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Saturday Rockpile: NL West bullpen first look; Third base Rox best opportunity

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Let me start by pointing out the top relievers for each NL playoff team in 2008 by WXRL, a stat used by Baseball Prospectus which is a more effective way of measuring relievers than saves or ERA. The numbers represent a value of how many wins over a replacement level reliever each pitcher was:

Chicago

  1. Carlos Marmol 5.152
  2. Kerry Wood 2.232
  3. Sean Marshall 0.617

Philadelphia

  1. Brad Lidge 7.591
  2. J.C. Romero 2.227
  3. Ryan Madson 2.002
  4. Chad Durbin 1.751

Los Angeles

  1. Corey Wade 2.841
  2. Hong-Chi Kuo 2.714
  3. Jonathan Broxton 2.216
  4. Takashi Saito 1.947

Milwaukee

  1. Salomon Torres 3.016
  2. Carlos Villanueva 1.469
  3. Brian Shouse 1.053

Los Angeles and Philadelphia both had deep pens, with their fifth best reliever rating better than the third best from either NL Central team. Let's look at the Rockies:

Colorado

  1. Brian Fuentes 3.619
  2. Taylor Buchholz  2.528
  3. Ryan Speier 0.720

The Rockies bullen in 2008 was more like a run of the mill squad than an NL elite one, and if they didn't make up the difference in the rotation like the Cubs and Brewers did, than the end result of the season shouldn't be surprising. Still, believe it or not, 2007 was much the same, just substitute Manny Corpas and Matt Herges' names for Fuentes and Buchholz. Here are  Huston Street's numbers over the last four seasons:

  • 2005: 4.356
  • 2006: 3.260
  • 2007: 2.234
  • 2008: 1.943

Okay, so there's an obvious bad direction here, which is fodder for the naysayers, but even 2008 showed him to be a valuable reliever. Whether he remains so depends on his ability to reverse that trend. What reason do we have to expect that he might? Better health will be a start, switching to a weaker league with teams more unfamiliar with him will also help. Street's still a pretty young pitcher at 25, so there isn't a lot of reason not to expect some sort of bounce-back in 2009 to his career norm (he averages a 2.948 WXRL over those four seasons). If we don't trade him before the start of the season, we should expect to see him once more be at least a two win reliever in Denver.

If the trend continues downward, we'll know we've gotten ourselves a dud on our hands, but there should be enough time to figure that out before the July trading deadline where he would still be considered of value for many GM's. Street's beauty is a reputation that hasn't been too sullied by moments of underperformance. For a quality bullpen next season, the Rockies are hoping that Street and Buchholz maintain or improve their 2008 levels of performance and that either or both of Luis Vizcaino (2.081 WXRL in 2007) or Manny Corpas can return to their 2007 level. How is this an upgrade over 2008? Before last season the main hope for three 2+ win relievers was in Corpas, Viz and a bounceback from Fuentes, with the idea that maybe Casey Weathers would be contributing as well by the end of the season. So this isn't an appreciably more comfortable position to be in, but compared to where we were with the pen three weeks ago, banking solely on returns of Corpas and Viz, it's a little easier to see how we could pull it off.

Arizona's bullpen does not have the lights out leader that Lidge or Marmol were last season. Neither do they have the quality depth that Los Angeles has so they are in a similar boat to the Rockies, albeit with fewer pitchers who have been 2+ win relievers in the past. They are hoping that losses of Juan Cruz and Brandon Lyon are made up for by a rebound by Jon Rauch and a step forward by Leo Rosales or Jailen Peguero among others. Juan Morillo is a better horse to bet on than either, so the Rockies still have the edge in prospect depth despite losing Casey Weathers for next season and Pedro Strop altogether. There is a high quality wild card for the D-backs in 2008 first rounder Daniel Schlereth, and his addition combined with Strop's loss for the Rockies has helped Arizona make up considerable ground in this department.

San Francisco's bad relievers ate too much into the work of their relatively few good arms in 2008. I don't think they have enough quality arms to change that in 2009. The Dodgers look to once again be in the best position as far as relief work goes, the Rockies will need to have several things go right for this to change and make up ground.

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The Rockies chances of trading Garrett Atkins will take a hit if Minnesota lands Casey Blake as a free agent, the good news is that this would leave the Dodgers relatively weak at third base. Last season, Blake had an EQA of .281, with Blake DeWitt lagging in the Garrett Atkins/Mark Reynolds neighborhood at .261. Ian Stewart was on the tier in between at .269. Going forward, Stewart can probably figure to be closer to Blake's contribution next season, DeWitt may make some gains as well, I can't say I have the same kind of confidence in Reynolds given his disinclination to change his approach at the plate. If you look at the cast of characters for next year, you'll see that third base is one position that we need a stronger contribution than LA or Arizona from if we want to win the division in 2009 or even in subsequent years.

At catcher we hope Iannetta is close to Martin, but expecting him to be much better is probably foolish. Arizona hopes Snyder isn't too far behind those two, but he's clearly the third rung. At first base, Helton vs. Tracy works okay, but Loney's moving ahead. At second, who knows where LA or AZ are going, but the Rockies will only get average production there unless they open the piggy bank. Shortstop should be another push, but that's only if Tulo rebounds to catch up with Drew. If LA re-signs Furcal, the Dodgers will have an edge when he plays. In right, Ethier was very good, Hawpe a tier below him, and Upton a tier below that. Long term though, this isn't a great position for us, similarly to catcher for the D-backs, and that's one of the reasons why Carlos Gonzalez was seen as a key pick-up. If his bat develops into his raw talent, the Rockies will stay competitive with the other two teams. In left field for 2009, we're competitive as long as the Dodgers don't sign Manny, and that will also have a dramatic effect on center as next season's basic formula is:

  • Matt Kemp>Chris Young>Carlos Gonzalez>Andruw Jones or Juan Pierre

Long term, our relative position improves with Fowler.

What I'm trying to point out here is that at the end of the day, the one  position where the Rockies should be able to expect a clear advantage in coming seasons over their divisional peers is third base. No pressure, Stewie.