Trouble in Rockieville

Since starting the season 11-2, the Colorado Rockies are just 13-23. They are a Major League worst 7-17 in May, and haven’t won more than two in a row since the 11-2 start. In 21 of those past 36 games, they have scored three runs or less. Last night’s loss dropped the team below .500 for the first time since they were 0-1. The team has responded with a series of personnel and lineup changes that show more than a hint of panic, even though at this stage, that is still not warranted.

In the past week, the Rockies have banished Franklin Morales, Felipe Paulino and Jose Lopez. Of the group, Paulino’s ouster was the most surprising. He was nothing short of jerked around during his Rockies tenure. During Spring Training, he was shifted from a starter’s role to a relief role, something he had not done full-time since 2005. He was then yo-yo’ed between mop-up man and set-up man. He was definitely not terrific, but he wasn’t as bad as a 7.36 ERA would imply. Paulino endured some awful home run luck, coughing up three gopher balls in his first 14 1/3 innings, for a 1.84 HR/9. Not only was this out of line with his career average, but ZiPS (R) also forecasted a severe decline from that mark. His perfectly acceptable 3.36 xFIP also demonstrates that his performance wasn’t all bad. That he was given the axe for allowing a home run to Prince Fielder on a night when the team’s supposed two best relievers — Rafael Betancourt and Huston Street — also blew leads by allowing home runs, and to lesser hitters to boot, was both an injustice and an overreaction. If given more time to settle into his role as reliever, he no doubt would have performed better. What’s even more puzzling about the move is the success the team had with a similar case in 2009 with Matt Belisle. Like Paulino, Belisle was transitioning from starter back to reliever, and like Paulino, posted a +7 ERA in his first handful of appearances with the Rockies. But Belisle was given an opportunity to go down to Colorado Springs and straighten himself out. Paulino was traded to Kansas City.

If the Rockies treatment of Paulino was mystifying, than their treatment of Ian Stewart is even more so. Stewart was and perhaps still is (depending on how you feel about Chris Nelson) the best option the Rockies have at third base. Since his demotion, Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez did nothing to disprove that notion. The pair hit 18-for-58 (.310) in Stewart’s absence, but as their combined -0.729 WPA in those 15 starts demonstrates, their net offensively was a negative. And that’s not even taking into account the duo’s defense, which was lamentable at best. It’s not just missed plays — and each missed plays crucial plays — it’s the seeming lack of fundamentals. Wigginton confusing wiffleball rules for baseball rules and drilling Chris Young in the back during a rundown was simply the latest example. Lopez is of course now history, but this could have all been avoided by just leaving Stewart in the lineup. Even given how poorly he hit in his first 52 plate appearances, his glove would have made him more valuable than either Wigginton or Lopez.

But if getting rid of three players in a week isn’t enough show of panic, there are other signs as well. Dexter Fowler frustrated the team during the first month of the season with his strike outs, but at the time, Tracy stood by him. On May 1, he said:

“The strikeout total is high, absolutely, for a leadoff hitter. But somewhere along the line as we continue to go forward, there will be a leveling off period, and I think we’ll end up having ourselves a very consistent leadoff hitter.”

Just as Tracy predicted, the leveling off has begun. In April, he struck out in 35% of his at-bats. That number has shrunk to 25% in May. Yet, with the team not playing well, Tracy is still nitpicking. Now Fowler has to cut down his strikeouts from the left side of the plate. In order to do that, he has been dropped to the bottom of the order, where he will have fewer game opportunities to improve his swing.

The real problem of course has been Troy Tulowitzki. After jumping out to a hot start, he has regressed backwards just as sharply. But a lot of his poor play has simply been bad luck — Tulowitzki batted ball rates are just about identical in both months, but his BABIP for May is a lowly .165. Tulowitzki has been less patient this month, but he will turn it around soon enough.

It’s not all bad of course. Carlos Gonzalez has stopped pounding every pitch into the ground, and is seeing more balls deposited in the cheap seats as a result. Todd Helton is having yet another rebound season, Seth Smith has played extremely well in right field, and Chris Iannetta is finally seeing more balls fall for hits (.304 BABIP in May). And while losing Jorge de la Rosa hurts, the team’s pitching has been good, and will get even better if Ubaldo Jimenez keeps improving.

In short, now is not the time to panic. The team has talked about heightened expectations, but a lot of the changes that Tracy is making amounts to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. Eric Young Jr. is not going to be part of any positive solution, and Greg Reynolds probably won’t be either. It’s not just the player moves, but also the changes to the batting order that have been futile. Tracy admitted as much last Sunday, when he told, “It’s taking a shot, that’s what I’m doing…Just trying something different.” He went on to say that he didn’t feel it was a panic move, but that’s certainly how it looks, especially when the batting order had a different leadoff hitter in each of the subsequent four contests. Tracy is pressing all of the wrong buttons, and the team certainly can’t continue to vanquish three players per week, not if they want to maintain any level of trust with the players. Just two nights ago while assessing the mood in the clubhouse, Thomas Harding of wrote that “there is something to be said for remaining confident that players will perform to expected levels.” It’s a statement that sums up the situation perfectly.

The Rockies are better than they have played recently, and the division is still quite winnable, especially given Buster Posey’s injury. The Rockies are 7-17 in May, but they have only been outscored by nine runs for the month, a figure that suggests they have endured a hard luck month and that things should turn around soon. So now is not the time to panic. But while Tracy is preaching patience to his players and to the media, his actions suggest panic. At some point, he will need to practice what he preaches.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times and a writer and editor for FanGraphs. He has written for the Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

37 Responses to “Trouble in Rockieville”

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  1. B says:

    Is there any reason to think Ubaldo is going to bounce back though? They could be in a world of hurt if he doesn’t.

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    • Mr. wOBAto says:

      His start against the Giants he was 7 innings 7ks 1BB, his next start he went 8 innings and gave up 2 hits so there is a decent chance he returns to form

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  2. Greg says:

    The rockies aren’t 13-23

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    • Jim Lahey says:

      Wow, really? The first sentence of the article.
      You didn’t even read the whole sentence or you just completely failed to understand it.

      “Since starting the season 11-2, the Colorado Rockies are just 13-23.”

      Way to be.

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      • Daniel says:

        Wow, really? Scroll down an inch.
        The dude corrected himself.
        Way to be an ass.

        All this in a joking tone, of course. :)

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    • Nik says:

      Reading is hard.

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  3. Greg says:

    never mind. Misinterpreted the wording

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  4. Mr. wOBAto says:

    but Tracy will panic, and forget what it was that made him such a breath of fresh air following the micro-management that Clint Hurdle was prone to.

    When Carlos Gonzalez was called up Tracy let him .218 with a ton of Ks for a month, all the while leaving Stewart in at 3B hitting .215 in both cases he said it was because both were astronomical improvements on defense, and that they should be given time to work out how to hit.

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  5. Kevin says:

    What are you basing “Eric Young is not going to be the part of any positive solution” on?

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    • Paul Swydan says:

      His wOBA at the Major League level is .276. His most optimistic preseason projection was for a .325 wOBA. He is playing well in the Springs, but he is repeating the level, and at 26, is no longer a prospect. Also, his BABIP in the Springs is .423, and while he has generally had higher BABIP’s, his career high for a season is .353. When his BABIP comes down, so too will his performance. And even if his offensive play manages to stay at a high level in the Majors, he will likely give it all back on defense.

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    • Nik says:

      Off the top of my head despite stealing bases and getting on base in the minors he has shown no ability to do so in the Majors, he has little to no power, and there are very few who think he can be more than an average defender.

      If you think a player that doesn’t get on base, doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t field well is going to help turn a franchise around you might just be Ed Wade.

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      • Kevin says:

        Seeriously how the hell does that guy still have a job?

        He must have pictures of Drayton McLane and Ed Montgomery performing some Ace & Gary roleplay.

        Only reasonable explanation.

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  6. chris says:

    I agree Kevin, while his glove may not play well, EY has offensive upside. Especially with Fowler not making much of a difference, Young has a chance to be a nice top of the order guy with some wheels. When your two best players are underperforming substantially, it makes the rest of your team look worse generally and thats the case the Rockies are in.

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  7. kevin says:

    Felipe Paulino was out of options, so the Rockies couldn’t send him down to the Springs to work out his issues. Given that, sending Paulino out to the hill in high pressure situations was killing the Rockies chances.
    Ian Stewart was given a second chance to return to the Rockies after his send down to the Springs, and he just absolutely stunk up the place. Granted, Wiggonton and Lopez have been almost as atrocious. Now, if the Rockies were to call up Chris Nelson instead, would you call that a panic move? I actually think Nelson could contribute more than EY2.

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    • Paul Swydan says:

      It’s my understanding that Paulino cleared waivers and was not on the 40-man roster when traded. And, for the record, I definitely agree that Nelson would contribute more than EY.

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      • Jason says:

        He was claimed in waivers and then was pulled back in order to make the trade. The other part of this that wasn’t mentioned in the article was the pitching of Matt Daley and Rex Brothers in AAA. Both have been eating up scoreless innings for the Sky Sox. When Paulino is serving up walkoff’s left and right (4 in two weeks I believe) and you have a commodity in the AAA level you don’t stand pat while your club is in free fall. While I don’t know if really agree with moving Morales yet, I do think the Paulino move came from the circumstances that were created with his pitching, Daley and Brothers’ pitching in AAA, and Paulino’s lack of options.

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  8. Seth says:

    Smith could be a star if he appeared in the lineup on a daily basis. You can’t expect a guy to hit lefties if he never faces them. Clayton Kershaw is one thing, but Randy Wolf is another. He almost leads the majors in doubles (15) with siginificantly fewer at bats than anyone ahead of him with 16 doubles.

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  9. William says:

    jose lopez doesn’t play bad defense at third. Just saying

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  10. herve houchoua says:



    u .Jimenez ( 0-5 )……………tres inquietant

    ce soir NICASIO vs GARCIA ( encore une defaite ?)

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  11. Phillie697 says:

    So where are all those people, especially Rockies fans, who were all gun-ho about how Tulo is a better player than Albert Pujols already? What about his swing change???

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  12. BMac says:

    The irritating thing about this article is it seems to be based on personal bias rather than statistical analysis. The Eric Young analysis in particular is atrocious; the link goes back to his *Dad*, where for some reason the ZIPS projection for Eric Young Jr still sits.

    That ZIPS projection shows a player with tons of speed, over 30 SB and under 10 CS, but modest OBP skills. Bill James has him at close to 80 SB in 440 AB. I suggest that even the ZIPS projection shows some offensive upside.

    Maybe you were looking at his Dad’s stats?

    The defensive liabilities in the OF were evident last year, but not as a 2B. Since this is small sample size, and he was working on his defense in Triple-A, I think hold on & see if it’s improved; I notice the Rockies has him at CF last night, so they must think it is better.

    We can hardly blame Eric Jr for crushing Triple-A pitching while he worked on his defense. It is to his credit.

    Paulino was out of options; I believe they recalled the waivers when a claim was placed and worked out a trade; the Jays did this with Purcey earlier this year, too; they worked out a trade with the team that placed the claim. When a club is struggling, you can’t ignore the poor results of the worst performers.

    What would be frustrating for the fans and the whole organization is to stand pat with poor performances while players at lower echelons are screaming for promotion. Bringing guys up just inspires the minor league players that there is hope of a call-up, while tolerating abysmal performances by major league players just brings everyone down.

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    • Drew says:

      The accidental Eric Young, Sr. link is unfortunate, but if you actually look at Dad’s page, you’d see a career .359 OBP and, aside from the lack of power, some solid overall offensive numbers (.339 career wOBA, perhaps pumped up a bit by playing in Colorado in the 90’s).

      In any case, I fail to see any “personal bias” in this article. It really doesn’t seem like a stretch to say Eric Young, Jr. won’t be a solution to your team’s woes.

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  13. Kevin says:

    THE solution? Unlikely. Part of a solution? Much more likely. Hell, I don’t think Desmond Jennings would be THE solution if he magically appeared on the Rockies roster.

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  14. Russ Stichler says:

    Very poor analysis by a wannabee manager. When you base everything on stats in the first two months of a season, you are treading on dangerous ground. Points made by BMac in above post are much more savvy than Swydan’s. I found Swydan’s article very irritating and not well thought out.

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  15. Reif says:

    Getting rid of Paulino was the least panicky of all these moves.

    EYJ is just Jonny Herrera without the glove. Maybe he can hit/get on bse better than he has so far in his career, but I doubt it.

    Ian Stewart should be back on the roster by now. Too bad he’s out with hamstring issues.

    The one move that needs to be made is getting Iannetta out of the 8 hole. Seriously, he has to atleast hit before Wiggington.

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  16. Jeremiah says:

    Paulino might have had good FIP/xFIP numbers, but that’s not telling the whole story. His fastball was often in the middle of the plate and very hittable. Especially with Daley pitching well in the offensively inclined Colorado Springs environment, there was no reason to let him continue to hurt the team. Morales was having better luck, but his walk numbers were a little disturbing. I think he will be good some day, but a team that expects to contend can’t wait around forever.

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  17. Todd Helton says:

    We need more juice up in Mile High.

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  18. Bob Bobson says:

    “but as their combined -0.729 WPA in those 15 starts demonstrates, their net offensively was a negative.”

    To me that indicates that they just choked in a few high leverage batting opportunities. With a .310 BA, chances are their WAR was a positive, at a rate higher than 2 per season. But what was their wOBA(+)? Hitting in the clutch is luck, not skill, especially given a 15 game sample.

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  19. steve lynn says:

    I think the rockies r so confused as to what is wrong and how many things r going wrong they r joust plugging holes and hope the bleeding stops frustration abounds!!!

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  20. Tim E. says:

    When has Felipe Paulino every pitched to his periphials? At some point his performance should dictate how good he is

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  21. Luke says:

    Sending Stewart back down was a no-brainer – it wasn’t just his stats but how he looked at the plate. He started 0-2 every time up and 3 of hits were a bunt, a squib to 3rd that got him on because of the shift, and a fly ball that the OF let drop for a cheap double. Paulino likewise had to go. More evident of the panic i think is the lineup juggling. Whatever the problem they appear to be getting worse by the day. Another lame effort in LA tonight.

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  22. Antonio Bananas says:

    I’m not sure what people mean when they say they think Ubaldo Jimenez will “bounce back” but he will never be as good as he was the first two months of last year ever again. Not only that, but as good as his first 2 months were, he still didn’t finish top 5 in ERA or WHIP, wasn’t tops in really anything. that tells me his last few months were just “good”. Which is kinda how he was before his amazing 2 months or whatever it was.

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