Exploring the seasons of the All-Time Rockies

As pitchers and catchers reporting to their final season in Tucson draws ever closer, boredom sets in for Rockies fans. Who should start? Who should be cut? Why do we have Jay Payton? Debates rage in the comments on whether Battlestar Galactica should be watched past the 3rd season, whether Lost is worth the energy expended, and whether we should kick the tires on a suddenly youthful and amazing Vinny Castilla (seriously, wouldn't that just be awesome? Vinny backing up 3B and 1B instead of Mora, just for nostalgia's sake?).

But as the spring draws closer, a young man's heart turns to what nature fully intended it to as the thaw sends the snow trickling down the mountains to refresh the earth:

Baseball.

As I never seem to be by a non-work computer during the times I could be watching the Caribbean Series, I figure we've speculated and debated plenty on what MIGHT happen with the guys we've picked up and plan to rely on for the 2010 campaign. Instead, I turn my eyes back to yesteryears, a time when hits were cheaper, walls were shallower, and the heroes who set the benchmarks by which we compare our current players to blossomed like so many apple trees.

My friends, as we must do so often, Counting Rocks is taking a look to seasons past, and telling you about the seasons that defined the Rockies.

What we'll be doing with all 3 of these articles I intend to write is to look at the single-season franchise record holders for 3 batting and 3 pitching stats, and discussing the seasons during which those marks were set.

If you'll join me past the jump, we'll look at the most recently set marks, and we'll roll back in time from there. So click on, as we read about the franchise record holders for ERA and Stolen Bases.

We'll start on the less savory note for this article, the ultimate thief in Rockies history, Willy Taveras.

[pause for collective groan]

When the name Willy Taveras comes up in discussion of the Rockies, the first thing that comes to most fans' minds is "Yeah, well, he was no Eric Young." This is the correct sentiment to have.

Acquired as part of the Jason Jennings trade in the 2006-2007 offseason, Taveras was destined to be the sparkplug atop the Rockies' lineup, a reputably sound-gloved CF whose only notable skill was to be fast. Really, that's all you can say about Willy Taveras: he is fast.  One might think he was the fastest player to ever play for the Rockies.

Boy was he.

Taveras was so fast he was actually an attendant in the visitor's bullpen while simultaneously playing CF. Taveras was so fast that when he ran out a grounder, he'd change the scores on the out-of-town scoreboard before the pitcher was set for the next batter. I hear he stole 2B from the dugout once. One time, Taveras stole 3B, and was moving so fast, as he was sliding in, he grabbed the bag, pulled it out of the anchor, and crashed into the fencing in front of the away team dugout. He still had the bag, so they called him safe. Taveras was once struck by lightning while legging out an infield bunt and he went back in time. About half of the flyouts that Brad Hawpe caught in 2008 were actually caught by Taveras, but he put the ball into Hawpe's glove before anyone noticed so that Hawpe wouldn't feel bad.

Seriously though, it's somewhat baffling at how good Taveras became at stealing bases, especially if you look at his record-setting season, 2008.

Taveras set the franchise mark with 68 snagged bags, stomping Eric Young's mark of 53 established in 1996. In fact, Taveras ranks 4th on the franchise career totals (as a Rockies) for SB in just 2 seasons, and less than 1000 PA. That should tell you something right there.

One might still make a case for EY for whatever reason, but the final number I rest on is how incredibly effective Taveras was at stealing. Taveras was only caught 7 times in 2008. 68 SB, 7 CS. More than double the number of snagged bags in 2007, and 2 fewer times caught. That's a 91% rate right there. That's mindboggling. That is a man who knows how to steal bases. Eric Young only mustered a 74% in 1996, stealing 53 and getting caught 19 times.

To add an additional factoid here, I'll turn to the genius of Craig Robinson of FlipFlopFlyBall.com:

Major League Baseball uses Schutt "Original Hollywood Bases Jack Corbett" Bases. One of these bases (without the anchor) costs $89.99 at Modell's.

Willy Taveras was the league leader in 2008 with 68 stolen bases. That's $6,119.32 total value. Under Colorado Law, that's a Class 4 Felony.

http://www.flipflopflyin.com/flipflopflyball/info-stolenbases.html

 

But as we all know, Taveras' base stealing prowess was practically nullified by his complete ineptitude at the plate.

After posting a .320/.367/.382/.748/.344 line in 2007 (good for a 89 OPS+ and a 100 wRC+), that whole regression to the ol' mean came back with reinforcements, leading Taveras to flounder his way to a .251/.308/.296/.604/.301 line (55 OPS+, 74 wRC+). All things considered, Taveras was about as valuable as a replacement player - slightly better, but so miniscule that you wouldn't really notice. Yes, those 2008 wOBA and wRC+ are factoring in his stolen bases. Seriously, that bad.

Here's the real mindblowing part. Taveras stole a base every 2.4 times on base (removing triples and homers, because we know he didn't steal home). He attempted to steal one every 2.2 times, and given the miniscule difference between successes and attempts, well that just tells you how good he was at it. That's easily once every other game.

Now just for giggles, let's pretend that Taveras learned something from 2007, that it wasn't just a fluke. Let's pretend that he had his 2008 baserunning prowess and his 2007 on-base ability.

Based on a .367 OBP, a 91% SB success rate, and an attempt every 2.2 times on base, Taveras would've stolen 81 bags. The last time somebody stole that many bases was 1988, when Ricky Henderson stole 93 and Vince Coleman stole 81. And that's only with 538 PA! Say he got a full season starting, say 650 PA (which would make sense if he were posting a .367 OBP). That bumps the number up to 98 bags.

Granted, we're dealing with the land of make-believe here, but I just wanted to point out just how effective this guy was at taking the extra base.

The only person I see in the organization that could even come close to Taveras' 2008 theivery is our own favorite underdog, Eric Young Jr. - was anybody surprised? EYJ posted 2 seasons in the minors where he bested the 70 SB mark, and 3 where he broke 50. His SB% rate for his minor league career was 77%. Not nearly as good as Taveras' 2008, obviously, but it's downright effective. Similar to Taveras, however, EYJ attempted to steal a bag every 2.3 times on base (again, excluding dingers and triples), but was only successful in stealing every 3 times on base. He also has a .381 minor league OBP (and I'm only tracking back to 2006 in Asheville), which could potentially compare to Taveras' 2007 figure, but as the commonly cited problem with this is, where is he going to get the playing time? The fact remains, however, that EYJ poses the best potential for cracking that SB record if he can prove himself a guy the Rockies can really go to.

Frankly, I'd like to see a "true" Rockie atop that list again, but only time will tell that.

As this article is past the 1300-word self-imposed threshold, I'm going to spare the readership another 1000 words of rambling. While I know that I said "3" articles at the beginning, we're looking at a minimum of 4 articles on up to a max of 6. Brace yourselves.

I hope you'll join me later this week as we discuss the ERA king of the Rockies.

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