The Colorado Rockies got off to a very hot start in 2011, winning 18 of their first 25 games and rising to the top of the National League West.
Sadly, things fell apart from there. The Rockies started fading as soon as May rolled around and they never managed to right the ship; they barely avoided a last-place finish.
The Rockies were very active this offseason, bringing in several noteworthy veterans and making some key additions to their pitching staff.
Will these changes result in a better finish in 2012? That's what we're here to discuss.
2011 Record: 73-89
Key Arrivals (courtesy of Yahoo! Sports): INF/OF Michael Cuddyer (FA), 3B Casey Blake (FA), OF Tyler Colvin (from Chicago Cubs), INF DJ LeMahieu (from Chicago Cubs), RHP Tyler Chatwood (from LA Angels), C Ramon Hernandez (FA), RHP Guillermo Moscoso (from Oakland), LHP Josh Outman (from Oakland), INF Marco Scutaro (from Boston), LHP Jamie Moyer (minor league FA), RHP Jeremy Guthrie (from Baltimore).
Key Departures: 3B Ian Stewart (to Chicago Cubs), RHP Huston Street (to San Diego), C Chris Iannetta (to LA Angels), INF/OF Ty Wigginton (to Philadelphia), 2B Mark Ellis (FA), LHP J.C. Romero (FA), RHP Aaron Cook (FA), 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff (FA), OF Seth Smith (to Oakland), OF Ryan Spilborghs (FA), RHP Kevin Millwood (FA), RHP Clayton Mortensen (to Boston), RHP Jason Hammel (to Baltimore), RHP Matt Lindstrom (to Baltimore).
- Jorge De La Rosa (5-2, 3.51 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, Tommy John surgery in June of 2011)
- Jhoulys Chacin (11-14, 3.62, 1.31)
- Jeremy Guthrie (9-17, 4.33, 1.34)
- Drew Pomeranz (2-1, 5.40, 1.31)
- Alex White (3-4, 7.01, 1.69)
- Tyler Chatwood (6-11, 4.75, 1.67)
- Guillermo Moscoso (8-10, 3.38, 1.09)
C: Ramon Hernandez (.282/..341/.446)
1B: Todd Helton (.302/.385/.466)
2B: Marco Scutaro (.299/.358/.423)
3B: Casey Blake (.252/.342/.371)
SS: Troy Tulowitzki (.302/.372/.544)
LF: Carlos Gonzalez (.295/.363/.526)
CF: Dexter Fowler (.266/.363/.432)
RF: Michael Cuddyer (.284/.346/.459)
Closer: Rafael Betancourt (R) (2-0, 8 SV, 22 HLD, 4 BLSV, 2.89 ERA, 0.87 WHIP)
Matt Belisle (R) (10-4, 14 HLD, 7 BLSV, 3.25, 1.26)
Matt Reynolds (L) (1-2, 18 HLD, 2 BLSV, 4.09, 1.30)
Rex Brothers (L) (1-2, 1 SV, 16 HLD, 2 BLSV, 2.88, 1.30)
Edgmer Escalona (R) (0-0, 1.75, 0.94)
Josh Roenicke (R) (0-0, 4 HLD, 3.78, 1.26)
Josh Outman (L) (3-5, 3.70, 1.46)
Esmil Rodgers (R) (6-6, 7.05, 1.89)
Scouting the Starting Pitching
The Rockies had one of the most ineffective starting rotations in the majors in 2011. Overall, Rockies starters managed just 939 innings, fourth-fewest in the National League. They posted a 4.73 ERA, second-worst in the NL. They had just 71 quality starts, fewest in the NL.
One look at the rotation the Rockies have lined up for 2012 does not inspire confidence. The Rockies do not have a true ace that they can trust to be their stopper. In fact, the starting staff they've assembled seems to have been designed to pile up innings and little more. Even that may prove to be too tall a task.
It's not entirely hopeless, though. Jhoulys Chacin has good stuff, and he was occasionally quite effective last season. He kept his ERA under 3.00 in April and June, and he had two months in which he kept opposing hitters under the Mendoza line. If he can be more consistent in 2012, he could be the ace the team needs.
New acquisition Jeremy Guthrie is not an ace, but at least the Rockies can rely on him to eat up some innings. Guthrie has logged at least 200 innings in three straight seasons.
If there's one guy who could surprise people this season, it's Guillermo Moscoso. He went largely unnoticed with the Oakland A's in 2011, but he was pretty solid. He could catch the National League off-guard.
Beyond those three guys, this stable of starters is chock-full of wild cards. The Rockies have no idea what Jorge De La Rosa is going to bring to the table once he returns, and Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Chatwood and Alex White are all unproven.
UPDATE: March 3
According to The Denver Post, Jorge De La Rosa likely won't return this season until July.
Scouting the Bullpen
The Rockies bullpen wasn't much better than the rotation in 2011, as it posted a 3.92 ERA, third-highest in the National League.
That said, you kinda sympathize for the bullpen in 2011. It was tasked with pitching way too many innings and bailing out the starting staff way too often.
The big change in the pen this year involves the guy who will be closing things out in the ninth inning: Rafael Betancourt. He's never served as a full-time closer before, but he's been one of the best eighth-inning guys in the league for quite a while at this point. He has the stuff to close, and he performed admirably when asked last season. He saved a career-high eight games.
As a collective group, Betancourt is going to have some pretty solid arms setting things up for him in 2012. Matt Belisle will make a good eighth-inning option, and Jim Tracy definitely has options in terms of right-left matchups.
What concerns me about the pen's outlook for 2012 is that it's probably going to be overworked again. The Rockies are heading into this season with a new rotation, but it's not a new-and-improved rotation. The bullpen better be ready to hold slim leads.
Scouting the Hitting
We're used to Rockies teams being among the league leaders in runs, and that didn't change in 2011. The Rockies finished third in the NL with 735 runs scored, fourth in slugging percentage at .410, and third in OPS (on-base plus slugging) at .739.
The Rockies should be even better offensively in 2012. Though it happened under the radar, the Michael Cuddyer acquisition was a pretty big move for this team. His numbers took a dip after the Minnesota Twins moved into Target Field, but Cuddyer is a smart hitter who should hit for plenty of pop at Coors Field. Having his bat in the lineup will be a big boost.
The other veterans the Rockies brought in should also produce just fine. Casey Blake is as solid as they come at third, Marco Scutaro hit .299 in 2011, and Ramon Hernandez has shown that he has a flare for the dramatic when he's at the dish.
The Rockies know what they're going to get from their three main guys: Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton. Tulo's going to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs, CarGo will likely do the same, and Helton can still put the bat on the ball and get on base as well as anyone.
At the top of the lineup, the Rockies will be looking for more consistency from Dexter Fowler. Ideally, he'll pick up where he left off in 2011, as he hit .288 with a .381 on-base percentage after the All-Star break.
From top to bottom, this is a very solid lineup that should score plenty of runs.
For lack of a better option, I'm forced to go with Jhoulys Chacin.
It looked like the Rockies had something when they brought Chacin up in 2010. He went on to post a 3.28 ERA in 21 starts, and he struck out 138 batters in 137.1 innings. Not a bad year to build on at all.
Well, Chacin didn't build on it. He actually regressed.
Chacin needs to do a better job of controlling his pitches this season. Only Gio Gonzalez walked more batters than Chacin last year. To boot, Chacin's K/9 fell from 9.04 in 2010 to 6.96 in 2011. When he was getting the ball over the plate, he wasn't missing many bats, and hitters tended to hit Chacin hard. His HR/FB rate was 12.2 percent, one of the highest marks in baseball.
So all Chacin needs to do in 2012 to live up to his potential is cut down his walks, up his strikeouts, and keep hitters in the yard. Simple enough, right?
I'm trying to avoid settling on two guys with this series of previews, but it's absolutely necessary in the case of the Rockies. Both Tulowitzki and Gonzalez must be discussed.
I hinted above that the Rockies know what they're going to get from Tulo. Taking the last three seasons into consideration, Tulo's good for a .300 average, 30 home runs and 97 RBI. His OPS will hover in the .900s, which is great for any player and excellent for a shortstop.
So assuming Tulo stays healthy, he'll be as studly as ever.
CarGo, on the other hand, came back down to earth a little bit in 2011 after a brilliant campaign in 2010. After hitting .336/.376/.598 in 2010, Cargo regressed to .295/.363/.526. Not a horrible regression, but a regression nonetheless.
It should definitely be noted that CarGo had to battle through a wrist injury for much of the second half of the season, but the strange part is that he was actually a more effective hitter in the second half than he was in the first half. In just 163 at-bats after the All-Star break, CarGo hit .301 with 13 homers and 41 RBI. That was largely thanks to a torrid month of August.
Since CarGo showed that he can still hit, I'm going to be very surprised if he doesn't produce more like he was producing in 2010. The regression he showed in 2011 was not a damning regression. These things happen.
If CarGo does go back to hitting like his 2010 self, the middle of Colorado's order is going to be a tough nut to crack for opposing pitchers.
I mentioned above that the Rockies know they're going to get innings from Guthrie, and to that I hold. What they don't know is whether they're going to be good innings.
Guthrie's problem is that he's very hittable. His control is decent, but he doesn't have swing-and-miss stuff. Opponents are going to hit in the .250 range or above against Guthrie, and they're going to hit him hard. He's given up 86 home runs in the last three seasons, third-most in the majors in that span.
Transitioning over to the National League should, in theory, help Guthrie. At the same time, having to pitch half of his games in Coors Field should, in theory, have the opposite effect.
Long story short, the Rockies really don't know how good Guthrie is going to be. He's either going to improve, or he's going to continue to be himself. The Rockies are hoping for the former.
Prospect to Watch
Have to go with Alex White here. He was one of the major pieces coming over from the Cleveland Indians in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, and he has the stuff to be a mainstay in Colorado's rotation.
According to Baseball America, White was the No. 2 prospect in Cleveland's system in 2011. He's essentially a ground-ball pitcher with a heavy sinker and a nasty changeup that he uses to get hitters out on their front foot. The stuff to be a good starter is definitely there.
But thanks to a nagging finger injury, White wasn't able to pitch like himself after he came over to the Rockies. He gave up 12 home runs in seven starts with Colorado, and his HR/FB rate for the season was a ridiculous 22.4 percent.
Needless to say, White needs to keep the ball down in 2012. If he can do that, maybe this Rockies rotation won't be as weak as it looks.
What the Rockies Will Do Well
I've said it a couple times, and I'll say it again: The Rockies are going to hit just fine.
The lineup the Rockies will be trotting out there on a daily basis in 2012 is an upgraded version of their 2012 lineup. Guys like Tulo and CarGo are going to do their thing, and Rockies fans should be very excited about what Michael Cuddyer is going to bring to this lineup. The heart of this order is among the best in the National League.
So same ol', same ol' for the Rockies. Nobody ever accused this franchise of being incapable of scoring runs.
What the Rockies Won’t Do Well
In case you haven't already noticed, I have some serious concerns about this team's pitching. If you'll pardon the pun, there are no rocks in the Rockies' starting rotation. They're banking on a couple of young guys living up to their potential and they're banking on a couple guys who have been around the block a few times to surpass expectations.
The Rockies are going to score enough runs to make things interesting, but they're looking at a season full of short starts and long nights for the bullpen.
That's not a recipe for success.
This is not an elite baseball team. In fact, it's not even a good baseball team.
This Rockies team strikes me as being a lot like a Rockies team from the bad old days. It's all hitting and very little pitching. The team tried to make improvements over the offseason, but I don't see how any of the changes they've made are going to result in more wins.
It boils down to a very simple truth. This team is no better than the team that won just 73 games in 2011. Take away the hot start, and that team was pretty bad.
Alas, this team will be bad too.
Projected Record: 69-93, fifth in NL West.
American League West
Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge mancrush on Derek Jeter and he would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:
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