, but still provide important depth in case anybody on the big league roster goes down.

That said, there are some good prospects on this team.  Rex Brothers figures to be in the Rockies' bullpen at some point this season -- you can make a compelling argument that he's a better lefty reliever than Franklin Morales or Matt Reynolds right now.  Charlie Blackmon is a five-tool outfielder who could see his shot if Dexter Fowler doesn't turn a corner this season.

Tulsa Drillers

Top Prospects
: Christian Friedrich, Juan Nicasio, Wilin Rosario, Hector Gomez
Others to Watch: Isaiah Froneberger, Cory Riordan, Rob Scahill, Casey Weathers, Thomas Field, Darin Holcomb, Ben Paulsen, Tim Wheeler

See that list?  Yeah, this year's Tulsa club figures to be pretty good.  There are all sorts of prospects, including possibly the best prospect in the system in Rosario.  Friedrich struggled last year and is back at Tulsa again, but he can make his case with a strong performance.  Juan Nicasio is a bit old for this level but has top-shelf stuff.  Froneberger is an interesting lefty relief prospect.  Weathers and Holcomb were both well-regarded as prospects before but have been forgotten about due to injuries.  Field and Paulsen are both looking to build on strong years in 2010, while Wheeler and Gomez are former top prospects risk being forgotten about if they don't have good years.  In any event, this club figures to contend for the Texas League championship.

Modesto Nuts

Top Prospects: Chad Bettis, Tyler Matzek, Nolan Arenado
Others to Watch: Parker Frazier, Chad Rose, Josh Rutledge, Kent Matthes, Eliezer Mesa

The trio of top prospects -- Bettis, Matzek, and Arenado -- are reason enough to watch Modesto this season.  Other than that, you have a fringe relief prospect in Rose, two players in Frazier and Matthes looking to put injury-plagued seasons behind them, and Mesa, who's out to prove that his solid 2010 wasn't a fluke.  Rutledge has a big-league glove at short but needs to prove he can hit before entering the prospect conversation.

Asheville Tourists

Top Prospects
: Albert Campos, Rafael Ortega, Kyle Parker
Others to Watch: Edwar Cabrera, Josh Slaats, Cristhian Adames, Brett Tanos, Russell Wilson, Corey Dickerson

Asheville should have a strong offense in 2011.  You can make a case that the Tourists will be suiting up a real prospect at every position except catcher and first base.  The outfield, with Dickerson, Parker, and Ortega, should be very strong.  Adames can really pick it at short, while Wilson and Tanos (at second and third, respectively) are more speculative.  But the pitching staff is a bit suspect right now.  Albert Campos is a solid prospect, while Slaats got his career off to a good start last season.  Cabrera posts big strikeout numbers, but at 23 it's tough to call him a prospect as he's still down in A-ball.  This should get a bit better once Peter Tago joins the team from extended spring training.
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April 7, 2011 5:11 PM

Rogers shuts down Pirates

In the first inning, it looked like it was going to be a long day.  After the Rockies plated two runs in the top of the first, thanks in large part to an error by Pirate second baseman Neil Walker, Esmil Rogers came out and gave up hits to the first two batters he faced.  A groundout by Andrew McCutchen scored a run.

And then, Rogers settled in.  He got two groundouts to end the first inning.  And after a walk to Garrett Jones in the second, Rogers set down the next batter.  And the next batter.  And sixteen more after that.  Rogers left the game in the eighth inning after giving up a pair of weakly-hit singles, but all told, he threw 7.1 innings, struck out seven, walked one, and gave up four hits.  What a great outing.

Meanwhile, the Rockies' offense was giving him plenty of cushion.  There was no huge inning, but a solo homer by Troy Tulowitzki extended the lead to 3-1 in the fourth inning.  The Rockies added two more in the sixth and another two in the seventh to get a 7-1 win.  There were no huge offensive performances -- the best was Tulo, who went 2-for-3 with a homer and a double -- but eight of the nine starters got a hit.  This is the kind of performance we like.  It's kind of a slap in the face to the Rockies that a lot of national sportswriters write off the Rockies' lineup as two megastars (Tulo and CarGo) and a bunch of scrubs, which simply isn't the case.

So, hooray to the Rockies, who won their fourth straight game and now hold a one-game lead on the Padres for first place in the West.

Stars of the Game

1.  Esmil Rogers
: If Rogers continues to pitch like this, the Rockies are going to have a tough decision to make when Aaron Cook returns from the DL.

2.  Troy Tulowitzki: It's easy to forget now that Tulo opened the season 0-for-9.  He now has three homers in five games.

3.  Carlos Gonzalez: 1-for-4 with two runs and two RBI.  Solid day at the plate and in the field for CarGo.
April 7, 2011 3:14 AM

Rockies notes: April 7

-Well, it turns out that there was a reason Ubaldo Jimenez wasn't himself in his first start: he was dealing with a cut cuticle that will now require him to go on the disabled list.

Up to take his place in the rotation is Greg Reynolds, former #2 overall draft pick.  We can't imagine that Ubaldo will be out much more than the minimum -- he was placed on the DL retroactive to April 2, so he'll be eligible to return on the 17th.  So he'll miss two turns through the rotation, and the Rockies don't have an off day between now and the 17th.

It will be interesting to see how Tracy manages the rotation.  Esmil Rogers is set to start the opener in Pittsburgh.  He could throw Reynolds on Friday, but Jorge de la Rosa will be able to pitch then as well.  Either way, though, Reynolds will have to make two starts on the eight-game road trip.

But here's the important point.  From the 18th-20th, the Giants are in town, and the way their rotation sets up, the Rockies figure to see Lincecum and Cain in the first two games in that series.  Tracy could activate Ubaldo to pitch on the 17th, but then that would leave him with Rogers going against Lincecum in the first game against the Giants.  Better to hold Ubaldo back a day and trust him to go against Lincecum.

-It was interesting to see Chris Iannetta get the start today in a day game following a night game.  Backup catcher Jose Morales has yet to see the field in four games this season.

Iannetta has responded to being the full-time catcher with five hits in his first twelve at bats, but his old bugaboo -- strikeouts -- is still around.  He's struck out four times -- that's a third of his at bats.  Obviously his BA is going to come down, but it will be interesting to see how Tracy reacts when Iannetta goes through the (almost) inevitable slump.  Morales isn't a viable option to play regularly if Tracy sees the need to bench Iannetta.  Having Yorvit Torrealba or Miguel Olivo was a luxury for the Rockies in the past few years -- either of them could hit enough that they could start for extended stretches.  Morales has spent the last two years alternating between AAA catcher and Joe Mauer's caddy in Minnesota; would Tracy trust him to get three at bats a game if Iannetta isn't hitting?

Or would the Rockies give Jordan Pacheco a shot?  Pacheco is still working on his catching, but the man can clearly hit.  He worked his way into the conversation with a good spring.  Will he get a shot if Iannetta goes down or slumps?

-While Troy Tulowitzki has gotten off the mat with homers in back-to-back games, there's still Ian Stewart, 0-for-the season with five strikeouts in nine at bats.  Part of it may be a hamstring injury that he's still recovering from, but the Rockies still have viable options in Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez.  At the very least, one of those two figures to start against lefthanders until Stewart starts hitting.

Lopez has opened the season on fire, going 5-for-15 with a homer and starting all four games.  But that means Jonathan Herrera, defensive specialist, has played exactly two innings. 
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April 1, 2011 8:48 PM

Ubaldo not himself as Rockies lose opener

This, quite frankly, was a Ubaldo Jimenez that we have not seen before.

It certainly wasn't the Ubaldo from last season.  And it wasn't the Ubaldo from seasons before -- the guy who threw a high-90s fastball but couldn't locate it all that well.  What it was was a Ubaldo whose fastball was topping out around 95 or 96 mph, and who seemed to be leaving just about everything up in the strike zone.

If you're confused about his final line -- one strikeout in six innings, and six extra-base hits (including two homers after giving up ten all of last season) -- well, that description about sums it up.  Ubaldo frankly wasn't himself.  And the Rockies lost because of it.  The Rockies' offensive performance would have been more than enough to win on a day when Ubaldo had a "normal" outing.  The Rockies scored six runs, getting to Ian Kennedy for two runs in the first inning, adding another in the second, and a fourth on a Jose Lopez homer (in his first game as a Rockie) in the sixth inning.

But, it wasn't to be on a day when even the outs that Ubaldo was getting seemed to be getting hit hard.  Obviously, it's only one game into the season, and we shouldn't jump to any conclusions -- but if the Rockies are going to contend in 2011, Ubaldo is going to need to be a whole lot better than this.

So the Rockies' 2011 season, with high hopes for the club's first division championship and third playoff appearance in five years, begins with an extra-inning loss.
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March 31, 2011 1:47 AM

Opening Day is here.

It's been a slow offseason at The Coors Effect.  Various issues have prevented me from blogging the things that have come up.  But with baseball officially back for 2011, well, we're back.

So on to the latest news...

-Mike McKenry was traded to the Red Sox.  This was pretty much a done deal when he lost out on the backup catcher job, which will either go to Jose Morales or Matt Pagnozzi (the Rockies still haven't made the call on that one.)  2011 was really McKenry's one chance to break in with the big-league club.  With Wilin Rosario likely to be ready by spring 2012, at the latest, McKenry became an expendable part when it became clear that he wasn't going to make the club this year.

As for the two guys actually competing for the job?  Let's just say that Jim Tracy shouldn't be tempted to start benching Chris Iannetta this year.  Unlike the last two years, when the team has had a viable option to play whenever Iannetta goes through a slump, Morales and Pagnozzi (especially Pagnozzi) aren't players who I would want in the lineup on an everyday basis.

-The other remaining roster decision is whether Ian Stewart will open the season on the DL.  Stewart's been bothered all spring, first by his knee, now by his hamstring.  Obviously that would have a big impact on the Opening Day lineup; if Stewart's not ready to go, Jose Lopez will fill in at third base while Jonathan Herrera becomes the de facto starter at second.  And Willy Taveras will be on the roster.
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March 22, 2011 9:39 PM

Are the Rockies overvaluing spring performance?

I pose the above question with the notion that Jonathan Herrera is a shoo-in to make the Rockies roster and potentially be the starter at second base.

Look, Herrera is having a really good spring.  .364/.440/.568 is a great spring no matter how you look at it.  Herrera hasn't shown any home run pop (there's nothing new), but with three doubles and three triples in 44 at bats, it's hard to say that he's not hitting the ball well.  And he's a good fielder to boot.

The problem is... this doesn't jibe at all with Herrera's previous performance.  What we know about Herrera is that he's a smallish (5'9", 150), all-field, no-hit middle infielder.  He doesn't strike out very much and draws a decent number of walks, but he doesn't have a lot of pop in his bat.  Strike that -- he really doesn't have ANY pop in his bat.  Here are Herrera's slugging percentages and ISO power numbers from AAA the last three seasons.

2008: .381 SLG, .071 ISO
2009: .339 SLG, .071 ISO
2010: .324 SLG, .063 ISO (.342 SLG and .058 ISO in the majors)

And keep in mind -- those numbers are propped up by Colorado Springs.  Seriously.  Imagine what he'd do at sea level.  (Wait, you don't have to -- on the road for the Rockies last season his SLG was .287.  Yeah, really.)

Now, Herrera's hot spring isn't the only thing that's propelling him toward the starting job.  His main competition is Jose Lopez, who's having a bad spring on the heels of a bad 2010.  Lopez's .609 OPS last season obviously was pressed downward by playing half his games in Safeco Field, the anti-Coors, but still... that's bad.  So Lopez's spring might just be a carryover from his poor 2010, and might mean that, well, this is the hitter he is now.

Still, though, you have to wonder if the Rockies are placing a little bit too much value on Herrera's spring performance -- and also too much value on the poor performances of Lopez and Chris Nelson (who's likely headed to Colorado Springs to start the year.)  Eric Young Jr. has been limited by injuries.  What I see happening is, basically, Herrera gets the starting job out of spring training and starts hitting like his usual self, while Nelson starts hitting at AAA and claims the starting job sometime in May.

And the Rockies will have potentially lost a couple more games than they should have by having Herrera's bat in the lineup.
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February 6, 2011 3:28 PM

Rockies pursuing Michael Young?

Well, we had thought there was a good chance that Young would be starting at second base for the Rockies in 2011.

Only, we thought it would be Eric Young, not Michael Young.  The Rockies are in talks with the Rangers to acquire Young, who evidently wants out of Texas after the acquisition of Adrian Beltre pushes him off third base and likely to DH.  (And, the acquisition of Mike Napoli means that Young would be splitting time at designated hitter.)

Young is hardly great defensively; he's been a below average fielder at third the last two seasons.  But even at 34, he can still hit a bit; prior to 2010, he had hit over .300 in six of the past seven seasons.  Even in 2010, when he "only" hit .284, he was still good for 21 homers and a .444 SLG.

While Young would almost certainly supplant Eric Young Jr. and Jose Lopez at second base, it's not clear where he'd fit into the Rockies' lineup.  His strong batting average and OBP would make him a good candidate to hit at the top of the order, but he has enough power to hit in the middle of the order as well.
January 27, 2011 5:47 PM

MLB 2011 Preview Series: Boston Red Sox

While the Coors Effect is, has always been, and will continue to be a Rockies-themed blog, we know the Rockies don't play in a vacuum.  There are 29 other teams in the majors, and it's our duty to keep readers who only follow the Rockies informed of what's going on with everybody else before the season starts.

The Red Sox in 2010 went 89-73.  Pretty good, huh?

Well, that wasn't good enough for Red Sox Nation.  The Sox finished in third place in the AL East, behind both the Yankees and Rays, so naturally ownership went on a spending spree this offseason.  Added to the mix are Adrian Gonzalez, acquired in an offseason trade with the Padres, and Carl Crawford, signed for $142 million over 7 years.

The only issue?  Well, the Red Sox strengthened their offense -- but that wasn't the team's problem in 2010.  The Sox finished second in the American League in runs scored.  No, the issue with the Red Sox had a lot more to do with a pitching staff that finished ninth in the AL in ERA.  The Sox added a couple of arms to the bullpen, but they'll be trotting out the same starting pitchers they did in 2010.

Key Losses
3B Adrian Beltre
C Victor Martinez
UT Bill Hall
1B Mike Lowell*

Beltre had a .919 OPS and Martinez had a .844 OPS, so these are big losses, though the Sox more than likely can replace their offensive production.

Key Acquisitions
LF Carl Crawford
1B Adrian Gonzalez
RHP Dan Wheeler
RHP Bobby Jenks

Crawford and Gonzalez are the big-name acquisitions, and they'll help replace the production lost with the departures of Beltre and Martinez.  Wheeler and Jenks shore up a relief corps that had a 4.24 ERA in 2010, though Jenks wasn't terrific last season.

Projected Lineup
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Jason Varitek
1B Adrian Gonzalez
2B Dustin Pedroia
SS Marco Scutaro
3B Kevin Youkilis
LF Carl Crawford
CF Jacoby Ellsbury/Mike Cameron
RF J.D. Drew
DH David Ortiz

The thing about the Sox offense is that even with the losses, it would have gotten better just by Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia having full, healthy seasons (Youkilis played in 102 games and Pedroia 75.)  Ellsbury also missed all but 18 games.  Youkilis moves back to third base in 2011 to accommodate Gonzalez, while it's not entirely clear whether the Red Sox will go with the declining veterans (Varitek and Cameron) or younger players who have been less than impressive in the majors (Saltalamacchia, Ellsbury.)  In any case, the Sox offense won't struggle to score runs in 2011.

Projected Rotation
Jon Lester
Josh Beckett
Clay Buchholz
John Lackey
Daisuke Matsuzaka

There are two really good pitchers here (Lester and Buchholz.)  2011 is an odd-numbered year, so Beckett should be good since he seems to alternate good and bad seasons.  Lackey got paid an enormous amount of money for a 4.40 ERA, and his strikeouts declined while his walks went up in 2010 -- neither is a good sign.  Matsuzaka has seemed almost lost the last two years.  There's a decent chance that the rotation could be better just by virtue of Beckett pitching to form, but we're not sure if the Sox should expect much improvement from Lackey and Matsuzaka -- both of whom are being paid too much money to think about removing from the rotation.

Outlook

The strength of the offense means that 85 wins is almost a given, and 90-95 wins is very attainable.  With the Rays being gutted in the offseason and the Orioles and Blue Jays still not that big of a threat, the Sox should finish no worse than second in the division and should be a playoff team.  How far this team can go depends a lot on the pitching.
January 25, 2011 1:51 AM

MLB 2011 Preview Series: New York Yankees

While the Coors Effect is, has always been, and will continue to be a Rockies-themed blog, we know the Rockies don't play in a vacuum.  There are 29 other teams in the majors, and it's our duty to keep readers who only follow the Rockies informed of what's going on with everybody else before the season starts.

Huh?

We've grown so accustomed to the overlords of the American League throwing around dollars every offseason that, well, this offseason just seemed really strange.  The Yankees actually lost out on signing a big-name free agent.  Yeah, Cliff Lee decided that he'd rather pitch in Philadelphia.  Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are back -- as if they'd ever actually play for anyone else -- but aside from them, the big free-agent signing was... Rafael Soriano.

Well, we didn't really expect any big signings of a hitter -- the offense is basically set.  But the pitching?  This somehow doesn't look like the starting rotation of the New York Yankees.

Key Losses
1B Lance Berkman
RHP Kerry Wood
LHP Andy Pettitte*
LF Marcus Thames
RHP Javier Vazquez

The offense obviously is going to be fine without Berkman and Thames, and Soriano should step into Wood's role in the bullpen nicely.  But that rotation?  Yeah, getting Andy Pettitte to come back (despite the fact that he's pushing 40) would really help, because the Yanks' rotation is thin right now.

Key Acquisitions
C Russell Martin
LHP Pedro Feliciano
RHP Rafael Soriano

Martin isn't completely cooked, but he's not the player he once was.  Soriano will really help with the bridge to Rivera, but there's something missing here.

Projected Lineup
C Russell Martin/Francisco Cervelli
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Robinson Cano
SS Derek Jeter
3B Alex Rodriguez
LF Brett Gardner
CF Curtis Granderson
RF Nick Swisher
DH Jorge Posada

Flip a coin between Martin and Cervelli; Posada's almost strictly a DH at this point so he's not going to see much time behind the dish.  But yeah, the lineup is otherwise set in stone.  The Yankees aren't going to struggle to score runs in 2011.

Projected Rotation
CC Sabathia
Phil Hughes
A.J. Burnett
(Pettitte?)
Ivan Nova/Sergio Mitre/who the hell really knows

This could be a problem, though.  A pretty big one.  The front of the rotation is very good with Sabathia and Hughes, though we'll see if Hughes responds to the pressure of being the Yanks' number two starter (he was the fourth starter last year.)  Burnett is basically guaranteed a spot in the rotation despite a horrific 2010 because of his salary, though if any team can afford to eat Burnett's salary this is the one.  Well, Burnett's salary, and the fact that the Yankees really don't have any better options.  Obviously the Yankees could have used Cliff Lee.  There's still a pretty good chance that Andy Pettitte comes back, because, to be frank, the Yankees aren't going into the season with Nova and Mitre in the rotation.  At least one of them (if not both) is basically guaranteed to be bumped.  But if Pettitte doesn't come back, the Yanks may not really have a choice.  Mark Prior will be in spring training (remember him?)  Andrew Brackman is an interesting prospect but probably not ready, and I haven't heard any rumors that the Yankees are considering moving Joba to the rotation.  Everything after Hughes is very, very shaky.  It's un-Yankees like.  And, really, it limits how far the Yankees can go.  Something must be done about this.

Outlook

What we know: the Yankees will not struggle to score runs.  The lineup is simply too good.  But the rotation looks so shaky that it's hard to see this team approaching 100 wins.  90 wins is doable, but with Boston on the upswing that may not be enough to win the East.  It should be good enough to get in the playoffs, though.  The Yankees are a playoff team most likely, but if they don't make a trade during the season, will they be good enough to advance to the World Series?  Which, as we all know, is the ultimate goal of the Yankees every year.

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