Rock Mining Week 5: How important is clubhouse stability?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

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. This week: whether or not patience is a good thing to try and force on a young hitter.

Clubhouse Cohesion vs. Controversy Creating Call-ups

With two roster moves due to injuries and two roster moves due to performance, the Rockies have not been too aggressive in shaking up the clubhouse this year. However, there can be a fine line between tweaking the team to optimize production and creating a hostile work environment where the players do not trust management or players do not get along. As fans, we usually clamor for replacement of players not meeting our standards, especially when there is a youthful replacement doing well in the minor leagues. While not an in-depth analysis, this article looks at the the Rockies moves this year and possible future moves by describing their potential impact on the psyche of the team.

April 19 - Optioned Chris Volstad, Recalled Josh Outman

In their first move of the year, the Rockies replaced a struggling journeyman pitcher who had just signed with the team in the off-season with a regular from last year. While some of the players may have made quick friendships with Volstad, this move likely did not cause much dissension in the ranks. It did put the bullpen, which had struggled a little bit out of the gate, on notice that performance mattered.

The bullpen didn't immediately get the message, giving up three runs on the 20th and blowing a save on the 21st, but as a group they came together to end the month of April on a good note. This move also made sense in getting a second lefty in the bullpen and it has given Volstad a chance to start games in AAA. In his third game for the Sky Sox, Chris has shown promise by pitching six innings of one run ball and having a GO/AO rate of 3.33. This could prove to be a fortuitous move for the Rockies if an emergency starter is needed later in the season.

April 28 - Designated Chris Nelson, Selected contract of Nolan Arenado

Calling up Nolan Arenado is a move that the fan base has been anticipating for a year now. However, losing Nelson may have a much greater effect on his teammates than when Volstad was sent down. Chris was ultimately traded to the Yankees and, while fans will look at who becomes the PTBNL to determine the success of the trade, the lost value of a friend and positive clubhouse influence will be harder to measure. For example, Dexter Fowler has spent six of his nine years in the Rockies organization with Chris as a teammate. EY Jr. has even more time with Nelson, having spent at least part of eight years at the same level.

I don't know if they became close friends or couldn't stand each other, but losing familiar face at the work place can be detrimental. It also says something about the Rockies ability to develop players in the past decade. Chris was a first round pick who developed slowly in the organization, in part due to injuries, and it is sad to see him go as he reaches his late 20s. Hopefully, he won't make everyone regret this decision, at least in the near future, as he will be returning this week to Coors Field with the Yankees.

Possible Future Moves

With some early season struggles in the rotation, and a strong showing by Tyler Chatwood in his short stint replaying Jhouly Chacin, talk has begun on which starting pitcher should be taken off the club when Chacin gets back. This can be a dangerous decision for the team because of the strong connection both of the options have with the rest of the team.

Jeff Francis is one of five players that represent the old guard of the Rockies (Helton, Torrealba, Belisle and Betancourt being the other players who are over 30 and have at least 5 years with the Rockies). He brought stability to an awful pitching situation last year and has shown flashes of being serviceable this year with two good games mixed in with four forgettable games. Long term, I think Jeff will have to be replaced, but how it will effect the organization if it happens soon will be hard to tell.

Juan Nicasio has different ties that are equally strong to the organization. Being one of nine players from Latin America, he seems to get along well with the strong Hispanic presence on the team. His miraculous return from the horrific on-field injury also makes him a favorite of everyone connected to the Rockies. However, he needs work on developing secondary pitches if he is to remain a starter. While he could be moved to the bullpen and stay with the big league club, this could be a huge waste of his talent. At only 26, spending a year at AAA to turn him into a legitimate starter makes sense logically, and that is how it needs to be sold to him and his teammates if the Rockies move him off the big league roster.

Ultimately, both of these players may not be starting for the Rockies by July. Chatwood (3 walks to 8 strike outs in 12 innings pitched) and Pomeranz (four starts with 1 ER or less and 34 strikeouts in 28 and a third innings in AAA), may prove to be too much better not to promote. This will be interesting to watch as the season plays out and on how it affects the rest of the club.

The only other major move, barring injury, that the Rockies may make soon is to bolster the bats on the bench. As I wrote last week, the young bench players have been horrible pinch hitters, and that continued this week with them going one for four in pinch hit attempts. Johnny Herrera is similar to Nelson in that he has grown up in the Rockies organization and has been around his teammates for a long time. Also, like Nelson, he has been good in small doses but tends to disappear when asked to take on a larger role.

Herrera's career stats are a bit worse than Nelson's at the big league level and I am actually surprised he wasn't moved to bring up Arenado. In fact, I incorrectly predicted at the beginning of the season that he would already be gone in favor of bringing back Tyler Colvin. With Rutledge's bat starting to heat up and Pacheco proving himself as a strong hitter, Johnny or Reid Brignac appear to be the options though if the Rockies decide to bring up DJ LeMahieu or an extra outfielder. With Brignac having slightly better batting numbers and not having an option, Scrappy may be the odd man out (but I have been wrong before).

So there you have it, not an overall answer but some points to ponder as the Rockies move forward in 2013. Roster management can be like a game of Jenga, you have to pull pieces out to in order to add on to the team, but you might not realize that the piece you are about to remove will make it all come tumbling down. Now for a look at the rest of last week:

The Good-Winning 2 of 3 in LA

The Rockies were able to turn a disappointing road trip around by scoring 21 runs against the Dodgers this week. Taking advantage of the Dodgers while their rotation is depleted is important for Colorado as LA may come on strong to end the season. Unfortunately for the Rockies, they do not face the Dodgers again until the end of May and most of their match ups are scheduled later in the year.

The Bad-Close Games

After losing the first game of the year in extra innings, the Rockies had done well by winning their next two games that went longer than nine frames. However, the Rockies lost last night to the Rays in the tenth and gave up a game to the D-Backs last Saturday in the tenth. Both of these games could have, and probably should have, been won by the Rockies, but the reason they turned into loses is this week's "ugly".

The Ugly-Sacrifice RBI Attempts

The Rockies simply have not been able to hit sacrifice fly balls this year, and this week in particular. The impact on games this week has been staggering. With a runner on third and less than two outs, the Rockies went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts and an inning-ending double play in their two extra inning loses. In their two wins this week, on the other hand, the Rockies went 3 for 4 with a double, home run, and a sacrifice fly when faced with the same condition. Walt Weiss has made extensive use of bunting runners into scoring position so far this week in an attempt to give his hitters RBI chances. Driving these runs in, instead of striking out, can and will make the difference in close games.

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