Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Fresh Digs
2005-12-10 13:53
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Welcome to Bad Altitude. It's The Good, the Bad and the Barmes only with a shorter name.

My name is Mark Donohue. I'm originally from Wilmette, Illinois and I live now in Boulder, Colorado. I'm a UC Berkeley grad, freelance writer, and bass player. I've followed the Rockies on and off ever since my father bought me a T-shirt during the expansion year of 1993, and since relocating to Colorado, they've become something of an obsession. Will this team ever be good? Will they ever even settle on a single strategy long enough to see whether it pans out or not? Can they make the playoffs before Todd Helton's contract expires (in 2011)? Will they ever wear the black alternate sleeveless jerseys with the purple undershirts again, and if so, will I be forced to gouge out my own eyes?

Now is as good a time as any to rechristen my Rockies page, as the team leaves the winter meetings with more or less all of its major roster moves for 2006 completed. Dan O'Dowd made three moves in Dallas, two harmless (if not slightly beneficial) and one more troubling. Trading Larry Bigbie and Aaron Miles for lefthanded reliever Ray King is one of the benign deals. O'Dowd never wanted Bigbie in the first place (received from Baltimore for Eric Byrnes in mid-2005, he was supposed to have been flipped for Boston catching prospect Kelly Shoppach until the deal fell apart under cloudy circumstances on the Red Sox end). Miles and his .306 OBP (8 walks in 347 PA) lost even the support of Clint Hurdle late last season and his departure paves the way for Luis "No Relation" Gonzalez to play every day at second, which he should have been doing in the first place. It's possible that O'Dowd could have received more value for Bigbie if he'd waited the market out a little, but not much more. Last year after swinging and missing at several free agent relievers the Rockies entered the season with the plan of stocking their bullpen with minor league "up and comers." I could come up with any number of stats to illustrate that this didn't work, but so could you with a minimum effort. Only by scavenging Mike DeJean and Jay Witasick (later traded to Oakland) did O'Dowd manage to stop the bleeding. The trade for King, and the signing of venerable "proven closer" Jose Mesa, are an obvious overcorrection. Extensions for DeJean and breakout '05 star Brian Fuentes demonstrate sounder reasoning.

Strange, then, that the Rockies' other big winter meetings move involved sending off one of their best relief pitchers from last season for a 27-year-old catching "prospect" who doesn't hit or defend any better than Colorado's previous starter-by-default, Danny Ardoin. O'Dowd said going into the offseason that he was definitely going to get a catcher, and Yorvit Torrealba is a catcher. But Marcos Carvajal is a pitcher, a 21-year-old pitcher at that, who throws in the high 90s and was at least reasonably good during a full major league season with Colorado (5.09 ERA, 7.98 K/9, 1.38 WHIP). Originally a Rule 5 pick from the Dodgers organization, the Rockies had big plans for Carvajal, whom they intended to send to the minors to gain seasoning as a starter in 2006. The Rockies face a huge cliff when it comes to acquiring pitching talent. They have essentially given up on signing free agent starters after the Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle debacles. The policy of generating starters from within has had mixed results so far. Aaron Cook after returning from injury has shown tantalizing signs of becoming the first true ace in franchise history. On the other hand Colorado has perhaps been too loyal to Jason Jennings after his Rookie of the Year 2002. The jury's still out on Jeff Francis. In any event 21-year-old potential starters who can strike major league hitters out are somewhat rarer than good-fieldin', poor-hittin' catchers, and the "upgrade" from J.D. Closser to Torrealba is hardly going to mean playoffs in 2006. But by gum, Dan O'Dowd was going to get a catcher.

So we know what our starting lineup is going to look like. It's not terribly pretty, but seeing as all three of our best offensive players (four if you count Brad Hawpe) spent significant time on the DL last season, a better record than 67-95 ought to be in the offing. Ought to be.

1B, Todd Helton. You know this guy. He's good.

2B, Luis E. Gonzalez. Pegged as a utility guy for no particularly good reason when he initially came up, Luis "N.R." is a decent hitter for a second baseman and not necessarily a downgrade from Aaron Miles defensively. Omar Quintanilla, slicker afield but not a hitter, could see time here as well.

SS, Clint Barmes. Listen, we all realize that Barmes' magical beginning to the 2005 season was a huge outlier. However, if he "regresses" to hit .270 and 15 homers, that's still pretty good for an NL shortstop. Defensively Barmes has a bit of a scatter arm; a healthy Helton at first should help with that.

3B, Garrett Atkins. Some of the more relentlessly upbeat Rockies fans felt he was shorted as a ROY candidate last year, but Atkins was useless on the road and at 25 he's not particularly young. He was handed the job in 2005 but should feel plenty of organizational pressure on his back this year. For whatever reason Colorado has a lot of talent at third base in the minor leagues.

C, Yorvit Torrealba/Danny Ardoin. Hooray, a defense/defense, righty/righty platoon.

LF, Matt Holliday. He is what he is. Not a lot of homers for a corner outfielder, shaky defender, could stand to take a few more walks. But for the forseeable future he's the team's cleanup hitter. They could do worse: he hits lefties and righties equally well, and he's not completely useless on the road.

CF, Cory Sullivan. The best of a bad lot for most of 2005, Sullivan really came into his own down the stretch. He's miscast as a leadoff hitter but his defense is good enough to inspire some interesting questions. With those vast outfield gaps at Coors Field, is it not worth sacrificing some offense to get a real old-school flychaser out there for your team? The Rockies have some interesting potential for a big outfield/small outfield platoon situation, with Jorge Piedra slotting in at center on the road and converted first baseman Ryan Shealy attempting to play left here and there. At this point they're really hoping for more production from second, short, and third than from center, which could be the right way to go.

RF, Brad Hawpe. Another '05 rookie, another '05 injury. Hawpe like Holliday doesn't really hit homers as often as you'd like to see but he hit a bit on the road and he's an actual rightfielder, unlike many who manned the position for Colorado last year. Even with the Bigbie trade the Rockies still have about a gazillion tweener outfield candidates milling around in Colorado Springs so if Hawpe doesn't lay a strong claim in for the job, someone will.

As for the starting rotation, we know Jason Jennings, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Zach Day, and Sunny Kim will be back. We're still waiting to hear whether Byung-Hyun Kim, an unsung hero for the '05 squad, will be resigned. The bullpen will mix the old (Fuentes, DeJean, David Cortes, Chin-Hui Tsao) with the new (Mesa, King, Jaime Cerda). I'm not expecting much from Mesa, but if King is any good then he, Fuentes, and DeJean make for a pretty solid back three. It's no Shields/Donnelly/K-Rod or Gallo/Wheeler/Lidge, but this is the Rockies we're talking about. Baby steps. We'll delve into the subject of pitching a little further when we find out BK's ultimate fate.

Remember, this is a Rockies page first and foremost, but hopefully it will prove of interest to fans of baseball in general. In addition to the Rockies, I follow the Brewers, Cubs, White Sox, and A's fairly intently and I keep an eye on the Mets, Devil Rays, Giants, and Royals as well. And like any baseball fan worth his salt I do enjoy taking a potshot at Bud Selig here and there. Even when I am going on and on about the Ryan Speiers of the world, I think every close baseball observer should have at least a passing interest in what goes on with the Rockies. They play half their games in the most bizarre laboratory man has ever devised for the game of baseball. And they have solid purple alternate jerseys.

2005-12-10 18:19:24
1.   sam2175
Mark, a Yankee fan here. Good to see your teams of interest, not many contributors here follow these teams on a regular basis (I mean Brewers, D'Rays, Royals etc.).

Officially, thanks for the Chacon trade. Now only if you will accept Giambi and his contract for Helton. Just kidding, I dont see that happening.

Wish your blog a mountainous success.

2005-12-10 18:42:08
2.   Dan Lucero
Nice new place, Mark...
2005-12-10 19:43:59
3.   joejoejoe
Best wishes in your new digs. I'm a Yankee fan but you've inspired me to do a little backround reading on the Rockies. I forgot Joe Girardi played in Colorado before NY. I always think of him as coming from the Cubs but he came from a playoff Colorado team.

I hope your team gets straightened out. They strike me as a modern day Kansas City A's - a stockpile of talent ripe for picking for the contenders come mid-summer. That can't be fun as a fan.

2005-12-10 19:46:08
4.   Colorado Blue
Hi Mark and welcome! I'm a regular "lurker" sometimes-poster over at Dodger-Thoughts. Although I am a Dodgers fan first-and-foremost, being a Colorado transplant (I live in Highlands Ranch) I will definitely enjoy reading your insights on the Rockies. They have become my second favorite team and enjoy taking my family to Coors as often as possible (always when the Dodgers are in town!)

I like the direction they are taking but I suspect their budget is too small to supplement with any proven veterans. I would love to hear your opinions on the enigma that is Coors Field: it seems that it is gives up a lot of homeruns but conversley it has so much real-estate that it gives up a lot of 2 and 3 baggers as well. Raise the fences? Bring them in? Both? Maybe it just is what it is...

2005-12-10 20:22:46
5.   slackfarmer
Welcome from another Dodger fan. Sad to see Carvajal sent packing after the Rocks spent his Rule 5 year bringing him up to speed. And for a "catcher" that's no better than the junk they already had. Then again, Alomar is worth $650k, so I guess there is high market demand for junk back-up catchers. I'd rather stick with Closser and Greene and keep Carvajal as a bonus.
2005-12-10 20:24:24
6.   slackfarmer
4 My opinion of what to do with Coors: sign Adam Dunn. It would be fun to see his numbers go off the charts (except against the Dodgers).
2005-12-10 20:35:31
7.   Cliff Corcoran
Steve Goldman always says that OBP is more important for the Rockies than anyone else (if that's possible), because slugging is guaranteed in Coors, the Rockies can only win if they have more men on than the other team when those extra base hits come.

That argument ignores pitching, but it makes a great deal of sense.

2005-12-11 01:02:37
8.   polyphonic
Mark, are you the Artist Formerly Known as Western Homes?
2005-12-11 03:21:44
9.   Mark T.R. Donohue
I think the "secret" for the Rockies is to get offensive players who get on base (because the longer you go without making an out, the greater a chance you have of getting a bunch of runners home) and pitchers who strike a lot of guys out (because a hitter who doesn't put the ball in play isn't going to hit for extra bases). The trouble is, pretty much every team in the majors is looking for hitters who get on base and pitchers who strike guys out. So you're back to square one.

There are some secondary skills that the team can look for, like outfielders with a lot of defensive range or extreme groundball pitchers. However management has had a lot of trouble sticking to one script, which makes testing the legitimacy of any these theories very tough.

More than anything, it needs to be stressed that all of these strategies are for winning more games at home, which would be hard. The Rockies already win a lot of games at home. They were 40-41 at Coors last year despite posting a .414 overall winning percentage. Historically, the team has won way more games in Denver than you would expect given the general paucity of talent they've had over the years. The Rockies have to win more games on the road, and there's no shortcut to that.

In some circles, I am still known as Western Homes.

2005-12-11 08:07:09
10.   Colorado Blue
9 - Ah! So true; the mystery that is the dichotomy of the Rockies at home vs. on the road. My guess is that the altitude in terms of the human body may be a factor. In this, I think the Rockies players have a distinct advantage.
2005-12-11 08:08:15
11.   Colorado Blue
5 - Agreed... the Carvajal dismissal leaves me puzzled.

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