Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
2005-10-29 10:26
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Welcome to the TGTBATB's 2005 offseason coverage! We've got plenty of time between now and Spring Training, so I figured we'd just go down the 40-man roster. I didn't have any particular feeling as for where to start, so I just rolled some percentile dice (if you know what percentile dice are, pat yourself on the back and give yourself one nerd point). I got a 4, which corresponds to Aaron Cook. That's lucky, because it means we'll start our look at the 2006 Rockies with a guy who ought to be the MVP of the pitching staff next year.

Before we crunch the numbers on this very good pitcher, though, a news item about a very bad one: the Rockies confirm interest in signing Shawn Estes, most recently of Arizona. There's not much point in spending a lot of time on this. Shawn Estes is lousy. He's not worth the veterans' minimum, let alone whatever seven-figure salary some stupid team will lavish upon him. Let's not be that team, OK? Here's a rule of thumb for Colorado with regard to free agent starters. Is he better than Mike Esposito? Esposito will work for cheap and is not terrible. Shawn Estes is not better than Mike Esposito.

Hopefully, that unpleasantness is now behind us for good. On to Aaron Cook. Cook's line from last year: 7-2, 101 hits, 16 walks, 34 earned runs, 8 home runs, and 24 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings pitched. Other than his first major league start of the year 7/30 against the Phillies, Cook was consistently the ace of the Colorado staff. The Rockies were 9-4 in his starts. Cook was never a big strikeout pitcher, but the key to his success in 2005 was control amazing for a player who missed nearly a full season.

Many experts say the secret to pitching at Coors Field is having stuff that sinks, and Cook has a sinker that's good at any altitude. When everything is working, his groundball to flyball ratio is more than 3 to 1. Aaron allows more than his fair share of hits (.301 opponents' BA in '05) but the combination of not giving up free passes, keeping the ball in the park, and coaxing double plays out of hitters led to a very respectable 3.67 ERA. Cook was actually slightly better at home (.750 OPS allowed) than on the road (.801). He must feel more confident at Coors, as he walked more than twice as many batters on the road as he did at home.

Never before in the history of the Colorado Rockies has there been a starting pitcher you could in good confidence recommend to a fantasy baseball owner. Well, next year, that all changes. Aaron Cook isn't going to win a strikeout crown, but his ERA will be strong and he could easily win 16 games. His injury was both freak and not arm-related (Cook had a rib removed to improve his circulation). The only thing to worry about is for a guy who gets so many ground balls, the Colorado infield defense could stand to be a whole lot better.

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