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Sunday Rockpile: The Mechanism of Losing

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Asked by Dave Krieger when change becomes necessary, Dan O'Dowd said this:

"I don't know if there's a magic number to that, but I do think if you get to a point that a change needs to be made for the best interests of the organization, you know it," O'Dowd said. "I don't feel that. That's not something I would recommend at this point in time."

So what O'Dowd seems to be suggesting is that there must be roadmarks that would place an organization in that "change is necessary" zone, but that the Rockies aren't at that spot yet. Let's humor the GM for a moment and assume that to be true. The two questions would then be: A) Where are the Rockies if not at the "change is necessary" part of the map? and B) What more could go wrong to bring them there? 

Will a disaster of a home stand bring the Rockies to the "change is necessary" point?

In a Troy Renck article, O'Dowd says no:

"I think that's unfair. We are just focusing on getting this thing right," O'Dowd said. "What does it help to speculate about (Hurdle)? I know we live in an industry and a society where everybody wants to play the blame game. I don't."

Hurdle chips in a quote or two, too:

"I have never backed away from a challenge," Hurdle said. "Our players need to do honest self-evaluation, and I need to do the same. We need to keep hanging in there together."

Okay, since our front office and management are ready for honest assessment time, maybe we can help them out. What parts of the organization are not good enough to be competitive, and what parts are not?

I've done this in comments, but let me just put this here. A "competitive" player to me is one that's performing in the top six of the NL, or top 25 starters, top 35 relievers. A .500 level of player would rank between #7 or #11 at their position, be in the 26-50 range for starters, or 36-70 range for relievers. Any players that don't meet these standards are sub-.500 players, they simply aren't keeping up with the rest of the league. I will categorize them by using run values from FanGraphs for most of the players, but Baseball Prospectus' WXRL for the relievers, since it takes leverage context into account (a scoreless inning thrown by a reliever in a close game is more valuable than one in a blowout).

Players that are performing at a competitive level:

  • Jorge De La Rosa
  • Ubaldo Jimenez
  • Jason Marquis
  • Seth Smith

Players that are performing at a .500 level:

  • Brad Hawpe
  • Todd Helton
  • Chris Iannetta
  • Yorvit Torrealba
  • Alan Embree
  • Matt Daley

That Helton and Hawpe are in this category and not the one above speaks to the depth at their positions this season in the National League, but Hawpe might actually be competitive as I'm mistrustful of the way defensive stats measure Rockies outfielders (Willy Taveras and Matt Holliday have improved in their UZR/150 rate this season). At any rate, these players aren't the issue for why the Rockies are losing.

 

Players that are performing below a .500 level:

  • Ian Stewart
  • Clint Barmes
  • Garrett Atkins
  • Ryan Spilborghs
  • Troy Tulowitzki
  • Dexter Fowler
  • Aaron Cook
  • Jason Hammel
  • Jason Grilli
  • Ryan Speier (DL)
  • Matt Belisle
  • Huston Street
  • Manny Corpas
  • Jeff Baker (DL)
  • Franklin Morales (DL)

15 players with the Rockies are in the sub-.500 category vs. only 10 at a mediocre level or above. Of these underperformers, Hammel, Fowler, Tulo and Stewart are young, talented, and could/should get better. Tulo, in fact, already seems to be rebounding. Barmes and Spilborghs have faltered in their attempts to seize starting roles, and worked much better as bench players last season. Atkins and Cook are the season's big disasters, if the Rockies were to be competitive, Garrett would have needed a rebound season and Cook would have needed to maintain his prior levels of performance.

The really cold and honest assessment would say that there are likely going to be some players in this group who simply should not be expected to raise themselves to a .500 or competitive level of play going forward in their baseball careers. I think Jeff Baker, who's had a setback in his rehab, qualifies in this department. I think Barmes does too, and as his slump protracts, it seems more and more likely that Atkins will fall into this camp going forward as well. The team is in deep trouble in the future if a good portion of these pitchers continue to underperform.

 

Players with irrelevant amounts of use:

  • Matt Murton
  • Omar Quintanilla

 

The Rockies failure this season seemingly comes down to two main things:


  1. The team did not identify its weakness at second and third base.
  2. The team did not build a quality bullpen.

 

You might start to see why O'Dowd would be relunctant to point the finger at Hurdle, because that points to a team construction failure, not an on the field leadership failure. The second base issue was as glaring and apparent in the off season as it is now and has been for some time. The decision not to trade Atkins in the off season was a gamble, one that I supported, but it didn't pay off and has proven to be a mistake. 

The bullpen collapse by a group of pitchers that were mostly positives for their teams in 2008 is somewhat random, and I think this is where O'Dowd and Hurdle are probably expecting the biggest return going forward, as well as from Aaron Cook, so maybe a little bit of leeway can be given there.

For the problems at second and third, the issue is a little more worrisome. Stewart may need a AAA refresher, but the Rockies would still be left with two sinkholes in the lineup. Barmes has just three hits in his last 27 AB's, Atkins has four in his last 29, but how much more can we expect from them at this point? 

So how would a GM go about fixing this mess if a managerial change is off the table? O'Dowd also says that a trade is unlikely, that the best they could do to shake things up right now is call somebody up from AAA, but who would he call up? EY2 really isn't likely to be better at this point than Stewart or Barmes. Mike McCoy at second or third might be just a bit better, but he's not exactly the Chauncey Billups type of impact player the Rockies would need to kickstart things.

Ian Stewart, Aaron Cook and the bullpen need to rebound for the Rockies to get any sort of dignity back this year. I really don't have much confidence in Barmes or Atkins doing the same. The team needs to figure out how to turn it's surplus in the outfield into something positive for next season. Given the hole the Rockies have dug for themselves at this point I think focusing on 2009 in trades won't be as much benefit. I worry about the kind of blow-ups that can happen if a GM feels desperate for immediate wins such as what happened in Houston a few seasons ago.

Still, right now, rooting for the Rockies is depressing, frustrating and futile. As a fan, I don't want to throw money at a product to come away with those feelings. To me, were I a GM, I would consider this point, the point when the bulk of your consumers no longer want to financially support the product the point that "a change needs to be made for the good of the organization."

If O'Dowd's not going to give a magic number, I will. The Rockies have one more week. If they are still at the bottom of the NL West on Saturday night, well, all I can threaten them with is the railings of a blog writer, but let's just say that if it's the case that this team is still in the cellar next Sunday morning or even if it's not but it hasn't had a winning week, I'm going to rail and rail hard. Wins, Rockies. Wins.

***

At any rate, here are more links.

Dexter Fowler's mom gets a spotlight in the Denver Post.

Stewart sends his mom a postcard from the official site.

Jack Etkin's Quick Hits from last night includes some notes on the streaks and stats going on.