This is my first "diary"/blog on this site and it is important for me to note my current dispositions about the Rockies. I love the Rockies and I always have, and as much as I like to threaten that I will no longer be a fan if management keeps up with the way they are running the team, this is just an idle threat. With that being said I am a harsh critic of the Rockies upper management, in most cases. Dan O' Dowd is possibly my least favorite person in the world, I dislike Tracy Ringolsby with almost the same fervor as I do O'Dowd, and even the announcers the Rockies have had throughout the years, have turned my stomach on a regular basis. I hold that Clint Hurdle is the worst manager in baseball today and that the only category he leads in is getting the least amount of efficiency out of his team. Again, with that being said, I desperately want the Rockies to succeed and become a great baseball franchise and turn Denver into a baseball town. It is with that disclaimer that I give to you my evaluation of the recent trade. I hope that I am wrong however, due to my arrogance and confidence in my opinions, I want to have it documented if I am right. Therefore I do not write this hoping that I am right but rather that I am proven to be a fool in the upcoming season.
The Rockies started the off season with a dire need for an everyday center fielder. They have recently made a trade in which they at least think that they have addressed this need. The Rockies swapped their opening day starter and homegrown pitcher Jason Jennings to the Houston Astros for center fielder Willy Taveras and two minor league pitchers. Jason Hirsh is one of the minor league pitchers they received who is expected to make an impact at the major league level. A statistical analysis of this trade uncovers the fact that the Rockies 1) were duped again into making a bad deal and 2) could have gotten more value from the Astros out of this trade. When players change hands in trades the overall criteria that must be used to judge the value of the trade is how much better the team got overall. The Rockies management does not use any sound criteria to judge this and therefore they have been led once again into making a bad trade. The hot stats right now to predict run production for a baseball team are on base percentage and slugging percentage with a heavier emphasis on on base percentage. I will use this criteria to determine the value the Rockies got out of this trade. Corey Sullivan the Rockies everyday center fielder for the 2006 season hit .267 with a .321 OBP and a slugging percentage of .402. This is bad when compared to the major league averages in this statistic especially for a player who hit lead off for a good portion of the year and a definite team need. In comparison Willy Taveras hit .276 with a .333 OBP and a slugging percentage of .338 for the 2006 season and the year before he had comparable numbers which is important for predicting positive or negative trends in a players future success. Willy Taveras seems to have room for only moderate growth in potential because of this. In effect the Rockies improved .012 in OBP and lost .064 in slugging percentage. Most statistical experts estimate that OBP is four times or so more important than slugging percentage in predicting run production. By this criteria the Rockies actually are worse off if they start Willy Taveras than if they start Cory Sullivan in terms of run production. In short the Rockies improvement in OBP is likely to be offset if not destructed due to thier loss in slugging percentage once again in terms of run production. The Rockies management would be likely to dismiss these statistics as important predictors and mention that Taveras's speed will increase the teams stolen bases and also decrease their runs allowed in terms of defense. Unfortunately stolen bases are not as good of a criteria for predicting run production and as for better defensive play they would be correct. Taveras will be a better center fielder than Sullivan but not significantly enough to impact the team a great deal. Furthermore Rockies management is likely to posit that Taveras will see an increase in offensive production because of hitter friendly Coors field. While in many cases this may be true, it is not in this case true. Taveras played in Enron field which is comparable in hitter friendliness to Coors field, having a shorter left field fence and a larger outfield. Finally as mentioned earlier Taveras has played two full major league season and showed only marginal improvement last year from his first year in the league therefore it is likely that Taveras's developement as a player will not be substantial and that his previous stats are reliable indicators as to what type of player Taveras will be.
This error is compounded considering that the Astros back up center fielder who will now be their starter is a much better player than Taveras and the Rockies undoubtedly could have gotten him instead of Taveras. Last season Chris Burke hit .276 with a .347 OBP and a .418 slugging percentage. If the Rockies were to have gotten Burke it would have increased their center field OBP by .026 and thier slugging percentage by .016. This would have still been a marginal gain but a gain nonetheless. Burke also has shown a propensity for trending upward in his two full seasons in the league. Furthermore Burke is only 2 years older than Taveras and is paid 38,000 dollars less per season. Look for Burke to outperform Taveras significantly this season.
Hirsh was also a driving factor in this trade and conceivably will be Jennings replacement in the Rockies rotation this season. Hirsh is just on the cusp of transitioning from a prospect to a major league starter and his ability to compensate for the loss of Jason Jennings is highly unlikely. Hirsh has nine big league starts and has posted a record of 3-4 with a 6.04 E.R.A. He is only 24 so in theory there is room for developement. One thing that frightens me about Hirsh is his walk ratio. In 44 innings pitched last season he walked 22 batters averaging a walk every other inning pitched. In comparison Jennings led the Rockies starters last season with a 3.78 E.R.A. So as stated earlier it is unlikely that Hirsh will be able to fill the role Jennings left behind in his first full major league season and the Rockies will see a significant gain in runs given up throughout the season.
Another part of this deal that hurts is that in the market right now pitchers are overvalued because the supply for good pitchers is minimal. The Rockies were in a good place to deal Jennings and get more back for him than he was actually worth. As it looks right now the Rockies traded their opening day starter for a player in Taveras that is unlikely to increase there offensive production and a pitcher who if develops will probably never be substantially better than Jennings in his prime. Another argument that is put forward is that Jennings will be gone at the end of the season so we should get what we can now. That is a decent point however due to the lack of supply in pitching it is likely that pitchers will be a hot commodity around the all star break and teams will be forced to give up even more at that point in the season than they are now. It is not difficult to surmise the overall effect of this trade. The Rockies did not improve offensively in terms of run production and they will probably see about a two run increase in a typical five man rotation, in terms of runs given up (and that is being conservative). Any potential gains they could have made in this trade by the developement of Hirsh will likely not be realized until two to three years down the road and as I have suggested these gains are likely to be marginal at best.
As for Taylor Buckholtz he is right now listed as the Rockies fifth starter. Last year he did not do very well posting a 6-10 record with a 5.89 E.R.A. Actually he will probably do a little better this year and post an E.R.A around 5.0 and have a record a little under .500. As he is listed right now as the Rockies fifth starter this would be an improvement over last years fifth starter, Kim. Unfortunately Kim will probably move up in the rotation to the fourth spot.
All this seems pretty bleak and that is because it is, however the Rockies have made some gains this off-season, despite this error. When dealing with the Rockies we have to take into account that manager Clint Hurdle has a propensity for shuffling the line up constantly. A starter in the Rockies lineup is likely to get a lot of days off what this means is that if the Rockies bench is stronger than in past years, then having a stronger bench will increase offensive production more than it would should the manager stick to a consistent lineup. Let's put aside the fact that for a financially limited baseball team to leave bargaining chips and what amounts to capital on the bench is a stupid thing to do and focus on how this will affect the Rockies. The Rockies have two utility players that are likely to see a significant amount of playing time in infield fill in situations. These players are Ryan Spilborghs and Kaz Matsui. Spilborghs is likely to see playing time in fill in situations in the outfield as well. Both of these players should not be played too often but they will, luckily they both have OBP's that are close to the league average which will mitigate the losses in run production when they are played instead of the starters. In the outfield they have brought up minor leaguer Jeff Baker who was on a tear at the end of the '06 season. More on him in a minute, but if the Rockies keep Baker and platoon him with Brad Hawpe which they will do because Hawpe is a lefty and Baker is a righty and Hurdle loves to play that game, Baker may be able to compensate for the loss in offensive production when Hurdle chooses to sit Hawpe or Holiday.
However the Rockies best bet for significant improvement this season is to trade Baker right now. This flies in the face of conventional baseball wisdom of the Rockies but Baker is highly overvalued by the market (and unfortunately by the Rockies as well) and they could trade him to make significant offensive gains in their everyday lineup. In 57 At bats at the end of last season Baker hit .368 with 5 home runs. The Rockies consider him to be a rising offensive star but they are looking at the wrong stats. In his 57 AB Baker took only one walk and his OBP was a mere .379. His slugging percentage was through the roof at .825 but that is likely to decline with a larger pool of statistics. With these startling numbers then who would trade Baker why not opt to trade Hawpe or Holliday instead? Well because one walk in 57 AB shows that Baker has a propensity to swing at a lot of pitches. (This also means that his Batting Average will be closely tied to his OBP which is unlikely that it will be higher than .310 with a OBP of around .345 or so by the end of the season. Even those numbers are generous.) Each player has a hole in his swing, and holes are more easily found outside the strike zone rather than within, therefore the pitchers in the league will figure out Baker's holes rather quickly, and we will see the stock as well as the statistics of Baker plummet by around mid season when pitchers learn to throw the pitches Baker can't hit and can't lay off. What this means is that Baker's value right now is as high as it will ever be and that each day the Rockies hold on to him, when he starts his decline will be a day when Baker is worth less than he was the day before. If possible the Rockies interest's would best be served if they packaged together Baker and newly acquired Taveras for a center fielder with an OBP of .400 or better and a slugging percentage of .500 or better. This is the best way that I see for the Rockies to increase their offensive run production and the position in which they have the most room for improvement. (A better option would have been to keep Jennings, and then package Baker in with one of their two major pitching prospects, Ubaldo Jimenez or Juan Morillo to make the same deal for a center fielder. Perhaps Rocco Baldelli?)
The Rockies will make significant gains in two positions for two reasons: one is that last year they played Clint Barmes at shortstop who was an out machine and an offensive black hole (OBP .264 enough said.) The second reason is that prospects have matured and will be brought up. Troy Tulowitzki will probably be their new shortstop, and although I do not think he will win a rookie of the year award, due to the poor play of Barmes he will be a significant impovement at the shortstop position, in terms of run production. I expect the Rockies to gain about .1 to .12 in terms of OBP but the gains in slugging percentage will probably be unsubstantial. Chris Ianetta is one of the players I really like on the Rockies. At the end of the season last year Ianetta took 13 walks in 77 AB and had an OBP of .370. Ianetta will probably get about 75 percent of the starts at catcher, with Yorvit Torrealba getting the rest. Torrealba (OBP .293) giving way to Ianetta will probably translate into about a .07 to a .1 gain in OBP. A loss will be realized in slugging percentage but it will be unsubstantial.
I don't think the Rockies will see any substantial losses in run production in 2006. I think that Matt Holiday had a career year last year and his production will go down. However I think that Todd Helton who was plagued with a stomach virus and other health related problems last year will bounce back and increase his offensive production, which is quite strong as is. This should come close to off setting any losses by Holiday's decline. Third baseman Garrett Atkins will have another very strong season and Right Fielder Brad Hawpe will probably also remain consistent to his previous offensive numbers. Second Baseman Jamey Caroll is not a very exciting player but he keeps his OBP above the league average and is not a detriment to the Rockies run production. Like Hawpe and Atkins he figures to remain pretty consistent in his offensive production with a batting average around .300 and an OBP around .380.
All in all look for the Rockies to increase the run production from last years numbers slightly. Last year the Rockies ranked fifth out of sixteen national league teams in run production and they figure to finish again this year in the top 5.
The Rockies bullpen is probably slightly better than they were last year. Significant losses they took were losing Jose Mesa one of thier more reliable right handed arms in the bullpen. Free agent signing Latroy Hawkins should be a good replacement for Mesa. Ramon Ramirez will hopefully see more action this year as last year he posted the second lowest E.R.A in their bullpen (second only to closer Brian Fuentes). Also having a full season with late season addition Jeremy Affeldt should give the Rockies a boost in the bullpen. Unfortunately after those four top pitchers the Rockies bullpen sees a sharp decline in quality of pitching. However if effectively managed the bullpen should be pretty good compared to traditional Rockies bullpens. Unfortunately manger Clint Hurdle is unlikely to use his most effective pitchers at the right times. He is more likely to focus significantly on lefty/righty matchups than to pay attention to the quality of pitcher on the mound. This hurt the Rockies last year and will probably continue to do so in the upcoming season.
The most substantial loss the Rockies will take will be in terms of runs allowed, because of their lack of depth in their starting rotation. Starting pitchers Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis should be above average but by no means top of the line starters (although we did see flashes of brilliance from Aaron Cook). Now third in the rotation is Josh Fogg who is actually a practical, and above average fifth starter, but unfortunately will probably be in over his head at third in the rotation. Fogg being the third starter in the rotation indicates that the Rockies rotation is in trouble. We probably won't see any permanent starters but a host of different players will fill in. Byun Hyun Kim will probably see as close to a fixed role in the rotation as anyone. Kim actually started his fair share of games last year and was about as effective as Fogg. Still he posted the worst E.R.A on the Rockies staff and walked an inordinate amount of batters. Expect the fifth spot to be won by one of the rookies the Rockies have. Among the contenders will be Ubaldo Jimenez, Juan Morillo and Jason Hirsh. All of these pitchers are prospects that have been touted by the Rockies as having a lot of potential. However given the Rockies history that is probably not a good thing. It will be the difference between whomever starts fifth in the rotation and Jennings production, that will be the bulk of the Rockies pitching decline, in terms of runs given up. Last year the Rockies finished 12 out of 16 teams in runs allowed. This year they will probably allow more runs and finish in the bottom three in runs allowed.
This is why the Rockies trade of Jennings is so sad. They had a good shot at improving from last year but they basically gave Jennings away for nothing in return. If they wanted to sign him but needed money they could have cut or traded Kaz Matsui who has the second highest salary on the team and is not even a starter (8.5 million/yr). Overall my prediction is that the offensive gains in terms of run production made by the Rockies will be offset by the greater gains in runs allowed. Once again the Rockies have relied on conventional baseball wisdom and instincts that don't add up, when you look at the numbers. Unfortunately the Rockies are very likely to stay around their win/loss record of last year and once again miss the playoffs in the worst division in baseball. What all the afformentioned analysis adds up to is that the Rockies have gotten a little better in some areas but significantly worse in others. I see no way unless they use the rest of the off season to come up with a solid starting pitcher and a well above average center fielder, that the Rockies will improve in any significant way in the upcoming season.
I apologize if all of this is redundant or common knowledge on this site. I am not yet familar with the level of knowledge on this particular site, so a lot of what is above written may sound rudimentary. I actually wrote this blog for a different site in which the users did not know as much about baseball or the Rockies. However at first glance this site seems to favor the recent trade and this is at least an opposing opinion, that deserves to be criticized.