This is one of a series of posts in which we grade each team’s wily hot stove maneuvers and tragic offseason blunders.
There’s a strange difficulty that comes with success. After the 2007 Colorado Rockies finished their improbable run to the World Series, the team brass had a decision to make: should they concentrate on adding talent or would that simply be meddling with something that needed no such help?
For better or worse, the Rockies took the latter road. In an offseason generally devoid of help via the free agent market, GM Dan O’Dowd simply went about his business signing his young stars Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki to contract extensions but not much else of note. They lost Jeremy Affeldt, Kaz Matsui, Josh Fogg, Rodrigo Lopez and LaTroy Hawkins to free agency and “added” Josh Towers, Luis Vizacino and Kip Wells. They also struck a deal in early December to acquire Jose Capellan for Jamey Carroll and Denny Bautista. As you can probably tell, none of these were exactly earth shattering moves. But let’s see if there’s something that Colorado overlooked and failed to address.
One thing I love about baseball is the fact that there’s really no limitation on the size of the playing field. As such, we get interesting parks like Coors Field – a place that has become synonymous with the entire franchise. In its brief history, Coors has made good hitters seem great and demolished the ERAs of many pitchers. Although its reputation nowadays is a bit overstated, it still remains a place that favors hitters quite a bit.
To get a clear sense of what we’re talking about here, the chart to the right (yes, me and my charts. Deal with it.) shows the home-road splits of the 2007 Colorado Rockies. Keep in mind that the Rockies ended up playing 163 games – 82 of them at home – in 2007 because of the one-game tie breaker. Anyhow, as you would expect, the Rockies offense did far better at home than not. A portion of the difference in AVG, OBP and SLG can be attributed to the 35 extra home runs that the Rockies hit at Coors, but that’s only part of the explanation. Colorado hit 51 more singles at home than away as well.
What about the pitchers? Well, see for yourself. Would you believe it if it weren’t true? Colorado pitchers gave up 82 homeruns at Coors in 2007. They also gave up 82 homeruns away from Coors. So figuring that one extra game they had at home, they ended up averaging fewer homeruns in the thin Denver air. Consequently, there was very little difference in the ERA splits. Rockies pitchers were the real deal in 2007.
So now that we have this information, we can pretty much see the team for who they are (i.e. away from the inflated stats of Coors). Their offense had a decent amount of guys who could get on base but ultimately lacked some serious pop, as evidenced by their road slugging percentage. Only the Giants and D-Backs posted worse on the road. Which is kind of odd if you think about it. When we think of the Rockies, we think of guys like Holliday, Tulowitzki, Atkins and Hawpe. As for pitchers… Well… They have Jeff Francis. He’s pretty good. Right? While I expect that their pitching numbers will overall regress a bit in 2008, it’s really the offense that I think they should have been concerned with. Matt Holliday had a career year. After a slow start, Atkins came on very strong during and after June. They learned that they had a shortstop who may already be ready to compete for the crown of the best in the NL. Despite all of this, they still posted lackluster numbers (relatively speaking with Coors in mind) in the power department.
In 2007, the Rockies had Willy Taveras, Kaz Matsui, and Yorvit Torrealba in their every day lineup. All three failed to slug over .400 away from Denver. In fact, so did Tulo (It’s true. Look it up). If you include the pitcher, that’s over half their batting order that didn’t have the muscle to contribute very much in the slugging department. In 2008, all they will have changed is that Matsui will be replaced by some combination of Marcus Giles, Ian Stewart, and rookie Jayson Nix. And signing Scott Podsednik sure isn’t going to help either.
Additions: Marcus Giles, Luiz Vizcaino, Kip Wells, Josh Towers, Jose Capellan
Losses: Kaz Matsui, Jeremy Affeldt, Josh Fogg, Rodrigo Lopez, LaTroy Hawkins, Jamey Carroll, Denny Bautista
1. Willy Taveras – CF
3. Matt Holliday – LF
4. Todd Helton – 1B
5. Garrett Atkins – 3B
6. Brad Hawpe – RF
7. Nix/Giles/Stewart – 2B
8. Yorvit Torrealba – C
1. Jeff Francis
2. Aaron Cook
3. Ubaldo Jimenez
4. Franklin Morales
5. Jason Hirsch/Josh Towers
CL: Manny Corpas
SU: Brian Fuentes
Offseason Grade: C–
I think it’s fair to say that I’m not putting much (and maybe, not enough) stock in what they accomplished in September and October. But what they had accomplished at the end of last season was improbable and you’d be very hard pressed to think that they’d be able to do it again. To me, this looks like a third place team behind Arizona and Los Angeles. I am no fan of Willy Taveras; he had a .370 BABiP last year and when that goes down, so will his OBP and any value his speed brings to the table. I still like Todd Helton, but I completely expect Matt Holliday to regress a bit. Will Tulo grow up fast enough to help fill that gap? Even if so, did their offense improve? I don’t think it did. I understand why the club thought it would be best to stand pat. One thing they are doing is replacing Rodrigo Lopez and Josh Fogg with some younger (and probably more talented) arms, and that’s something that Rockies fans have to look forward to. But I don’t see this team as being able to repeat as NL Champs.