Wednesday Rockpile: Toasting to Good Health

Doug Pensinger

An injury-free New Year is the quickest way to improve the Rockies' road fortunes.

For better or worse, the Rockies' front office believes that injuries were a significant reason for the poor showing in 2012, and that a return to health will make for a more competitive team in 2013. As Bill Geivett told Jonah Keri back in October:

What next season will hold, we'll have to wait and see, but I really do like our talent. And I don't think people give us enough credit for the talent we have. It's here. It's just hurt.


There are grounds for some skepticism: Starting pitching remains a huge question mark for reasons largely unrelated to injury. The defense, meanwhile, continued its precipitous and worrisome decline last year, and the same glovework at third base likely will be back to start next season. Injuries don't account for all that's wrong with the Rockies.

But in one important area — road offense — good health will very likely make the Rockies a better team. The Rockies' 2012 offense was dreadful on the road: last in runs scored (272), third-to-last in OPS (.662), second-to-last in wOBA (.288), and last in wRC+ (64).

It's not hard to see why. Consider this lineup (with 2012 road stats) that took the field in Atlanta on September 6, 2012, and that was held scoreless by Tim Hudson & Friends in a 1-0 loss:

1. Fowler (.720 OPS / 105 sOPS+)
2. Rutledge (.730 OPS / 104 sOPS+)
3. Pacheco (.646 OPS / 84 sOPS+)
4. Rosario (.722 OPS / 101 sOPS+)
5. Colvin (.687 OPS / 92 sOPS+)
6. McBride (.298 OPS / -17 sOPS+)
7. Blackmon (.682 OPS / 93 sOPS+)
8. Herrera (.582 OPS / 67 sOPS+)

Just three bats in that lineup were better than league average on the road for 2012, and there was some serious drag at the bottom of the order.

Now take a look at the Rockies' likely Opening Day lineup of position players, with 2012 road stats:

1. Fowler (.720 OPS / 105 sOPS+)
2. Rutledge (.730 OPS / 104 sOPS+)
3. CarGo (.706 OPS / 99 sOPS+)
4. Tulo (.908 OPS / 154 sOPS+)
5. Cuddyer (.744 OPS / 108 sOPS+)
6. Helton (.682 OPS / 96 sOPS+)
7. Rosario (.722 OPS / 101 sOPS+)
8. Nelson (.709 OPS / 99 sOPS+)

It might not be world class, but it's a vast improvement over the September 6 lineup above. This lineup boasts five bats above league average on the road, and two of the three sub-average bats are CarGo and Helton. Both hitters were plagued with bad luck on the road last year in the form of BABIP below league average. Adjusting their BABIP to around league average would give the Rockies seven bats in their 2013 lineup with OPS above the 2012 league average. And if you consider the possibility that DJ LeMahieu could vie for third base, then all eight position players would be above league average on the road.

Are there rosy assumptions in here? You bet. Fowler would need to maintain his good fortune on balls in play, Rutledge would need to replicate a strong rookie season on the road, and Cuddyer and Helton would need to beat the declines that Father Time inevitably visits upon aging bats. It may be for these reasons (and regression at home) that Bill James projects that each of these eight hitters will have a lower wOBA in 2013 than 2012, except for Tulo and Helton. Heltonfan's NEIFI projections generally concur (more optimistic on Rutledge and CarGo, less so on Helton).

Notwithstanding these caveats to overall production, there's good reason to believe that, in terms of road offense, a healthy Rockies lineup will be a better Rockies lineup away from Coors Field. So raise a glass to a healthier and happier 2013. Just don't hurt yourself doing it.

Wednesday Off-Topic.

Links:

Drew Smyly, not Rick Porcello, deserves Tigers' last rotation spot: Kurt Mensching of The Detroit News makes a case for Drew Smyly to take the spot of rumored trade target Rick Porcello.

Nobody deserves my Hall vote this year: Mark Faller of The Arizona Republic makes a case for None of The Above on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.

Cutch as Cruise: Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates makes a case for an Oscar.

Finally, today's the birthday of two Hall of Famers: Carlton Fisk (b. 1947) and Ozzie Smith (b. 1954). Fisk was an 11-time All Star in his 24 major-league seasons, and created one of baseball's iconic moments, waiving his arms and imploring his 12th-inning walk-off home run to stay fair in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. For his part, Smith was a 15-time All Star in 19 major-league seasons, garnering 13 Gold Gloves and a World Championship along the way. His iconic moment came in 1985, when he broke a ninth-inning tie in Game 5 of the NLCS with an improbable walk-off home run, capturing the NL pennant for the Cards. "Go crazy, folks."

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