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Baker, Salazar, Tulo and Chris: First Impressions

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I thought it would be interesting to take a broader look at how our most prominent offensive call-ups have fared with the team in their short tenures. I'm looking at only games where they either were the starter at their respective position or entered early enough to receive at least two at bats.

Chris Iannetta:

Games: 16
Rockies Record: 10-6
VORP: 1.9

Best Performance: I would have to go with the ten to six loss at San Francisco wherein Chris hit his first (and only so far) MLB homerun off of Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez and the Giants otherwise dominated the bottom of the lineup, with the other three spots in the bottom four combining to go zero for eleven. Chris finished the day going two for three with a walk.

Worst Performance: Chris had two zero for five, two K days within a week at Los Angeles and San Diego that ended up dropping his early average below .100. However, I think the first of those, September 3 versus the Dodgers, stands out as Iannetta was the only Rockie starter not to get a hit in a twelve to five romp. The one time he did get on base by fielder's choice in the second, he was eliminated trying to steal.

Overall impression: The relatively low value over replacement reflects Iannetta climbing out of the early hole he dug for himself. So I guess the question is regarding the other stat I posted, does Chris actually make the Rockies better or is he merely a good luck charm? Other Rockies catchers have guided the team to a 4-8 record in the twelve games Chris has been on the bench. As we saw from yesterday's game, nobody's going to confuse Chris with Brian McCann, but as the diary on the right indicates, he should be at least considered in a positive light when compared to the other top young catcher within the division. I think obviously luck has a bit to do with it, but I think it's not just luck either.

For 2007, for the Rockies to compete they need to be better at the bottom of the lineup from day one. Iannetta is immensely valuable here batting out of the eighth spot, he sees 4.15 pitches per plate appearance and his BB/PA (.137) ratio ranks second on the team to only Todd Helton (unless you count Jeff Salazar, who we'll get to in a minute.) What does this mean exactly? With just one hitter like this in a lineup, it doesn't mean much at all, actually (look how we've done in years past when only Helton would be able to work the count) albeit if you can sprinkle tenacious hitters throughout the lineup, the problems on the opposing pitcher are compounded, as pitch counts explode. With Jamey Carrol, Salazar, Helton and Iannetta, the Rockies now have four players at different spots who will basically extend every inning they appear in. Over his last ten games, opposing starters have averaged just four and two-thirds innings when Chris is the catcher. That's including Brandon Webb's complete game a couple of weeks ago and John Smoltz's seven innings on Friday. That's impressive.

Troy Tulowitzki:

Games: 20
Rockies Record: 10-10

VORP: 2.7

Best Performance: September 3. Chris Iannetta's worst performance thus far was on the same night Troy had his best Rockies outing. Tulo went four for four in the twelve to five victory.

Worst Performance: September 6. A few night's later, the Padres had our number in an eleven inning, two to nothing loss. Tulo went zero for five with two K's and a GIDP, leaving four other runners stranded.

Overall Impression: Multiply Troy's VORP over a 162 game season and it would come out to 22.194. That's decent but not overly impressive. However, multiply Clint Barmes' VORP over the 162 games and it comes out to -25.758, so the difference is nearly 48. That difference is like replacing Craig Counsell or Royce Clayton with somebody like Hanley Ramirez. Figuring that next season Tulo's bat is likely to continue to improve, while Barmes' likely won't, it makes it pretty clear to me that the Rockies pretty much have to continue on this path unless Tulowitzki proves himself completely unprepared next Spring, or unless we sign somebody of the caliber of Ramirez or Rafael Furcal to replace him. I don't see that happening.

Tulo's glovework is probably what has impressed me most this first month. His cannon arm is amazing.

Jeff Salazar:

Games 9
Rockies Record: 6-3
VORP: 4.5

Best Performance: There are a couple to choose from. I think I'll go with Jeff's first three hit game a couple of days ago against the Braves. He came up with two big hits with Kaz Matsui aboard in RBI opportunities, and while it looked like a blowout a th the time, those proved to be the last two runs the Rockies scored in a ten to nine victory.

Worst Performance: September 16. A zero for seven night at Arizona I think qualifies pretty easily in this regard.

Overall Impression: Not much to go on so far, but right now Jeff is as hot a hitter as we have on the team. Well, excluding Jeff Baker. As I alluded to in the Chris Iannetta blurb, what's fueled Salazar's turnaround this season has been some fairly impressive plate discipline. What we have to watch out for given his minor league career is for him to try to do more than he's capable with pitches. He'll get in a mode where he tries to pull everything and end up making fairly weak contact. Right now he's succeeeding by laying off of a lot of pitches, using the protection he's given batting near the top of the order. When he's moved down in the lineup he's struggled. He's been two for three with a double and homerun in pinch hit appearances so you know Clint Hurdle has to like that.

As far as 2007 goes, that's where things get tricky. Right now, the Rox have either Salazar or Cory Sullivan as left-handed center-fielders getting the bulk of playing time, with Choo Freeman or Ryan Spilborghs getting the call versus southpaws. Is Salazar the better option over Sullivan otherwise? So far it seems like it, but pitchers haven't had a chance to adjust to Jeff yet so how can we know for sure? Do we have the time to find out? I think we can be safe to assume that the Rockies will keep one left handed centerfield player and one right out of these four. Barring the team signing someone else entirely, this will be the biggest positional battle of the offseason.

Jeff Baker:

Games 10
Rockies Record: 8-2
VORP: 8.9

Best Performance: Take your pick. Okay, let's go with his three for six, two homer, one double game on the 18th against the Giants.

Worst Performance: September 10. Baker's first game with the Rockies in 2006 as a starter was the only one he hasn't had a hit in, going zero for four with two K's.

Overall Impression: Wow. Baker already ranks 23rd among all rookies in VORP after just 46 plate appearances. It's looking more and more like there will be a platoon situation in right next year, with Baker getting extended play as a sub elsewhere. I don't blame the brass for going that direction at all.