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Monday Rockpile: Jim Tracy and the 2012 Rockies

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If you've been reading my articles for any length of time, by now you know that there is no love lost from myself toward the Rockies' Manager, Jim Tracy. Countless tweets of frustration and bewilderment litter my online history. Articles and comments and snide quips made as I walk through the gates of Coors Field have amassed to the point where I could stuff a mattress with them.

After the first Sunday of the season when the Rockies trotted out the B team en route to a seemingly inevitable loss, the wheels in my jaded mind began turning of how to properly write the "Jim Tracy is Costing This Team Wins" article. The pieces of evidence seemed just so blatantly obvious: years of undermining young, struggling MLB players with questionable playing time and not a shred of patience to build them up; bullpen usage that seemed senseless at best; resting starting players all at once, leaving a team of bench players to try and win on Sundays. The list could go on, but I think you get the picture.

The last 2 Sundays have been different, though. My immediate reactions to my own vitriol have tempered the boiling fury. For example, why SHOULDN'T Tyler Colvin get some starts? He's batting .323 with a .860 OPS, considerably better than his counterpart Dexter Fowler (.222/.749). Why shouldn't Wilin Rosario get starts? The kid has to play sometime, especially given Ramon Hernandez' knees and age. Why shouldn't Jonathan Herrera get a couple of starts? He's defensively competent and he's hitting the ball well right now, and it's not as if Marco Scutaro is doing much more than making tough outs.

For the most part this season, I haven't had much to bitch about when it comes to Jim Tracy, which surprised me. His bullpen usage has been mostly logical and the miscues have been far enough between each other to excuse under the "well, everyone makes mistakes" blanket. He's left Chris Nelson alone for the most part at 3B, and while Nelson is certainly having struggles of his own, he's getting the chance to work out of it (which is also likely in part due to a lack of better options). Really, this seems a lot like 2009, when the team won 92 games.

Wait. 2009? Let's hop in the wayback machine and discuss 2009. Join us past the jump as we continue this journey of frustration.

(Pre-emptive apologies: this gets a bit verbose.)

Off Topic

You see, Jim Tracy's rise to power came with a team that had simply outgrown their old manager. The Gen R kids done growed up on us, and Old Man Hurdle just wasn't reaching them anymore. It was time for a new voice and time for a new manager. When Tracy was named interim manager, I really had no beef with it. Sure, I'd heard the loudly voiced complaints from other fanbases who'd endured Tracy's managing in years past, but I put it out of my mind. "New team, new beginning" I'd told myself. The Dodgers were simply another world of baseball apart from Colorado, and Pirates ownership hadn't given Tracy anything to play with. It seemed that Tracy had won over the hearts and minds of the Rockies roster and the ship had been righted after a debacle of a 2008 season.

Tracy did what any good manager would do: trust his starters and not make drastic changes based on short spells of underperformance. He was patient with the young guys. Bullpen roles were pretty much by the book. The Rockies were on fire, and Rockies fans were already dropping lines in the vein of "Best Rockies Manager Ever". Things were going pretty well.

Then, when success was all but imminent, things started changing. Garrett Atkins suddenly started seeing more time in the starting lineup - the same Garrett Atkins who posted a scorching .650 OPS in the 2009 campaign (in his defense, he was nearly a league average bat v LHP). The Catching Wars ensued as Yorvit Torrealba suddenly was the every day starter behind the plate. Again, to play Devil's Advocate, Iannetta hadn't done much of value in the 2 months leading up to September, and Torrealba had caught a leprechaun and forced it to grant him the wish of Seeing Eye Singles in exchange for not taking the leprechaun's pot of gold.

The Rockies obviously lost in the 2009 NLDS, but it seemed clear that Jim Tracy was the man to take them all the way.

Then 2010 happened. Despite having 2 MVP candidates and a near Cy Young winner on the roster, the Rockies stumbled into a 83-79 finish. Melvin Mora played the outfield and 2B. Ubaldo Jimenez was regularly cranking out 120+ pitch starts despite score differentials that could easily be handled by the bullpen. Eyebrows began to rise, but Tracy was one year removed from a really good season and a playoff appearance. He appeared to be safe.

Next thing you know, it's 2011. The Rockies were picked by countless analysts to finally win that elusive NL West Division Title. I won't force us to revisit 2011 any further, aside from the fact that Tracy was still under contract with the Rockies.

After a major roster purge in the 2011-2012 offseason, not only did Tracy find himself applying for a new job, but he received a "handshake extension", effectively saying that the Rockies Brass like the guy but also have no idea what to do with him.

See, this is where things start to get really confusing for me. Traditional baseball expectations say that when a team is as godawful as the 2011 Rockies were, the Manager gets the axe, whether or not he had much to do with it. This may or may not be the correct way to do things, but it's practically expected. Tracy clearly has gotten himself an exemption from this trend, which leaves me scratching my head.

My logic is that over a partial-rebuilding season, Tracy's managerial shortcomings would shine through and make the decision for the Rockies to part ways with their manager obvious. What's different now, though, is that Tracy seems to be keeping his head down. He's trusting his starters, he's being patient with what youth is left, and he's managing the bullpen pretty much by the book. Seems perfect, right? I'm not so sure.

When Tracy first got the job as the Rockies' skipper, the team had just gone through some uncomfortable changes, parting ways with a longtime manager and a big piece of the Rockies' rebuild and NL Pennant. The organization was obviously frustrated. That was not the time to come out making bizarre lineup decisions or overwork a rotation or throw darts at a list of bullpen pitchers.

Coming into the 2012 season, the team had just gone through some uncomfortable changes, parting ways with 3 former first-round picks, a former top pitching prospect, and several other players key to the success between 2007 and 2009. The organization was obviously frustrated. This was not the time to throw players under the bus, bench high-ceiling prospects in favor of low (but known) potential veterans, or screw with the bullpen.

Tracy saw 2009 as an opportunity to get himself a contract extension, which he obviously received. He's finding himself in a similar situation in 2012, and he's doing the same thing he did in 2009. My obvious concern is that he'll receive an extension, and we'll then be stuck with several more years of TracyBall.

To conclude, I don't know what the Rockies have in store for their manager. None of us do. There are so many things to take into account, so much 20-20 hindsight, and a lot of rational points that can either support or tear the manger. I'm not going to pretend that I've written an exhaustive case against the man. There's just too much there that we're missing to really do that article justice.

The fact for me is that Jim Tracy, while he was at the helm for the 2009 franchise-best 92 wins, was also at the same helm when the 2010 and 2011 seasons went to absolute crap. I strongly believe that 2010 and 2011 are what Jim Tracy brings to a club, and I'd just as soon not deal with that in 2013 and forward.