Monday, October 8, 2012

Clean Up at 20th and Blake

How the Colorado Rockies can transform their roster this offseason to yield a more competitive team

The Rockies' front office is a mess and the team on the field is an insult to professional baseball. The 2012 Colorado Rockies, everybody! Yes, this is the same team that was a sleeper pick to make a run at the playoffs as recently as March. It must have been that sweet Arizona air and all that delicious (and relatively inexpensive) Summer Shandy they serve on tap at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Yes, optimism was in the air as the Rockies torched Johnny Cueto and a full Cincinnati Reds squad on March 25th. That's the great thing about spring training. You lose and it's, "it's just practice, it doesn't really matter." But if you win it's, "they looked really good out there, I wouldn't be surprised to see this team playing relevant games in September." But optimism and lemonade beer were only delaying the inevitable truth: the Rockies sucked.

What's clear to me about watching the Rockies religiously since 2006 is that the offense will always pack a punch no matter who is out there. The team scored the third most runs in the National League with a lineup that featured a multitude of injuries to key players like Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton and Michael Cuddyer. The major issue, as it is with all major league teams, is run prevention. It's no coincidence that the five best NL teams were in the top-six in terms of runs allowed:
  1. Nationals: 3.33
  2. Dodgers: 3.34
  3. Reds: 3.34
  4. Braves: 3.42
  5. Giants: 3.68
  6. Cardinals: 3.71
     16. Rockies: 5.22

All those who had the misfortune of following the Rockies this season are well aware of the team's pitching struggles. But take a look at the other side of the coin for run prevention: defense. There's a stat called Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) that is an adjusted ERA if a league-average defense were fielding the ball. The Rockies FIP in 2012? 4.59. Which basically means, with balls in play being turned into outs at an average rate, the Rockies ERA would have been around a half-run better. Half a run per game over a 162 game season equates to 81 less runs given up which equates to a 76-win season (instead of a 64-win season). While this is a loose argument, the point remains that the defense did no favors to Rockies' pitchers, leading to an additional 12 losses. 

Now, who are the culprits? And how can the Rockies improve this over the offseason?

  1. Either get Carlos Gonzalez out of left field or get him to wake up out there. Unbeknownst to ROOT Sports announcers, CarGo actually played terrible defense this year, posting a defensive efficiency rating of -8.5, or as Fangraphs rates it, "below average-to-poor". Two years removed from a gold glove and in the prime of his career, CarGo posts his worst defensive season yet. The Rockies parked  CarGo in left field all season, possibly a culprit for his demise. He has proven himself at all outfield postions in the past. Perhaps a change of fields from game-to-game will keep him interested. 
  2. Trade batter WAR for pitcher WAR. What is more valuable, a batter who produces three additional wins of production or a pitcher who produces three additional wins of production? In my book the pitcher is more valuable even if the numbers look the same. The reason being is that bats are more easy to come by. Pitchers are rare. A pitcher will not come to Coors Field by choice so you have to trade for one. Swap batting for pitching. On the block: Dexter Fowler (as much as it pains me), Jordan Pacheco and Michael Cuddyer.
  3. Outfield switcharoo. Rumor has it, the Rockies may be looking to move Fowler or Cuddyer this offseason. In the event the Rockies move Fowler, they will likely plug in Eric Young Jr. and Tyler Colvin into his spot in CF. Luckily for EY, I will not tear him apart because I did a little research and saw that his defensive efficiency has improved greatly since he has exclusively become an outfielder. Pull CarGo out of LF and put him in center where he can use his wheels. 
  4. Middle infield defense. Josh Rutledge was a valuable replacement for Tulo at shortstop, but didn't perform nearly to the injury-prone star's level. If Rutledge prepares himself for a full season at second base, he and Tulo could form a formidable double play combo. 
  5. Jason Giambi: Player-Manager. While I can't make any fancy number-based arguments about this, having Giambi as a Player-Manager would be sweet. Just imagine him calling his own number as a pinch hitter late in a game. Giambi says he still wants to play. I don't think there's much of a market for him outside of Colorado. The Rockies are a weird organization as it is. After the four-man rotation experiment, would this be so far fetched? 
Unlike most Rockies critics, I am actually providing some solutions that don't include "fire everybody", "sign Josh Hamilton", and "we need new owners!" There's a reason that the Rays and A's can have success on minuscule payrolls. They have a system that they trust and they stick to it. The Rockies may be troubling to watch, but hey... at least they're not the Pirates, Royals, Astros or Cubs.

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