SweetSpot: Todd Helton

Todd Helton had a pretty nice major league career for a backup quarterback. The one-time Tennessee QB announced he'll retire at the end of the season, after a 17-year career that has seen him hit .317 with 367 home runs, 2,505 hits and 1,397 RBIs.

While Rockies fans get to say goodbye, the question for the rest of us: Is he a Hall of Famer?

That's really a two-part question, of course: (1) Does he deserve to make the Hall of Fame. (2) What are his chances?

The initial reaction of many may be to compare him to Don Mattingly, another first baseman who had a high peak value but suffered back issues that hurt his effectiveness. As you can see from the list below of recent first basemen, however, Mattingly isn't really in the same ballpark as Helton. The list includes each player's career WAR and then their best five consecutive seasons.

Jeff Bagwell 79.5 (five-year peak: 34.4)
Jim Thome 72.8 (26.9)
Rafael Palmeiro 71.8 (26.3)
Mark McGwire 62.0 (29.8)
Todd Helton 61.1 (37.4)
John Olerud 58.0 (27.0)
Will Clark 56.4 (27.7)
Fred McGriff 52.6 (26.7)
Jason Giambi 51.2 (34.7)
Carlos Delgado 44.3 (26.1)
Don Mattingly 42.2 (28.8)

Helton is way ahead of Mattingly in both career value and peak value -- Helton, in fact, has the best five-year peak on the board. That period ran from 2000 to 2004, when he hit .349/.450/.643 while averaging 37 home runs and 123 RBIs. While Helton hit .300 five times after that, he was never the same in the power department, reaching 20 home runs just once and never again reaching 100 RBIs.

As superficial as that 100-RBI barrier is, it could work against Helton since first base is viewed as an RBI position -- a reason great all-around players like Olerud and Keith Hernandez fared poorly in Hall of Fame voting -- and he topped that 100 mark just five times. Like those two, however, Helton earned value with his glove (since 1950, he ranks seventh on Baseball-Reference's list with 73 runs saved at first base). As good as Helton was at the plate, his offensive WAR actually rates below that of Giambi, McGriff and Clark, and just ahead of Delgado.

Some of that is the Coors Field factor in measuring his value. He's hit .345/.442/.607 at home (225 home runs) versus .287/.386/.470 on the road (142 home runs). That's another knock against Helton, in the same way it's hurt former Rockies teammate Larry Walker, who has hovered at just over 20 percent of the vote in his three years on the ballot. In fact, compare their career numbers:

Helton: .317/.415/.539, 133 OPS+, 367 HR, 1,397 RBI, 2,505 H, 1,394 R, 37 SB
Walker: .313/.400/.565, 141 OPS+, 383 HR, 1,311 RBI, 2,160 H, 1,355 R, 230 SB

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Is Todd Helton a Hall of Famer?

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Discuss (Total votes: 18,948)

Walker won an MVP and didn't get to spend his entire career in Denver. I don't see a whole lot separating those two, except Walker was a Gold Glove right fielder and Helton a Gold Glove first baseman. I'd have to rate Walker the better Hall of Fame candidate (his career WAR is also much higher, at 72.6), but the fact that he hasn't fared well in voting probably doesn't bode well for Helton.

If Helton hadn't suffered the back problems, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Three more peak years and he'd be a slam dunk. But like Mattingly, that's not what happened. There's also the issue that none of those first basemen above separated themselves from the pack, except Bagwell, who received 60 percent of the Hall of Fame vote last year, putting him on path to get to the needed 75 percent. Palmeiro and McGwire obviously have no shot right now given their PED history, but voters haven't given much support for McGriff (493 home runs, 1,550 RBIs), either.

For me, Helton falls just under the line. Take away Coors Field, and I wonder if he's John Olerud. That's not meant as a criticism, just that nobody thinks of Olerud as a Hall of Famer. I think Helton's initial time on the ballot will mirror Walker's -- about 20 percent of the vote.
Albert Pujols was placed on the disabled list on Sunday, sort of the exclamation point to the Los Angeles Angels' debacle of a season. Sunday was Hall of Fame induction day -- you may have missed it, considering the lone player elected played his final game in 1890 -- and Pujols' injury and the ceremony in Cooperstown got me wondering: Which of today's players will be future Hall of Famers?

There are probably more than you realize. Pujols, of course, is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, even factoring in the somewhat disappointing results of his first two seasons with the Angels. With three MVP Awards, 492 home runs, 1,491 RBIs, a .321 average and a career WAR of 92.9 (27th all time among position players) his legacy is ensured, even if his Angels career never lives up to the expectations of his contract.

Based on historical trends, I estimate about 40 current players are future Hall of Famers -- possibly more, although Hall of Fame standards have been growing tougher in recent years, both by the Baseball Writers Association, which pitched a shutout this year, and the Veterans Committee, which has voted in just one post-1950 player since 2001. The steroids era fallout is also affecting voting results.

Anyway, if we look back at 10-year increments we can see how many Hall of Famers were active that season:

1953: 28 players
1963: 36 players
1973: 37 players
1983: 34 players
1993: 19 players

There are fewer players in 1953 because there were fewer teams, just 16 compared to 30 now. Compared to 1983, when there were 26 teams, 1953 still has a higher percentage of players inducted (1.75 per team versus 1.30). Still, 1983 already has 34 players who active that season already in the Hall of Fame, plus potential enshrinees like Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Dale Murphy, Lou Whitaker, Keith Hernandez, Ted Simmons and others (some of whom are off the BBWAA ballot but could be Veterans Committee selections).

OK, to our little list. Here are 40 active players who will be Hall of Famers -- listed in order of most likely to make it. We're at a moment when there are very few sure-thing Hall of Famers -- I count only five -- so the list thus involves a lot speculation. I considered only players who have played in the majors this year, so no Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez or Scott Rolen.

1. Derek Jeter: Would anyone find reason not to vote for Jeter? Well, he did date Mariah Carey. Jeter may seem like a lock as a unanimous selection, but keep in mind that eight voters somehow found reason not to vote for Cal Ripken Jr.

2. Mariano Rivera: No matter what you think of closers, Rivera will be a slam-dunk selection, with his "greatest closer ever" label, World Series rings, universal respect among opponents and writers, and 0.70 postseason ERA in 141 innings. While writers have generally become very generous to relievers -- Dennis Eckersley made it in his first year on the ballot -- I suspect a few won't vote for Rivera out of an anti-reliever stand.

3. Albert Pujols: If his career continues to peter out, that more recent perception may cast a shadow over his dominant run from 2001 to 2010, when he averaged 8.1 WAR per season. Many Hall of Famers never achieved that in one season.

4. Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera is now in his age-30 season, with 53.2 WAR. Through age 30, Pujols had 81.1 WAR. That's how good Pujols was -- nearly 30 wins better than a sure Hall of Famer who arrived in the majors at a younger age. Much of that advantage comes on defense and the basepaths, but Baseball-Reference estimates Pujols created 590 runs more than the average batter through 30, with Cabrera at 447 (and counting).

5. Ichiro Suzuki: He may not get to 3,000 hits in the majors -- he's at 2,706 after Sunday's four-hit game -- but with 1,278 hits in Japan, voters should factor that he didn't arrive in Seattle until he was 27. With his all-around brilliance, he should sail in on the first ballot.

6. Robinson Cano: He has done a lot of things MVP voters like -- hit for average, drive in runs, win a World Series -- and done it with exceptional durability. He's already at 42.4 WAR and needs three to four more peak seasons to ensure lock status, but he's just 30 and still at the top of his game. Considering his durability and age, 3,000 hits isn't out of the question either.

7. Clayton Kershaw: Obviously, he could get hurt, and a lot of pitchers who were dominant through age 25 couldn't carry that success into their 30s. But Kershaw has been handled carefully, is on his way to a third straight ERA title and second Cy Young Award. He's the Koufax of this decade … minus the World Series heroics. But maybe he'll get that shot this year.

8. Felix Hernandez: He's 27 and has won 109 games, despite playing for some of the worst offenses in the history of the game. He has earned 38.8 WAR, which puts him about halfway to Hall of Fame lock status. As with Kershaw, barring injury he'll get there.

9. Roy Halladay: He leads all active pitchers with 65.6 WAR, a total higher than Hall of Famers Bob Feller (65.2), Eckersley (62.5), Juan Marichal (61.9), Don Drysdale (61.2) and Whitey Ford (53.2), to name a few. But what if he never pitches again? Is he in? He has 201 wins and voters still fixate on wins for pitchers. To Halladay's advantage is the general consensus that he was the best pitcher in baseball at his peak, his two Cy Young Awards and two runner-up finishes, three 20-win seasons and the second no-hitter in postseason history.

10. Adrian Beltre: Voters have never been kind to the good-glove third basemen -- excepting Brooks Robinson -- so I may be overrating Beltre's chances. But he also has the chance to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. If he gets to those milestones, that combined with his defensive reputation should get him in.

11. CC Sabathia: He has 200 wins and looked like a possible 300-game winner entering this season, but that 4.65 ERA has everyone wondering how much he has left in the tank at age 33.

12. David Wright: Similar in a lot of ways to Cano -- same age, similar career WAR (Wright is actually a little higher at 45.9) -- so if he plays well into his 30s like Beltre has, he'll get in. But a lot of players have looked like Hall of Famers at 30.

13. Justin Verlander: He still has a lot of work to do, with 134 career wins and just two seasons with an ERA under 3.00.

14. Carlos Beltran: I suspect he'll have a long, slow trek to Hall of Fame status, as his all-around game may be difficult for voters to properly assess. His having just two top-10 MVP finishes will work against him, but he has eight 100-RBI seasons, should reach 400 home runs, is one of the great percentage basestealers of all time and should reach 1,500 runs and 1,500 RBIs.

15. Mike Trout: Well, of course this is premature; he's only 21. He could be Willie Mays, he could be Cesar Cedeno. I'm betting on Mays.

16. Evan Longoria" Beloved in sabermetric circles, he could use that one monster MVP season to create more of a Hall of Fame aura around him.

17. Joey Votto: Will voters appreciate the on-base percentage in 20 years?

18. Joe Mauer: Like Votto, Mauer has an MVP award that helps his case; any time you can argue "he was the best player in the game" about a guy, his candidacy shoots up in the minds of voters. He's not going to end up with the big home run and RBI totals but his .323 career average, .405 OBP and solid defense (three Gold Gloves) will garner support. He has to stay healthy and probably needs to stay behind the plate a few more years.

19. Andy Pettitte: See Jack Morris. Probably a slow crawl on the BBWAA ballot, perhaps hurt by admitting he tried PEDs (although he seems to have escaped the stain), with eventual election by the Veterans Committee. With 252 wins, five World Series rings and 19 postseason wins, it's difficult to ignore his fame and constant presence in October.

20. Bryce Harper: Most home runs before turning 21: Mel Ott 61, Tony Conigliaro 56, Ken Griffey Jr. 38, Harper 37, Mickey Mantle 36, Frank Robinson 34.

21. Buster Posey: Yadier Molina may be the most valuable catcher right now, but Posey is the better Hall of Fame candidate.

22. David Price: Pitchers become Hall of Famers in their 30s, not their 20s, but Price is already 66-36 with a Cy Young award.

23. Dustin Pedroia: I'm a little skeptical how he'll age into 30s, but Pedroia seems like the kind of player voters would love to put in if he becomes a borderline candidate. He does have an MVP award and recognition for his all-around play, but since he's not a big home run or RBI guy, he'll have to remain durability and approach 3,000 career hits.

24. Manny Machado: He's in a big slump right now but we have to remember he's still just 20 years old. But few players have shown this kind of ability at his age and his defense -- Jim Palmer said recently he makes plays at third base that Brooks Robinson could not have made -- is already Hall-of-Fame caliber.

25. Todd Helton: We can just about close the book on him. The .318/.417/.541 career line is impressive, although voters will have to adjust for Coors Field. The 361 home runs and 1,378 RBIs are short of Hall of Fame standards for recent first base inductees. Considering Larry Walker's poor support so far, Helton will probably have to get in through the back door.

26. Andrew McCutchen: How about an MVP Award for 2013?

27. Giancarlo Stanton: Injuries are an issue, but I'm still betting on him (or Harper) to be the premier power hitter of his generation.

28. Troy Tulowitzki: He has to stay healthy, of course, but he has 30.5 WAR so far, in his age-28 season. Jeter had 36.8 and Ripken 50.1 through age 28, but you don't have to be Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken to make the Hall of Fame. Recent inductee Barry Larkin had 30.9 WAR through age 28 and only played 140 games three seasons after that (although did play until he was 40).

29. Miguel Tejada: Tough one here. He has the PED rumors, but he also has six 100-RBI seasons as a shortstop, an MVP award, more than 300 home runs and he will top 2,400 hits. Perhaps a Veterans Committee choice?

30. Prince Fielder: He hasn't hit 40 home runs since 2009 and is going through the worst season of his career. Still, he's just 29 and has 277 home runs and 838 RBIs. He has been the most durable player in the game since his rookie season, but his body type certainly raises questions about how he'll do as he gets into his mid-30s. If he does remain healthy and reaches some of the big milestones he's going to be a Morris-like controversial candidate, because his career WAR (currently 22.4) isn't going to reach Hall of Fame standards.

31. Madison Bumgarner: He turns 24 on Aug. 1 and already has 46 career wins, two World Series rings and is in the midst of his best season. Check back in 10 years.

32. Yasiel Puig: Is he not in already?

33. Andrelton Simmons: We're starting to get into the area of crazy projections. Hey, a lot of Hall of Famers didn't look like Hall of Famers their first few seasons in the league. Anyway, the Braves have four young players you could reasonably project long-shot HOF status onto -- Simmons, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel. I like Simmons; he'll have to have an Omar Vizquel-type career with most of his value coming from his glove, but what a glove it is.

34. Chase Utley: He basically has no chance to get in via the BBWAA because his career counting totals will be well short of Hall standards. His five-year peak from 2005 to 2009 was among the best ever for a second baseman -- in fact, since 1950, from ages 26 to 30, the only players with a higher WAR were seven guys named Mays, Pujols, Yastrzemski, Aaron, Bonds, Boggs and Schmidt. If he can stay healthy for a few more years -- a bit of a dubious proposition -- he enters Veterans Committee territory.

35. Jose Fernandez: This could be Chris Sale or Stephen Strasburg or some other hotshot young pitcher.

36. Tim Hudson: I believe pitching standards will have to change, as the idea that you need 300 wins eventually subsides in this day where starters just don't as many decisions as they once did. Hudson is out for the year after breaking his ankle and, at the age of 38, you have to worry about his future. But he does have 205 wins and one of the best winning percentages of all time at .649. He sounds like a Veterans Committee choice in 2044.

37. Nick Franklin: The point isn't that I think Franklin is a Hall of Fame player, but that somebody like Franklin will turn into a Hall of Famer. It could BE Franklin, it could be Wil Myers, it could be Marcell Ozuna, it could be Jurickson Profar. As for Franklin, he has reached the majors at 22, has flashed power (10 home runs and 12 doubles in 52 games) and shown a good approach at the plate. You never know.

38. September call-up to be named: Xander Bogaerts? Oscar Taveras? Miguel Sano?

39. David Ortiz: There's no denying the fame and the peak value -- he finished in the top five in MVP voting five consecutive seasons -- but he has several strikes against him, notably the PED allegations (Ortiz was mentioned in the Mitchell report) and the fact that he may not be the best DH eligible (that would be Edgar Martinez, with a career WAR of 68.3 to Ortiz's 42.7). Papi is at 420 home runs; if he gets to 500 (round number!), his chances go up, but like all the guys tied to steroids, he'll be a controversial candidate.

40. Alex Rodriguez: He hasn't actually suited up in the majors yet this season, but let's assume he does to be eligible for this list. I also assume, at some point in the future -- 20 years? 25 years? 75 years? -- the moral outrage against the steroids users eventually subsides. Maybe, like Deacon White, A-Rod makes it some 130 years after he plays his final game.
Haven't done one of these all week, so some quick thoughts on Thursday's games ...
  • I was watching the Detroit Tigers-Pittsburgh Pirates last night but on my laptop I had on the Kansas City Royals-St. Louis Cardinals game to check out Michael Wacha's debut for St. Louis. If you're not familiar with Wacha, he was the 19th pick in last year's draft out of Texas A&M and I'm left asking: There were 18 guys better than him? (The pick, by the way, came via the Los Angeles Angels in the Albert Pujols signing.) After a terrific spring training he posted a 2.05 ERA in nine Triple-A starts and became the seventh rookie pitcher to appear for the Cardinals this year. He thoroughly dominated the Royals, pitching four no-hit innings and finishing with this line: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 SO. He failed to get the win when the Royals rallied for three runs in the ninth (after a long rain delay that had the Cardinals asking for an eight-inning victory).

    After pitching four days in a row, Cardinals closer Edward Mujica had a day off, as did rookie setup guy Trevor Rosenthal, leaving Mitchell Boggs to get burned yet again.As for Wacha, he threw 58 fastballs out of his 93 pitches, averaging 93.3 mph and touching 96-97. He throws up in the zone, especially to left-handers, and on this night did a good job of painting the outside corner against right-handers. He also gets some late movement, almost like a cutter, so while he didn't have a high K rate in the minors, he apparently induced a lot of weak contact, which was the case on Thursday. His out pitch is a changeup on which he recorded four of his six strikeouts. The pitch dives away from lefties and down and in to righties. He also has a curveball but only threw three against the Royals. OK, the Royals have been in a huge offensive slump so we should factor that in, but this kid looked terrific. Very poised and confident (it helps when you retire the first 13 hitters). I get a feeling he may not be heading back to the minors.
  • You know, Freddy Garcia has had a hell of a career. He threw eight shutout innings for the Baltimore Orioles in a 2-0 win over the Washington Nationals and I love that Buck Showalter left him in to throw 113 pitches and save the bullpen. I'm skeptical Garcia can succeed all season -- he has just 15 strikeouts in 35.1 innings -- but he does throw strikes (six walks in starts) and won't beat himself. Garcia is now 158-103 in his career and not many pitchers win 158 games. He was the ace of two Seattle Mariners teams that reached the postseason and was a member of that stellar 2005 Chicago White Sox rotation that won a World Series. He battled back from injuries to turn into a junkballer supreme; who knows, maybe he learned a few lessons from Jamie Moyer back in the day. Good story and I hope he continues to pitch well.
  • The Cleveland Indians are in the midst of a tough portion of their schedule and had dropped six of seven to the Tigers, the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds before rallying to beat the Reds the past two nights in Cleveland. They scored all seven runs in the fourth inning to beat Cincy 7-1 on Thursday behind Scott Kazmir. Yan Gomes went 3-for-4 and is hitting .319/.333/.638 as he continues to push himself into the lineup. Don't be surprised to see Carlos Santana getting more days off from catching and more time at first base and DH. It doesn't get any easier for the Indians as their next five series are against the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Tigers, Texas Rangers and Nationals.
  • The Colorado Rockies just lost two to the Houston Astros at home (and three of four in this four-game matchup), which has to hurt. Todd Helton is down to .219/.287/.344 and you wonder how much longer Walt Weiss can afford to keep him in the lineup.
  • Carl Crawford did this but the Angels beat the Dodgers 3-2 behind the red-hot Jason Vargas. More bad news for the Dodgers: Matt Kemp hit the DL. Or maybe it's good news. He needs to get healthy.
  • Travis Wood hit a grand slam for the Chicago Cubs. That's 19 RBIs for Cubs pitchers in May -- the most by a pitching staff since the 1940 Tigers had 20 in August. In fact, Cubs pitchers are tied for 19th in the majors in RBIs in May. Gotta love baseball.
  • This was pretty cool.

 
I'm not a Colorado Rockies fan so I can't profess to know how they feel about Todd Helton returning from the disabled list and into the starting lineup a couple days ago. He's the greatest player in Rockies history, a guy who will have an interesting Hall of Fame case in a few years, a respected veteran who has played in nearly two-thirds of the games the franchise has ever contested.

He's also a first baseman who has been a below-average park-adjusted hitter in three of the past five seasons, a hitter whose injuries have sapped his power. He can't run and, while he's still regarded as a good fielder, he's not Keith Hernandez-in-his-prime good, and not many teams win pennants with a slick-fielding, bad-hitting first baseman anyway.

More importantly, the Rockies don't necessarily need him. His stint on the DL with a left forearm strain allowed the Rockies to give more playing time in the outfield to Eric Young Jr., who has played well, and slide right fielder Michael Cuddyer to first base on occasion (or play Jordan Pacheco at first). Playing Young in the outfield instead of the slow-footed Cuddyer improves the defense, and playing Cuddyer over Helton likely improves the offense, even if Cuddyer cools down from his hot start.

It's the first big test of rookie manager Walt Weiss' season and it's not an easy decision, one perhaps clouded by the fact that Weiss and Helton were briefly teammates during Helton's call-up to the majors in 1997. It's never easy knowing what to do with a player of Helton's stature; they don't all go out on top like Chipper Jones did a year ago. It's also unclear whether Helton's offseason arrest for driving under the influence (he pleaded guilty Tuesday to driving while impaired) affected his standing in an organization that has made public overtures through the years about acquiring "good guys."

[+] EnlargeTodd Helton
AP Photo/Jack DempseyFitting Todd Helton into a Rockies lineup that's gotten along OK without him presents a dilemma.
All this was on my mind as I watched the Yankees and Rockies face off in a rare Coors Field pitchers' duel. Carlos Gonzalez's two-run homer in the sixth off Hiroki Kuroda was it for the scoring as Jorge De La Rosa tossed six scoreless frames (the Yankees can't hit lefties at all, even in Coors Field) in a 2-0 Colorado victory. Helton went 1-for-3, singling to right in the sixth.

"He has been driving us crazy," Weiss told MLB.com when Helton, who turns 40 in August, was activated. "At some point about halfway through his DL stint here in the dugout, I tried to get [head trainer Keith Dugger] to hit him with a tranquilizing dart. But it's good to have him back out there. It'll be nice watching him take [at-bats] again, doing his thing."

The Rockies don't need Helton's value -- if it even exists -- as the "face of the franchise." For one thing, he's not that guy anymore. Troy Tulowitzki, when healthy, is one of the 10 best players in baseball and right now he's healthy and mashing. Gonzalez is playing his best baseball since 2010 and Dexter Fowler may finally be developing into the star player Insider many once projected he would be. Second-year catcher Wilin Rosario looks like he'll improve on the 28 home runs he hit as a rookie. Plus, rookie third baseman Nolan Arenado has made a huge impact in just eight games in the majors.

In other words, this isn't a case of the 2009 Seattle Mariners bringing back Ken Griffey Jr. in an attempt to draw a few extra fans to see a bad team (and then making the mistake of re-signing him for 2010). But Helton should have to earn his spot in the lineup. If he hits like he did in 2012 -- .238/.343/.400 -- it's hard to justify a regular spot. Maybe Weiss develops a Helton/Young platoon, with Helton sitting against left-handers and Cuddyer moving back and forth between right field and first base. Helton certainly deserves the leash to prove there's something left in the bat; knowing how long of a leash is what can turn competent managers into great ones.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the Rockies. They're probably better than I projected, and definitely interesting and exciting, especially with Tulo playing so well. Unlike pretty much every Rockies team ever, they're actually hitting well on the road (so far), as their .800 OPS led the National League entering Tuesday's action.

Arenado just adds another dimension. He was a highly rated prospect before 2012 after a big season in Class A, and nearly made the big league club out of spring training. Some of his shine was lost after a mediocre season at Double-A Tulsa (.285, 12 home runs), but a hot start at Triple-A and Chris Nelson's struggles led to Nelson getting traded to the Yankees and the quick call-up for Arenado.

He's a high-contact guy with power potential, and a contact hitter who can spray the ball around can do a lot of damage in Coors Field. He's just 22 but he doesn't have to be a star just yet; he just has to be a solid contributor.

That's also all the Rockies want from Helton at this point. Who knows, maybe his body will hold up and he can put together one last .300 season. That would be a nice way to head off into his retirement years -- with maybe a surprising playoff appearance to boot.

Speaking of: Now, about the pitching ...

Offseason report card: Rockies

February, 19, 2013
2/19/13
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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?

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    12%
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    12%
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    36%
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    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?


This is what will have American League pitchers and managers waking up in cold sweats all season long: Those stretches when Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are both raking, eyes bulging as they pummel meaty fastballs over fences and into outfield seats.

Josh Beckett become the first pitcher to experience these forces of nature in action, as both hit two home runs off him in Detroit's 10-0 victory Saturday over Boston. Fielder hit one out to left field and a low, screaming bullet to right for his pair. Going the opposite way is nothing new for him; 11 of his 38 home runs in 2011 went to left or left-center. There were some concerns that Fielder would lose a few home runs moving from Miller Park to the more spacious environs of Comerica, so hitting one out to left is a good, early sign.

How dynamic is this pair? A season ago, Fielder hit .299/.415/.566 with 38 home runs; Cabrera hit .344/.448/.586 with 30 home runs. The last team with two players to hit 30 home runs with a .400 OBP? The 2006 Red Sox with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Twelve teams since 2000 have had such a duo (or in the case of the 2004 Cardinals, three players):

[+] EnlargePrince Fielder
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonPrince Fielder waves after hitting the first of his two home runs off Boston's Josh Beckett.
2006 Red Sox: Ramirez, Ortiz
2005 Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi
2004 Cardinals: Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen
2003 Yankees: Giambi, Jorge Posada
2002 Astros: Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman
2001 Rockies: Todd Helton, Larry Walker
2001 Cardinals: Pujols, Edmonds
2000 Cardinals: Edmonds, Mark McGwire
2000 Angels: Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus
2000 Astros: Bagwell, Moises Alou
2000 Mariners: Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez
2000 Giants: Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent

Of course, all of those pairs or threesomes did this during the high-offense steroids period. Six other teammates did it between 1995 and 1999. But before that? That previous team to have two such players was the 1969 Oakland A's with Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando. Throughout baseball history there have been only 34 such pairs. Here's another way to do this. Let's add OPS+ (adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage) as a third measuring stick. OPS+ adjusts a player's offensive production for home park and era. In 2011, Cabrera's OPS+ was 181, second in the American League. Fielder's was 164, fourth in the National League. Let's set a minimum of 30 home runs, .400 OBP and 150 OPS+.

This takes away some of steroids-era pairs and leaves us with 24 such teammates in baseball history. And six of those 24 were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

And that, my readers, is the kind of company Cabrera and Fielder have the chance to join.

A few more notes from today's early games:

  • Beckett served up five home runs, sending waves of sweats and swears throughout Red Sox Nation. He became just the fourth pitcher to allow five homers twice in his career, joining Tim Wakefield, Pat Hentgen and Jeff Weaver. Gordon Edes had a good piece on Beckett before his season debut, detailing his motivation for 2012. Beckett is a bit of an enigma, a guy usually viewed as an ace due to his postseason heroics with the Red Sox in 2007 and Marlins in 2003. But the facts also don't lie: He's finished in the top 10 in his league in ERA only twice, including last season with a 2.89 mark. Beckett has been homer-prone at various stages of his career, most notably in his first season with Boston, in 2006, when he gave up 36. It's only one start, of course, but considering the spring training thumb injury he insisted wasn't an injury, it puts Beckett on the early "keep an eye on him" watch list.
  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia picked Game No. 2 to get disgruntled Bobby Abreu in the lineup, putting Abreu in left and moving Vernon Wells to center, sitting defensive whiz Peter Bourjos in the process. "I'm not calling this a day off for Peter, it's the second game, but it's a combination of that and trying to get some left-handed bats in the lineup," Scioscia told Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles. I can't imagine a more defensively challenged outfield pair than those two. Unable to see this game since I had the Red Sox-Tigers game as my local Fox broadcast, I tweeted Angels and Royals fans to ask how many of the 11 hits Dan Haren allowed fell just out of their reach. The consensus seemed to be two or three, although @dblesky wrote, "There were really only a couple. And one was glaring." It will be interesting to see how often Scioscia runs out this lineup, essentially to placate Abreu. I just don't see the Angels being a better team with that alignment and Bourjos on the bench.
  • Zack Greinke had a dominant effort in the Brewers' 6-0 shutout over the Cardinals, allowing three hits in seven innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. I wrote this before the game, but here's why Greinke is a good Cy Young pick. Especially impressive were Greinke's economical 91 pitches.
  • Tweet of the day after Daniel Hudson and the Diamondbacks beat the Giants for the second consecutive game:
Michael CuddyerNorm Hall/Getty ImagesAt 33 years old, Michael Cuddyer will be one of the younger members of the Rockies lineup.
One of the most important things Bill James learned when he wrote his "Baseball Abstract" books back in the 1980s was that the aging curve for ballplayers was much different than commonly believed. A player’s peak didn’t run from 28 to 32, but more like 25 to 29, with 27 being the most typical peak season for ballplayers.

This doesn’t mean old teams can’t win. In fact, many of the best teams feature old lineups for fairly obvious reasons if you think about it: Old players are still around (for the most part) because they were good or great young players. Like a pitcher who throws in the upper 90s before losing velocity, great young players can lose a little value and still maintain success. The 2009 Yankees had five regulars who were at least 33 years old -- Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada -- and while none were at their peak level of ability they were still good enough to help that team win 103 games and the World Series.

But there's a fine line in the aging process. It's one thing to have A-Rod or Albert Pujols in their mid-30s; but what if your old players are, say, Marco Scutaro, Casey Blake and Michael Cuddyer?

Before we get to the Colorado Rockies, let's do a quick study. I looked at all playoff teams over the past five seasons to see how many plate appearances they received from players 32 or older (not including pitchers). By the way, when we refer to a player's age, it's his age as of June 30 of that season.

For those 40 playoff teams, the average number of plate appearances was 1,711. Here are the 10 oldest playoff teams by this method (remember, we're only looking at position players):

Some of these teams are warning signs about what can go wrong with an old team: the 2008 Cubs and White Sox haven't sniffed the playoffs since; the Giants brought back many of their veterans from their World Series champs and paid the price as Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and Freddy Sanchez (plus new addition Miguel Tejada) all failed to replicate their performances; the 2009 Red Sox made the playoffs but fell off in 2010 as the lineup scored 54 fewer runs (the pitching allowed only eight more runs); the Angels scored 872 runs in 2009 but were down to 667 by 2011, in part because of the declines of Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu and the addition of ineffective 32-year-old Vernon Wells.

Even the 2011 Phillies are an interesting example. The Phillies have won the past five NL East titles. Interestingly, that first team in their run in 2007 had the fewest plate appearances from players 32 or older of the 40 playoff teams:

That 2007 team scored 892 runs. As the Phillies stuck with that core group and the players started getting into their 30s, guess what happened -- their runs scored have dropped to 820 in 2009 to 772 in 2010 and to 713 in 2011. Of course, the Phillies have been able to balance that out by bringing in pitchers like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt. You can also now add Ryan Howard to the age-32 classification for 2012 and we already know he's going to miss a significant chunk of time. Will the Phillies score even 700 runs this season?

SportsNation

Over/under prediction: 81.5 wins for Rockies

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    47%
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    53%

Discuss (Total votes: 940)

And that gets us back to the Rockies. In addition to the 38-year-old Todd Helton, they've added 38-year-old third baseman Blake, 36-year-old catcher Ramon Hernandez, 36-year-old second baseman Scutaro and 33-year-old outfielder Cuddyer. All of those guys have been good players, even as recently as last season. And while Helton was once a superstar, his back problems have helped limit him to an average of 11 home runs over the past four seasons. So my point: This group isn't exactly starting out from the same aging curve as Rodriguez and Jeter or Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins or even Hunter or Bobby Abreu.

It's a potential recipe for disaster. The Rockies are expecting close to 3,000 plate appearances from those five guys. Maybe it will happen, but I don't see. There's no precedent over the past five seasons for a lineup with that construction making the playoffs.

And the Rockies don't have three guys named Halladay, Lee and Hamels in the rotation.
Michael Cuddyer, Marco ScutaroGetty Images/US PresswireAbove chemistry, Colorado needs big years from guys like Marco Scutaro, left, and Michael Cuddyer.
Colorado Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd has spent the offseason remaking the Rockies' lineup and rotation.

Wait, I take that back: He's spent the offseason remaking the Rockies' clubhouse culture.

"Changing the culture motivated the changes," O'Dowd told Troy Renck of the Denver Post. "And one change led to another. There was a vision of what we wanted, but all the dots kind of connected on their own."

"We stunk and it was a bad clubhouse," O'Dowd told Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci. "Last year guys went their own way and didn't hold each other accountable. We pride ourselves on an 'all-for-one' mentality. And last year we didn't have that. It bugged everybody -- not just me."

"Quite honestly, I just feel like we needed to address our culture more than anything," O'Dowd told a Denver radio station in January. "We certainly need to address our talent, but I think talent becomes secondary if your culture is not where it needs to be. I think we had too many players, not naming anybody, that were more worried about collecting service time than actually worried about winning and playing the game the right way."

So O'Dowd signed Michael Cuddyer and Casey Blake. He traded for Marco Scutaro, saying, "He fits in well. He's another guy with a slow heartbeat that is a winning player." He just traded for Jeremy Guthrie and invited Jamie Moyer to spring training. All veterans. All regarded as good clubhouse guys.

Now, I don't know what happened in the Rockies' clubhouse last season. But from the outside, it appears to me that O'Dowd is making excuses for the team's 73-89 record. He's not calling out himself for constructing a bad team, or manager Jim Tracy for not making sure the team played "the game the right way" or even veterans like Todd Helton or Troy Tulowitzki for failing, you know, to build a winning clubhouse atmosphere.

Look at some of his moves:

  • He signed Ty Wigginton, a player who had put up minus-1.7 WAR over the previous two seasons. The Rockies gave him 446 plate appearances and he predictably was terrible, putting up minus-1.1 WAR.
  • The team broke camp with Jose Lopez, coming off a season with a .270 OBP, as its starting second baseman. Predictably, he was terrible and the Rockies released him in June with a .233 OBP.
  • The team began the season with Esmil Rogers in the rotation. Rogers has a nice arm, but no secondary pitches, no idea of how to pitch, had pitched poorly with the Rockies in 2010, and didn't have much of a track record of success in the minors. Predictably, he was terrible, posting a 7.05 ERA.
  • He'd traded Clint Barmes in the offseason for strong-armed Felipe Paulino, but the Rockies gave up on Paulino after 14 innings and sold him to the Royals, where he pitched well. Paulino would certainly have been a better option than some of the other guys the Rockies tried in the rotation.
  • The team continued to count on the aging Helton to be a key part of the lineup. Helton hit .302 and gets on base; but while he's still a decent player, he doesn't provide the power you prefer from a first baseman, and he's going to miss time (38 games in 2011, 44 in 2010).

Yes, the Rockies suffered some injuries to the rotation -- Jorge De La Rosa went down after 10 starts and Juan Nicasio after 13 starts, and then O'Dowd traded Ubaldo Jimenez. But no team makes it through the year with five starters. In the end, the Rockies just weren't a good team. O'Dowd's desire to seemingly blame the season on "clubhouse culture" is as embarrassing as Red Sox management blaming fried chicken for their collapse.

Of course, this is nothing new for the Rockies. Back in 2006, USA Today ran a story headlined "Baseball's Rockies seek revival on two levels." Bob Nightengale's story focused on how the Rockies had become an "organization guided by Christianity," as Nightengale wrote.

"We started to go after character six or seven years ago, but we didn't follow that like we should have," chairman and CEO Charlie Monfort says in the piece (he's now listed as owner/general partner). "I don't want to offend anyone, but I think character-wise we're stronger than anyone in baseball. Christians, and what they've endured, are some of the strongest people in baseball. I believe God sends signs, and we're seeing those."

Going after "character" guys didn't really work; the Rockies had losing seasons every year from 2001 through 2006. The club did finally break through in 2007, winning 90 games and reaching the World Series. Not coincidentally, Tulowitzki and Jimenez were rookies that year. Matt Holliday had his best season and finished second in the MVP vote. Brad Hawpe had his best season. Helton played in 154 games.

I'm reminded of a couple of quotes. Jim Leyland, while managing Barry Bonds in Pittsburgh, said something along the lines of, "Leadership? Leadership is 30 home runs, 30 steals and a .300 batting average." Billy Martin once said there are mules and there are racehorses, and no matter how much you kick the mule in the ass he's not going to become a racehorse.

Maybe O'Dowd's moves will work out. I have my doubts -- Helton and Blake will be 38 and Scutaro 36. In 2011, only three position players older than 35 had a Baseball-Reference WAR of 2.0 or higher -- Johnny Damon, Chipper Jones and Helton. Cuddyer is 33 and coming off one of his best seasons, but his cumulative 2009-2010 WAR was just 2.2.

If the moves do work, I suspect it won't be because of some magic clubhouse elixir. It will be because Helton stays healthy, Cuddyer has a big year, Scutaro gives the team a good second baseman, and three guys in the rotation step up and pitch 200 innings. In the end, it's about the talent.

Nick Evans, under-the-radar asset?

December, 3, 2011
12/03/11
2:00
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Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireNick Evans' defensive skills could be of value down the road.


You probably didn’t notice that the Pittsburgh Pirates recently signed first baseman and outfielder Nick Evans to a minor league contract within the past two weeks. There wasn’t much reason to do so. Evans was nondescript with the bat, hitting .256 with four home runs and 25 RBIs for the Mets in 2011.

But Evans did something within his limited time that was significant to those of us trying to learn about advanced defensive stats. It struck me as being the defensive equivalent to hitting .400 over 150-or-so at-bats. In 337 2/3 innings, the equivalent of 37 nine-inning games at first base, Evans finished with seven defensive runs saved. That’s a good number for a first baseman. It tied him for most in the majors for the season with Angels first baseman Mark Trumbo.

It’s also significantly better than what the Pirates got from their first basemen last season. Theirs ranked 28th in the majors, costing the team 11 runs.

Defensive runs saved for first basemen calculates the ability to turn batted balls into outs and the success at getting outs on bunts.

Evans scored well primarily because he did well handling the 46 balls that were hit into his “zone,” with “zone” defined as the areas on the field in which first basemen turned batted balls into an out more than half of the time.

Evans’ revised zone rating was 84.8% (of the 46 balls in his zone, he converted 39 into outs).

That rate was tied for fifth-best among the 46 first basemen that played at least 300 innings at the position.

It was within striking distance of MLB leader Todd Helton (85.9 percent) and considerably ahead of Evans’ crosstown counterpart, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira (77.0 percent). For every 46 balls hit into his zone last season, Teixeira got 35 outs, four fewer than Evans did in his (admittedly small) sample.

The way that Baseball Info Solutions, which calculates a plus-minus rating for every fielder, looks at it, they divide batted balls into three areas for infielders -- balls hit to the left and right of the area where most outs are recorded, and balls hit directly where a first baseman most often records outs.

Evans was a plus-six on balls hit into the latter area, meaning he was six plays better than the average first baseman. That factored significantly into Evans’ defensive runs saved rating, as did his defense on bunts, which was similarly above average.

Evans’ success jibed with that which he’d had as a minor leaguer as well.

The researchers at Baseball Info Solutions, whose founder John Dewan came up with the defensive runs saved metric, acknowledge that the stat isn’t necessarily the perfect measure of a first baseman’s skills.

There are many other components to first base defense (a recent article in the blog “DRays Bay” attempted to put a value on each), the most recognizable to fans being the ability to handle throws from one’s teammates.

So we dug a little deeper.

In addition to coming up with sabermetric stats, Baseball Info Solutions hires “video scouts” (for the most part, former high school and college players) to chart games from television viewing, tagging notable plays into more than 80 subcategories of “Good Fielding Plays” (GFPs) and “Defensive Misplays & Errors.” (DM&Es)
There are tightly defined rules, devised by sabermetrician Bill James, to what constitutes a GFP and a DM.

First basemen were credited with just over 2,000 Good Fielding Plays and just under 1,100 Defensive Misplays & Errors in 2011, the ratio of good to bad being about 1.9-to-1.

In his time at first base, Evans’ ratio of GFPs to DMs was 24-to-5, or almost 5-to-1.

The reason for this was that in the eyes of multiple viewers (video scouts rotate so not to watch the same team or player too often), Evans was adept at a key aspect to his position not measured by Defensive Runs Saved or UZR/150- catching throws.

Evans was credited with 11 GFPs for “handling a difficult throw” (usually either by scooping it out of the dirt or coming off the base) in which the Mets got the batter out, and four GFPs for “catches wild throw,” meaning that he prevented a batter or baserunner from gaining an extra base by coming off the bag to block/catch an errant throw.

Samples of Evans handiwork in this area can be seen at these three links.

Evans was tagged for only one DM&E for “failing to catch the throw” from a teammate. His ratio of good-to-bad plays was 15-to-1. By comparison, the average ratio for a first baseman on these plays was 5-to-1. Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who won the NL’s Gold Glove, had 29 GFPs and 10 DM&Es related to handling throws.

We’re not saying that Evans can maintain the sort of success from his small sample over a full season.

But for the Pirates, who also showed a defensive-minded commitment with the signing of shortstop Clint Barmes, it’s an interesting sort of gamble that could be worth watching more closely as the 2012 season unfolds
Jose Reyes landed on the disabled list for the second time this season with hamstring issues, and Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com asks how this will affect Reyes' free-agent payday. Can Reyes expect a deal similar to what Boston gave Carl Crawford -- seven years, $142 million?

Reyes was having an MVP campaign, but after missing just 14 games from 2005 through 2008, he's now missed 126 games in 2009, 29 games in 2010 and now he'll miss about 30 in 2011, assuming his current DL stint lasts two weeks.

An easy way to check the likelihood of Reyes getting Crawford-type money is to check the injury history of other players who signed the biggest deals in MLB history. Here are the injury histories of all position players who signed $125 million-plus contracts.

Alex Rodriguez ($275M, 2008-17): Through 2007, A-Rod had played 154-plus games seven years in a row. But he hasn't played 140 since.

Derek Jeter ($189M, 2001-10): This season will be only the second time in his career Jeter has played fewer than 148 games.

Joe Mauer ($184M, 2011-18): Mauer had suffered various leg ailments as a rookie in 2004 that limited him to 35 games. He played just 109 games in 2007. He'd suffered back issues in spring training in 2009. He was a risky investment.

Mark Teixeira ($180M, 2009-16): One of the most durable players in the majors, Teixeira has had just two minor DL stints in his career.

Manny Ramirez ($160M, 2001-08): Ramirez signed his big deal despite missing 39 games in 2000 with a left hamstring injury. He'd play 150-plus games four years out of the eight-year contract, with a low of 120 in 2002.

Troy Tulowitzki ($157.7M, 2011-20): An interesting test case, as Tulo missed 61 games in 2008 and 40 games last year. He's been healthy in 2011, missing just five games.

Adrian Gonzalez ($154M, 2012-18): Gonzalez had missed just 11 games over five seasons when the Red Sox acquired him.

Miguel Cabrera ($152.3M, 2008-15): He's never been on the DL and has missed just 29 games over eight seasons.

Crawford ($142M, 2011-17): He missed six weeks in 2008 with a finger injury and 19 games in 2007, but had played 150-plus his six other seasons.

Todd Helton ($141.5M, 2003-11): Had never been on the DL at the time of the extension, although he'd suffer through back problems during the contract and top 100 RBIs just once.

Alfonso Soriano ($136M, 2007-14): A terrible contract for an overrated player, but not because of any injury history.

Vernon Wells ($126M, 2008-14): He'd missed 28 games in 2004, but it's not his health that has made this a terrible deal.

Jayson Werth ($126M, 2011-17): Werth missed all of 2006 with a wrist injury but had missed just nine games combined in 2009-10.

Ryan Howard ($125M, 2012-16): Howard's extension signed last April doesn't even kick in until next season. Health isn't an issue, but declining numbers are.

Two players -- Mauer and Tulowitzki -- had enough injury history to raise a red flag at the time of their mega-contracts. It's important to note both were signed by their original teams, so that could be an indicator that if any team is willing to give Reyes a $125 million deal, it might be the Mets. (Well, if they have the money to do so.)

How much would you pay for Reyes? Vote in the poll.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
Todd Helton played his 2,000th career game Thursday night. According to Elias, Helton is the first player since Ted Williams to be hitting above .320 for his career with at least 300 home runs and 1,200 RBIs at the time of his 2,000th game. Of course, since World War II, only eight players have a lifetime average above .320: Williams, Tony Gwynn, Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Stan Musial and Helton.

Anyway, does Helton have a chance for the Hall of Fame? Since 1901, he's 29th on the all-time batting average list among those with 5,000 plate appearances. Everybody ahead of him is in the Hall of Fame or will be (Pujols, Ichiro) with the exception of Riggs Stephenson (a mostly part-time outfielder in the '20 and '30s with the Cubs) and Babe Herman (also played in that era, but had a short career). But here's what it gets more interesting: Of the rest of the top 50, almost everyone is in or will get in (Vladimir Guerrero, Miguel Cabrera) except Ken Williams and Cecil Travis, both of whom had short careers (Travis' was interrupted by World War II, where he suffered a severe case of frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge).

It would be historically unprecedented for a player like Helton to not eventually make the Hall of Fame. That said, his case does present some unique variables: (A) there's the Coors Field effect (he's hit 62 points higher at home); and (B) much of his value -- like Don Mattingly's -- was wrapped into a six-year stretch.

OK, a few links to check out ...

Friday links
So, Thomas Neumann of Page 2 sent me this picture of a Sports Illustrated cover, listing all the millionaire players from 1985. I think Thomas was working on a career retrospective of John Denny or something, I'm not sure. (OK, he actually interviewed Mike Schmidt.) Anyway, it got me thinking: What if we compare the highest-paid players from 1985 to the highest-paid players of 2011 ... and find out if teams are smarter than they were in 1985. After all, front offices know much more than they used to, right? With all the advanced metrics out there, all the Ivy League dudes making the decisions and so on, you'd expect smarter moves being made by front offices.

Let's take the top 25 players from that 1985 cover, the top 25 highest-paid players of 2011 and check their Wins Above Replacement level (WAR) from Baseball-Reference.com. For 2011, we'll using their current WAR prorated to the entire season.

1985 Top 25 Highest-Paid Players
1. Mike Schmidt ($2.1M): 5.3 WAR
2. Jim Rice ($2.1M): 1.1 WAR
3. George Foster ($1.9M): 1.5 WAR
4. Dave Winfield ($1.7M): 2.8 WAR
5. Gary Carter ($1.7M): 6.7 WAR
6. Dale Murphy ($1.6M): 5.3 WAR
7. Bob Horner ($1.5M): 1.8 WAR
8. Rickey Henderson ($1.5M): 10.0 WAR
9. Eddie Murray ($1.4M): 6.0 WAR
10. Bruce Sutter ($1.3M): -0.1 WAR
11. Ozzie Smith ($1.3M): 5.7 WAR
12. Jack Clark ($1.3M): 3.3 WAR
13. Robin Yount ($1.3M): 1.7 WAR
14. Pedro Guerrero ($1.3M): 7.8 WAR
15. Rick Sucliffe ($1.3M): 2.8 WAR
16. Fernando Valenzuela ($1.2M): 5.6 WAR
17. Goose Gossage ($1.2M): 2.6 WAR
18. Tim Raines ($1.2M): 7.5 WAR
19. Steve Kemp ($1.2M): -0.2 WAR
20. Steve Carlton ($1.2M): 1.2 WAR
21. Andre Dawson ($1.1M): 2.0 WAR
22. Keith Hernandez ($1.1M): 4.9 WAR
23. Mario Soto ($1.1M): 3.6 WAR
24. Andre Thornton ($1.1M): 0.0 WAR
25. Fred Lynn ($1.1M): 2.0 WAR

Total salary: $34.8 million.
Total major payroll in 1985: About $264.7 million.
Percentage of total payroll: 13.1 percent.
Total WAR: 90.9.

2011 Top 25 Highest-Paid Players
1. Alex Rodriguez ($32.0M): 5.3 WAR
2. Vernon Wells ($26.2M): -1.4 WAR
3. CC Sabathia ($24.3M): 4.6 WAR
4. Mark Teixeira ($23.1M): 3.9 WAR
5. Joe Mauer ($23.0M): -0.5 WAR
6. Johan Santana ($21.6M): Injured
7. Todd Helton ($20.3M): 3.9 WAR
8. Miguel Cabrera ($20.0M): 6.7 WAR
9. Roy Halladay ($20.0M): 9.2 WAR
10. Ryan Howard ($20.0M): 2.5 WAR
11. Carlos Beltran ($19.3M): 5.1 WAR
12. Carlos Lee ($19.0M): 3.0 WAR
13. Alfonso Soriano ($19.0M): 1.2 WAR
14. Carlos Zambrano ($18.9M): 2.8 WAR
15. Torii Hunter ($18.5M): -0.7 WAR
16. Barry Zito ($18.5M): -0.5 WAR
17. Jason Bay ($18.1M): 0.0 WAR
18. Ichiro Suzuki ($18.0M): 0.5 WAR
19. Josh Beckett ($17.0M): 9.2 WAR
20. A.J. Burnett ($16.5M): 2.3 WAR
21. Matt Holliday ($16.3M): 5.1 WAR
22. Michael Young ($16.1M): 1.8 WAR
23. Roy Oswalt ($16.0M): 3.7 WAR
24. Jake Peavy ($16.0M): 0.7 WAR
25. John Lackey ($15.9M): -2.5 WAR

Total salary: $493.6 million.
Total major payroll in 2011: About $2.786 billion.
Percentage of total payroll: 17.7 percent.
Total prorated WAR: 65.9.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Major league owners in 2011 are paying a higher percentage of their total payroll to the top 25 players and receiving far less production. Even if you account for better seasons the rest of the way from the likes of Joe Mauer and Ichiro Suzuki and Torii Hunter and John Lackey, the 2011 group wouldn't come close to matching the 1985 group in total WAR.

What's amazing is to look at the 2011 list and realize how many of those guys were never superstar players: Vernon Wells? Carlos Lee? Torii Hunter? Michael Young? A.J. Burnett? Barry Zito? Please. Good players at one point, never superstars.

Another way to look at it: Of the top 25 position players in B-R's WAR in 2011, only ONE (Miguel Cabrera) is one of the top-25 highest-paid players. In 1985, nine of the top 25 position players were among the 25 highest-paid players.

Also, in 2011, 10 of the top-25 highest-paid players are pitchers -- who inherently are more risky. Of those 11, five have spent time on the DL this season.

So, nice job major league owners and general managers! You're collectively, umm ... well, let's just say that Vernon Wells isn't worth $26.2 million.

Follow Dave on Twitter @dschoenfield and check out the SweetSpot Facebook page.

Rockies poised to win first division title?

April, 15, 2011
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The Giants might have been the preseason favorite to repeat in the NL West, and the Dodgers' loss of Rafael Furcal won't do them many favors, but neither of those two teams are on top two weeks into the season. Who's riding high early? How about the Rockies?

Already 10-2, they're in first place after sweeping Thursday's doubleheader in New York against the Mets. Could the team that always seems to put the "wild" in wild card after epic in-season comebacks propelled them to October glory in both 2007 and 2009 win its first division title? Absolutely, and if the Rockies do, it'll be a testament to their adaptability.

Adaptability, you ask? That's the word I prefer, although because of those rallies to win the NL wild card, some folks might talk about their resilience. However, there was enough turnover between the various season editions of Colorado baseball -- including the celebrated switch to Jim Tracy in the dugout in '09 -- that it's somewhat hard to ascribe that to the players in isolation.

[+] EnlargeTroy Tulowitzki
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesCould this be the year Troy Tulowitzki and the Rockies break through and with a division title?
The only pitchers still on the staff who contributed significantly to both the 2007 and '09 teams are Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales, and that's stretching the meaning of the word "significant." Aaron Cook will make that three guys if he really does come back from the 60-day DL in May.

Among the position players, you've got four holdovers: the current and former faces of the franchise, Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton, in the everyday lineup. They also have frequently frustrating catcher Chris Iannetta, and handy, dandy fourth outfielder par excellence Ryan Spilborghs. So as far as this entire team's concerned, we're talking about all of six or seven guys -- out of 25 -- who can talk about multiple playoff experiences in purple and black.

That isn't a negative, not by any stretch. The Rockies' turnover across five years reflects what a tremendous job GM Dan O'Dowd and his staff have done at restocking that roster and digging up value, both through player development and their acquisitions from trades and the floating pool of available talent. Building around this core talent -- or core talents of Jimenez and Tulo, when you get right down to it -- they've made inspired trades, leveraging their last season in control of Matt Holliday into Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street, or getting Jorge De La Rosa from the Royals in a nothing-seeming sort of deal. But they've also added just enough homegrown talent over that time.

Which is why I think we're better off crediting the Rockies as an organization for their adaptability. This isn't about moisturizing the ball to overcome the challenge of playing at altitude, or at least it isn't just about that. Even with the humidor, Coors Field is still the best hitters' park in baseball. That's OK, because the Rockies didn't win in 2009 because of their home-field advantage, they won because of three key inter-related factors.

First, they led the majors in quality starts, a surprising development to no little extent because they were counting on journeyman Jason Marquis and Rays roster-crunch refugee Jason Hammel among their front five. But those starters had the benefit of a quality supporting cast in the field, reflected somewhat in the best park-adjusted defensive efficiency in the National League. Finally, they finally had a lineup that wasn't entirely park-dependent and was drawing walks everywhere, leading the league in free passes. Those three play-everywhere factors contributed to a franchise-best 41-40 road record.

As far as upsetting the Giants' applecart and winning their first division flaglet, this year's team should have those same three things going for them. Gone are the days of that 2007 team that goosed its offense by depositing a pair of former first basemen, Brad Hawpe and Garrett Atkins, at other corners and taking the defensive hit that came with it. The offense is again rating among the league's best at drawing walks anyway. And on the staff, even with Cook out, thanks to the breakthrough of Jhoulys Chacin in the rotation last year and the retention of De La Rosa, they might have an even better rotation than 2009's improbable outfit. Jimenez is now better established among the game's best starters, Chacin might be the third man in a homegrown trinity of top talent.

However, the hope that Tulo stays healthy and in the lineup (and on the field) is perhaps the fulcrum around which both their offense and defense depends upon, which is why he rated well on some preseason ballots for MVP. There's nothing coincidental about the fact that, when he's been able to play a full season -- he did in both 2007 and 2009 -- Rocktober becomes a possibility. If he's able to manage another 150-game season this year, the MVP award won't be the only hardware he'll have a shot at.

Christina Kahrl helped found Baseball Prospectus in 1996, is a member of the BBWAA, and covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Is Jim Edmonds a Hall of Famer?

February, 20, 2011
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Jim Edmonds announced his retirement on Friday, his 17 season career finally grounded by an Achilles' tendon injury. Edmonds is best known for his highlight reel catches in center field, but the remainder of his play has been oddly underrated over the years.

So we can begin the debate on whether Edmonds is Hall of Fame worthy. Some say yes (as Chad Dotson did here Friday), others no.

When we look at Edmonds' Hall of Fame credentials, we're struck by the numbers he put up in the five years after he was traded by Anaheim to St. Louis . Between 2000 and 2004, Edmonds put together a string of seasons that ranked him with baseball's elite. During this stretch, Edmonds averaged 7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) annually, and posted an OPS over 1.000. Consider that during this same period, a guy named Alex Rodriguez was putting together some of his best seasons as a ballplayer; only during this stretch A-Rod's OPS was 14 points below that posted by Edmonds.

During the complete sweet spot of Edmonds' career (1995-2005, which includes his abbreviated 1999 season when he only played in 55 games), Edmonds was among the very best in the game, ranked by cumulative WAR (from B-R.com):



Any random slice of data creates issues, we acknowledge this. So if you're curious about Edmonds' career numbers, his 68.3 WAR places him eighth all time among center fielders. Filtering for center fielders who played since baseball integrated (1947- present), Edmonds ranks fourth in WAR, behind Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Ken Griffey Jr., and sixth in OPS+ at 132. Nice company.

[+] EnlargeJim Edmonds
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJim Edmonds was known for diving catches like this one for St. Louis in Game 7 of the 2004 National League Championship Series against Houston.
One unfortunate thing about the table above: Unless the attitudes of the Hall of Fame voters change dramatically, very few of these players are going to make it to the Hall of Fame. Chipper Jones and Vladimir Guerrero have excellent chances to make it to the Hall. Jim Thome is a good bet to be elected to the Hall, thanks to what will likely be 600-plus home runs, not to mention being a Hall of Fame person. Bagwell's first year of HOF eligibility was shrouded in hints and allegations, putting him at 41.7 percent in his debut. Todd Helton might struggle, given concerns that his numbers were inflated by playing home games at Coors Field. [Larry Walker received a low 20.3 percent of Hall of Fame votes this year, presumably because of the Coors Field factor]. Pudge Rodriguez was named in Jose Canseco's book and will face increased scrutiny as a result. But Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, A-Rod and Sammy Sosa will likely be barred because of these players' association with performance-enhancing drugs, again, unless the attitudes of voters change. An entire generation of fans will have very few of the era's best hitters represented.

Edmonds might not have been the greatest player of his generation; he never finished higher than fourth in Most Valuable Player voting. He did not have 2,000 hits for his career, or 400 home runs, or hit .300, milestones that Hall of Fame voters tend to focus on. Still, it seems to us that this generation of players needs Hall of Fame representation -- if not Bonds and Sosa, then why not Edmonds?

Jason Rosenberg writes It's About The Money, Stupid, a blog about the New York Yankees. IIATMS can be found on Facebook, and you can follow Jason on Twitter. Larry Behrendt greatly contributed to this article and can also be followed on Twitter.

Did Rockies do enough to compete in 2011?

February, 12, 2011
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Your view of Colorado Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd’s offseason moves depends on your perspective. If you work in the Rockies’ accounting department, you are acutely aware of the large trucks full of money delivered to both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez; ensuring two core pieces will breathe mountain air for many years to come. The Rockies also re-signed free-agent rotation mainstay Jorge De La Rosa and bullpen anchors Rafael Betancourt and Matt Lindstrom.

The biggest splash the Rockies made on the open market this winter was a move that wasn’t. The Rockies’ long-rumored interest in Rangers third baseman Michael Young hit a fever pitch when the Rangers “slugger” announced his desire for a trade. The Rockies and Rangers couldn’t get a deal together, and both sides stopped just short of pronouncing the deal dead this week. Instead, the Rockies opted for minor moves like acquiring Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton. The important question remains: Are they any closer to challenging for the N.L. West crown?

In a word: Yes. The 2010 Rockies won 83 games, finishing 9 games behind the Giants after a wild month of September. Entering the month trailing the division leading Padres (!) by 7 games, the Rockies lost two one-run games to the Giants before rattling off 10 straight wins -- powered solely by Tulowitzki’s hair and good looks. (Also his home runs: Tulo hit eight in that 10-game span.) Suddenly, the Rockies sat only 2.5 games out of the division lead. Unfortunately for Colorado, that was as close as it got. The Rockies slumped to the finish, eventually losing 15 of their 19 remaining games.

The Rockies proved they have the talent to take a run at the playoffs in 2010 and, by solidifying the core of their team, they’re able to add fringe pieces with potential like Lopez and Wigginton. Lopez wore out his welcome in Seattle with a (perceived) bad work ethic and poor plate discipline. Lopez was terrible at the plate in 2010 but can supply some pop -- especially after moving from spacious, right-handed-hitter killing Safeco to Coors Field. Not to mention his excellent defense across nearly all advanced metrics in his first full season at third base.

Wigginton posted equally dire numbers to Lopez at the plate in 2010, without the benefit of superlative defense. Serving as a right-handed utility bat to spell creaky first basemen Todd Helton and Jason Giambi would be the best option for Wigginton.

Getting full seasons from both Chris Iannetta and Jhoulys Chacin should only prove the Rockies have one of the best young cores in all of baseball. Adding veteran pieces to address specific concerns is the mark of a good GM. O’Dowd’s moves this winter might not be sexy, but his team is a solid pick to take down the Giants in 2011.

Drew Fairservice writes the Blue Jays blog Ghostrunner on First. Follow him on Twitter.

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