Monday Rockpile: Morning musings

Doug Pensinger

There's a mountain's worth of compelling story lines both on the Rockies roster and in the National League that could impact the team as we move forward this season. I'll scratch the surface and touch on ten of them this morning.

Despite going 12-16 during the month of May and the team posting an OPS 99 points lower than it did in April (.812 vs .713), the Rockies are still just 2.5 games behind the division leading Arizona Diamondbacks. Here's ten Rockies / NL thoughts for you as the team continues to play meaningful baseball.

1) The Rockies might really have something in Tyler Chatwood

I've never been able to figure out the exact reason why, but Tyler Chatwood's name has floated under the radar since he was traded to the Rockies in exchange for Chris Iannetta in December of 2011. He certainly wasn't polished, but he was a guy with an electric fastball that made it to the majors at 21.

Even this year as he puts together what could be his breakout season, he's done it without a tremendous amount of fanfare. However, if you combine his across the board numbers (ERA, OPS against, K%, K/BB ratio, etc...) from AAA Colorado Springs and MLB this season, it's starting to look increasingly likely that the Chatwood is in the process of taking that next step and putting everything together - And I mean really putting things together.

Tonight's game against the Reds in the "Great American Small Park" is a big outing for him, but if Chatwood continues on the same trajectory he's been on so far this season, the Rockies not only have a guy they can count on this season, but a guy they can count on in the rotation for the next several seasons.

2) Even after a slump, Dexter Fowler's numbers still suggest his improvement is real

If you were around the comments section of Purple Row this winter, you know all about the debates that broke out surrounding Dexter Fowler's batting average on balls in play numbers. The case against Dex went something like this....

Fowler had a career OPS of .767 going into 2012 before posting a .390 BABIP and an .863 OPS last season. The thought was that his 2013 BABIP numbers would fall back to his career line and his OPS would suffer.

Two months into 2013, his BABIP has regressed, but his OPS has actually gone up. It turns out that we were focusing on the wrong numbers all off season. Fowler's story isn't told through BABIP, but rather slugging percentage.

When he was first called up to the big leagues in Septeber of 2008, Fowler was a 22-year-old kid weighing just 145 lbs. His figure was so thin that Vin Scully would often refer to him as "daddy long legs". However, over the last five years, Fowler has added more and more muscle to his frame and he now weighs close to 200 lbs - And as his muscle has increased, so has his slugging percentage...

2009: .406

2010: .410

2011: .432

2012: .474

2013: .495

Fowler will probably always be an extremely streaky hitter; he's been that way his entire career. The biggest difference between Dexter Fowler the hitter today and the Dexter Fowler the hitter from 2009 and 2010 though is that when he gets on one of his hot streaks now, he's going to do significant damage. Mistakes to Fowler the used to go into the gaps are now going over the wall.

3) Jon Garland's days with this team are numbered

It's looking more and more like Garland's going to be the odd man out when the inevitable rotation change up comes to fruition later this month. Roy Oswalt is tuning up in Tulsa, Jeff Francis will be set to come off the Disabled List soon, and Drew Pomeranz will eventually get called up this year (although it may not happen this month).

Jon Garland served his role with the Rockies. He plugged a huge hole that existed at the bottom of the rotation when the season started and gave Colorado three quality starts that led to three team wins in his first three outings. But over his last eight starts, Garland himself has become the huge hole at the bottom of the rotation and has turned back into a pumpkin. In that time, he's walked as many as he's struck out, he's pitched to a .691 ERA, and he's allowed opponents to hit to the tune of a 1.012 OPS against him.

Every Rockies fan should be grateful for Garland's contributions to the team's 13-4 start, but it's becoming obvious that he's not fit to stay in the rotation this summer.

4) Rafael Betancourt's absence shouldn't hurt the Rockies in the 9th, but it still might hurt them

As amazing as Betancourt has been at shutting down games for the Rockies, I don't think they will lose much by having Brothers close games. The problem Betancourt's injury presents for Colorado is that their bullpen is now shallower.

The Rockies have gotten away with taxing their bullpen to the max so far this season largely because the fifth, sixth, and seventh best pitchers of the bunch (whoever you think they may be) are more reliable than the fifth, sixth, and seventh best pitchers out of almost any other bullpen in baseball. This depth has allowed the Rockies to spread the innings around and still get quality relief work.

With Betancourt on the shelf, the Rockies are either going to have to pile extra innings on the top six arms in the pen, or hand some innings to Manny Corpas. At this point, the ideal situation would be to get some blowout wins so that the Rockies can use Corpas in a few meaningless situations and save their top notch guys for the tight games.

The Rockies can survive a few weeks without Betancourt, but they are going to have a problem if this injury turns into anything more significant.

5) Righty / Lefty madness

Here's something crazy...

OPS of Rockies right handed hitters facing facing right handed pitching this season: .799

OPS of Rockies right handed hitters facing facing left handed pitching this season: .697

But wait, it gets better...

OPS of Rockies left handed hitters facing facing right handed pitching this season: .787

OPS of Rockies left handed hitters facing facing left handed pitching this season: .799

So uh, yeah, somehow the Rockies right handed hitters are hitting much better against righties and Rockies left handed hitters are hitting better against lefties (albeit only slightly). It's probably just a small sample size thing and it also helps explain why the Rockies are 22-14 in games facing a right handed starter this season and only 8-13 in games facing a left handed starter, but it's still really, really odd.

6) The NL Central is the best division in baseball

I've got an interesting question for you. Which NL team has the third best record right now?

It's actually sort of a trick question because both the Reds and the Pirates are 35-22 making them tied for the second and third in that respect, but that's not the important thing here.

What is important is that the answer to that question makes you realize that the teams with the top three records in the NL right now all reside in the NL Central. It's also worth noting that the Cubs (who are nine games under .500 overall) actually have a winning record when playing teams outside of their division.

At least one Wild Card spot is almost assured to come out of this division, and if all three teams at the top hold up, it has a chance to suck up both.

7) The Rockies offense gets worse as the game goes on

Here's the Rockies team OPS in each third of the game.

Innings 1-3: .818

Innings:4-6: .794

Innings 7-9: .686

This isn't particularly unusual as the league in general tends to see a drop in offensive production as the game progresses, but the Rockies plunge here is particularly sharp.

What also may surprise some people is that Troy Tulowitzki has by far the best numbers of anyone on the team at this part of the game this season posting an OPS of 1.007 in 62 plate appearances. Since Tulo has traditionally struggled at this point of the game, this begs an interesting question. Are his lower career numbers at this point in the game more a result of things in his head or more a result of his game just not matching up well against high leverage relievers?

I personally hope that the answer is the first option, because if that's the case, Tulo is closer to a 1.000 OPS guy than a .900 OPS guy if he gets that figured out. Since he changed his batting stance in 2009, Tulo's OPS in innings 1-3 and in innings 4-6 have been right around 1.000, so if what we've seen in the past truly was in his head and not just odd circumstance, then it's possible that he's actually a 1.000 OPS guy when he slows the game down.

It may seem extreme, but this season Tulo's OPS in innings 7-9 is in line with his OPS from the first six innings and look where his OPS is overall.

8) Keep an eye on the Padres

Their record of 26-30 isn't all that impressive, be since their disastrous 2-10 start, nobody in the NL West has been better. In fact, they have played solid baseball for a month and a half now, and since they finished last season 48-36 in the final 84 games, that 2-10 start is the outlier here.

I don't believe their starting pitching is good enough to win the division, but there's also this part of me that keeps thinking that the Padres are going to go something like 25-10 in a 35 game stretch this summer and vault into first place as part of a plan by the baseball gods to punish us all for always ignoring San Diego.

9) The D'Backs are 11-0 in games started by Patrick Corbin

There's two schools of thought as to what this means for Arizona going forward. One says that there's no way the D"backs go 32-0 in his starts this season and that Arizona will fall back to Earth once they start losing a couple of his outings. After all, they are only 21-24 in games not started by Corbin.

However, one could also argue that the D'Backs are better than a 21-24 team when Corbin doesn't start and once they start playing better in those games, they'll be extremely dangerous.

In reality, these two ideas will probably cancel each other out.

10) Adrian Gonzalez may be one of the unluckiest players in MLB history

Right about the time Adrian Gonzalez got his hit yesterday, I began to think about his career. At first, it was more about his success as a hitter, but after going through the years in my mind, I began to truly appreciate how unlucky he has been in terms of being on unsuccessful teams.

Gonzalez was on the 2007 Padres team that won 89 games, but they were also the victims of the Rockies miracle dash to the postseason that year. San Diego lost games 161, 162, and 163 despite leading in all three. From there, San Diego fell into obscurity losing 99 games in 2008 and finishing a distant fourth in the division in 2009.

Gonzalez would get to play on a competitive team in 2010 as the Padres were a good surprise winning 90 games, but they also had the most underrated late season collapse in recent memory as they blew a 6.5 game late August lead by closing the season just 14-23 in their last 37 games.

Then Gonzalez was traded to Boston in 2011 and found himself on a team that was supposed to win 100 games. Instead, they closed the season 7-20 and blew a nine game September Wild Card lead to the Rays. The mess continued the following season as the Red Sox posted their only losing season in the last 15 years and finished 24 games under .500.

Once it was clear Boston was out of it, Gonzalez was shipped to the Dodgers as part of the mega deal last August. When he arrived in LA, the Dodgers were just two games behind the Giants for the division lead. By September 20th, they were ten games back. Fast forward to 2013 and the Dodgers are now nine games under .500 despite their behemoth payroll.

It's not his fault, but it does seem that terrible, horrible, no good very bad things happen to whatever team Adrian Gonzalez is on.

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