Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Packing It In
2007-05-04 17:40
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Rockies are in progress against Cincinnati tonight. They are losing. They will probably lose the game and they will almost certainly lose the series. The early results are in and they're not pretty. I expected Colorado to be almost exactly as good as they were last year. Some Rockies fans felt like this was the season they made a big leap forward, although what exactly their evidence for this was remains to me unclear. A ton of injuries in the bullpen plus DL stints for the starter (Rodrigo Lopez) and lineup guy (Kaz Matsui) who started the fastest doesn't help, but it's hard to find any circumstances under which the Rockies would be any better now than they actually are. The team is 11-17, six games out in the NL West. That sounds about right. They haven't won a series since the opening three games against San Diego in Denver, losing seven three-game series in a row and splitting each of their two-game sets since.

Revelant stat from ESPN's Jayson Stark: In every full season since 1982, of 144 teams that made the postseason, only eight completed the month of April more than three games under .500. The Rockies were six back when May began.

Jeff Francis is 1-4 with a 6.19 ERA and a 1.94 WHIP. Perhaps more tellingly, Aaron Cook is 0-1, 3.83, 1.38 in the same number of starts. The Rockies' offense isn't exactly as terrible as it has a tendency to appear in games I attend in person, but familiarly it tends to dive dramatically in efficiency whenever there are runners on base. The Rockies' bullpen, likewise, has been bad but not that bad. This is a team that when it goes down in defeat, as it almost always does, does so with a group effort. If the bullpen has one of those nights where four or five guys somehow combine to only give up one or two runs, the offense completely shuts down against the opposing bullpen. If the offense feels like showing up, the starting pitching pretty reliably doesn't. If poor Aaron Cook is starting, the bats are taking the day off.

In short, this is a bad roster, and even its ceiling with everyone healthy and folks like Francis and Brad Hawpe (1 homer, .391 slugging) returning to established performance levels is maybe 78 wins. It sounds like a broken record, but this is the team that created enough confidence in ownership to lavish extensions on Dan O'Dowd and Clint Hurdle? Do we think the team would be any different were those guys clawing to keep their jobs still?

No. Not really. The Rockies are, obviously, still a long way away. They have more real players than they used to, as the recent Sports Illustrated feature on Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins suggests, but they're still several starters, two proven bullpen arms, and the entire middle of the diamond (catcher, second, short, center) away from not sucking. Keeping Jason Jennings wouldn't have helped, although Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz have been erratic and Willy Taveras has been an insult to intelligent baseball fans everywhere. The Rockies need another reliable starter more than anything, but they also need at least two more average starters after that still. A rotation with Jennings-Cook-Francis and two random guys wouldn't be any better than the present group with Cook, Francis, Hirsh, Buchholz and one random guy. Particularly because the team is still so lacking in all the phases of winning baseball that assuming one or two final pieces is all the rotation/bullpen/lineup/bench needs is part of the problem.

So what are we going to do? Here's what I would do this season, keeping in mind that finding a way of making the Rockies respectable for 2007 is a lost cause at this point.

Trade Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, and Brian Fuentes for pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Helton is the obvious one. His value only decreases with every passing year as his power numbers go down and his total annual salary figure goes up. For a while I believed that Colorado was going to be able to assemble enough of a young core that they would be able to do the sentimental thing and keep Helton, even with him making $16 million of a $40 million payroll. Well, I was wrong. It's not possible. He has to go. Holliday, who would have to be crazy to stick around when his free agency finally arrives next year, is too valuable not to trade. There's no point in having him slug meaningless homers for two more years with Colorado when the increasing level of parity for the rest of the league (the Rockies, charmingly, seem immune to this regression to the mean) will drive his price at the trade deadline up to at least two live arms and a major-league ready stick. As for Fuentes, well, a .400 team with a legit closer's a lot like a mule with a spinning wheel. With the bullpen problems the Red Sox and Yankees have, one or the other of them is likely to overpay for Fuentes, who has had issues focusing this year but is still white hot fiery death on lefthanders.

Sell Willy Taveras to the Japanese league/travelling gypsies/alien visitors. Anything to get this bum off the field. He can't hit, he can't take a walk, he has horrible baserunning instincts for a guy with his speed, and watching him play outs into triples in center at Coors offends my delicate sensibilities. The Rockies should accept the concept of a sunk cost and get rid of Willy even if it means they eat his salary for the rest of the year and get nothing in return. He is essentially worthless. Since there is zero chance of Taveras becoming a real ballplayer ever, O'Dowd and Hurdle might as well start auditioning other options in center now when the season is basically already lost. They're going to have to do something creative in the offseason to earn those extensions since center field has been a gaping hole for the Rockies since forever.

Let the rookies take their lumps. Is there any real benefit to playing Yorvit Torrealba and his established .250 bat in favor of Chris Iannetta? No. The Rockies should let Troy Tulowitzki and Iannetta see the bulk of the time at their positions from here on out. Likewise, it's worth giving Kaz Matsui a full season to show what kind of MLB player he is away from New York. For guys like Jamey Carroll and Clint Barmes, we pretty much know what kind of players they are. They're not going to have a sudden performance spike. A lot of the Rockies' problems would go away if their duo of homegrown hopes would emerge and start raking. It's not going to happen if they're only getting a token start or two a week. The kids need to play, and the same goes for the bullpen. The Rockies get guys like Tom Martin, Jose Mesa, or LaTroy Hawkins every year and whether the veterans are the actual Martin, Mesa, or Hawkins or their proxies next year, their production or lack thereof will be pretty predictable. So for this season let's allow Manuel Corpas, Ramon Ramirez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Alberto Arias throw as many innings as their minor league instructors would see fit. On the whole, better to be young and bad than old and bad.

Well, Colorado is all tied up with the Reds as I conclude. Will they win? They might. But then they will almost certainly lose the next two games of the series, with Aaron Cook and his bad mojo throwing Saturday and Josh Fogg and his bad... pitching going on Sunday. When is the trade deadline again?

2007-05-04 19:45:23
1.   neal
wow. turned into a pretty good game, eh?
2007-05-04 21:07:24
2.   sanchez101
i think the worst part of retaining the O'Dowd-Hurdle braintrust (and I use 'brain' loosely) is that even when the trade deadline comes, these are still the guys making the decisions.

what are you waiting for? fuentes for coco crisp and a prospect to replace tavares? i think the rockies are stuck in a sports fans' version of the seventh layer of hell; a team with little future run by proven incompitents.

BTW, I would love to be a fly on the wall in the Colorado front office when Tim Lincecum comes to pitch against the Rockies sometime this year. For a team desperate for pitching to pass up on him, and then to watch him reach the majors less than a year later in the same division - ouch. When your team is making the #2 pick, you want them thinking; "hey, lets make the most out of this because we're not going to be picking this high again," not, "well, lets save some cash a pick a guy that seems safe, I mean, it's not like there's any sense of urgency ..."

2007-05-04 21:08:37
3.   Yu-Hsing Chen
I think ur packing it in way too soon, the Yankees shoudl be fire selling their entire team save maybe Cano Wang Melky and Hughes then no?
2007-05-04 21:10:19
4.   Yu-Hsing Chen
2 Not to meantion watching Chin Hui Tsao continue to dominate for the Dodger pen making a deal that even the Rockies could have easily given.
2007-05-04 21:40:20
5.   Dan Lucero

Yeah, that slugging percentage is no great shakes, but that's what Willy Taveras is doing thus far this season. I know nobody's requiring you to even pretend to be objective, but the needless excoriating of Willy probably should stop, don't you think? He had a rough three weeks. This happens on occasion in the game of baseball. I understand not being a fan of a certain player, but your treatment of Taveras is borderline ridiculous.

2007-05-04 23:39:20
6.   joejoejoe
Don't get too down. The Jayson Stark figure is meaningless. He should have only gone back as far as 1995, the year the Wild Card was introduced. The '06 Marlins started 6-16 and got close as close as 2 games out of the Wild Card on Sept. 11, 2007. Play the kids and you have hope.
2007-05-05 00:07:17
7.   Ali Nagib
5 - Of the 16 NL center fielders with the most PA (one per team), Taveras ranks 11th in VORP, exactly at replacement level (coming into today's action). There's no question that he can play better, and he has certainly before, especially on defense, where he's been decidedly above average. The problem is, even if he plays to the maximum of his ability, he'll struggle to be even an average player. It's not that he's definitely the problem, but he's certainly not a part of the solution.
2007-05-05 01:12:50
8.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Sometimes it goes beyond numbers. Every single time a popup goes out that falls between two fielders' territories and one of them is Taveras, I fear for my life that he is going to run full-speed into one of the Rockies' good players. Every time he's on base, I think he's going to get picked off. Every time he's at the plate with a runner in scoring position, my guts tighten up. Willy Taveras might not be the worst regular in the major leagues, but he's clearly not an everyday player -- his stats with Houston as well as Colorado bear this out -- and frankly he's making it hard for me to watch Rockies baseball. If Willy was totally worthless, he wouldn't be playing. That's the problem with him. He has enough skills that the temptation to keep playing him is apparently for Clint Hurdle irresistible. Teams ruin themselves by overexposing players with limited skill sets, and generally not by playing guys with no skills at all. Except the Royals.
2007-05-05 03:57:04
9.   Yu-Hsing Chen
btw Mark, don't you think that a restructure of the whole management is first in order? I mean the Rockies are perinially drafting at the top of the order but over their existences the best pitchers they develop is um.... Jason Jennings? that's just not very impressive in a nearly 2 decade span when ur top 5 pitching product is Jennings / Francis / Cook / Fuentes and um.... Chacon?

Even on the hitting side, it's only very recently that they've started to actually get good players that's not named Todd Helton.

I know the Park is a mess, but seriously, Chacon / Jennings havn't exactly rocked the world since they left Coors

2007-05-05 10:32:05
10.   Marty
I'll take Taveras if you'll take Juan Pierre.
2007-05-05 11:35:43
11.   gabe
I'll agree with Dan here, Mark. And I'll also add that your explanation (#8) is a bit hypocritical. You flashed the stats card quite a bit when we first traded for Taveras, and now that he's producing you tell me "it goes beyond numbers?" Now it's that Taveras' defense is sub-par? Let's see what you wrote about him earlier...

"Willy T. He's free-swinging, he's powerless, he's fast and yet somehow not that good of a basestealer, Clint Hurdle won't be able to resist hitting him leadoff even though his OBP will hover around .320."

Currently batting .302 with an OBP of .375, 7 for 12 stealing bases...ok, not the best in the majors, but better production than...right, who's the alternative again? Certainly good enough not to want to get rid of at all costs. Good enough that a team might actually want to take a look at him at the deadline. And anecdotally, the reason we won against the Reds last night. Griffey's throw to the plate would've erased anyone else gunning for the go-ahead run.


"Baseball Prospectus's evaluation of Taveras's defense sheds a different light on the player ("astonishing, to the tune of 31 runs saved over a replacement center fielder") but then again Coors doesn't have a skee-ball ramp in center field."

In my evaluation, he's made a lot of plays that no one else on the team would have, has a plus arm, and only one error...

2007-05-05 12:32:06
12.   Mark T.R. Donohue
If you've been watching the Rockies closely this season, then I don't see how you could have a positive evaluation of Taveras's defense. His signature play is taking a step back on a ball hit directly at him, then running towards it, diving, missing, and having the ball roll all the way past him to the wall for a triple. He's done this at least three times, twice in games I attended in person.

He also has no idea what a cut-off man is, and as I mentioned, his communication skills as the captain of the outfield leave much to be desired. Maybe his defense will improve as he gets used to Coors... but he's still going to be a swing-happy guy with zero power and an uncanny knack for getting picked off or caught stealing when the Rockies are down by way more than one.

Is it irrational, is it personal, my bias against Taveras? Sure, maybe. But ask yourself this -- are there any SMART organizations in baseball that would voluntarily give up talent for a guy with a skill set like his?

We don't need to have the discussion again about why errors are a fatally flawed stat.

2007-05-05 16:33:40
13.   gabe
I'm just glad you admitted it sure, may be personal.

And yes, the baseball error is not a valid measure of defensive mis-hap, I'll give you that too. It's very easy to mess up without touching the ball.

Comment status: comments have been closed. Baseball Toaster is now out of business.