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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?

holliday.jpgFor 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.

rockies-splits.JPGTo 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.

rockies-pitch-splits.JPGWhat 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 ofrancis.jpgf 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

Batting Order:

1. Willy Taveras – CF

tulowitzki.jpg 2. Troy Tulowitzki - SS

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

Rotation:

1. Jeff Francis

2. Aaron Cook

3. Ubaldo Jimenez

4. Franklin Morales

5. Jason Hirsch/Josh Towers

Bullpen:

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.

- Hot Offseason Action Index -

19 Responses to “Hot Offseason Action: Colorado Rockies”

  1. Oh my lord, Sarah, me too. Me too.

  2. There is nothing like your first day game after the long winter, be it in a subtropical spring training setting or the first sunday home game. It’s such a unique, care-free feeling. Can’t wait.

  3. Paul Moro says:

    It happens every year. I get excited for the off season in October. The excitement peaks during the Winter GM meetings. Then the holidays take my attention away. Then January hits and you’re left with nothing.

    Can’t go outside to throw a ball And there are only two indoor batting cages in Manhattan – one’s too freaking expensive ($50 for 30 minutes) and the other one’s pitching machines spit out pitches with nasty top spins that make the ball drop off the table before it crosses the plate.

    Why are there only two???

  4. I’m counting down the days until March 31st. Opening day at Wrigley Field, a day game of course and I don’t even care if there isn’t any sunshine. It’s better than all other holidays combined!

  5. Sarah Green says:

    Paul, your rhetorical question hangs in the air like a breaking ball that doesn’t break, just waiting for me to send it over the light towers with a crushing blow of anti-New York snarkiness.

  6. Paul Moro says:

    Bring it on, Mean Sarah Green.

  7. Sarah Green says:

    Paul, you’ve called my bluff. Like Mighty Casey, I will now strike out and head slowly back to the dugout, muttering something about “Lame fancy-pants Manhattanites who don’t really love baseball…”

  8. Paul Moro says:

    I don’t mean to turn this into a NY vs. Boston comments section, but…

    It’s not that Manhattanites don’t love baseball – it’s just that the property value here is ridiculous. You need a lot of space to build a batting cage. Problem is, $20 for five tokens isn’t going to cover the rent.

  9. Sarah Green says:

    True enough, Paul. That’s what the other four boroughs are for.

  10. Sarah Chapple-Sokol says:

    Sarah…despite my enjoying the freedom of the off-season, your post made me long for the ever-present sounds and sights of baseball from April to October…I got a warm feeling inside just thinking about it. Yay for baseball!

  11. Pats to the Super Bowl. Excellent. This will leave only 2 weeks after that to Pitchers and Catchers.

  12. Sarah Green says:

    I know! If the Pats lose (GOD FORBID) it will be two weeks of emptiness and tears. If they win, it will be two weeks of party, party, party. Either way, I plan on reading all those books I always mean to read and writing several freelance articles on non-sports subjects. Yay for 14 days of productivity!

  13. Sarah Green says:

    So by your chart, above, you show that the Rockies’ hitters performed better at Coors than away from it. You attribute this to Coors Field’s well-known offense-boosting park effect. I decided to look at the Rockies’ opponents and see how their performance measured up at Coors versus away from it, since I think plenty of teams perform better at home, anyway.

    I don’t really know how to make a chart in a comment box, but here goes (BA/OBP/SLG/OPS):

    Opp’nts @ Coors Fld: .274/.329/.438/.767
    Opp’nts NOT @ Coors: .259/.332/.407/.739
    Difference between: .015/-.003/.031/.028

    While there is still a visible difference, it’s much more slight than the splits for the Rockies.

    If I had to guess, I’d say that visiting pitchers are probably not as used to performing at high altitude, and that’s partly what helps the Rockies lineup get some extra offense. I’d also say, that with an absolutely enormous outfield, Colorado’s extra singles are balls that drop in against weaker defenses, while on the other side of the ball, Colorado had such an amazing defense last year that they didn’t let those balls drop, thus helping out their pitchers even more. And perhaps opposing batters appreciated the occasional extra ball carrying further for them, but felt the altitude even more when trying to field those balls.

    I hope that made sense.

  14. Paul Moro says:

    That’s kind of what I’m trying to figure out myself, Sarah. How is it possible for Colorado pitchers to have such little ERA and HR variations between home and road parks? Is it a coincidence that they issue less walks and ring up less Ks at home? It’s not like they’re a team full of extreme groundball pitchers either. So I don’t get it.

  15. Sarah Green says:

    Yes, it’s confusing, Paul. I mean, you’d think with all those pitchers, and all those games, the sample size would be broad enough that such “coincidences” would have some kind of cause. I suppose the next step would be to examine the home-road splits of the Rockies starting rotation individually, and see if that sheds any light. But that sounds like a project for a slow day at work.

  16. My theory is that it is the humidor.

    The Rockies used to consistently have insane home-road pitching splits – for example, 7.14 at home in 1999, but only 4.84 on the road.

    But since the Rockies have been using the humidor in 2002, they have been having much much more reasonable home-road splits, in fact too reasonable! While they still usually fare slightly worse at home, the difference is too small given park effects.

    Some opposing managers and team officials have suggested that the humidor does more than just level the playing field – that it actually slants it the other way a bit, and I think this may be true. Not that Coors Field still isn’t a hitters park, because all the other factors such as the huge outfield and less air resistance are still in play (hence the Rockies pitchers still do a bit worse at home), but that the humidor does more than cancel out the factor of the dry balls – it probably wets them down a little *too* much compared to other parks without humidors.

    Another theory I have about Coors which I think sheds some light on some of the splits we see is that the difference between playing at Coors and elsewhere exacerbates the splits.

    For example, I feel that pitching is all about consistency – to try to repeat the same arm motion and do everything the same to achieve the same results night after night. So here are the Rockies pitching game after game in the thinner air of Coors, so they figure out the exact place to aim and the perfect arm motion to get strikes at Coors Field. But then they go out on the road and throw the exact same slider to the exact same spot on the outside corner, but it breaks 3 inches more and gets called a ball. Hence the difference in strikeout and walk ratios.

    Similarly, with hitters, they get used to fat, hanging pitches which don’t break much at all at Coors, and then suddenly they go out on the road and these balls are breaking like crazy and they are striking out more and walking less. I’m pretty sure this is how the hitters end up with more extreme home/road splits at Coors than their visiting opponents, too.

    This is also explains why people underestimate Rockies hitters who go to other teams. Of course they are not going to replicate their Coors Field numbers, but a lot of people just assume you can multiply their road split by 2 and get their new, sea-level stat line. But of course their real stats are always better, because that road split had been suppressed by the difference between Coors and elsewhere and the Rockies hitters getting too used to Coors.

  17. Interesting ideas, Nick. Especially that last paragraph. Might be a good thing for me to look into sometime as a project.

  18. Well, Paul, I’d love to see what you might come up with if you ever did! I am largely just an armchair philosophizer when it comes to these sort of stat things…

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