Any team making its home at Coors Field is going to look superficially like it is all hitting and no pitching. Once the run environment is taken into account, a more nuanced picture of the Colorado Rockies becomes available. It would be a bit of a stretch to say that the Rockies project as a defense-and-pitching team. More accurately, this is a balanced team with two under-appreciated stars, some young players with upside, a number of above-average performers, and useful role players. Taken as a group, the Rockies are one of the most talented teams in the National League.
The Rockies don’t have any one player that projects as an offensive monster once Coors is taken into account. What they do have is a number of players who are good at the plate and in the field. Among the position players, the undoubted star is 25-year-old shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. 2008 can’t be ignored, but Tulowitzki still projects as very good hitter, and while his defensive ratings have been up and down, he’s average at worst. Todd Helton is still a useful piece who hits well and is good defensively at first base. Third baseman Ian Stewart is enigmatic, but projects as at least average and is only 25. Clint Barmes is truly awful offensively, but he’s also outstanding enough defensively to be a stopgap second baseman. Chris Iannetta is a good, offensively oriented catcher.
The Rockies also have some talent in the outfield, although it remains to be seen if they’ll be deployed optimally. The best combination of three is probably Carlos Gonzalez in center, with Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs on the corners. While Gonzalez (just 24) hasn’t had a huge impact yet, he profiles as a very good outfield defender with a developing bat who is at least above average now and potential to be much more. The underutilized Smith is a good hitter who is at least average in the field. Spilborghs is older and inferior to Smith, but he’s got enough of a bat and glove to be about average over a full season. Sadly, the Rockies may still go with Gonzalez in left; Dexter Fowler, a fast guy who is a poor hitter and hasn’t impressed in the field, either, in center; and… wait for it… the legendary Brad Hawpe in right. Much virtual ink has been spilled over Hawpe’s dreadful fielding. Suffice it to say that while Hawpe has a good bat, if Adam Dunn (a superior hitter) can’t come close to being a league average player while putting up -30 seasons in the field, Hawpe can’t either. Some sort of arrangement putting Gonzalez in center, Smith in left, and platooning Hawpe and Spilborghs (with judicious use of Fowler) would likely give the Rockies at least one more win in a tight divisional race. Surely it has crossed someone’s mind.
The Rockies have made impressive strides in finding the right pitchers for their home park. Their rotation is both a skilled and deep. Ubaldo Jimenez‘s excellence should be more widely acknowledged; at the moment he’s on the same level with more celebrated pitchers like Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. Aaron Cook continues to defy the odds with few strikeouts but tons of grounders. Jorge de la Rosa, obtained after the Royals lost patience with him, has managed to get it together and become an above-average starter. Jason Hammel is also close to average, and once Jeff Francis‘s return from injury is figured in, the depth of the rotation is impressive indeed. Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt, and Manny Corpas are key parts of a good bullpen.
It would be inaccurate to say that the Rockies have no stars — Tulowitzki and Jimenez certainly qualify. But the Rockies aren’t totally dependent on their production, as they have many other skilled players around the diamond and on the mound, as well as a useful bench. Colorado will probably be in a tight NL West race with the Dodgers during which pretending like Fowler and Hawpe are everyday players isn’t a great idea. Even so, the Rockies are probably the best team in the division at the moment, and Los Angeles is the only serious competitor in 2010.