MLB 9s: Colorado Rockies—Larry Walker, Matt Holliday Best Of All Time?
One question, hundreds of answers. Which member of the Colorado Rockies had the greatest offensive season at his position?
Is Larry Walker the greatest player to grace Coors Field? Has any shortstop had a more productive year than Neifi Perez? Just which pitcher swings a better bat than Mike Hampton? Does Matt Holliday deserve a spot in the all-time Rockies' outfield?
Major League baseball has been asking fans this same question in an effort to choose each team's best-ever collection of stars. They are calling it MLB 9s.
Here I have separated the contenders from the pretenders in an effort to pick my dream Rockies lineup. Have your say by commenting below or by voting on the MLB site here .
My other MLB 9s you might want to check out are:
Catcher: Chris Iannetta (2008)
A select group of just 32 catchers have flashed the signals in a Rockies’ jersey since the expansion team was formed back in 1993.
Of those, only Charles Johnson hit more home runs in a season that Iannetta who had 28 a year ago.
Iannetta’s 65 RBI and 56 walks are also the most by any Colorado backstop, and his 50 runs scored is second only to Joe Girardi’s 63 in 1995.
In his third year in the Major Leagues, Iannetta hit 22 doubles and batted .264. Not a great season by any stretch of the imagination, but the best so far.
Expect this to change several times over the next decade.
Highlight Game : September 16, 2008 vs. San Diego. Iannetta hit his first career grand slam in the fourth inning against Padres’ pitcher Charlie Haeger, scoring Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Spilborghs and Garrett Atkins.
Competition : There’s honestly not a great amount, as you would expect with a relatively new ball club.
Johnson’s 20 home runs came with a .230 batting average, and neither Girardi nor Brent Mayne had much pop in their bat. None of them have speed either, so that’s not a deciding factor.
First Base: Todd Helton (2000)
This was really more of a question of “When did Todd Helton have his best year?”
I chose 2000 because it was the year he led the National League in batting average (.372), RBI (147), and on-base percentage (1.162)
He hit 59 doubles, slugged .698, recorded 405 total bases, and finished eight home runs shy of winning the triple crown.
His 138 runs scored was the second most in the league, while his 103 walks was good enough for fourth.
Helton finished fifth in the NL MVP voting behind Jeff Kent, Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza and Jim Edmonds.
Highlight Game: May 1, 2000. Helton went 4-for-5 with three home runs, four runs and five RBI in a 15-8 victory over the Expos.
Helton is one of 79 players this decade to hit three or more home runs in one game. He is also one of only 18 men to hit three or more home runs twice since 2000.
Competition: Andres Galarraga experienced a power surge in 1996. At the not-so-young age of 35, Galarraga led the National League with 47 home runs and 150 RBI. His .304 batting average was respectable. His 157 strikeouts were not.
Don’t necessarily attribute his power to Coors Field either. He hit 44 in Atlanta two years later—only two other men in history have hit more at his age: Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron. Select company indeed.
Second Base: Eric Young Sr. (1996)
Young Sr. stole a National League-high 53 bases and scored 113 runs in the 1996 season.
He batted .324 and drove in 74 runs on his way to his first Silver Slugger award and All Star Game selection.
A notoriously difficult batter to strike out, Young Sr. whiffed just 31 times in 643 plate appearances, or about once every fifth game. Only Tony Gwynn was better.
His 53 steals smashed the previous franchise high of 42, set by himself three years earlier. It stood as the high mark until Willy Taveras ran wild for 68 last year.
Highlight Game: April 27, 1996 vs. Montreal. With no multi-home run games or six-RBI showings to choose from, I picked his only five-hit game of the year.
Young Sr. hit four singles and a double, walking once, swiping a bag and scoring two runs. That was kind of production at the top of the order under Don Baylor that made the Rockies difficult to face.
Competition: Clint Barmes is a crop of the new generation of power-speed second basemen that make the game fun to watch. In 2009, Barmes his 23 home runs and stole 12 bases. If his average wasn’t so average (.245) he may have been in with a shot here.
Kaz Matsui also receives a mention for his ’07 year when he swiped 32 bags and scored 84 runs.
Third Base: Vinny Castilla (1998)
Castilla holds a host of records for Rockies’ third basemen, set during his 1998 season— home runs, RBI, hits and slugging percentage.
Playing every game, Castilla hit 46 home runs, drove in 144 runs, scored 108 more, batted .319, and slugged .362.
In most seasons that would ensure your name is at least mentioned in the same breath as the acronym “MVP”.
However, with Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire going toe-to-toe for the home run record, everyone else is just a footnote on the Wikipedia page titled “Long Ball Cheats.”
Highlight Game: March 31, 1998 @ Arizona. It was Opening Day around baseball and Castilla made his intentions for the season clear with a two-home run showing against the Diamondbacks.
He went 3-for-5 with three runs and five RBI, putting him on course for 324 home runs, 810 RBI and a 1.800 slugging percentage. Needless to say he fell short.
Competition: Garrett Atkins had a strong showing in 2006 with 29 home runs, 120 RBI and 117 runs, and Charlie Hayes was very good in the team’s first season, going deep 25 times, driving in 98 batters and scoring 89 times.
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki (2007)
Along with Clint Barmes, Tulowitzki helps make up one of the most underrated middle infields in baseball.
In 2007—his first full year in the league—Tulo batted .291 with 24 home runs, 99 RBI and 104 runs. He also hit 33 doubles and five triples, and he stole seven bases.
He lost out to Ryan Braun in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, but that doesn’t take anything away from the fantastic season he had.
Highlight Game: September 29, 2007 vs. Arizona. Tulowitzki hit his first career grand slam off of Dustin Nippert in the bottom of the fifth inning on the penultimate day of the regular season.
He took Nippert’s 1-0 offering to deep right field, scoring Chris Iannetta, Seth Smith and Kaz Matsui.
Competition: If I had to hand out a second place, it would go to Neifi Perez for his 1999 season. There is not a whole lot of difference, other than trading speed for power.
Perez hit a dozen home runs, scored 108 times and stole 13 bases. His 732 plate appearances and 690 at bats are Colorado single season records, and he also holds the franchise record for the best at-bat/grounded into double play ratio at 172.5:1.
Larry Walker (1997)
Walker won the NL MVP award in 1997, leading the league with 49 home runs and 409 total bases.
His .720 slugging percentage and 99 extra-base hits was the best in baseball and, with the help of 78 walks, Walker led the league in on-base percentage (.452).
Walker beat out Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell for the title of the league’s most valuable player.
Highlight Game: April 5, 1997 @ Montreal. Walker went 4-for-5 with three home runs and five RBI.
He hit a solo shot off Anthony Telford in the fourth inning, a second solo home run off Omar Daal in the sixth, and a his third of the night off of Dave Veres in the seventh.
Ellis Burks (1996)
All Star Ellis Burks made a run at the MVP award himself the previous year, losing out eventually to Ken Caminiti of the Padres.
Burks led the NL with 142 runs, .639 slugging percentage and 392 total bases. He also hit 40 homes runs, stole 32 bases and batted in 128 men.
His 45 doubles and 211 hits both ranked second in the league, while his 158 runs created was good enough for third.
Highlight Game: August 24, 1996 vs. Pittsburgh. Ellis finished a single short of the cycle in a 3-for-3 game against the Pirates.
He hit a home run, triple and double—in that order—in his first three at bats, hit a run-scoring sac fly in the sixth inning, and was on-deck when Colorado made their final out of the game.
Matt Holliday (2007)
I would have given Holliday the nod for MVP in 2007, but the honor went to Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies.
Holliday was a beast in '07, leading the national league with a .340 batting average, 216 hits, 137 RBI, 50 doubles, and 92 extra-base hits.
Highlight Game: September 18, 2007 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers. Holliday hit his 100th career home run in the second game of a double-header against the Dodgers.
Trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth, Holliday took David Wells’ 0-1 pitch to deep left-center field to give the Rockies the lead.
They would win the game 9-8 on Helton’s walk-off home run after Holliday singled to keep the game alive with two down in the ninth.
Competition: Dante Bichette is the man who was closest to making the cut. In 1996 he hit 31 home runs and 141 RBI, scored 114 runs, and stole 31 bases. Normally a 30-100-100-30 season is good enough to find your way into the outfield, but I just couldn’t slot him ahead of Holliday.
Willy Taveras’s 68 stolen bases made an impact on me, as did the power of Jeromy Burnitz (37 homers, 110 batted in) and Preston Wilson (36 home runs, 141 RBI, 94 runs).
Jeffrey Hammonds (2000) probably had the most well-rounded season not to make the cut. He batted .335 with 20 homers, 106 RBI, 94 runs and 14 steals.
Pitcher: Mike Hampton (2001)
An easy choice considering he was the only Rockies pitcher who could really swing the bat. His seven home runs in 2001 was the most by any Colorado hurler in a single season, and his 16 RBI tops the list of three men to ever hit double-digit ribbies.
Here’s a statistic for you: In 2001, no player, from any team, playing any position, had as many home runs as Mike Hampton in fewer than 80 at bats.
This includes guys like Frank Thomas, Carlos Pena and Jose Molina.
Highlight Game: June 5, 2001 vs Houston. Hampton tagged the Astros for two home runs in a 9-4 victory. He hit a solo shot off of Wade Miller in the fifth inning and followed that up with a two-run bomb in the sixth.
Competition: The choices are slim, I’ll be honest with you. No other Rockies’ pitcher has had more than two home runs in a season. Hampton even had three in 2002, which is probably the second best offensive season by Colorado pitcher.
Brian Bohanon wasn’t awful, I suppose. He hit a pair of home runs in the 2000 season, recording 11 RBI and 11 sacrifice hits.
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