The Coors Effect

July 13, 2009 5:26 PM

Midseason review: Hitter grades

In Up in the Rockies tradition, I judge players like teachers judge their students: with letter grades.

Two things to remember:

1.  To a certain extent, I'm assigning grades based on what a player was expected to do.  Thus I'm not as tough of a grader on Dexter Fowler (a rookie who really wasn't even expected to make the team out of spring training, much less be a starter for much of the first half) than I am on Brad Hawpe (who was expected to be an offensive force.)

2.  I'm not assigning a grade to every player who has played in a game for the Rockies.  For hitters, I'm only reviewing those who have at least 100 plate appearances, with two special exceptions: Yorvit Torrealba (who would have 100 PAs if not for his stint on the restricted list; after all, at the time he went on the list Iannetta was on the DL, so he would have been starting every day), and Omar Quintanilla (who's been with the team all season, and somehow has managed just 37 plate appearances.)


Chris Iannetta: Based on what he did in 2008, we expected considerable power and a middling average.  He's provided the power (10 homers, .231 ISO), but his average has dropped to .232.  Still, he draws enough walks to have a .350 OBP.  If you have any complaints about Iannetta's BA, you try to find a solid defensive catcher who's hitting for a 814 OPS somewhere else.  Grade: B.

Todd Helton
: Rumors of Helton's demise have been greatly exaggerated.  After a 2008 when he spent much of the year on the DL, and when he wasn't on the DL had a sub-800 OPS (the first time that's happened in his career), Helton is having a wonderful season at 35: another BA over .300, drawing walks, and hitting for some power, though less so than in his prime.  A rejuvenated Helton has been the key to the Rockies' offense.  One note: right now he has more strikeouts than walks; Helton hasn't finished the year that way since 2001.  Grade: A-.

Clint Barmes
: Looking over his shoulder all season, first at Ian Stewart, now at Eric Young Jr., Barmes is having a solid year with the bat and is one of six Rockies with ten or more homers.  He still doesn't draw many walks, but he hits for a decent average and some power.  And he still doesn't have a solid hold on the job, with Eric Young Jr. having a good year in the Springs and threatening to take over.  Grade: B.

Troy Tulowitzki
: If the season started May 1, Tulo would be even better: he's a career .194 hitter in the month of April.  Tulo got off to another slow start this year, hitting .226 through the end of May, but came on with a strong June, and is tied for the team lead with 16 homers.  Tulo's April and May performance deserves a D, but his June pushes his overall grade up.  Grade: B-.

Garrett Atkins
: Grrrrrrroan.  Atkins's production tailed off for two straight years after his incredible 2006 campaign, so it was reasonable to expect him to drop some more.  But .230?  .230?!?!  Atkins had one bad month, but it was really, truly awful, and caused him to lose his starting job.  Usually, a player is in his peak at age 29, but Atkins (a classic old player skills guy) appears to have peaked early.  Grade: D.

Seth Smith
: Yesterday, some of the folks over at Purple Row were lamenting the fact that Smith has strong performances pinch-hitting, but sucks whenever he gets a start.  (Naturally, Seth then belted a two-run homer, in a game he was starting.)  Seth doesn't really suck as a starter, though a 825 OPS is not great for a left fielder playing at Coors.  Still, though, there's something to suggest that luck is playing into it: he has a .260 BABIP as a starter but a .619 BABIP as a sub.  Realistically, the overall .298/.409/.510 line is a fair indication of what Smith's capable of, whether he's starting or coming off the bench.  And a player with a 919 OPS should not be coming off the bench.  Grade: B+.

Dexter Fowler
: Fowler had an incredible year at Tulsa in 2008, getting named to Baseball America's all-Double A team at the end of the season and earning a September callup.  But was he ready to be the Rockies' starting CF?  It turns out he was, making the roster with a good spring and then forcing the issue with a strong April, relegating Ryan Spilborghs to the bench and taking over the starting job.  Since April turned to May, he's hit just .251, but his defense in center and ability to draw walks make him a net positive even when he's not hitting that well.  Grade: B.

Brad Hawpe
: Hawpe got a well-deserved All-Star nod after an incredible first half (.320/.396/.577.)  Currently, he's the Rockies' best all-around hitter, hitting for both power and average.  His defense leaves something to be desired (to put it nicely), but I'll take this sort of offensive production from a right fielder regardless of how he plays defense.  Grade: A.

Ian Stewart: The Rockies spent most of 2008 trying to figure out where Stewart would play, assuming that Garrett Atkins was entrenched at third and that Todd Helton would return to playing first every day.  The answer presented itself when Atkins forgot how to hit.  Stewart still strikes out too much, though he's improved that part of his game since 2008, and the power is undeniable.  I didn't think that it was possible to have a .164 BABIP at Coors Field, but Stewart has somehow managed to do that.  Since I still think it's not possible to find holes on just 16 percent of the balls you put in play at Coors Freaking Field, Stewart's BA should go up from the .223 it currently sits at.  (I mean, it's not like he's not hitting the ball hard or something, and even if he weren't, Aaron Miles has managed a .333 BABIP at Coors, and you can't accuse him of hitting the ball hard.)  Grade: B-.

Ryan Spilborghs
: Entering the season, Spilborghs was expected to start in center field while Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez got their reps in the minors.  Spilborghs has a decent bat, but is really more of a corner outfielder, so this wasn't that great of an idea.  Then, Fowler showed that he could at the very least pass for a major league hitter, which relegated Spilborghs to a backup role that he's more suited for.  Spilborghs really should be doing platoon duty, but for some reason the Rockies have felt it necessary to give him 157 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers, against whom he's hitting for a pathetic 655 OPS.  On a team that has lefties Seth Smith and Brad Hawpe in the corners, and now has Carlos Gonzalez, there's really no reason that Spilborghs should be starting against RHP.  The Rockies have done just that 24 times, though they've only done it twice since Gonzalez was recalled.  On the other hand, Spilly does still kill lefties (938 OPS this year, 915 career), so he does have value as a platoon player.  Grade: C.  (To be fair, this grade is partly a reflection of how the Rockies have deployed Spilborghs, but since Spilborghs' play against RHP has shown why the Rockies should be deploying him in a different way, I think it's a fair grade.  Luckily, they appear to have learned that lesson.)

Yorvit Torrealba: There's no point in rehashing why Torrealba missed a few weeks.  However, while Torrealba was out, Paul Phillips showed that he can do just as well as Torrealba (maybe better) while making about $3 million less.  I still can't figure out just why Torrealba got that contract.  He'd been having a nice career up through 2007 as a backup catcher, and was expected to play that role behind Iannetta that season.  Then Iannetta hit .158 that April, and .218 all season, and Torrealba started to get more and more starts behind the dish.  But even with Iannetta hitting .218, Torrealba ended the season with an OPS that was only 18 points higher than Iannetta's, largely due to Iannetta's exceptional ability to draw walks and his still-developing power.  Torrealba became a free agent and inked a deal with the Mets, but that deal was voided when Torrealba reportedly failed a physical.  Then, the Rockies, I guess either because they felt sorry for Torrealba since nobody really wanted him after his deal with the Mets fell through or they were grateful to him for being mediocre after they had rushed to judge Iannetta based on one awful month, gave him a 2-year, $7.25 million contract.  Predictably, Torrealba continued to hit like, well, Torrealba, and Iannetta started to hit more like he's capable of, and Torrealba was once again a backup.

As if to magnify the dumbness of the contract, after Iannetta got hurt and Torrealba had to leave the team, Paul Phillips came up and hit .310/.388/.429 for a few weeks -- then, of course, got DFA'ed because the Rockies wouldn't have to pay him millions of dollars to go away.  While the money isn't crippling, it's a lot of money to be paying a backup catcher, and when he's played Torrealba has been a subpar offensive player.  Grade: D+.  (Yes, it's a bit unfair to blame Torrealba for the amount of money he's making.  But again, we're factoring expectations in here, and the amount of money you're being paid is a fair representation of the team's expectations.)

Omar Quintanilla: Somehow, Quintanilla has been with the Rockies all season, and he's managed to rack up a grand total of (drum roll, please...) 37 plate appearances.  To give you an idea how small that number is, Paul Phillips was on the roster for 37 days and got 50 plate appearances; Matt Murton was on the active roster for 38 days and got 49 plate appearances.  Hell, Jason Marquis has more plate appearances than Quintanilla (and, believe it or not, has a batting average 22 points higher and SLG 17 points higher.)  Quintanilla has started exactly two games this season, appearing in 27 others, mostly as a defensive sub.  He's a good gloveman at second and short, so he has some use.  The trouble is, he's not that useful to the Rockies, who have an excellent gloveman at short in Tulowitzki, and good one at second in Barmes.  He'd be much more useful to a team that has a good hitter with an, ahem, questionable glove at one or both of those positions.  As for the Rockies, in this spot they'd get much more mileage out of a backup infielder with a good bat, regardless of his defensive ability.  Like, say, Jeff Baker.  No, Baker can't play short, but while Tulo isn't Cal Ripken, he doesn't need that many days off (he's started 33 straight at short), and in the case that he does, Barmes is capable of moving over to short (which is exactly what he's done when Tulo has needed a day off.)  And no, I'm not just bitter because Baker went 3-for-9 this weekend.

But I doubt Quintanilla is complaining about the situation too much.  Frankly, I'd love to get paid $408,000 a year to sit in the dugout and twiddle my thumbs.  If he weren't a baseball player, he'd probably make considerably less than that (unless he has some hidden talent for investment banking, medicine, or running a Fortune 500 company), and he'd also have to do some real work.  Grade: NG.

So, that wraps up the hitters.  Tomorrow, we'll be back to review the pitchers at the break.

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