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Saturday Morning Rockpile:

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So I covered the Matt Holliday holiday, but I also wanted to wish a Happy Winter Solstice for all those Purple Row pagans that celebrated last night, and I think we forgot to wish a Happy Hannukah earlier this month. I don't know if we have anybody going on the hajj right now, but our well wishes go to everybody this holiday season regardless of where you orient your belief or disbelief.

I've been asked by the Hardball Times to do their Rockies preview section for their 2008 Season Preview book again this year, with the added twist of having to do little player blurbs. I had done several of the position players but have fallen behind by being back in Vermont for this past  week. So to catch up, while also keeping my blog responsibilities, I'm going to write some initial impressions of the key figures to our rotation for 2008 as well as the significant member of our 2007 team that will be departing. Since these are drafts, I'm hoping that I get some feedback in case I'm missing something before I do the complete write-ups and send them off. I figure if that's the case it should give us a good starting point for discussion.

Jeff Francis I have a sinking feeling that we might be expecting too much out of Jeff for 2008. The ZiPS projection and THT seem to say so also, unlike with Aaron Cook, they are seeing almost the same line. That said, in 2006, ZiPS said Francis' ERA would come in around 4.64, compared to an actual of 4.16. In 2007, it said 4.48, with 191 IP, and he came in at 4.22 with 215 IP. The Hardball Times was much more generous last year, projecting Jeff to come in with a 3.97 ERA, albeit with only 166 IP. I don't know why THT is suddenly so down on him, but there is a big red flag for me in that his 232 innings last year including the playoffs were over forty higher than his previous career high. I think the condition his arm might become a bigger issue in the second half of the season. If you look at the link, Szymborski highlights Jeff and shows the huge range of what could happen next season. Let's all hope he once again comes in at the upper end of things.

Aaron Cook We sing his praises before every game. You know: "...the bombs bursting in air, the Rockies Red Glare..." He's all the proof I need that our flag is still there. At any rate, I have a hard time expecting too much different from the projections when it comes to Cook this upcoming season, as he still seems to get in trouble when he relies to heavily on his sinker, but it's still his one quality pitch. Still, I might take a couple of tenths off his ERA -at least as far as THT's projections (4.49) are concerned, ZiPS seems to like him better (4.37)- as he's got the defense behind him to make that sinker look even better.

Ubaldo Jimenez With Jimenez and Morales you're going to get two wildly divergent prognostications from statistics and scouting reports. I'm going to say ignore both the stats and scouts. As he did throughout the playoffs, Jimenez on most days will give the Rockies five or six innings of sometimes dominant, sometimes wild nerve-wracking, traffic congested baseball. A couple of runs might cross the plate, but he should usually leave us in a good position to win the game, albeit, he'll also regularly tax our bullpen. On a few days he'll blow up and allow six or seven runs in an inning and get pulled earlier, and in a few others he'll have it all together and throw a complete game two-hitter or something.

Jason Hirsh Hirsh -along with Francis and Cook- needs to pick up some of the innings that we're going to lose with Jimenez. Unfortunately, his injury history suggests already that probably won't happen. This is where Kip Wells and Mark Redman could become important, and why the Rockies are trying to get Victor Zambrano as well. It's rolling the dice that one of the three scrubs will be better in 2008 than we have any right to expect them to be to fill in. As for Jason, he's a step or three better than Josh Fogg in this slot and one place where you can see the Rockies should be able to upgrade from 2007.

Franklin Morales I have no idea why he's projected to give up 18 MLB homeruns in 2008. Both THT and ZiPS come up with the same number. He gave up zero in 2004 in the Pioneer League (high altitude, homer friendly), six in 2005 at McCormick field in Asheville, nine in 2006 in the California League, and a total of eleven across three more hitter friendly levels last season. His pitches have induced some of the highest groundball rates in the minors and there's no reason to think that will change. If you say he's going to give up eleven again this season in those 152 projected innings from ZiPS, and subtract those seven runs, his ERA drops from 4.88 to 4.44. I think this is a better estimate of what to expect, and it's part of the reason -along with U-ball's projections- why I think many people might underestimate our rotation this season. We've just got to hope that the right decision is made with Morales this Spring.

Josh Fogg He's a gutsy, driven pitcher who's also level-headed and knows his significant limitations. There's no reason to think he's going to be much better than his projections, but he's highly unlikely to tank on you also. Now the question is will some team get their money's worth when they sign him this offseason? It's doubtful, but he won't be the worst waste of dinero. I know, it's not high praise, but if your team didn't have a complete contention worthy rotation in 2007, don't expect to contend in 2008, and you need a guy to allow your better arms on the farm to mature, Fogg is your man. I can think of several NL teams and one or two AL squads that should qualify if they're honest about themselves.

Mark Redman In just under 20 innings with the Rockies in 2007, Redman had an ERA+ of 150. These were crucial end of season, we need to win every single game or we're gonna die innings, too. The Rockies were 5-0 when he appeared in a game for them. So what am I supposed to do? Just ignore that and say that this is the same Redman that put up an ERA+ of just 37 in 2007 with Atlanta? That his full season numbers have gone the wrong direction -117, 96, 86, 82, 59- over the last five seasons? Probably, but you don't understand. September 22, against the Padres, look how he demoralized them. What I'm going to say is that Redman's shown glimpses of having what it takes to be a decent finesse lefty, but counting on him to be that is idiocy. Let's just say he'll be terrible and be pleasantly surprised if it turns out not to be true again.

Kip Wells Right now, I have less confidence that Wells will be the one to outpitch expectations for 2008, but that might be the aforementioned Redman bias in me talking. Luckily, the Cardinals' guy is going to have to write his preview.

Greg Reynolds: ZiPS doesn't project Reynolds, but THT does, and it actually sees him as about as effective as Hirsh were he to pitch for us next season, with a three year progression that likes him a lot more than Jimenez or Morales or any of our other starters for that matter. It's going to be having my cake and eating it too if I ignore the projections of those two and take Reynolds' at face value, but that's exactly what I'm going to do given the differences in their scouting profiles. Reynolds should eventually be a right handed version of Francis if things go right and he comes back healthy. He's not going to strike a lot of guys out, but he's got the stuff to do so if he absolutely has to. He's got a groundball rate that suggests to me -similarly to Cook and Morales- that these projections might actually be underestimating his real value when put in front of our defense. If Francis does get tired in the second half, having a replacement the quality of Reynolds waiting in the wings could be invaluable to the Rockies getting back to the playoffs next year.