Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Phillips Head
2005-09-16 01:54
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Rockies had the night off, but they did just take the last two in the series with Los Angeles. After three games in Phoenix they return to Coors for the last home series of the year, which will include Barry Bonds' cameo appearance for the season. As the A's moved back into a tie for first in the AL West, I began manuevering to attend a potential first-round playoff game or two in Chicago. Mark my words: If Oakland meets the White Sox in the first round, Ozzie and his guys are going down hard. The same is probably true of a Boston-Chicago matchup. I imagine Pale Hose fans are probably hoping for either Cleveland to win the wild card and Anaheim to win the AL West, or the Angels to win the wild card. The Angels' lack of big-game starting pitching and one-note offense makes them the most vulnerable playoff contender after the White Sox. Of course, that one note is a resounding Vlad! and if any offensive player can completely take a team onto his back it's Guerrero.

I've really grown to hate the Angels in the last few years. There's the whole "Los Angeles Angels" thing, which is just stupid and greedy. They won the World Series shortly after changing the name from California to Anaheim, why mess with a good thing? There's also this: Although the Yankees have a number of hugely paid players whom you love to hate, it's hard to say (erroneous to say) that Derek Jeter or A-Rod or Randy Johnson or Jorge Posada or Hideki Matsui are bad. But Anaheim has the massively useless Darin Erstad, the punchless flying Molina brothers, Garret Anderson (who is described as "underrated" so often that he has become, paradoxically, overrated), Orlando Cabrera (whose miserable offense is supposedly compensated by his plus glove, only he doesn't have a plus glove), and Steve Finley, who seemingly lost it the moment he signed with the organization.

Then there's Jarrod Washburn, the sabermetric engima. His old M.O. was racking up high win totals with average peripherals as he consistently got top-of-the-table run support. Now he's moved on to the even more befuddling talent of somehow allowing far fewer runners to score than his numbers suggest he should, just as the offense around him folded up. This is befuddling. But we're on to you, Jarrod. Finally, Bartolo Colon is having a great season, I begrudgingly admit, but my long memory recalls how un-clutch he was in Montreal and Chicago in past seasons. I suppose it's not very scientifically rigid of me to look at Washburn's stats so closely and throw out Colon's, but you know, I really hate the Angels. It's a huge credit to the great Guerrero and their bullpen that they've been in contention all year.

Anway, to the real point of this writing, a new article on by Steve Phillips regarding next season's chances for each of the teams out of the race this season. This is another one of those ESPN Insider pieces, but I will summarize as necessary so those of you who can't read it can follow along with my retort.

Long story short, Phillips names the Rockies as 16th among the 17 teams in expected 2006 performance, ahead of only Kansas City. I think both the placing and Phillips' rationale are flawed. Steve writes: "The Rockies appear to have a few good, young position players...[but] hitters are not the problem -- pitching is." Um, that's just wrong. The Rockies' pitching (especially the bullpen) is better than it has been practically ever. The Rockies' offense, meanwhile, bereft of home run power and sorely lacking in on-base skills, currently ranks 30th of 30 teams in Baseball Prospectus's Equivalent Average stat, which adjusts for Coors inflation. Phillips pulls out the tired "thin air" excuse instead of actually looking at the Colorado roster and top prospects. Ignoring the possible impact that a healthy Aaron Cook could have on the front of the rotation is lazy journalism. I think for most of us intense Rockies fans, no single thing has given us more hope this year than Cook's performance in the second half.

But national writers being completely ignorant of what makes the Rockies tick or not tick is no new phenomenon. Guys have been completely overlooking the team save for Todd Helton and whichever three or four no-names have high batting averages thanks to Coors for years now. I could harp at length on Phillips' failure to mention Brian Fuentes or Marcos Carvajal or Dohmann/Speier/Tsao or gee, even Zach Day, but I would rather pick apart some of the stupid stuff he says elsewhere in the article.

In Arizona's entry (he ranks the Diamondbacks 14th): "Bullpens can be quickly improved from one year to the next. But they have to face the fact that they need to go outside the organization to fix the problem. The Diamondbacks keep trying to run young, inexperienced arms in the pen instead of experienced pitchers. They also definitely need a proven closer." Phillips, having transformed the Mets' bullpen into a eight-figure bleeding sore during his tenure as general manager there, hardly has the qualifications to comment. But also, look at Oakland or Anaheim. The A's setup guy is All-Star Justin Duchscherer (age 27) and their closer is rookie Huston Street (age 22). They traded for Duke when he was a prospect and drafted Street. The Angels counter with Scot ("One T") Shields (who's 30 but has spent his entire career with Anaheim) and Francisco Rodriguez, who's 23 and was signed out of Venezuela by Orange County. But hey, if the D-Backs want to pay through their nose for Jose Mesa, that's their problem. Arizona profoundly needs to curb their habit of overpaying for players who serve roles that are easy to fill cheaply -- corner outfielders, back-of-the-rotation starters, and so on. I think the Rockies' future is brighter than the Diamondbacks for the simple reason that like Tampa Bay, Kansas City, and only a handful of other teams, Arizona's management team is actually more incompetent than Colorado's. Russ Ortiz!

For Seattle (11th): "If you have a No. 1 starter (Hernandez) and a 40-homer, 120-RBI guy (Sexson), you have the makings of a team." Well, would you rather have Felix, Richie, and the rest of the guys the Mariners have, or Cook, Jeff Francis, Todd Helton and the Rockies' guys? Hernandez is going to be better than any of the current young Colorado starters, but Helton is a lot better than Sexson (and way more durable), and have you seen any of these other young guys the Mariners are running out? Jeremy Reed is the best of a bad lot that also includes such luminaries as Yuniesky Betancourt, Yorvit Torrealba, Ramon Santiago, and Willie Bloomquist. Thanks, but I'll take Barmes/Hawpe/Holliday/Gonzalez/Atkins over that group. Seattle is also saddled with the bad karma of Adrian Beltre's bloated contract and sub-Vinny Castilla numbers. Ichiro, Jamie Moyer, and Eddie Guardado aren't getting younger. It's also worth mentioning that the M's play in a division with two teams loaded with young talent (Oakland, Texas) and one team with a hundred million bucks to spend every year (OC). A lot of the Rockies' potential to contend soon is rooted in the dysfunction of the Dodgers, Giants, and D-Backs.

For Tampa Bay (9th): "The real hope is at the minor-league level for the Devil Rays: B.J. Upton and Delmon Young are top prospects who are going to be great." Well, yeah, that's what all the books say, but where are they going to play? Clown Shoes Chuck LaMar, demanding three top prospects and a Hawaiian island for any of the Rays' questionable veteran talents before the trade deadline, played St. Pete right out of the market. Now the D-Rays have roughly 9 outfield/DH candidates and only 4 spots in which to cram them. Compounding this problem is that Upton simply can't play short (53 errors at AAA Durham this year). The penny-pinching Rays have played rather well down the stretch this year -- but so have the Rockies. Tampa plays in garish Tropicana Field while Colorado has Coors. The Rockies once drew fans, the D-Rays still contend with a local market where the Yankees get more coverage than they do. Oh, and the Devil Rays play in an AL East where the three big-market teams will spend a combined $500 million on payroll next year. It's going to get worse before it gets better. If it ever gets better.

Phillips' list
  1. Toronto
  2. New York Mets
  3. San Francisco
  4. Chicago Cubs
  5. Minnesota
  6. Milwaukee
  7. Texas
  8. Baltimore
  9. Tampa Bay
  10. Cincinnati
  11. Seattle
  12. Detroit
  13. Los Angeles Dodgers
  14. Arizona
  15. Pittsburgh
  16. Rockies
  17. Kansas City
My list
  1. Toronto
  2. Milwaukee
  3. Texas
  4. L.A. Dodgers
  5. N.Y. Mets
  6. Minnesota
  7. Chicago Cubs
  8. Baltimore
  9. Detroit
  10. Rockies
  11. San Francisco
  12. Seattle
  13. Cincinnati
  14. Arizona
  15. Tampa Bay
  16. Pittsburgh
  17. Kansas City

Probables for the weekend series in Phoenix: Day-Nippert (Friday), Cook-Vargas (Saturday), Francis-Ortiz (Sunday). The Rockies' magic number is 4 -- four more wins to assure they won't lose 100.

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