Offseason report card: Rockies

February, 19, 2013
2/19/13
6:45
PM ET
2012 in review
Record: 68-94 (69-93 Pythagorean)
758 runs scored (3rd in NL)
890 runs allowed (16th in NL)

Big Offseason Moves
Acquired Wilton Lopez from Astros for Alex White and Alex Gillingham. Acquired Ryan Wheeler from Diamondbacks for Matt Reynolds. Re-signed free agent Jeff Francis. Lost free agent Jason Giambi. Accepted Jim Tracy's "resignation." Hired Walt Weiss as manager.

Here's the problem with the Rockies: What, exactly, is the plan here? Where do they perceive themselves in the cycle of competitiveness? A year ago, they signed Michael Cuddyer and Ramon Hernandez, traded for Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Guthrie, gave Todd Helton a two-year extension and brought in Jamie Moyer.

Certainly, they perceived themselves as contenders, although signing a bunch of mostly mediocre old guys to a team that had lost 89 games shockingly didn't work. This year, the front office decided to do nothing, so they'll go with the young guys -- although they're still stuck with some of the old guys and doing silly things like signing Francis and giving away a good arm in Alex White for a relief pitcher. It's no surprise this franchise is a complete mess right now, considering they essentially have two general managers. Longtime GM Dan O'Dowd oversees the minor leagues and player development and Bill Geivett reports to O'Dowd but oversees the daily operations of the major league club.

To make matters worse, a franchise that has long looked to acquire guys with "character" and "integrity" saw longtime star Helton recently arrested for a DUI.

I'm not giving this an "F," if only because they at least hired a new manager.


Position Players

For the years, the Rockies have complained that playing at altitude makes it difficult to build a pitching staff. The Rockies have become so obsessive about it that when things turned sour last year, they tried the radical approach of a four-man rotation, but limiting pitch counts to 75 pitches.

"Number one, I don't want to make us appear that we are making excuses," O'Dowd told the Denver Post. "Number 2, I don't want to make it sound like an insurmountable problem. I don't want to convey a sense of hopelessness. That's not how I feel."

Well, of course it's not insurmountable. The Rockies reached the World Series in 2007 and made the playoffs again in 2009. But for all the worrying about building pitching staffs, I wonder if building an offense is just as problematic. Playing at Coors Field makes it difficult to properly evaluate your hitters. After all, the Rockies were third in the NL in runs scored last year, so they must have a decent offense, right? But they were tied for last in runs scored on the road. Is Carlos Gonzalez (.303/.371/.510) a star or a product of Coors? (He hit .368 at home but .234 on the road.) The Rockies actually have historically played better at home (indeed, last year they won six more games at home than on the road), so the problems aren't so much winning at Coors Field, but transitioning back to sea level, which ultimately might be an impossible problem to solve.

Anyway, as for the offense, instead of focusing on runs, batting average and home runs, let's look at the two things less affected by altitude: walk and strikeout rates. The Rockies were last in the NL in walk percentage and 12th in strikeout percentage. So even though the Rockies led the NL in batting average, I don't believe this is a good offense. Obviously, keeping Troy Tulowitzki healthy will add several wins to the ledger. Dexter Fowler had his best year at the plate and Gonzalez can certainly mash at home, but it's still a free-swinging club with defensive issues at third base (Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco combined for minus-31 Defensive Runs Saved), right field (Michael Cuddyer), catcher (from what I can gather, Wilin Rosario had the most passed balls by a catcher who didn't have to catch a knuckleballer since Benito Santiago in 1987) and maybe left field (Gonzalez won a Gold Glove but his defensive metrics were poor).

Pitching Staff

Again, how to factor in Coors Field? Here's a fun fact for you: The Giants had a 4.29 road ERA in 2012, the Rockies 4.41.

Now, I'm not saying Colorado's staff was nearly as good as San Francisco's (and the Rockies' road ERA still ranked just 12th in the NL), but it again proves the difficulty of evaluation. Maybe Drew Pomeranz is as good as Madison Bumgarner. Maybe Jhoulys Chacin, back healthy again, can get back to his 2010-2011 level, when he had a 3.48 ERA. Maybe Christian Friedrich won't get spooked by Coors and turn into a good major league starter.

There are a lot of ifs there, and it's hard to give a staff a good grade when the top returning guy is Francis and his 113 innings. The bullpen has three pretty good weapons in Rafael Betancourt, underrated Matt Belisle and hard-throwing lefty Rex Brothers, so the Rockies should be strong at the end of games.

I'm giving the staff a low grade, with the caveat that there is some upside here IF the young guys can stay healthy AND not let Coors destroy their confidence.

Heat Map to Watch
Gonzalez can hit at home. He's struggled on the road. Last year, he really struggled on the road against left-handers, hitting just .159/.202/.284. Over the past three years, he's hit .229/.271/.378 against left-handers on the road in 280 PAs. Maybe the Rockies need to be more creative with their batting lineups instead of their pitching rotation.

GonzalezESPN Stats & InformationCarlos Gonzalez struggled against left-handers in 2012, especially on the road.
Overall Grade

SportsNation

How many games will the Rockies win?

  •  
    12%
  •  
    12%
  •  
    36%
  •  
    40%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,102)

I'm not a big fan of where the Rockies are right now. Tulowitzki is an MVP-caliber player if he can stay healthy, but he's missed 40, 19 and 115 games the past three seasons. Gonzalez has missed 35 and 27 the past two seasons. The Rockies are still counting on Helton, but after hitting .238 last year and playing just 69 games, the finish line may finally be here for him.

The rotation needs to sort itself out, three-quarters of the infield is unsettled and they don't draw walks. At least Jim Tracy is no longer here.

I see a last-place club. Thoughts?

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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