Rock Mining, Week 1

Doug Pensinger

A Saturday look at the past week of Rockies baseball, going beyond the box score to find the good and bad trends of the Colorado Rockies.

Happy Saturday everyone. With their first work week of the regular season done, the Rockies are 3-1 and were very close to being 4-0. The team has had some amazing plays, making Sports Center highlights on offense and defense. While it is a small sample of four games, the team has given a glimpse of its abilities and deficiencies in the first week of play.

The Good

The Rockies defense has, for one week anyway, looked a lot more like the 2006-2010 version that was a league leader than last year's disappointment. Spectacular rundowns of fly balls by Carlos Gonzalez (twice robbing Norichika Aoki and then the catch against the left field wall yesterday) and by Michael Cuddyer (multiple good plays against the Brewers including the diving catch) combined with a couple of outfield assists have helped the pitching staff out of jams and kept runs off the board. The infield, while not as spectacular, has been solid throughout. Wilin Rosario has even shown improvement, although he did give up his first passed ball on Friday and he has not been successful throwing players out yet (0 for 2).

The limited number of games provides distorted fielding statistics that misrepresent the Rockies defense. The team's three errors put it in the bottom half of the league in basic fielding stats and some of the advanced ones like RZR. However, two of those errors have come from a young player trying to make a name for himself at a position that is, at best, his third best spot on the field.

Reid Brignac, in one start and two late inning substitutions, has committed two errors at third base. The first was a throw that sailed over first base about twenty feet above the ground and the other was a fielding error that cost the team a run against the Padres. Assuming Reid settles down, or he sees less playing time, a few more solid games should help the statistics better mirror the reality.

My only real concern with the defense right now is: can the outfielders sustain their acrobatics without landing on the disabled list? I cringe every time I see Cargo hit a wall or the older Cuddyer diving to make a play. With only four outfielders on the team, a few less theatrics in the outfield will be beneficial to their long term health. On the health note, Troy Tulowitzki seems to be playing within himself so far this year and not trying to do too much.

Towards the end of the first game, Tulo made a strong glove play deep in the hole to his right. In the past, he has made a tough pirouette to get the ball over to Helton and occasionally get the runner at first. Sometimes though, this play resulted in a throwing error and the torque he needs to put on his body to make this play is what can lead to injury. So in my mind, it was good to see him keep the ball, holding the play to an infield single and preserving his body for the next grueling six months.

With three outfield assists, three double plays in game two, and some outstanding fly ball outs, the Rockies defenders have certainly helped the pitching staff to a week one ERA of 3.19 and kept the starters in the games long enough to combine for three quality starts. If they can make this the standard for the season, Rockies fans will have exciting plays to watch on defense as well as the highlight reel offense whenever they watch a game.

The Bad

In just four games, with only one being at Coors Field, the Rockies lead the league in nearly every offensive category. Hits, home runs, total bases, batting average, and slugging percentage are all lead by the team from Colorado. With all of this offensive success, the bad news is that they are only fourth in runs and on base percentage, and twenty-seventh in walks.

The dearth of walks directly relates to the OBP and indirectly leads to lower runs scored. Add to this the fact that base runners have not had a stolen base, Eric Young Jr. getting thrown out on the only attempt, while two runners have been thrown out while in scoring position and the Rockies have an early season anomaly that needs to be corrected.

With as hot as most of the Rockies have been swinging, I am hesitant to say they need to be more patient and draw the walks. However, now that they have shown their offensive might, I think the walks will start coming as pitchers will be scared to pitch to Fowler, Tulo, Cargo, and Rosario. Getting more people on base, getting them moved into scoring position successfully, and getting them home needs to remain a focus point.

We can't expect those four hitters to average two home runs a game throughout the season, although it would be nice to see. The pitchers (I am looking at you Jhoulys Chacin) need to get a little more bunting practice and our players need to work on base running. It is fine to be a station-to-station team, but the players need to be sound in the tactics to optimize the return on the slugging this team can do.

The Ugly

It has often been said that the third time through the lineup is the most dangerous for pitchers. In this first week of baseball, however, the Rockies starters have had difficulties in the early innings. The Rockies starters have a 3.13 ERA and three quality starts through four games, but their ERA in the first three innings is 6.00 in twelve total innings as opposed to 0.00 in their ten total innings pitched after the first three frames. This, again, is an early season anomaly of statistics, but it actually shows a good thing for the Rockies pitchers as they have only allowed two hits in nineteen at bats to opposing hitters during their third time through the lineup.

Most of this early game funk, and the starters earned runs, can be attributed to De La Rosa's disappointing start in game two, where he gave up two runs in the second and two runs in the third. He began to look stronger after that though, and this is a trend with all four of the Rockies starters. Juan Nicasio needed 30 pitches to get through the first and then used only 67 to get through the next five innings while Jhoulys Chacin gained strength and confidence to the point that he was practically unhittable in his last couple of frames. Jeff Francis, meanwhile, continued his trend of the first inning be his weakest in his outstanding home opener where his lone run allowed came in the first.

All in all, while I call this The Ugly, its a small blemish on an otherwise strong start by Rockies pitching. If they can find a way to eliminate these early inning issues, the starters can quickly increase their work load into the seventh inning, thereby preserving the bull pen and hopefully easing new manager Walt Weiss's decision process.

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