Rock mining week 22: missing Cargo

From foul balls hitting him to finger issues, Cargo hasn't been able to stay healthy in 2013 and it has hurt the Rockies. - Doug Pensinger

In a week where the bullpen stumbled, the real issue for the team is in the lineup.

The Rockies won two and lost four over the last seven days but had opportunities to take a victory in all except for the 8-3 loss against the Reds last Saturday.  In the other three losses the Rockies mounted comeback only to have the bullpen give up 3, 2, and 2 runs respectively in the ninth inning with the help of some shaky defense in one of them.  Bullpens occasionally give up runs though, and the underlying problem is an offense that has not been able to take advantage of opportunities.

The Rockies have used three different players in an attempt to replace Carlos Gonzalez (.958 OPS).  Charlie Blackmon (.723), Charlie Culberson (.561), and Corey Dickerson (.847) have all had their moments but none can match Cargo's bat and only Blackmon is even in the same ball park defensively.  More importantly for the Rockies batting order, Cargo's absence moves the two power right handed hitters, Tulowitzki and Cuddyer, together after a right handed number two hitter, LeMahieu, which makes late inning match ups easier as well as compressing the strength of the lineup and not having a strong bach half of the order.

It also puts the Rockies in the conundrum of either having a fourth right handed hitter in a row behind Cuddyer with Rosario or using Todd Helton as the number five hitter.  Luckily, the team has faced a lot of left handed pitching lately so this hasn't been a huge issue and Todd has found a power resurgence of late to offset his use in the five spot.  However, either option keeps the back half of the lineup from having too much strength.

Nolan Arenado's bat (.722 OPS), for example, is certainly acceptable for a rookie, especially with his defense.  However, it projects a lot better in the seven or eight spot in this lineup than it does in the six spot.  Not to mention that he has been able to hit better eighth (.822) versus seventh (.658) or sixth (.710).  The Rockies though have had to put high expectations on him instead of letting him ease in against MLB pitchers due to injuries this year.

Which leads me to an issue I have with the idea of comparitive advantage.  The Rockies, as has been stated many times, have a huge offensive comparitive advantage at both shortstop and catcher.  While much has been said about these advantages being nullified by injury (Tulo) and defense (Rosario), the real reason these advantages have not translated into beating the opposition is not taking advantage of them.  Tulo's offense is great, but this team has spent most of his career with a substandard offensive third baseman, meaning that they have merely swapped the bats that most teams have and nullified their advantage.  The baby bull has had great power impact to the lineup thus far in his career, but he and Todd Helton's bat are merely the same as the catcher and first baseman on most teams, just in a different way.

Nolan Arenado provides promise that the Rockies will finally see dividends on their comparitive advantage at shortstop in the coming years.  The hole at first base, though, is what the Rockies must fill going forward.  Michael Cuddyer can fill the void, but then right field becomes the issue if they try and fill it with one of the already mentioned flawed outfielders.  I am a fan of Corey Dickerson, but I hope the team would get a good veteran and let Corey work his way into the lineup as the fourth outfielder or as a platoon option.

My other worry would be that Helton stays on his current hot streak and he and the team decide one more year is a good idea.  In his seventeen year career, this is Todd's second worst for batting average, worst in on base percentage, and fourth worst for slugging percentage.  Add in that the only times he was worse in these stats have all come in the last four years and he is obviously a great player who is in decline to the point where he is for the first time since his rookie year below replacement level (-0.3 WAR).  I am a huge fan of Helton and want him to play in every game the rest of the season, but September 29th in Los Angeles should be his last game.

With the pitching turning the corner for this team and injury karma eventually needing to be nice to the Rockies, 2014 can be a year that they use their comparitive advantages to have a winning season, push for a playoff spot, and try for their first NL West pennant.  Whether or not the front office will choose to spend seven to ten million a year on a first baseman/right fielder free agent to help Cargo, Tulo, Cuddy, and the youngsters could be the difference between a return to relevancy and a repeat of the last four years.

The Good-Corey Dickerson

Corey leads the team in most offensive categories this month as we have finished the first week of September.  In the last week he has gone six for twelve with two doubles and a home run.  Of course, with the Rockies luck this year, he was diagnosed with knee tendinitis on Monday after going four for eight with a double and a home run over the weekend.

The Bad-Late innings

As previously mentioned, this team either took the lead or was came back to be within a run three times this week prior to their pitcher taking the mound in the ninth inning.  Defense and pitching kept them from being successful as it seemed that Walt Weiss couldn't make the right call for any of those games.

The Ugly-Late inning relievers

It didn't help Weiss that his late relievers and closers were not effective this week.  While Ottavino, Outman, Lopez, Francis, Corpas, and Scahill gave up zero earned runs over a combined twelve innings, Brothers and Belisle allowed eight in five and a third.

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