Monday Rockpile: Johnny Herrera v Jose Lopez: Battle of the Upsides

PHOENIX - SEPTEMBER 21: Jonathan Herrera #18 of the Colorado Rockies breaks his bat while swinging at a pitch from the Arizona Diamondbacks during the Major League Baseball game at Chase Field on September 21 2010 in Phoenix Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

On Saturday evening, after the Rockies' 8-7 defeat of the Diamondbacks, user CentralCaliRox posed the following question:

What would benefit the team more: having Jonathan Herrera and his OBP in the 2-hole, or having Jose Lopez and his power in the 6-hole?

Well, in my mind, it hinges on 3 different assumptions:

1. Herrera will be able to match his 2010 numbers
2. Lopez will be able to match his 2009 numbers
3. Seth Smith will keep himself in the lineup

1 and 2 are basically deciding who's worth playing, and 3 assumes that Smith will occupy the spot not taken and there won't be any further lineup juggling. This analysis kind of needs to take place in that little bubble.

Fact is that Lopez and Herrera are both the kinds of guys that the team needs in the lineup: lowish strikeout numbers, both around 18+% Line-drive hitters. For all intents and purposes, let's just look at them as 2 sides of the same coin.

In 2010, the Rockies got the following batting line out of their collective #2 batters: .274/.345/.403, good for a .748 OPS. Compared to the rest of the team, the #2 hole batted at a 98 tOPS+, suggesting that the #2 batted 2% worse than the average Rockie. However, that .748 OPS was good for a 104 sOPS+, suggesting that the #2 hole produced 4% better than the rest of the league's #2 hitters.

Meanwhile, the 6 hole was much more productive: .269/.340/.447, .787 OPS. Relative to the average Rockies batter, the 6 hole posted a 106 tOPS+ and relative to the Majors' #6 hole, a 112 sOPS+.

So the question is: which combination of Herrera/Smith and Lopez/Smith is most likely to outproduce the 2010 #2/#6 combination?

Off Topic

As it stands, the projections all see a decent rebound for Smith, somewhere in the .800-.820 OPS range. This beats the 2010 Miguel Olivo-fueled production from the #6 hole and stomps the #2 production which was kept afloat by Herrera's hot 2010 and Fowler's anchor-like production in the 2 (you know, while Carlos Gonzalez was batting leadoff and Fowler was falling apart in the 2). Basically put, a solid season from Seth Smith will improve the lineup, and that's true of any lineup slot not occupied by someone receiving 2010 MVP votes. The difference is that Smith in the #6 hole is only a moderate improvement while Smith in the 2 hole is a more significant improvement.

This then boils right back to the original question: Herrera in the 2, or Lopez in the 6? This is the part of the article where I'd look at the variety of projections (ZIPS, Marcel, Bill James) for 2011 to get an idea of what to expect from these guys, but it kind of has a couple of hitches to it.

For one, Herrera doesn't really have enough MLB playing time to really get a good handle on what he COULD do in 2011. Minor-league equivalencies are a monster to account for, as I'm sure Heltonfan would agree with. A second hitch is trying to properly adjust for Lopez' escape from SafeCo and liberation into Coors Field. Lopez could possibly get an even bigger boost in Coors, not just because Coors = offense, but also because Coors = doesn't destroy the dreams of right-handed pull hitters.

The story of both hitters is kind of surrounded by that magical BABIP thing. Herrera, despite how amazing or lucky or whatever his 2010 breakout was, ended up with a sub-.700 OPS line for the season, and his decent OBP is fueled by a batting average that I don't think Herrera can sustain. Don't get me wrong, Lopez' .609 OPS in 2010 was just screamingly bad, but remember that Herrera's line also came while batting in Coors (and there's a nasty home/road split there as well).

Truth be told, Herrera's hot streaks were the only thing that kept the #2 hole in 2010 from being a complete abomination. I get that Slappy McBloopALot grinds out ABs and fouls off pitches and has a lot of Eckstein-esque qualities to him, but I still maintain that the improvement that Smith could bring to the #2 would outweight the possibility that Herrera would be able to repeat his hot streaks and continue producing the way we saw in 2010. Honestly, I see the best-case scenario of Herrera in the #2 would be matching the 2010 production. Meanwhile, if Lopez can match the #6 production, that will sit quite nicely. This comes back to Smith again. Smith's potential improvement on the #2 is a bigger jump than his improvement on the #6. So if we operate on the assumption that Lopez and Herrera would basically hold that particular lineup slot steady, I'll take the potential jump in the #2 that Smith could provide over a questionable OBP that Herrera could provide. A .340 OBP isn't miserable, but if we're .070-.100 SLG for .020 OBP, I'd rather just have the extra slugging.

Herrera coming off of the bench? Absolutely. Herrera starting in the 2 hole? I just don't see it being worth it.

* * *

 

Hall of Fame center fielder Duke Snider dies at 84 || Ben Walker, AP

Duke Snider, the great Dodgers CF, passed away on Sunday to natural causes.

Snider, one of the 3 great NY centerfielders of the 50s, played the majority of his career with the Brooklyn (later LA) Dodgers. Snider was a career .295 hitter, belted 407 HR, posted a career .919 OPS (.405 wOBA, 139 wRC+), and was a focal point of Terry Cashman's classic baseball ballad, "Talkin' Baseball".

Snider's prime years came from 1953 to 1957, during which Snider batted .311/.407/.618 (1.025 OPS, 161 OPS+), leading the Dodgers to 3 NL Pennants and 1 World Series.

As the greats from baseball history slowly pass away, take a moment and listen to Cashman's tune. Worst case, you hear a bunch of nifty baseball names and have a couple of minutes with a relaxing melody.

 

The news from Spring Training isn't too magical thus far, but there's good things to see.

Rox glad snap is back in De La Rosa's breaking ball || Jim Armstrong, Denver Post

Jorge De La Rosa got roughed up a bit in a 2-inning intrasquad game, but Jim Tracy was thrilled that there doesn't seem to be any lasting damage from the torn finger tendon DLR sustained in 2010. Other odds and ends in there worth looking at, but nothing of magnitude.

Per usual in Spring Training, we hear about the fringier players taking opportunities and running with them. Cole Garner, who could be in his last season with the organization, is hoping to leave an impression on the bigwigs, so when time potentially comes to make a mid-season callup, he might get the look over Spring Opener Hero Charlie Blackmon. In the meantime, Chris Nelson also sees the opportunity to get himself to the top of the list for infield callups, and did a lot of offseason work with the big club.

Todd Helton Chases the Sunset || Dan Lucero, SBNation Denver

Our own Franchise26 touches on the need for Todd Helton to have a good season - maybe not an amazing season, but he has to be better than 2010 for this boat to float.

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