It's curious sometimes to see what the national media thinks of our little ballclub, although this year moreso than most it appears that our team is largely being ignored altogether. I think they do this right now at their peril. Take for instance, Foxsports.com's Dayn Perry's recent article. In his early preview/prediction for the NL West race, he spends most of his time focusing on why the Dodgers will be better than last year, and why San Diego is destined for a fall (like most of us, he thought Giles was moving on), but this is what he has to say about our team:
That's it. Just a throwaway line at the end of a paragraph about the Giants as if by saying those magic words, everybody in the world understands exactly how pathetic and hopeless our team is. It's not only Perry, in a recent chat at ESPN, Rob Neyer said almost the exact same thing:
SportsNation Rob Neyer: (1:28 PM ET ) I like the Padres, long-term. At the moment, the Dodgers have ownership issues, the Rockies are the Rockies, the Devil Rays are stuck with a lot of bad money, and the Giants are in trouble once Bonds is gone. I'm not thrilled about Cameron, but if he's healthy he'll cover a lot of ground in that big center field.
[editor's note, by Rox Girl] I think we can safely assume that Neyer meant the D-backs rather than the D-rays
Alright, I might be a biased fan for the Rockies here - I will readily admit that - but I can tell you that regardless of the team, that when you start assuming a repeating result to be infallibly true without digging deeper into emergent patterns you're basically begging to eat crow at some near point down the road. Specifically regarding the Rockies, don't assume that because their overall record in 2005 was nearly identical to 2004 that 2006 will follow with the same result. Let me demonstrate with a two year win percentage chart breaking it down by month (September and October are combined):
Rockies win percentage by month 2004 to 2005
Typically, losing teams will have lines that look like our 2004 (the first six bars on the left,) that is to say, there won't be a huge variance in wins from month to month, although it's not atypical to see spikes like the one we had in July of that year (the Pirates, for instance, had a similar spike this past May). What doesn't happen quite as often is the distinct rise from the beginning our team displayed this last season and this should be the first clue for writers like Perry and Neyer that they shouldn't be as quick to overlook what's happening in Lodo. Now, can I say for certain that the last two months of 2005 weren't just as flukey as July of 2004? Well, not from this evidence alone, but there are other underlying factors which give me a hunch that it's not. Let's go with another simple chart that we can all understand:
Rockies runs/game versus opponents 2005
The equation of winning is simple: score more than you let your opponent score, and yet until the very end of the season the Rockies couldn't seem to figure this out. Still, a look at the big picture shows both lines moving in the right direction in 2005, particularly the last three months of the year. While the runs scored surge in the last month definitely looks a little flukey, the consisitent decline in runs allowed indicates real gains made by the pitching staff and the overall upward trend in runs scored throughout the year is a definite positive sign as long as the underlying reasons indicate the performance should continue into 2006.
For that, a brief recap/explanation might be useful here. In April disaster struck with a porous bullpen, and then in May, after finally getting the relief corps under control, our offense started to sputter. The improved bullpen made it painfully obvious that our starting staff was in need of repair for control issues and so that was revamped over the following two months as well. The slight surge in offense in June could come as a surprise knowing that we lost Clint Barmes and Brad Hawpe that month, but a healthy Preston Wilson, Garret Atkins' rookie of the Month performance, and the subtraction of Aaron Miles' bat from the everyday lineup due to injury help explain that effect. July came along, however, and with the Todd Helton injury, the trade of Wilson to the Nationals, Atkins' slump, and the return of Miles from the DL, our offensive output took a nosedive. On the other side of the coin, despite losing two of our starters from the beginning of the year as well as one of our best relievers by the trade deadline (not to mention the Jason Jennings season ending injury), our pitching staff continued to show improvement. The acquisition of Sunny Kim, and especially the return of Aaron Cook as stable forces in the rotation probably have the most to do with this over the last three months. In August, the offense begins to pick up once key parts start to return from the DL, Miles is benched in favor of Luis Gonzalez, and Matt Holliday emerges as a legit corner bat. In September the runs surge further thanks to big months from Helton and Cory Sullivan.
Now we can figure out some of the keys to a successful 2006 for the Rox:
1. A healthy Aaron Cook. I didn't mention it yet, but from the first chart, one of the things in common from our spike in July 2004 and our strong finish last year was Cookie's pitching. The fact that he replicated his 2004 performance coming off of injury in 2005 leads one to think that his level of performance in 2006 should be just as strong. Having a full year of him will allow us to start and finish well.
2. Stable, quality relief from the beginning. This is why middle relievers are fetching millions this offseason and why the Rox have made it a priority with their spending cash. Signing Brian Fuentes to a multi-year deal is a very good sign.
3. Multiple sources of offense at any given time. Last year when Todd Helton was slumping early, there would usually be just one Rockie stepping up to carry the offensive load. What we need is at least one of our second year players, as well as Matt Holliday to be able to provide more consistent punch so the letdowns aren't as pronounced.
4. Controlling baserunners by our starters and catchers. Not only the amount of baserunners by limiting walks, but more importantly we need to limit the high offensive leveraged situations (RISP with less than two out) that the team would get into so many times last year.
So, if the Rockies are to be "the Rockies" again this year we can expect few if any of these keys to be met as they tumble to one more last place finish, and yet from here I'm seeing favorable signs for all four of the above mentioned keys to be established by April. Now the real answer won't be known until September, but be wary national sportswriters, it's looking already like crow will be a trendy menu item come next Fall.