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Saturday Rockpile: Cockrell front-runner for M's job

It's a slow day for Rockies news, with the only note coming out in the last 24 hours being that former hitting coach Alan Cockrell has emerged as the front-runner for the same post in Seattle. Troy Renck actually called Cockrell a favorite for the Seattle hitting instructor post even before Don Wakamatsu was hired as manager, so kudos to Renck for seeing the fit there. I never really commented on the Rockies hiring of Don Baylor just before Thanksgiving, and since this is a slow news morning, now might be a decent time. There is a shift in philosophy, Cockrell as a coach preached staying aggressive:

"You become a little less aggressive and probably more subconsciously than anything else," Cockrell said. "Really, all I said to him just a few days ago was 'trust your swing path right now and try to stay aggressive.' "

And he did it aggressively:

"He has a very calming personality," Hurdle said. "He's intense. He's aggressive. But in his interaction with them, he has been soothing, he knows what they need, he has an astute eye and he obviously has their confidence."

For players like Atkins, Matt Holliday, Chone Figgins, and to some extent Clint Barmes and Troy Tulowitzki, all players who have benefited under Cockrell, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as their swings and style of play are suited to an aggressive approach. However, other key Rockies, like Todd Helton, Ryan Spilborghs, Chris Iannetta and Ian Stewart benefit from a more patient approach. I actually see hybrid qualities in Tulo and Jeff Baker, where a coach that preaches patience might also excel.

Baylor isn't exactly lax on teaching aggressiveness at the plate himself:

"I give credit to Don Baylor for showing me I could hit for power righthanded," (Chipper) Jones was saying. "He taught me to be more aggressive from the right side of the plate and go for homers."

But as Russ pointed out in the Tuesday, Nov 25 Rockpile, from a Troy E. Renck article, Baylor's coming to Colorado with something else in mind:

"What I like to preach a lot is the mental part of the game. We have to be more selective," Baylor said. "You don't have more than one sac fly (by mid-April), that says there's not a lot of thinking going on at the plate. That's a lot of freelancing."

Baylor talked of having a game plan, of inflating pitch counts. This isn't a novel concept. But those who stray from Baylor's plan should expect consequences.

Helton, Spilly, Hawpe and Iannetta are already positives in this arena of pitch count inflation and "thinking" at the plate. The key to evaluating Baylor will be to see how he spreads this philosophy to others.

2008 Pitches/PA of key 2009 Rockies:

  1. R. Spilborghs 4.33
  2. T. Helton 4.24
  3. I. Stewart 4.16
  4. C. Iannetta 4.15
  5. B. Hawpe 4.15
  6. S. Smith 3.91
  7. J. Baker 3.84
  8. G. Atkins 3.65
  9. T. Tulowitzki 3.65
  10. D. Fowler 3.59
  11. W. Taveras 3.59
  12. C. Barmes 3.58
  13. Y. Torrealba 3.54
  14. C. Gonzalez 3.43

Stewart's name toward the top of the list is a little misleading, as he had a pretty high swing rate for balls outside the strike zone last season that will need to be improved if he's going to be considered one of our "patient" hitters. Baylor's biggest tasks in the "thinking at the plate" department might start the season in AAA in Fowler and Gonzalez, but there will be plenty of work for him on the MLB roster from day one as well. If I were to prioritize, I would put Baylor's early list of tasks this way:

  1. Improve Troy Tulowitzki's plate approach without sacrificing his contact and power. Tulo remains one of the biggest keys to a Rockies rebound in 2009, the P/PA and walk numbers show a clear opportunity for his growth as a hitter.
  2. Draw a rebound out of Garrett Atkins by hook or crook. As long as Garrett's a Rockie, he's an essential part to our offense and if nothing else, we need to boost his trade value by July. If all else fails, I suggest cork, or perhaps pine tar.
  3. Encourage young left handed hitters Seth Smith and Ian Stewart. Stewart particularly needs to blossom further if we expect to replace the production of Matt Holliday next season.
  4. Do that power thing he did with Chipper Jones with Ryan Spilborghs. I'm not expecting Spilly to win the MVP like Chipper did that 1999 season, but a few more HR's from Spilborghs wouldn't hurt. 
  5. Get any marginal increase in pitch counts at all out of Torrealba and Barmes. These guys will never be what we'd consider patient, but even a few deeper counts could go a long way in getting us into the weak NL bullpens.