2011 Record: 73-89, 4th NL West
2011 Prediction: 85-77, 3rd NL West
Impact Player: SS Troy Tulowitzki
Impact Pitcher: RHP Jhoulys Chacin
Best Reliever: RHP Rafael Betancourt
Top Prospect: LHP Drew Pomeranz
The Rockies went on a spending spree in the 2010-11 offseason, inking several of their players to long-term extensions. Expectations were high entering the year as most had them competing for the NL West title and a 17-8 April did nothing to temper those expectations. From that point on, the Rockies went 56-81 and wound up with their worst record since 2005. Things got so bad that at the trade deadline they traded away ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland for Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, signifying at least a moderate rebuild.
This past winter, the Rockies couldn’t seem to decide what direction to go in. They signed Michael Cuddyer, traded for Jeremy Guthrie and Marco Scutaro and brought in Ramon Hernandez which would suggest that they believe they are contenders, but then they also traded away Huston Street, Chris Iannetta and Seth Smith suggesting a rebuild. They brought in a whole host of flyball pitchers which could spell disaster in Coors and then they gave manager Jim Tracy a lifetime contract extension despite the fact that he’s done little to deserve such an honour.
Only the Astros gave up more runs than the Rockies last season. Jimenez was mediocre before being shipped to Cleveland and the Rockies simply lacked the depth to overcome injures to Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio. Unfortunately things don’t look much better for the 2012 Rockies. Their best pitcher may end up being Jeremy Guthrie who was acquired from Baltimore for Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. Guthrie has thrown 200 or more innings in each of the last three years and has managed to put up decent numbers despite pitching in the AL East and in homer-friendly Camden Yards. Unfortunately, he’s nobody’s number one pitcher.
Jhoulys Chacin posted solid numbers last season thanks to an excellent groundball rate, but he also walks far too many and saw his strikeout rate plummet from 9.04 K/9 in 2010 to 6.96 K/9 in 2011. Nicasio, meanwhile, looks like he’ll be ready to start the year which is remarkable considering his career was in jeopardy last season after being struck in the head with a line drive that broke his neck and gave him a concussion. His 3.43 xFIP in 71.2 innings last year was the best of any Rockies starter.
The final two spots in the rotation could go to any two of Pomeranz, White, Guillermo Moscoso, Josh Outman, Tyler Chatwood or 49-year-old Jamie Moyer. Moscoso and Outman are both extreme flyball pitchers who were acquired from Oakland for Smith, while Chatwood was acquired from the Angels for Iannetta. Moyer was brought in on a minor-league deal after missing all of last season recovering from Tommy John’s surgery. He has been very good this spring and it’s looking more and more like he might crack the Opening Day rotation.
With both Street and Lindstrom gone, the Rockies will probably turn to 37-year-old Rafael Betancourt to be their closer in 2012. He led all NL relievers with a 1.16 BB/9 rate last season and posted an excellent 2.66 xFIP. He’s a flyball pitcher who induces weak contact and strikes out a ton. Setting him up will probably be lefthander Rex Brothers who had a 13.06 K/9 rate in 40.2 innings last season. He walks too many but if he can fix that he’ll be a dominant late-inning reliever.
Veteran Matt Belisle was outstanding last season, posting a 4.14 K/BB ratio and a 3.25 xFIP in 72 innings. He’s been one of the more consistent relievers in baseball over the last two seasons and he could end up closing if Betancourt falters.
After those three, the bullpen looks a little shaky. Lefthander Matt Reynolds likely has a spot despite giving up ten home runs in just 50.2 innings last year while former Blue Jay Josh Roenicke could finally get the opportunity to stick in a big-league bullpen. Esmil Rogers posted a cringe-worthy 7.05 ERA in 83 innings last year, but should get the long-man job while Edgmer Escalona will get the final spot after an impressive 1.75 ERA in 25.2 innings last year.
The Rockies scored 735 runs last season, which was tied for second in the NL and they return much of the same lineup again this season. The problem is that much of their offensive success was derived from playing half their games at Coors Field. On the road, they finished with a less-than-impressive .242/.309/.373 slash line.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was outstanding once again posting a .389 wOBA while playing excellent defense. There’s a strong case to be made that he’s the very best player in baseball. Joining him in the middle of the lineup will be leftfielder Carlos Gonzalez who took a step back in 2011, but was still excellent, posting a 134 wRC+ and finishing with a 4.1 fWAR.
First baseman Todd Helton continues to put up very good numbers well into his late 30s. Last season, at 37, he hit .302/.385/.466 but was only able to play in 124 games. When healthy, he’s still one of the better first basemen in the NL. Across the diamond will be veteran Casey Blake who was signed to a one-year deal this offseason to play third base. He is ultimately a stop-gap until prospect Nolan Arenado arrives and he should put up at least average numbers both offensively and defensively, provided he can stay healthy.
The Rockies signed the 33-year-old Cuddyer to be the everyday rightfielder after he put up a career-year in Minnesota in 2011. He doesn’t hit righties very well and is a terrible defender which will end up making the three-year, $31.5-million deal he signed look awful for Colorado. In centerfield, meanwhile, will be Dexter Fowler who broke out in 2011 finishing with a .266/.363/.432 slash line and a 2.9 fWAR. His excellent approach and increased extra-base power could make him one of the more valuable centerfielders in the NL.
General Manager Dan O’Dowd did pull off one excellent move this winter, trading fringy pitcher Clayton Mortensen to Boston for Marco Scutaro. Scutaro will be the everyday second baseman for Colorado this year and has been an undervalued player for years. Last year, he had a .299/.358/.423 slash line and a 110 wRC+ with the Red Sox.
The starting catcher will be Ramon Hernandez who was signed to a two-year deal this winter. When the Rockies traded Iannetta to the Angels, it was expected that young Wilin Rosario would be given the everyday catcher job, but Hernandez will probably prevent that from happening for at least a year. Last year, Hernandez had a 2.0 fWAR with Cincinnati and could see a jump in his numbers with the move to Coors.
Jordan Pacheco is expected to make the team as the backup catcher and reserve corner infielder. If he can’t hold down the job, Wil Nieves could step in. Rosario probably won’t be called up until he has an opportunity to start. 41-year-old Jason Giambi is back for another year as the professional pinch hitter; he had an outstanding .407 wOBA in that role last season. The Rockies dealt struggling third baseman Ian Stewart to the Cubs for Tyler Colvin who will be the fourth outfielder and occasional first baseman and the reserve infielder will be Chris Nelson. The final roster spot will probably go to Eric Young Jr. who can fill in at second base and in the outfield. Outfielder Charlie Blackmon and infielders Brandon Wood and Jonathan Herrera could also make the team.
The Rockies made several curious moves in the offseason and it’s hard to tell if they are any better than they were last year. They have a strong core of position players and they should have no problem scoring runs, but preventing them will be another story. A bad pitching staff in a homer friendly park is rarely a recipe for contention.
2012 Prediction: 74-88, 5th NL West