For a team that plays in Coors Field, the offensive capitol of the universe, the Rockies struggled batting as a whole in the 2010 season. When you account for the rest of the league, the park they play in, the phase of the moon, whether Jupiter is aligning with Mars, all of those things, the Rockies batted at a rate that's 5% worse than league average (95 wRC+, for those of you wondering). In fact, if you follow all of them park/league adjusted stats, the Rockies had all of 3 batters considered to be above average (when you take power, OBP, all that stuff into consideration), and those batters were Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Spilborghs, and Brad Eldred. Naw, I'm kidding. Troy Tulowitzki is obviously the 3rd batter.
The issues seemed to stem from a couple of things:
1. Struggling vs Lefties. Vs southpaws, the Rockies batted .269/.341/.415, which isn't that bad on the surface, but when you account for Coors and the wind and the way they comb their hair, it amounts to that 5% below average that we saw overall. So you think "alright, that's fine, but if their weaker platoon split looks the same as their overall line, how does that account for Coors Field?" Well, I'll tell you.
2. In 2010, the Rockies were the WORST BATTING TEAM IN BASEBALL ON THE ROAD. My favorite caveat is always "well, every team hits worse on the road, it's just a fact" - well forget that. That percentage above or below average wRC+ I've been citing? Yeah, the Rockies were 32% worse than the average bat when they were on the road. To counter that, the team was 22% BETTER than average at home, but yeesh, that's a 54% dropoff from home production to road production. Only 2 Rockies were ABOVE average on the road, and they are Troy Tulowitzki and Ian Stewart. Carlos Gonzalez was a league-average bat on the road.
To rectify these problems, the Rockies brought in 2 Right-handed bats to try and counter this blight on their batting numbers: Jose Lopez and Ty Wigginton. Lopez's 2010 was absolutely disastrous, but he also had a 2009 where he showed no platoon favoritism and hit an outstanding 29% above average on the road (.313/.348/.535). Wigginton, however, in the past 2 years, hasn't really hit lefties as hard as we'd like to see, and showed relatively standard home/road splits (better at home, worse on the road) - but I'll give the organization the benefit of the doubt in this case.
Factor in new hitting coach Carney Lansford, and the Rockies are banking on their own talent to right their batting wrongs and carry the team to their first division title.
C Chris Iannetta
After an outstanding 2008 and a passable 2009, Iannetta bottomed out in 2010, getting demoted to AAA Colorado Springs. In fairness, he did return to have an excellent June and July, but then he cratered again in August and wasn't much better in September. As per usual, Iannetta's had a big spring, and we're hoping that THIS time it translates into improvements where he needs them. The team and pitching staff have good things to say about Iannetta as a catcher. Fact is though that this is kind of a make-or-break for Iannetta as well. Not nearly as drastic as with Franklin Morales, but he needs to pull out of this tailspin and fast. Expect to see lots of walks and power hitting.
1B Todd Helton
It used to be that we could just copy and paste ".330 average, 30 bombs, 40+ doubles, elite 1B defense" and the Todd Helton preview is done. Since 2008, back problems have become a major part of Helton's game. Last season, he was very not-good, as he quietly had back issues that plagued him from Spring through season's end. This spring, Helton looks like he's back to some semblance of normal, not striking out (seriously, 1 punchout all spring), and putting up a .372/.440/.465 spring line. Expect to see Helton continue to be an excellent receiver at 1B, bat somewhere around .300, walk a whole bunch, and hopefully make up for lost homers by burying the balls in the power alleys - but only in about 100-120 games.
2B Jose Lopez
I'm gonna get burned putting Lopez here. I don't know if he's really the starter come opening day. What we're more likely to see is Lopez being a part-time 2B and taking a little bit of 3B time. He's a questionable 2B defender (who looks much better at 3B) and is hoping for a major resurgence from the cesspool that was his 2010 season. Coors Field can be good for that. Expect to see doubles, very few strikeouts, and hopefully a .280 batting average.
SS Troy Tulowitzki
Fresh off of signing a gigantic extension, the Rockies are looking for Tulo to continue his dominance from the cleanup while continuing to play top-notch defense at SS. I remember back in 2007 getting shot down by a friend when I said "Tulowitzki is the guy the Rockies are going to build around". Expect to see a .300+ AVG, 30+ HR, and lots of jaw dropping plays deep in the hole at SS.
3B Ian Stewart
After a collision in the spring opener, Stewart has been trying to keep his legs healthy. He might miss opening day, they're going to reevaluate on Thursday whether or not he's ready. If he is, we're hoping for more Lansford magic with Stewart, a decrease in the strikeout numbers, an increase in batting average, and with more contact, more homers as well. The guy is strong. Expect to see him tweet softly (if at all) and carry a big stick.
LF Carlos Gonzalez
Gold Glove outfield defense, the NL batting crown, and a straight up line-drive laser. Gonzalez will be the LF for the 2011 season, but it's not to say anything about his fielding range: LF in Coors is HA-YOOGE. It's like CF 2.0, and having Gonzalez there speaks to that. Gonzalez just missed 30/30 in 2010 by 4 steals. I'll take a 34/26 season though, it's LIKE 30/30. Expect to see so-good-he's-almost-cocky defense, frozen ropes into the bullpen, and a lot of large Latin grins.
CF Dexter Fowler
Fowler will be the leadoff man in 2011. In his minor-league career, he was more of a 2 hitter, but he also had a healthy and productive Eric Young Jr. batting in front of him. Consistency from both sides of the plate will be key for Fowler, as a breakout season could see a .280/.370/.450 batting line with 40 doubles, 15 triples, 30 steals, and 5-10 bombs. Expect to see Fowler gliding to balls other fielders would be diving for.
RF Seth Smith
The jury is still out on Smith for a number of reasons: Is he really a full time player or should he be a PH extraordinaire, and can he hit lefties? Spring was encouraging, as Smith did some good against lefties. Smith has it in him to be a .800+ OPS batter with a good eye and a good power swing. It's up to him to prove he deserves to start full time. Expect to see UNICORNS!
C Jose Morales
Acquired from Minnesota to play the part of the backup, Morales was hailed by Jim Armstrong as being the best hitting catcher in camp. Expect to see Telekinesis.
IF Jonathan Herrera
Probably the strongest defensive 2B option on the team. Herrera isn't a power hitter by any stretch, but he has good bat control, good contact rates, and has the propensity to get the bloop single when the team really needs it. Expect to see him getting a lot of reps at 2B, and if he bats the way he did in Spring, he won't let go of the starting gig.
UTIL Ty Wigginton
Wigginton brings something to Colorado the team will need in 2011: Positional versatility. If Stewart starts the season on the DL, Wigginton will likely be the starter at 3B, unless Jose Lopez and Johnny Herrera both come out destroying the baseball. Realistically, he'll be the primary backup to Todd Helton. Expect to see him in a lot of defensive positions you'd rather not see.
OF Ryan Spilborghs
Spilly will see his playing time increase if Seth Smith proves to be unable to hit lefties. Really, Smith and Spilborghs are a pretty solid platoon. His on-base skills are unappreciated by the masses, because we're mostly distracted by his facial hair arrangement. Expect really campy walkup music.
PH Jason Giambi
Lord help us if he has to actually play 1B. Giambi is realistically the 25th man on the roster, and having a .800 OPS pinch hitter is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you consider he's 150% the pinch hitter when compared to the average PH in baseball. Seriously, he batted a VERY OBP-heavy .798 OPS as a PH, as compared to the .638 league PH OPS. Expect a strong dose of badassitude.
RHP Aaron Cook
Longtime staple of the Rockies and the posterboy for the organizational pitching philosophy, Cook is starting the season on the DL with a combination of shoulder problems and a broken ring finger. Damn those car doors. Realistically, Cook needs to get healthy, fast, reclaim his slot in the rotation from Esmil Rogers, and then absolutely light it up for the remnants of the season, whatever they may be. Cook is one of the heavier groundballers in the league, but we've seen a decline in his numbers the past few years for any number of reasons.
OF Willy Taveras
A key member of the original Rocktober run, Taveras impressed this spring with his speed and his swing. If Stewart starts out on the DL, Taveras will likely be activated to fill the 25th roster spot. I imagine his playing time will consist of pinch-running for Giambi after he walks.
C Jordan Pacheco
While Pacheco might not actually sniff the majors until September, his spring turned a lot of heads. Right now, he looks to be a backup catcher who hits for good average with mostly in-the-park power, but the organization is going to try and expand his skillset to allow him to play the corners as well as be the backstop.
2B/OF Eric Young Jr.
Young is still recovering from a leg injury, and will probably spend the majority of 2011 in Colorado Springs. In the event of infield injury, I wouldn't doubt the organization would give him a call, if he's healthy, to at least provide 2B/OF depth and late-inning speed.
IF Chris Nelson
A former 1st round pick, Nelson endeared himself by accidentally stealing home against the Reds. The organization wants to make sure he can stay healthy for a full season and put up a decent batting line before giving him the official call to the majors.
LHP Rex Brothers
Brothers arguably had the most impressive spring of all the lefties, but his fastball command still isn't quite where the organization wants to see it. That being said, it will NOT be a surprise to see him up in Denver at any point in 2011.
OF Cole Garner
Garner shows good pop in his bat, has a strong throwing arm, and would be a fine 4th OF addition to a lot of clubs. If for some reason Ryan Spilborghs and/or Seth Smith aren't around next season, that would likely be Garner's shot to play in the majors.
This is an incredibly talented team, pitching and batting, from top to bottom. They basically hold their own futures, as the organization has set them up to succeed using their own abilities. The depth is there, the opportunities are there, it's up to the players to make it happen now.
1. Colorado Rockies
2. San Francisco Giants
3. San Diego Padres
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
5. Arizona Diamondbacks