Although Game #81 was technically the midpoint of the season (and a 4-6 loss to the White Sox), the All Star Break seems a good enough moment to step back and evaluate the team. Today and Tomorrow's Rockpiles will cover the various aspects of the team, in the form of the Starters, Backups, and Depth.
It's somewhat tough to evaluate the team on an absolute level, as a lot of the "starters" at the beginning of the season sorta kinda lost their starting roles. My attempt in this grading will be to evaluate the season-beginning expectations and how they grade out.
C: Chris Iannetta was flat out handed the starting role behind the plate, and for the most part, hasn't disappointed. His April and May were solid months, posting a .800+ OPS in both months. June wasn't bad, but a .746 OPS isn't GREAT, and July has been flat out awful for Iannetta. That all being said, any improvement on 2010 would be appreciated out of the C spot, and it's really not the biggest of our problems right now.
1B: Todd Helton's career-low .728 OPS in 2010 had a lot of Rockies fans nervously biting their nails, wondering if the Original Face of the Franchise's career was done for. Back problems have plagued him the past several years, but it seems that in 2011, Helton finally got the message and will let himself sit when necessary. This has been a very win-win situation for the Rockies, as Helton is saving something for the playoff push, and Jason Giambi's 1.169 OPS as a starter has been outstanding. Essentially, 1B has been one of the very few positions where things have gone exactly as expected - even moreso, and has easily been the sentimental high point of the 2011 season.
2B: While it might be construed as a massive failure (and it has been, pre-Ellis), 2B wasn't going to be an easy decision in any way, shape, or form. Jose Lopez was brought in to steal the 2B job from Johnny Herrera, but quickly lost it to Herrera's .824 OPS April. Herrera quickly fell off, but not to the point where Jose Lopez would re-steal the position. Chris Nelson was brought up to fill the void, but after a couple of solid games, he fell flat on his face as well. Mark Ellis was then traded for, and has been nothing but a joy so far for the Rockies. That said, given expectations of some sort of Herrera/Nelson/Lopez hyperplatoon type situation, it's been an absolute failure. Ellis' 10 games as a Rockie have been the only thing keeping this grade above a straight out F.
SS: Troy Tulowitzki, despite playing his typical excellent defense, has been a disappointment at the plate. A .835 OPS isn't the worst thing ever from a slick-fielding defenseman, but his .930+ OPS over the past 2 seasons has more or less spoiled us when it comes to Tulowitzki expectations. The upside is that Tulo tends to rebound very strongly in the 2nd half, and his .835 OPS in the first half trumps his .797 career first half line, but Tulo's hit a new point in his career, and we expect better from him. That all said, I know a lot of fans are frustrated with Tulo's affinity for the GIANT HOME RUN SWING, when his line would probably look somewhat nicer if he'd go for the little hit a little more often than the big hit. Again, he's been far from a liability.
3B: Let's remember the way the season started. Ian Stewart was the starter, and if he still showed his standard struggles against lefties, they'd platoon him with Ty Wigginton. As it turned out, Stewart was demoted with a pathetic batting line, Jose Lopez' line as a 3B was even worse than his line as a 2B, and Ty Wigginton just kind of ended up being the starter. Based on preseason expectations, 3B has been even more of a debacle than 2B.
OF: The expectations for the OF were for Carlos Gonzalez to play MVP caliber LF, Dexter Fowler to field CF like a HoF and bat like something resembling a league-average CF, and for Seth Smith to lose his starting RF position to Charlie Blackmon by June. Instead, Dexter Fowler fell flat on his face and was demoted to AAA; Carlos Gonzalez stumbled through April before finally finding his stride in May, posting a .900+ OPS in May and June and he hasn't looked back; Seth Smith, despite questionable platooning decisions, has held onto his starting job and hasn't let go all season long.
Grades: Cargo B+, Fowler F, Smith A-, Aggregate: B-
Bench and Depth past the jumpThe Bench
Given the nature of the starters, picking people out as the Bench falls into two roles: PH (aka Giambi) and backups (Spilly, Wigginton, whichever 2B isn't starting that particular day).
Let's knock a quick one out of the way:
PH: Jason Giambi, as a PH, has a .450 OPS. That's an F right there. Overall, the Rockies PH at a .187/.282/.262 clip. That's another big F right there.
The backups are kind of a trickier situation. Ty Wigginton, as stated above, wasn't brought in as a starter, despite being forced into that role. He's been surprisingly decent as a 3B so far, and given the general lack of production at 3B in the majors this season, he hasn't been the expected liability. When the season started, Wigginton was expected to be the backup 1B and 3B, leaving Giambi as the PH-only/clubhouse guy. Instead, Wiggity's pretty much the starting 3B and Giambi has been moved into Helton's primary backup. As stated above, Giambi has been FANTASTIC as a starter, and Wigginton has been far from a problem. Honestly, Wigginton's .779 OPS isn't GREAT by any stretch, but it's far from a problem as a bench player. Considering that he's been thrust into the starting role, I consider the 1B/3B backups as solid contributions.
Grades: Giambi as a 1B backup - A+; Wigginton as the 3B backup - B+; whichever 2B isn't starting: D+; Aggregate - B
Outfield backups are a bit odd to look at. The Rockies broke camp with just Ryan Spilborghs as a dedicated OF backup and Ty Wigginton being the "emergency" corner OF backup. Wigginton, yet again, is going to be graded in somewhat of a minor capacity, as he has all of 40PA as an outfielder. Regardless, he posted an .830 OPS as a LF, and 1.250 as a RF (4PA in RF). That's a solid A-, given expectations. Spilly, on the other hand, has been bad out loud. .619 OPS is just not excusable. His fielding has been expectedly average-to-below-average, but it meets expectations.
Backup Catcher Jose Morales finally started finding some success right before his injury, and a .352 OBP from the backup catcher is nothing to sneeze at. His complete lack of power was disturbing, but really, for a backup catcher, he's right at expectations.
Guys like Charles Blackmon, Chris Nelson, Alfredo Amezaga, Cole Garner, and Matt Pagnozzi weren't supposed to be up in the majors if everything went according to plan. You could argue that Blackmon, Nelson, and Garner forced the issue by being the best available backups, and putting up solid-to-excellent AAA lines. The fact that they didn't all come up and go 0-for-the-season gets them above that F, and gets them above the D mark. In fact, Pagnozzi's SSS .316/.381/.316 line is obviously not the kind of line we'd like to see out of a major leauger, but just like with Morales, a .381 OBP is far from a point of contention. Factor in Blackmon's excellent defense, and I think we can grade the depth out right about at the point of expectations.
So all said and done, the final aggregate grade for the bats rounds out to:
Andrew Fisher will be covering the pitching staff in Tuesday's Rockpile. Until then, enjoy the Home Run Derby!