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Colorado Rockies - 2007 Team Preview
Predicted Finish
81-81
3rd Place
NL Central

by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 17, 2007

2006 Record - 76-86, tied for 5th Place NL West, 12.0 behind the Padres
2006 Runs Scored - 813
2006 Runs Allowed - 812
Pythagorean Projection - 81-81



After 13 years of watching hitters put up fantastic numbers, only to see their pitchers get lit up constantly, the Great Colorado Humidor Experiment appears to have tamed, somewhat, the Mile-High effects of playing in Denver. What this means, Rockies fans can only hope, is that the Rockies can finally compete with the rest of the National League. If last year's roster is any indication, the Rockies once again have excellent hitting. But will the pitching finally arrive?

Catcher
2006 Starter - Yorvit Torrealba, Danny "Mamou" Ardoin, J.D. Closser
Projected 2007 Starter - Chris Iannetta, Torrealba

The Rockies actually had Javy Lopez in camp and cut him. Torrealba is a classic liability at the plate catcher, while Iannetta posted a .370 OBP in a 21 game call-up in 2006. The job is the 24 year-old's to lose. His minor league numbers show him to be an on-base machine.

First Base
2006 Starter - Todd Helton
Projected 2007 Starter - Todd Helton

Todd Helton suffered a down year in 2006, and still managed 40 doubles, a .302 average, a .404 on-base percentage, and was intentionally walked 15 times. The humidor project seems to have had an effect on Helton's numbers, but it could also just be age. Helton has a career OPS of .900 on the road (to go with 1.141 at home!), but his road OPS in 2006 was a meager .781. The comparisons to Lou Gerhig are finally over, but Helton would still be welcome on two-thirds of the teams in the majors.

Second Base
2006 Starter - Jamey Carroll, Luis A. Gonzalez
Projected 2007 Starter - Kaz Matsui, Jamey Carroll

Jamey Carroll hit .324 in the first half of 2006, but just .272 in the second half. His OPS was over 300 points higher in Coors Field than on the road, indicating that he is really a .622 OPS wolf in .781 OPS sheep's clothing. Kaz Matsui takes over the starting role this season after a fantastic 32 games with the Rockies in which he hit .345. At 31 years old, however, and with his track record, whether Matsui can put together an entire season remains to be seen.

Shortstop
2006 Starter - Clint Barmes, Troy Tulowitski
Projected 2007 Starter - Tulowitski, Barmes

One must resist the temptation to compare Clint Barmes to Kevin Maas. If not for falling down the stairs carrying groceries, or whatever actually happened, Barmes might still be a solid player. This is of little importance, however, because Tulowitski is an apparent super-stud and the shortstop of the future for the Rockies. With Barmes having just been optioned back to the minors, Tulowitski is also shortstop of the present - as in on opening day. Watch for Tulowitski's name on the Rookie of the Year ballot at the end of the season.

Third Base
2006 Starter - Garrett Atkins
Projected 2007 Starter - Garrett Atkins

Garrett Atkins was merely very good in the first half of 2006, but then ripped it up to the tune of .354/.437/.625/1.062 in the second half. Atkins gets on base and, as of last season, strikes out less than he walks. At 27, if the Rockies make a run, Atkins is an MVP candidate.

Number One Reason Garrett Atkins is Not Vinny Castilla - In 2006, Atkins was a 3-4-5er on the road, posting a .933 OPS away from Coors Field. Vinny Castilla's season OPS only got up over .933 once in his career and his road OPS that season was .800.

Left Field
2006 Starter - Matt Holliday
Projected 2007 Starter - Matt Holliday

Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins were the most underrated dymnamic duo in baseball last season, probably because of the Coors Field Effect. Unfortunately for Holliday, where Atkins succeeded both at home and on the road, Holliday posted a 1.132 OPS at home while a meager .818 on the road. In almost the exact same number of plate appearances (334/333), all of Holliday's numbers were significantly better at home than one the road, including homeruns (22/12), RBI (78/36), batting average (.373/.280) and runs scored (70/49).

The point of this is really moot until Holliday becomes a free agent and some idiot rewards him with a big contract. Holliday is less of a player than Garrett Atkins, but he is still quite good for the Rockies.

Center Field
2006 Starter - Cory Sullivan, Choo Freeman
Projected 2007 Starter - Willy Taveras

Picking up Taveras could prove to be a very good move for the Rockies. Despite its park factor, Coors Field has an expansive outfield, and Taveras has very good range in centerfield. On offense, Taveras has been a singles-only hitter, using his blinding speed to beat out grounders and bunts. He should be able to take advantage of Coors Field and actually end up legging out some doubles and triples in Colorado. And Taveras came cheaply. His career on-base percentage of .329 is an issue, especially as a leadoff man. But if he can improve upon it, he should score lots of runs.

Right Field
2006 Starter - Brad Hawpe
Projected 2007 Starter - Brad Hawpe

Who is the most underrated player in baseball? It just might be Brad Hawpe. Let me give you his home/road splits from last season:

PA Runs Hits 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
301 33 79 18 16 48 303 395 571 966
274 34 67 15 6 36 282 369 454 823


"So, what?" you are probably thinking to yourself. Typical Coors Field home/road splits, right? Except, I played a trick - I put his road split on top! Hawpe hit almost three times as many homeruns on the road as he did at home last season! If Hawpe's home stats catch up to his road stats, which one can only imagine is a matter of time, he will be a super-stud.

And oh by the way, Hawpe had 16 outfield assists last season, after 10 the year before in only 89 games.

Rockies Fun Fact - Matt Holliday became only the third player other than Todd Helton and Larry Walker to lead the Rockies in OPS last season (Burks and Galarraga).
Reserves
2006 Reserves - Choo Freeman, J.D. Closser, Luis A. Gonzalez
Projected 2007 Reserves - Carroll, Barmes, Steve Finley, Jeff Baker

It is always good when one season's starters becomes a subsequent season's reserves, because it is a solid indication that the team has upgraded. Steve Finley is still holding on to what would seem to be a finished major league career.

2006 Front Three Starters - Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Jason Jennings
Projected 2007 Starters - Cook, Francis, Rodrigo Lopez?!?!?!?

The Jason Jennings Era comes to an end in Colorado, which is a shame because he had a very good year in 2006 (for a Rockies pitcher) and at 28 would seem to just be hitting his prime.

Aaron Cook is a career Rocky who put up over 200 innings for the first time in 2006 and only have up 17 homeruns, and his ERA was above league average. On the other hand, his K/BB ratio was under 2.0, and he went 9-15 while giving up tons of hits (WHIP - 1.397). But Cook is as solid a pitcher as the Rockies have had, and looks to improve upon a decent 2006 season. Maybe his terrible K/BB ratio shows that the Rockies must have a slow-armed groundball pitcher to keep the ball from leaving the stadium. Interestingly, Cook's ERA at home was 3.96, while on the road it was 4.62, which is just odd. If he can get his road ERA under control, he will be a very good pitcher.

Jeff Francis will likely be the Rockies next go-to guy now that Jennings is gone. He improved last season over his first full season in 2005, and fell one inning short of 200. At 26, if he continues to improve, he could set some Rockies records. However, as a warning sign, his numbers were not significantly better on the road than they were at home.

The Rockies currently have Rodrigo Lopez slated as their number three starter. This conflation of bad ballpark with bad pitcher could lead to historic results - Lopez gave up 32 homeruns in 189.0 innings pitching in a pitcher's park last season. The sky may be the limit here.

2006 Rest of the Rotation - Josh Fogg, Byung-Hyun Kim
Possible 2007 Starters - Jason Hirsh, Brian Lawrence, Fogg, Kim

Manager Clint Hurdle just announced that 25 year-old Jason Hirsh will be the fourth starter for the Rockies. Hirsh was the third player that the Rockies got from the Astros in the Jennings-Taveras trade, and he may end up being the key to the trade. He is a power pitcher who strikes out a lot of guys but also walks more than he should. At 6'8" and 250 pounds, Hirsh is built like a power forward, and should be quite intimidating to hitters. In each of four minor league seasons, Hirsh had more hit batters than homeruns given up. He needs to work on his control to be effective, but will apparently get the chance to do so at the major league level this season.

There has been a Brian Lawrence sighting at Rockies camp, and Byung-Hyun Kim and Josh Fogg are being shopped for possible trades. Lawrence is a crafty, control type pitcher who appeared ready to breakout in 2002 before posting mediocre seasons in 2003 and 2004, and then crashing and burning in 2005 and not pitching at all in 2006. If he is ready to return, it would be a coup, but at the same time Brian Lawrence and Rodrigo Lopez in the same rotation probably spells disaster.

Relief Pitchers
2006 Relievers - Brian Fuentes, Jose Mesa, Tom Martin, Ray King, Ramon Ramirez
Projected 2007 Relievers - Fuentes, LaTroy Hawkins, Jeremy Affeldt, Martin, Ramirez, Matt Herges, Danny Graves, Dave Veres

Holy Re-Tread Batman! The Rockies bullpen looks like who's who of recently bottomed-out closers. Fuentes is a stud, striking out over a batter an inning on his way to 30 saves last season, and improving his ERA by almost a point in the second half of the season. Ramirez is also a bit of a stud, and it appears that the Rockies simply want to invest in cheap, experienced pitchers who may be able to get them to Ramirez and Fuentes at the end of a game.

Outlook for the Season

The 2007 Colorado Rockies would appear to be the same old Rockies - tons of hitting and no pitching. If things go right for their starting rotation - Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis continue to improve, Jason Hirsh has a good rookie year, and Rodrigo Lopez and Brian Lawrence resurrect their nearly finished careers - an offense that scores that well can contend for any division title. The potential for success should not fool Rockies fans however - teams without even one sure thing in the rotation rarely succeed, and only Hirsh appears to have what could even slightly be considered "upside."

In the NL West, it would appear that the Rockies could easily be better than the Diamondbacks and Giants, but should not be able to compete with the Padres or Dodgers.


Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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