Monday, September 27, 2010

Wait Til Next Year- Colorado Rockies

This one’s been a long time coming, but with seven games left, we can put the Rockies to rest. They’re four and a half games back of the Giants, so the division title is essentially a done deal, especially considering that they would also need to jump the Padres, who have four games on them. The Padres also lead the Wild Card, with the Braves half a game back. The idea that they’d hop two of these three teams is essentially a mathematical impossibility. PECOTA gives them a 0.7% shot at October, but after 155 games, I’m ready to call the Rockies' season. The Rockies love their September and October magic, but their 4-6 record in their last 10 games is the end of their potential comeback.

Although the Rockies came up just short, there’s a lot that they can take from this season. Ubaldo Jimenez blossomed into a true ace, and although he’s been well-documented as one of the luckiest players in baseball this season, his FIP of 3.17 is obviously nothing to scoff at. Jason Hammel and Jhoulys Chacin proved that they’re great candidates to back up Jimenez, with Hammel quietly putting up a strong 3.7 WAR and Chacin logging 3.0 WAR in just 132.1 innings. However, the biggest steps Rockies fans can look forward to are two true stars and potential MVP contenders providing strong up-the-middle defense, leadership in the clubhouse, and making strong contributions with the lumber (as regular readers know, these are the main characteristics I look for in an MVP). Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki have both exhibited these traits throughout the season, and at 25 and 26, Rockies fans should be pumped about their strong offensive core that will be led by Gonzalez and Tulowitzki for the foreseeable future. 

Gonzalez, only 25, has moved around the outfield for the Rockies this season, starting 55 games in center, 49 in right, and 32 in left. Wherever he’s been defensively, he’s been slightly below average, but slightly below average centerfield is still quite valuable defensively, especially when you consider Gonzalez’ incredible offensive contributions. Add in the fact that UZR has had him as a plus defender in each of the last two years, and I think it’s safe to say that Gonzalez is a decent defensive outfielder. However, decent doesn’t even come close to describing Gonzalez’ offensive contributions. CarGo (Nicknames are really dead. It’s pretty sad.) has provided 43.7 RAA with the bat, after only adding 9.8 last season. Gonzalez is hitting .341 this season, a huge improvement on his .284 last year. Much of the improvement is due to Gonzalez’s .391 BABIP, but considering his .358 career BABIP and his LD rate of 21.5% (9th in the NL), don’t expect a regression to anything near league average. As a speedy line-drive hitter, Gonzalez profiles as exactly the type of hitter who may be able to consistently produce high BABIPs and the high averages they bring with them. Gonzalez put up 2.1 WAR in 2009, but his 5.8 in 2010 cements him as a true star and a potential future MVP.

Hard as it is to believe, Tulo’s been even better than Gonzalez, at least from a rate perspective. Tulowitzki’s 6.2 WAR in 2010 may not seem like a huge improvement over his 5.7 last season, but when you consider that he missed six weeks and has only participated in 116 games this season. Without the wrist injury that kept him out from the middle of June until the end of July, Tulowitzki could conceivably be in the midst of a 9+ win season. Though we obviously can’t just extrapolate his pace over the entire season, Tulo has been incredible in the time he has seen, even putting together a streak of 14 home runs in 15 games that ended just 10 days ago. With a BABIP of .331 (only .012 points above his career .319) and an HR/FB lower than he pur up last year, Tulo could potentially keep putting up seasons not unlike this one throughout the prime of his career. 

So there you have it. Despite Matt Cain’s brilliant performance taking them out of playoff contention, the Rockies could be a problem for Cain and the rest of the NL West for years to come. Gone are the days of 2002-2006, when the Rockies finished in fourth or fifth place in the West each season. The Rockies are a true contender, as they proved in 2007 with their NL pennant. Expect them to stay in the mix.

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