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Sunday Rockpile: Real baseball starts tonight!

So who is Jason Hammel, anyway?

Let me just start off by reminding people that historically and recently, trading for once promising power arms that have disappointed thus far in the majors are among Dan O'Dowd's best work as GM of the Rockies. In 2006 we saw him bring in Jeremy Affeldt from the Royals for Scott Dohmann and Ryan Shealy, and in 2007 Jorge Julio for Byung Hyun Kim. In 2008, the Rockies picked up Jason Grilli for Zach Simons and Jorge De La Rosa for Ramon Ramirez. The four pitchers the Rockies acquired have combined to add 5.2 wins to the Rockies over a scrub level in that time, the five players they traded away have combined to give their teams 1.6 wins, all of the positive value coming from Ramirez. So because of his track record, when O'Dowd decides to go junk trading, I've come to trust him.

Alright, so Hammel' fastball averages 92.2 mph according to FanGraphs, just nestled in between John Maine and Ian Snell on the MLB leaderboard for pitchers over 60 IP. Maine's career GB rate is at 39.1%, Snell's at 41.9% and Hammel's is at 43.9%, with a peak of 46.9% last season. So at first glance, it looks like he has better bite on his pitches than the other two. How about compared to Jeff Niemann? Niemann's fastball averaged 92.3 mph in limited big league exposure last season, and a GB% of 42.9%, and a higher HR rate, which goes along with scouting reports of it being the flatter of the two fastballs.

Why Niemann is considered the more promising pitcher of the two among many if not most, observers, is because of the better bite on his curveball. Hammel's curve isn't bad, though, dropping 8.5 inches to Niemann's 10. Of course, the thing to remember with the Rockies is that at altitude, all curves are hanging, so this advantage is mitigated and that better movement on the FB becomes more important. Also important at Coors is limiting baserunners via walk, and in this Hammel also has the advantage over Niemann, his control has been better at every step, and his 4.01 BB/9 rate in 2008 is a bit better than Niemann's 4.50. That doesn't look likely to change in the next couple of seasons.


Denver Post Preview

The Denver Post has their 2009 MLB Preview up, so there's a lot to work through:

Dave Krieger's a bit nervous about Spring Training statistics in relation to our starters, all the more reason to pick up Hammel, I say. At any rate, I think Jorge De La Rosa will be fine, after a shaky start, his last month has been mid-rotation worthy. Marquis says he's fine, I don't expect him to be a torchbearer, but we just need him to be a soldier. Franklin Morales is the one I'm at once excited about and nervous, as I just don't know for sure where he's at just yet.

Speaking of Jorge De La Rosa, the Post really tries to look into sports psychology with most of the articles. Ronn Svetich's work with JDLR this Spring is the focus of one Troy Renck piece and Jeff Cirillo plays a prominent role in a more general sports confidence article. How the Rockies keep Frankie Mo' and JDLR mentally strong will play a huge part in how successful the team will be in 2009. We can not afford mental breakdowns in the rotation.

Clint Barmes' cool is the point of another piece by Patrick Saunders. Because his defensive contribution to the team is less tangible than what he does on offense, Barmes gets underrated by us, me included, but as this Poseidon's Fist FanPost points out, our situation at second is not really that dire. I do worry about what Barmes does outside of Coors Field, particularly on West Coast road trips, and think that it's in the best interest of the Rockies to start Stewart most of those days as long as Aaron Cook isn't pitching.

I really like Saunders' piece getting the details of what a typical Helton vs. Marquis chess match might be like. Actually, it seems to be a one sided chess match, Helton's responses seem to boil down to just the one:

"In my mind, I don't go up there worrying about how he's going to attack me. I don't think about what he's going to do. I'm just looking for a pitch I can hit."

Irv Moss then goes to Don Baylor and Goose Gossage for a similar story, and they say that "kids these days, they don't know how easy they've got it," or something like that. Apparently Baylor had to hit uphill in snowstorms most of the time.

Some creative slump busting techniques by players are here. More superstitions of current Rockies and others here. Renck goes over the Rockies and MLB's best baseball brains in this article. Mike Burrows writes of baseball's famous blockhead moments in this one.

Renck says the Rockies will finish fourth in the division because the D-backs have Jon Garland and Justin Upton and that's just an unbeatable combination, Manny is TEHAWESOME, and the Giants rotation is good enough to win all those zero to zero contests they'll be playing. He says the Rockies lineup is good, the bullpen fine, the rotation not so much. He says it again in another article here. The rest of the Denver Post staff chimes in with their picks, none of whom think that the Rockies will win the division this year. I say they will, but I always seem to say that. The rotation is underrated, the same bold moves of picking talent over stable mediocrity with Ian Stewart and Dexter Fowler are being overlooked with Morales and Jorge De La Rosa. I think Renck and a lot of people are ignoring how close these pitchers are to hitting their upside, add Hammel as a safety and I see Rockies pitching being labelled as baseball's biggest surprise late this summer, but it shouldn't be. I think I've got to break this out into a separate post, though, look for that in about an hour.

I'll link one more DP article, Irv Moss has probably been Cole Garner's biggest media supporter, I'm guessing I might be number two. Moss writes that Garner's hoping for a Matt Holliday type of breakout at Tulsa this season. Holliday's one of those unfair comparisons I'd stay away from, Garner's power is real, however and he still needs to be taken seriously as a prospect.