2012 Organizational Rankings: #18 – Colorado

Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.

2012 Organizational Rankings

#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York Mets
#19 – Los Angeles Dodgers

Colorado’s 2011 Ranking: #10

2012 Outlook: – 50 (17th)

The Rockies has a disastrous 2011 season, finishing 4th in the NL West, 21 games behind the Diamondbacks and 17 games off the wildcard pace. The Rockies led the NL West in runs scored with 735, but the Astros were the only team in the NL to give up more runs than the 2011 Rockies. The team threw in the towel on the season at the trade deadline, sending its ace pitcher, Ubaldo Jimenez, to the Cleveland Indians for a package of prospects including highly regarded pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Alex White.

The Rockies responded to the 2011 debacle by making a plethora of offseason moves. The team added two position players through free agency, signing Michael Cuddyer (3/$31.5m) to play right field and Ramon Hernandez (2/$6.4m) to play catcher. It is unclear that either of these moves represent upgrades however, as Cuddyer (2011 wOBA .354) replaces Seth Smith (2011 wOBA .357) who was traded to Oakland, while Hernandez (2011 wOBA .339) replaces Chris Iannetta (2011 wOBA .347). It is true that Hernandez may see a boost in his offensive production in Colorado, but Iannetta is the younger player and Hernandez has not played in more than 100 games since George W. Bush was president.

The Rockies did clearly upgrade at second base, getting Marco Scutaro (2011 wOBA .343) for an inventory arm. However, third base is potentially a black hole as the Rockies released Casey Blake and are now depending on Chris Nelson (2011 wOBA .289) and Jordan Pacheco (2011 wOBA .305) to man the hot corner until top-propsect Nolan Arenado is ready.

These newly acquired players join Troy Tulowitzki (2011 wOBA .389), arguably the best position player in the NL, Carlos Gonzalez (2011 wOBA .383), Todd Helton (2011 wOBA .368), and Dexter Fowler (2011 wOBA .346) to form a lineup that should score a lot of runs.

As noted above the big problem for the Rockies in 2011 was preventing runs. To that end they brought in Jeremy Guthrie (2011 FIP 4.48) in a trade from Baltimore and Tyler Chatwood (2011 FIP 4.89) in a trade from Los Angeles. Neither of these pitchers is very exciting, but at least Guthrie has pitched more than 200 innings in each of the last 3 seasons. They will join a rotation that likely will include a lot of young pitchers with potential, but question marks. Jhoulys Chacin (2011 FIP 4.23, ERA 3.62) outpitched his peripherals last year and may be due for regression. Juan Nicasio is lucky to be alive after surviving a scare neck injury, but if he can pitch like he did before the injury (3.65 FIP in 71.2 innings) he will be a major asset. Drew Pomeranz and Alex White are both talented, but as of yet, unproven. With White moving to the bullpen at this point it looks like ageless wonder Jamie Moyer (age 49!) may be the 5th starter to start the season.

The Rockies underperformed based on their run differential in 2011 so they may have an improved won/loss record in 2012 despite little change in the team’s talent level. Other than the upgrade at second base, their multitude of offseason moves has done little to improve the product on the field. If their young pitchers have breakout years in 2012 they could potentially contend, but that is asking a lot for a team that plays in a tough environment for pitchers.

2013+ Outlook: 48 (18th)

The long term deals for Tulowitzki and Gonzalez insure that the team’s offensive core is in place for a few more years, but they do carry downside risk if either of them end up injured or lose effectiveness as they age out of their prime years. According to Mark Hulet, the Rockies farm system ranks 21st, but they do have a number of good prospects that are near major league ready including Nolan Arenado, who is arguably the best corner infield prospect in baseball. Lefty Drew Pomeranz, the key get in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, will start the year with big league club and could develop into a staff ace. Alex White, a former 1st round pick, still has potential, but his fly ball tendencies and off the field issues are a concern and it is not clear if he’ll be a starting pitcher in the long run. Wilin Rosario is the heir apparent to Hernandez at catcher, Rockies fans should hope that the team handles him better than they did Chris Ianetta. As Marc Hulet notes the system has some interesting players, but not a lot of depth due to team’s reluctance to go over-slot to sign players in the draft. If the young pitching develops they could become perennial contenders, but relying on young pitching is a risky strategy.

Financial Resources: 47 (19th)

Forbes ranks the Rockies 18th (note the similarity in ranking) in franchise value at $464 million, with an estimated operating income of $14.4 million in 2011. The Denver area is the 14th largest combined statistical area in the U.S. with just over 3 million residents, an increase of over 17% since 2000. The Rockies are also geographically isolated from other teams, which enhances the team’s ability to extend its fan base beyond the Denver area. Their TV ratings were 10th in the league in 2010, which should allow them to cash in on the rising prices for TV rights when their deal expires in 2014. Their attendance figures have typically been just above the middle of the pack, but could increase if the population of the area continues to grow. The restructuring of Todd Helton’s contract has freed up some payroll room in the short run, however, the long term deals for Tulowitzki and Gonzalez could limit the Rockies options in the coming years. If they are sold on their young pitchers they may want to think about buying out some of their arbitration and free-agent years in order to provide cost certainty moving forward.

Baseball Operations: 43 (24th)

The Rockies recent transaction record is mixed. Most praised the Scuataro and Jimenez trades, but the premature contract extension for Tulowitzki demonstrates that the Rockies have yet to internalize the lesson that long-term contracts rarely work out. This is, after all, the same franchise and GM that signed Mike Hampton, Denny Neagle, and Todd Helton to long term deals totaling more than $300 million and got no where near that much value in return. Of all their long-term deals, Tulowitksi’s is the best bet to payoff, but is still a big risk for a team that is not at the top of the league in revenue.

The Rockies front office seems to place more weight on the “character” of players than do other organizations. One of GM Dan O’Dowd’s primary goals this offseason was to upgrade the teams culture and character as much or more so than its talent level. This has been a long-term goal of the franchise according to the 2006 piece in the USA Today. In a recent interview on the MLB Network’s Clubhouse Confidential, O’Dowd claimed that in evaluating players the Rockies equally weight three factors: (1) character, (2) stats, and (3) instinctive judgments of talent. Needless to say this is not the weighting that most statistically inclined analysts would recommend. The Rockies recent moves also go against the grain by assembling an older roster for 2012 by either re-signing or acquiring Hernandez, Scutaro, Moyer, Rafael Betancourt, and Jason Giambi all of whom are on the wrong side of 35, despite most teams moving to younger players. This seems like a peculiar strategy given the extra fatigue that comes with playing 81 games a year at high altitude, but it does fit it with O’Dowd’s stated goal of improving the character of the clubhouse.

Overall: 47 (18th)

Even with the humidor and a decreased run scoring environment throughout the league, the Rockies still have not found an effective formula for winning consistently at altitude. In the interview linked above O’Dowd stated that ideally the Rockies would have a lot of ground ball pitchers, but to date they have struggled to assemble such a staff. With a core of good position players and young pitchers with upside there is room for optimism about the Rockies’ future. The combination of the expanded playoffs and the recent struggles of the Dodgers and Padres means that there is hope for the team to be in contention in the near future. The recent sale of the Dodgers likely means that the Dodgers will not be dormant for long, which will increase the long term challenge faced by the Rockies.

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I am political science professor at the University of North Carolina. I grew up watching the Braves on TBS and acquired Red Sox fandom during the 1986 World Series. My other hobbies include cooking, good red wine, curing meats, and obsessing over Alabama football---Roll Tide! Follow me on Twitter @ProfJRoberts.

62 Responses to “2012 Organizational Rankings: #18 – Colorado”

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  1. SC2GG says:

    I predict Miami will be #17.

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  2. Shane H says:

    Man, that Todd Helton contract is still going on. How about Jason Giambi at third. Didn’t he mess around over there pre Chavez in Oakland. lol

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  3. John says:

    With the thin air in Colorado, would Jamie Moyer be better off investing in a tee and just setting the ball on it?

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  4. Psst says:

    I can’t say anything in this writeup surprises me, but here are a few points. Hulet ranks the farm system 8-10 spots lower than nearly every other expert, this is of course his judgement but with 4 hitters who have made various Top 100 lists this year(Arenado, Rosario, Wheeler, Story) and with 5 pitchers who have made Top 100 lists over the last two years (Pomeranz, Bettis, Matzek, Friedrich, Anderson) this doesn’t seem as bare a system as he is saying.

    Add in Intriguing impact guys like Rosell Herrera, Will Swanner, Nelson Gonzalez or Peter Tago, depth like Kyle Parker, Edwar Cabrera, Kent Mathes, Josh Rutledge, Joe Gardner, Rob Scahill, Christian Adames, Mike Zuanich, Ben Paulsen, Charlie Blackmon, and Dan Houston and I just don’t see a system that ranks in the bottom 3rd.

    Tulowitzki is locked up through age 35 when he will be making 14mil(and have a 14 million dollar option on his age 36 season) , Carlos Gonzalez through age 32 if I hade to bet that Tulo is worth 140 million in production over the next eight years, and the Gonzalez is worth 75 million over the next six I would take both bets.

    Their wOBA’s over the last two years are Gonzalez .401(7th) and Tulowitzki .398(9th) in all MLB Tulo will be in his age 27 year, Cargo in his age 26 year if you had to commit 220 million dollars over the next 8 years I guess you would rather give it to a fat 1B than to a combined SS/OF.

    Maybe by 2014 the Rockies can’t find five above average starters out of Chacin, Pomeranz, Nicasio, White, Bettis, Chatwood, Outman, Moscoso, Gardner, Scahill, Houston, Anderson, Cabrera, Friedrich, Matzek, Tago, Gonzalez to combine with guys like Rex Brothers, Matt Reynolds, and Belisle in the pen.

    Maybe Wilin Rosario, Fowler, Wheeler, Blackmon, Colvin, Arenado, Story never become MLB players and replace all of the old players on the current roster. Because those things will all need to happen for the Rockies to be the #19 Org.

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    • Psst says:

      Sorry #18 org

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    • Well-Beered Englishman says:

      Any fan of any club can list all their prospects as “intriguing impact guys” and “depth.” I’m not trying to be harsh – it’s just that I’m really aware that I’ve done it before about the Nationals. We have “intriguing impact guys” like Destin Hood, Brian Goodwin, Michael Taylor, Eury Perez, Steve Lombardozzi, Robbie Ray, and Chris Marrero, and “depth” like Tyler Moore, Devin Ivany, Danny Rosenbaum, and Matt Skole, but I’ve learned the hard way what usually happens to 95% of players like those.

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      • Psst says:

        I agree but what Hulet argued was that LAD deserved the #13 rank based on intriguing pitching prospects(none in AA+) and nothing has a higher fail rate than high minors pitching. The depth guys I mention either had insane production as an old for level prospect(Zuanich, Edwar Cabrera), above average production with noticable but fixable flaws(Parker), or very good to great age appropriate production but aren’t particularly projectable(Adames, Ryan Casteel, Rafael Ortega)

        Personally if I would love to have Lombo, Taylor, or Marrero in any system.

        My argument was simply that if the Rockies have between 4-5 postion players in their system better than any in the Dodgers system, 3 who will likely make the MLB team this year and probably another 5 who could be argued as being as good as any in the Dodgers system then lack of depth beyond Arenado, Pomeranz and Wheeler as being the reason the Dodgers rank 8 spots higher as a system.

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      • Bip says:

        As a Dodger fan I have no idea how anyone can say they have the 13th best system in the bigs. My honest impression of it is that it’s godawful. It’s probably not as bad as I think but also not as good as #13.

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    • jfree says:

      If anything I think the ranking is overly generous. A farm system is only good if you can move players up into the majors. The Rockies organizationally just can’t do that with their pitching because their AAA affiliate is absolute death to any pitching prospect – think Coors altitude pre-humidor in a bandbox on a mesa with the wind blowing out – in a league where every park is hitter happy. Any pitcher who goes there has to have nuts of steel to also be able to get used to the effects of altitude on pitching while facing better hitters too.

      And any team that still after 20 years doesn’t even seem to have made an effort to understand the unique effects of their park/altitude on pitching deserves an F. They do not need “200 inning arms”. That is merely a recipe for increased injuries (15% more stress on the arm per pitch at altitude – spec for breaking balls). See Jeff Francis for the best example of a pitching career destroyed because of Rockies stupidity.

      They need a six man rotation – with one starter purely designed for Coors. Plus one long reliever who is mainly for Coors (starters are always going to be in more risk of being pulled early there). “Designed for Coors” mainly means pitchers who throw deceptive stuff (sinkers, changeups, diff fastballs) not breaking stuff. Those are the pitches that work at Coors. Lower-cost pitchers who “fit” that mold who I would have liked to see the Rockies go after – Jair Jurrjens, Jon Garland, Kyle Kendrick, Ross Detwiler, Kyle McClellan, Joe Saunders, Alfredo Aceves. I’m sure there’s a few dozen others. None of them will be studs – but they’ll all likely outperform the mishmash the Rockies have collected.

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  5. j6takish says:

    I know it’s been discussed ad nauseum, but why is Helton’s contract always considered disastrous? Sure he never provided Miguel Cabrera esque surplus value, but as far as 9 figure contracts go, teams have done a LOT worse

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    • Matt C says:

      Yeah I wonder that too sometimes. I think it’s probably because he was so good before he signed it that his numbers look worse since he signed the contract than they actually have been. Plus since he plays for a mid to small market team a huge contract looks even worse if you don’t exceed it.

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    • Because it has been:
      2011 WAR = 2.6, salary = $20.2 million
      2010 WAR = -0.1, salary = $17.75 million
      2009 WAR = 3.2, salary = $16.6 million
      2008 WAR = 0.8, salary = $16.6 million

      Last 4 years: 6.5 WAR, $71.15 million

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      • Give me a break. In what world does it make sense to grade a 9 year contract on a 4 year window? Pretty much no long term deals look good in the last couple years….yet teams hand them out every offseason. Grade the 9 year contract on 9 years. doesn’t that make infinitely more sense? Helton provided more value than he cost strictly on WAR/$, let alone the advantages of unmeasureable value in marketing and leadership.

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      • j6takish says:

        He signed his extension before the 2001 season, from 2001-2009 he provided around 40 WAR. I’m not saying his contract was Jeter/Manny esque in terms of production throughout the duration, but to call it disastrous just seems unfair

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      • That’s incredibly misleading. In the first three years of the deal, his combined WAR was almost 20. As far as long term deals go, his has worked out about as well as you could ever expect.

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      • TK says:

        The most negative way you could possibly look at the contract, you would still have to include 2004 and 2005 which were free agent years bought out by the contract. In those years, Helton put up 12.4 WAR while making 24.2 WAR, which means 18.9 WAR and 95.35 million dollars. This is 5.05 million per WAR, which is a bit high, but not disasterous. This also doesn’t take into account the savings the Rockies likely got in 2002-3 over what Helton would have gotten in arbitration, nor does it factor in that Helton differed a lot of that salary and he is playing the next two years at about 5 million per.

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      • TK says:

        oops, you would need to add the 6.8 WAR for 2006-7 and the 33.2 million in salary, so that would be 25.7 WAR and 127.55 million, which would average to 4.96 million per WAR, so a little better but still a little high.

        Seriously, looking at the last 4 years of an “11 year contract” is crazy.

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  6. Dan says:

    The fact that “Instinctive judgments of talent” and “Character” account for 2/3 of a player’s evaluation in Colorado is nuts.

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    • I know, I was stunned when he said that.

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    • SC2GG says:

      Yeah, AA is probably licking his lips for the moment that Pomeranz doesn’t get along with some old guy, hehe.

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    • Psst says:

      Wouldn’t “Instinctive judgments of talent” just be scouting?

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    • They definitely went overboard on that kind of stuff this offseason, and signed some inefficient contracts.

      I don’t agree with a lot of their offseason, I’ll be honest, but I’m a fan of the fact that they at least made a plan and stuck to it.

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      • Psst says:

        Cuddyer and Hernandez may be a bit ineffecient(then again their 5 years combined between 2012-15 are likely to be around 37 mil worth of production) but this offseason seemed largely to be a bridge to 2013-18 by 2014 the likely lineup of
        C Rosario
        1B Cuddyer
        2B Rutledge/Nelson/FA
        3B Arenado
        SS Tulowitzki
        RF Wheeler/Blackmon/Colvin
        CF Fowler
        LF Gonzalez

        is 3 players accounting for 37 million 1 ARB2 in Fowler, and 3 league minimum players to go with a staff of


        That is one ARB2 starter and 4 league minimum starters with 5 more likely league minimum relievers who combine with

        who will either be ARB1 or league minimum guys you basically have a massive stockpile of Arms and average to excellent production at every position. All of that is of course barring injury/falling apart but every team has that. All of that plus payroll flexibility, a new TV contract in 2014, and 2 playoff appearances in the last 4 years.

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  7. Dexter Bobo says:

    Can Rockies has cheezeburger?

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  8. jordan_s says:

    it should be noted, i think, that there’s nothing inherently wrong w/ equally weighing stats, instinctive judgments of talent and character. it’s just that dan o’dowd (and/or his staff) seems kind of terrible at instinctively judging talent.

    as for the character part… it’s easy to laugh at that kinda stuff cuz i think we all tend to think of it as analogous to praise for david eckstein or whatever, but if you’re running a franchise “character” (aka attitude and work ethic and off the field risks etc) is something that has to be weighed. as equally as other things? no probably not, but i think that was also probably a pretty boilerplate, nearly meaningless response from o’dowd.

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  9. Anon says:

    “The long term deals for Tulowitzki and Gonzalez insure that the team’s offensive core ”

    Ensure, not insure

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  10. Brandon says:

    Seems to me Fangraphs should has edited this article for grammar, spelling, contract accuracy, and baseball analysis. That would has made me enjoy it more.

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    • Richie says:

      I’ll defend the baseball analysis part. Perfectly sound, even if you don’t agree with it.

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      • jim says:

        anything that continues to ignorantly spout the negativity of helton’s contract is not “perfectly sound analysis”

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    • adohaj says:

      Lack of editing yet you still completely understood the article and its points. Remember this is a free site.

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      • Psst says:

        Yahoo Sports is a free site, they still use an editor.

        If FG is going to compete in a marketplace they ought to ask for volunteer editors at the very least, it might add an hour or two delay to content posting but would greatly increase the credibility of the site.

        I imagine FG could offer college intern credit to English/Journalism majors by having them proofread these articles.

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      • Brandon says:

        Touche, you are right, good reminder

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      • Richie says:

        Even interns still cost the business some money, Psst. And I’m guessing Yahoo Sports pulls in FAR! more ad dollars than Fangraphs.

        I agree that this article is compositionally subpar given the standard other Fangraph writers manage to meet. But I really doubt any organizational fix is really affordable for Fangraphs. Other than asking the authors to be more careful than is usual, and having Dave or one other person give the article a go-through before it goes up on the site.

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      • Psst says:

        Richie you may be right, but I would bet that aspiring sports writers with a better eye for ye old grammar rules/usage would be willing to volunteer their time if it say gave them an occasional platform.

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  11. rockymountainhigh says:

    I’m pessimistic based on the following:

    Third base is empty for two years running; Chacin is a fat slug, perfectly happy being a #3; the bullpen is weaker; we missed out on M. Young to hold on to AAAA prospects; overpaid for Cuddyer to try to compensate; we’ve developed and kept exactly one position player in 15 years; Fowler’s going to break out just like Ian Stewart; our rotation is a dumpster fire.

    Rockies fans will fill that place if you give them a reason. The fans don’t deserve the season we have coming but Duquette and the Monforts do.

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  12. rockymountainhigh says:

    O’dowd. I stand by the rest of it. Friggin Hippie!

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  13. Baltar says:

    I almost forgot the Rockies are still in the majors, despite that one pretty good year a few years back.

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