With two weeks to go until Opening Day, I have decided to put the calculator and slide rule (ask your parents) down and enjoy the possibility of 2013. I was set up to give the first part of a more in-depth look at walks and how they relate to wins that was the topic of my first Purple Row post, but St Patty's Day is too exciting a time to get muddled in statistics and the possible negative consequences for the Rockies. Don't worry though saberheads, I will be back to the numbers next week.
Instead, I want to focus on what this team could be in 2013. After the past two and a half years, it can sometimes be difficult to be an optimistic Rockies fan. However, it was just a few springs ago that the Rockies jumped out of the gates and were in first place through the early days of 2010. A large amount of injuries, some free agent signings that didn't work out, and some trades that haven't yet born fruit have left the Rockies as one of the worst teams in the NL West since then. With a few less injuries and successful seasons from their star players, the Rockies can do well this year. Here is a look at how this year's Rockies can match up to the 2009/beginning of 2010 club and exceed most people's expectations.
2010: Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Hammel, Aaron Cook, Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, Aaron Cook
2013: After last season, this seems to be the area most difficult to replicate from the successful seasons a few years ago. It is important to note that what the team needs is for consistency and health amongst the five starters to have success. While Ubaldo had a fantastic season in 2010, the team was more successful when he had an impressive, but not as electrifying, 2009 season coupled with four other starters that pitched well. Injuries in 2010, like last year, caused juggling in the rotation and not even a good inaugural season by Chacin could keep the team afloat with 8 dismal starts each from Greg Smith and Esmil Rogers.
While there is no likely equal to the 2010 Jimenez on this year's team, I think that Chacin has the ability to be similar to the 2009 Jimenez. Jeff Francis and Chris Volstad can be this year's Marquis and Cook, while De La Rosa certainly has contract incentives and finally the health to equal his 2009 season. That leaves Juan Nicasio to produce a Jason Hammel-like 175 innings with an ERA in the 4.50 range. If he can't, possibly a break out year by Pomeranz will surprise us and Nicasio will wind up in the bullpen.
2010: Huston Street, Matt Belisle, Betancourt, Beimel, Corpas
2013: Wow! I don't know how Colorado was in contention in August of 2009 with the relievers they had. The starters had to be excellent that year. The team made good trades to shore up the bullpen in time for the playoffs by acquiring Betancourt and Beimel. This led to having a better bullpen in 2010, not that it mattered as the bullpen can't subtract runs that were already allowed. While Street was likely a better closer than Betancourt will be this year, the rest of the bullpen this year should be much stronger than the last time we made the playoffs. If our starters bring leads into the 6th or 7th innings, the bullpen should be able to turn them into wins.
2013: While I pray that Todd Helton can equal his 2009 numbers (.325/.416/.489 in 151 games), I know that it isn't likely. With health on his side though, he should be able to do better than his 2010 season which was one of his worst statistically. Even with Cuddyer and others helping at first base, we are not likely to have 2009 Helton production there. However, every other position will be better offensively than in 2009.
With all due respect to Iannetta, who I miss, Rosario will provide better offensive numbers. Barring a sophomore slump, Rutledge should be better than Barmes and his .245/.294/.440 2009 season. I won't guarantee Tulowitzki matching his 32 HRs and .930 OPS from 2009 but there is no reason other than health that he cannot equal or better those numbers. No matter what happens with third base, the overall offense will be more productive than 2009. Stewart/Atkins managed to hit a lot of home runs that year, but their batting average was a measly .227. Nelson or Arenado may not hit 25 home runs, but better overall numbers will give the Rockies a better team offense.
2010: Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Spilborghs, Seth Smith, Dexter Fowler
2013: Much like the infield, I think we have the opportunity to have an even better year of offense from our outfield than at the end of the last decade. Even in his worst year in Colorado (2012), Cargo had a better season than the 2009 Brad Hawpe, .903 OPS with 23 HRs. While Dexter Fowler may no longer steal 27 stolen bases, like he did in 2009, he has continued to improve and will be playing for his future contract in 2013.
The only question is whether the platoon of Cuddyer/Colvin/Young Jr. will be better than Spilborghs/Smith. In 2012, this year's group totaled 29 stolen bases to go with 38 home runs and an average OPS of .832. The 2009 duo, along with a young Cargo, had 29 stolen bases to go with 36 home runs and an average OPS of .819. Therefore, a repeat of 2012 by the five outfielders will assure a better offensive performance than the 2009 version.
To go along with the starting pitchers, defense is the area that can most likely poke holes in my optimism. The 2009 club was tied for sixth in MLB with a .986 fielding percentage while last year's club was dead last at .980. While more sophisticated defensive metrics could be discussed, the conclusion is fairly similar. Last year was unacceptable defensively, especially with a struggling pitching staff.
A full, healthy, season of Tulo, combined with significant improvement by Rosario behind the plate will go a long way into fixing this issue. Some improvement at second base should also be expected, and depending on who winds up at third, improvement could be seen there as well. A little bit better defense by the entire team will go a long way into saving a run here and there, which may be the difference between a win and a loss.
So there you have it. This year's potent offense and stingy bullpen are better than the 2009 version of the Rockies. Less time on the DL, a more stable starting rotation, and a return to above average defense can provide a quick turn around from the disastrous 2012 season. Will it mean the Rockies' first NL West title? That may be difficult with the Giants and Dodgers both spending exorbitant amounts of money, but with a little luck of the Irish and a lot of four leaf clovers, this team will be over .500 and could even be in the hunt for its fourth wild card appearance in the post-season. (OK, that may be a little too optimistic even for me). Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone and GO ROCKIES!