Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Colorado

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.




Print This Post



Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


45 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Colorado”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Jay says:

    The minor league reports on Fowler’s defense were outstanding, and we all know about making judgments on defense using UZR from one season. He managed a .363 OBP last year, and this is without the benefit of seeing a single AAA inning. You seem unreasonably down on him.

    It is a travesty though that Hawpe was not traded in the offseason.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Trenchtown says:

    Respectfully, I think you are pretty harsh in your evaluation of Dexter Fowler. The kid was a well regarded prospect who just had a very credible year with the bat in his rookie season. A 103 wRC+ from a 23 year old center fielder is nothing to sneeze at. His defense in center according to UZR was pretty darn bad, but’s it is also less than a full season of data. While Smith deserves some more playing time then he gets, and prior to 2009 Spilsborghs looked good with the bat, I still don’t agree with your opinion that choosing Fowler to player over one of these to would be sad or incorrect.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DavidCEisen says:

      Agreed, all the projects, save ZIPS, have Fowler being an above average hitter. I’m not sure why the hate.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • He’s an above-average offensive player, CHONE’s own context-neutral linear weights have him as -4, but that’s without his basesteaeling that lifts him above… and that doesn’t adjust for league.

        As I point out elsewhere, Smith is still the far superior offensive player, which is the primary point.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ah, Dexter Fowler… I love it when I basically laud a team in every respect except for a couple players, and what do people focus on? I guess I’d do the same thing, but anyway…

      I re-wrote my comment on Fowler a few times (this is the problem with trying to write a brief comment on almost every player). I wrote “hasn’t impressed in the field” to express the ambiguity here, notice I didn’t write “he sucks in the field” or “he’ll never be a good fielder” or “the stats all say he was bad for a while last season, so throw out the scouting reports, he’s worthless.” I am, of course, well aware that one season of statistical data is not close to enough to get a good read on his true talent. It’s at least worth noting that not only UZR, but also Plus/Minus have him as pretty terrible, and TotalZone isn’t impressed with him, either. Again, it’s a small sample, and dude is fast, but there’s general agreement among the stats on his performance.

      The 2009 Fan Scouting Report is much more positive about his defensive skills, but what’s interesting in that context is that Carlos Gonzalez, who is much better liked by all the metrics, also is rated higher than Fowler by the fans. So the FSR and the metrics say Gonzalez is better in the field. And that was part of my point — not that Fowler can’t play, but that Gonzalez is the better player, certianly offensively, and Fowler isn’t clearly better defensively, either.

      As for Fowler’s .345 wOBA (103+) last season — well, let’s take into account it is just in one season, in the NL, and in Coors. CHONE projects a .346 wOBA for 2010, ZiPS a .328. Average those, and you get a below-average offensive player.

      I can see him playing over Spilborghs (although keep in mind I’m writing about current talent for winning 2010 and maybe 2011and the Rockies are contenders), but not Smith. Smith is at least average on the corners, and I think his good hitting outweighs Fowler’s ambiguous uses, again, if the team is serious about winning.

      So Smith and Gonzalez should be starting for sure. Fowler, maybe, if they want to give him time to grow into the role. It’s not like I’m in love with Spilborghs or Hawpe.

      So anyway, that’s where I’m coming from, Feel free to disagree.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Trenchtown says:

        I appreciate your explanation

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • In retrospect (I won’t change it now), I should have said that Gonzalez, Smith, and Fowler would be a fine outfield; given Fowler’s standing as a prospect, starting him over Spilborghs and/or Hawpe is justified, even if there are still some growing pains to come.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Paul says:

        I haven’t looked up the projections for Smith or Spilboroughs, but Chone has Fowler’s WAR at 2.3, and the optimistic fans at 3.3. As a Giants’ fan having a 24 year old top outfield prospect being projected as worth that many wins, while being paid less than 9 million a year, would be highly exciting. I mean, and actually getting to play too!!! But I guess that’s partly why the Rockies are ranked 8th and the Giants buried in the 20s.
        Ok, I looked up Smith, he is being projected as worth .1 better than Fowler, both by Chone and the Fans.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Paul says:

        Also, I feel like there has been a lot of arguments made that Coors is no longer the Hitter’s Paradise that it once was.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • JR says:

        I think the problem people (or Rockies fans, as I am) are having with the analysis of Fowler is that it’s backward looking instead of forward looking. No mention of one year sample size in the article, minor league potential or youth. Yeah, he had a slightly below average year, but if you looked at Carlos Gonzalez’s 2008, you’d say that his 2009 never could have happened. Now that it has, it’s treated like a lock that he’ll not revert to 2008.

        Both Gonzalez and Fowler were well regarded prospects, with Gonzalez having more raw ability. One has a below average year in what was essentially his ML debut, the other has a boom year after a terrible ML debut. There’s more to the two of them than 2009, and the very brief comments belie that.

        All of that said, there should be a sample size warning for writing too, and nobody should be bashing you for the writeup. As you said, it wasn’t “Dexter Fowler is destined to be Brian L. Hunter reincarnate.” It was a comment about his current performance based off of last year’s results.

        No one wants to see Fangraphs lose its forward looking approach towards analysis and regarding statistics, and although it seems like it was set aside in the brief comment on Fowler, most people are aware of your writing ability and know that you recognize young players not named Braun ebb and flow as they develop.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Thanks for the measured responses, everyone. Like I said in a comment above (maybe not clearly enough), I admit I missed on Fowler a bit — I should probably not try to comment on every player in these things, since that isn’t the point, and I’m inevitably going to have these sort of glitches. I’ll leave the original post unchanged as a momument to my silly hubris in that regard.

        On Coors’ park effect (Paul) — it is indeed much less a hitters’ park than it was through around 2002-2003, but it has still had the most hitter-favorable park factor in the majors (at least according to the factors I look at) every season of it’s existence, usually around 1.07 or 1.08 the last few seasons depending on where you look. Indeed, I have a one sorted list of park factors from 1995 (I think that was Coors first season…) on, and sorted from most “offensive” (ahem) park factor to the least… all the top ones are Coors PFs.

        In other words, according to those factors, since Coor’s opening, the most pitcher-friendly Coors environment is more hitter-friendly than the most hitter-friendly environment in the rest of the league during that time peroid. Just thought it was interesting. That’s not to take away from anything, it’s just something to keep in mind when someone gets excited about Brad Hawpe having a .380 wOBA, or worried about “only” having a 3.8 FIP (or whatever), which is pretty awesome in Coors.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • “As for Fowler’s .345 wOBA (103+) last season — well, let’s take into account it is just in one season, in the NL, and in Coors. CHONE projects a .346 wOBA for 2010, ZiPS a .328. Average those, and you get a below-average offensive player.”

        I’m confused why you added the qualifier “and in Coors” when we all know wOBA and wRC+ are park adjusted….and the fact remains he was above average as a 23-year old rookie. I also wouldn’t call him “below average” by averaging one optimistic projection and one pessimistic projection when his rookie year fell in line with the optimistic projection. Besides, an average of .346 and .328 is .337, which is actually still ABOVE average.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • philkid3 says:

        wOBA isn’t park adjusted.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Chair says:

    I love how the top 6 teams are all going to be AL, yeah that makes allot of sense.

    I love what JackZ has done in Seattle as much as the next guy, and if he keeps it up they could be contenders for many years, but this is getting silly. In what way shape or form is that club a top 5 team? I am looking at you Dave Cameron, a little humility never hurt anyone.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • futant462 says:

      Agreed. I live in Seattle(Boston fan 1st), love what the org is doing. Great direction, smart, fast turnaround from awful. The future is bright because of what it can be. But short of Ackley, their minor system is weak. Their offense has the upside of 20th best in the league, while pitching & D should be in the top 10 somewhere.

      This is a good team, with smart management, but they aren’t built to win it all now, or really any time in the next 2-3 years. They’re going to be competitive for awhile, then after years of smart decisions and building a powerhouse minors system they will possibly qualify as a top 5 org in baseball. But they aren’t there yet, and speculating on that potential and considering it inevitable does stink of excess fanboyism.

      I’d put the M’s ~12 myself. 12 with great long term upside, and short term stability, if not exellence.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Rob says:

        I’d probably put them lower than 12 – behind the Dodgers for sure. But I’ll wait for their write up before I pass any more judgment. There could be factors I’m not considering, and in any case I’m curious to hear Dave C. make the case for them.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ivdown says:

      This list is bullshit. Yeah the top few teams will be normal (though the way this shit is going the Mariners will make their way into the top 3), and the bottom was as expected, but the middle till now is just idiotic.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Reuben says:

      Dave Cameron is not the only one who votes on these. Do any of the critics realize this?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Chair says:

        Yes we know, but the criticism stands.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Reuben says:

        How does it stand that DCam’s bias managed to influence several non-Mariners fans?

        How does it stand when DCam has been accused of being anti-Mariners until recently?

        Your criticism is illogical and ill-formed.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Gary says:

    Barmes hit 23 home runs. He’s not *that* bad. The average hurts, but I’ll take good defense and 23 home runs from my second baseman any day.

    Oh and Hammel pitched to a 3.71 FIP (Yes, I’m taking one stat out of context) in his first full season and was killer on the road (if my memory is correct). I’m seeing above average, #2/3(mostly 3) out of Hammel

    Team’s pretty good. Tulo makes it pretty great.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Home runs, average.. how about this, in park-adjusted batting runs above average, Barmes was -14.4 last season?

      Maybe Hammel will repeat his 2009 performance, but neither ZiPS nor CHONE expects him to. “Close to average” is hardly an insult — he could be a bit above, a bit below. It’s a deep rotation.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • By the way, I really like Barmes. I was hoping to write “Barmes is really underrated — he’s not much of a hitter, but dude could be a plus shortstop, so he’ll be an awesome defender at second and an another above-average player,” but after looking at the projections, etc., I just couldn’t do it.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Tom Wilson says:

        Does Barmes and Stewarts superb range affect Tulo’s UZR? and why are so many projection systems so down on Heltons resurgence?ng Chone has him with a .287/.387/.432 split for a .362 wOBA. and Marcel isn’t much kinder. Looking at his by month splits last year he had a slow start(all of the Rockies did) posting a .344 wOBA. for march/april then had months of .386,.406 ,.423,.400,.382 that doesn’t look like a hitter who has fallen off a cliff

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • 1) Range — can’t dig them up at the moment, but I think I have read that if there is any “ball-hogging” effect on fellow fielders-range stats, it’s pretty negligible.

        2) Helton, I can’t speak for specific projection systems, since they all have their “secret sauces” (some use comparable players to establish aging curves, some regress certian components to certain populations based on different factors). To keep it simple and manageable, I’ll just deal with general stuff like you’d find in Marcels (stuff that all good projections are based on) for Helton’s offense,in general without breaking it down into components. I’ll mention three things:

        a) The biggest factor is probably age. Helton is 36, and that’s generally on the steep downhill side of the aging curve. Maybe Helton’s the exception, but projection systems are successful in general because they don’t “make exceptions.”

        b) 2008 happened, and that’s a big factor. Granted, it was only 361 PA, but that factors into

        c) regression to the mean. Good projections regress all players to te average of the population they are drawn from. And to the extent that the down 2008 for Helton isn’t weighted as heavily because of the limited PAs, it also means he is regressed more heavily to the mean.

        Hope those are some helpful general thoughts.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. hamandcheese says:

    I just wish they’d let Ianetta catch his share of games.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Mike Ketchen says:

    Matt,

    nice write-up! My question is centered around Hammel. His CB was the key for him last season, do you think this is more random fluke pitch or something that can be sustained? He is really interesting to me as a guy who could really go from good 3rd starter to swing man in the pen. That is a pretty wide margin to me.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • I haven’t studied every player up close, obviously, since this is just an overview, and there are others who are much better at analyzing the repertoire of pitchers than I, but here are some brief thoughts (as always, I’m open to disagreement and/or correction):

      Both CHONE and ZiPS have Hammels projected for around a 4.2 FIP. Now, one has to keep in mind that is in the NL, but it’s also in Coors (still the most hitter-friendly park in baseball). So, yeah, while FIP isn’t the be-all-end all, that’s much better than your typical back of the rotation guy; he’s easily a #3 guy (league average starter), and could be more.

      The pitch types say that his best pitch (indeed, the only one that was above average in lwts in 2010) was his curveball, by far, which he threw more frequently after coming to COL and starting regularly. SO that’s a Good Thing if he can keep it up. That may be how he increased the percentage of swings he got on pitches out of the zone, and the very important (and recently-added) Swinging Strike rate also increased.

      While Hammel is slightly below average in K rate, he doesn’t walk many, and most importantly, he’s a groundball pitcher. While tERA is suspicious of the number of line drives he gives up, xFIP does like him because of GB/FB ratio and low number of walks.

      SO for his “pitcher-isolated” stats, yeah, it looks like he’s a sustainable #3 starter, at least, and he’s only 27 to start the season. Even without tons of strikeouts, avoiding free passes and getting all those grounders going towards the Rockies excellent defensive infield is a good idea.

      Hmmm… I guess I could have gotten an entire blog post out of this.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Ivdown says:

    I think the Rockies deserve a ranking around here, though I think they should be above the Twins and Mariners. Their team scares me. Their offense has always been really good, but now they are developing pitching, and that spells bad news for the NL West. They also have the best outfield depth in all of baseball, which means their bench is also very good. I’m hoping for a fall from their pitching staff to help out the Dodgers.

    And what a surprise, all the top 6 teams are AL teams. So let me get this straight, the NL sucks the AL’s ass and the Mariners have gone from (presumably) in the 20s last year to 6 or better (I’m guessing better with how this list is turning out) after signing a powerless 3b off a career year (sound similar to another 3B seattle just had, except he had power…), traded for a head case, who is admittedly good, but still can’t stay healthy, and a very good starting pitcher to go with Felix, but not too much behind them except unproven players. I’m eager to read the reasoning for their extraordinary ranking this year. Ackley must be super-Jesus, because he is taking this seemingly mediocre or below average farm system and turning it into a top 5 farm system.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • ThundaPC says:

      The Mariners were conservatively ranked #15 last year.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Just addressing the Rockies issue, since, you know, this is a post about the Rockies…

      Their offense was great, but just as one has to adjust expectations for what a “good pitching line” is when a pitcher gets half his starts in Denver, one has to do the same with hitting. That’s why I say they have good pitching and good hitting — they aren’t dominant in either, but combining both makes for a team that’s difficult to beat.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Ivdown says:

        From all I’ve seen, much of their success has come from having a lot of ground ball pitchers, and in that park, that’s the perfect pitcher to have. They have either finally found out the key to pitching in Coors, or have gotten very lucky getting so many ground ball pitchers at once. Their offense isn’t as great as it was in the past, but their mix of young hitters and vets will definitely be good. So if their pitching holds up and their offense does what they should, the Rockies should easily make the playoffs (here’s hoping it’s a WC spot).

        As for everything I talked about, how can no one who came up with those rankings have a problem with the Mariners jumping up so high taking everything considered? No one can, in good conscience, say that the Mariners franchise is better off than every NL franchise right now. Seriously.

        But I actually did talk about the Rockies in here, with a couple other things of criticism (my team doesn’t get respected when they deserve it, it’s lame).

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. bflaff says:

    I think the Rockies’ payroll limitations should drag them down a bit more. All this young talent is fun, but if they can’t afford it when it hits its prime, then their margin for error gets pretty small.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Tom Wilson says:

      The Rockies had a stretch where they were top five in revenue in the league if they become contenders they could easily become a team that has a 90-100 million payroll, and with their proven ability to identify and develop talent they should at least remain competitive for quite a while.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Andy says:

        Ehhhh…. I’m not certain the revenue will ever be as high as it was. Coors Field sold out every game for years, in part because the stadium was such a huge part of the revitalization of the LoDo area. Barring some dynastic-type run (and as a Rockies fan, I’d love to see it), I just can’t see the city of Denver supporting the team more than they did in the past. The glitz of LoDo has worn off and there’s simply more to do in the area.

        The development of a few players from last year’s draft and this next draft will be crucial in determining how long-lasting this success is. If the team is able to strike gold on a few of the players they picked (Matzek and Arenado: I’m looking at you), that should go a long way to negate the attrition the team will face half a decade from now without having to break the bank to do so.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Tom Wilson says:

    Imagine what this team would look like with Longo at 2nd too bad they decided to change their minds last minute and take Greg Reynolds

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • JR says:

      Not too mention that if they’d drafted Longoria, they could have traded Atkins before his decline. That might’ve netted them a real second base prospect.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Tom Wilson says:

        I would be fine with an infield of Stewart, EY2, Tulo, and Longo and an OF of Cargo, Fowler, and Smith under control until 2014 but only if we brought in Hinske

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • As a Royals fan, and, frankly, as any fan in baseball would, I must roll my eyes at any complaint, no matter how hypothetical, about the Rockies’ drafting.

      “Oh dear me, we had to trade for one player we didn’t develop! And sometimes will have to have a 1.5 WAR player starting!”

      /bitterness

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Tom Wilson says:

        The reason why it comes up still and why Rockies fans still wake up screaming LONGORIA!!! is that everyone here had us taking him the front office included but last minute they decided that Atkins+Stewart gave us plenty of depth there(and they were probably right) and went with another college righty.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jay says:

      20/20 hindsight and all, nobody scores perfectly in every draft, etc,etc…
      Still, the thought of a Longo/Tulo left side of the infield makes me drool.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Chair says:

        Hopefully it will happen for the US baseball squad come the next WBC.

        Mauer
        Fielder
        Utley
        Longoria
        Tulo
        Upton
        Kemp
        Braun

        Lincecum
        Grienke
        Kershaw

        Make it So!!!

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. rockymountainhigh says:

    Obviously real excited about this year. Hopefully no repeat of ’08. Tulo drives this team. A little nervous that another slow start from him and no Street makes for a tough April. Cargo looked late last year like he might be able to carry this lineup for a bit, so maybe it’s not all on Tulo.

    Want to see much more Seth Smith. One thing about this team, is that a lot of them are gamers, and Smith’s toughness seems to fit better than Hawpe, who had nothing left late last year. Fowler looked a little awkward in field and at the plate. He got to a lot of balls last year that I’m hoping he catches this year. I love he and Cargo’s speed in that huge outfield. I also give him credit for cutting way down on his strike zone, bunting for hits and generally scrapping to get his speed on base. I thought Tracy had a huge impact there.

    Maybe a similar approach could make EY2 useful. Would love to see his speed out there as Tracy seems to know what to do with it, and Barmes is too often hopeless at the plate. Not sure if Francis at No. 2 is promising or else concerning for the back end guys, but if it means he’s close to a couple years ago, should be a BIG year.

    This is all based on the eye test, as I don’t have much utility with statistics. Trying to learn though. Love this site. Keep up the good work!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *