Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Colorado Rockies 2014 Team Breakdown

COLORADO ROCKIES  74-88 (Last in NL West)

Projected Starting Lineup/Batting Order:

CF        Charlie Blackmon
RF        Michael Cuddyer
LF        Carlos Gonzalez
SS        Troy Tulowitzki
1B       Justin Morneau
C          Wilin Rosario
3B       Nolan Arenado
2B       D.J. LeMahieu

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        Jorge De Las Rosa
SP        Jhoulys Chacin
SP        Brett Anderson
SP        Tyler Chatwood
SP        Juan Nicasio
RP       LaTroy Hawkins
RP       Rex Brothers
RP       Boone Logan

The Rockies were a better team last year than in 2012, but still finished last in the NL West.  Walt Weiss proved to be a good manager in his first season doing the job professionally, and earned a 2-year extension.  He did help the team add 10 wins to their season, and they started 13-4 out of the gate.  But they struggled after that, losing their two best players (Tulowitzki and Gonzalez) to injury (again) and seeing their bullpen and the back end of their rotation flounder.  They hope to be healthy this year and have addressed the rotation and back end of the bullpen.  Their only obvious weak spot is the lack of a leadoff hitter going into this season.  They were going to platoon, but a clear winner distinguished himself in one of the biggest surprises of the season.  More on that later.  I think they will again be better, but I don’t know how much headway they can make in this tough division.

Let’s start with the offense.  It is built around Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.  Gonzalez has only reached 145 games in a season once and Tulo only twice.  They HAVE to stay healthy, but that seems to be a serious issue.  But when healthy, they are one of the most dynamic 3,4 duos in the game, rivaling David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez with the Red Sox in the early 2000s.  When healthy, these guys are elite.  Gonzalez played in 110 games last year hitting 302 with 26 HR, 70 RBI, 72 R and 21 SB.  He’s a five tool player, and staying in left field this season will help keep him healthy and focused (in my opinion).  Tulowitzki was also phenomenal in his limited playing time.  In 126 games, he hit 312 with 25 HR, 82 RBI and 72 R.  He’s also a fantastic defensive shortstop.  The only thing he doesn’t do anymore is steal bases.  Those two are the cornerstones of this franchise.  But between them they missed 88 games, which is over half a season.  With health, those two can be MVP candidates and drive this offense.  Hitting ahead of them in the 2 hole is last year’s batting champ, Michael Cuddyer.  Cuddyer was always a good hitter, but moving to Colorado and staying healthy for a full year did him a world of good.  He hit 331 with 20 HR, 84 RBI, 74 R and 10 SB.  As a career 277 hitter I doubt he’ll win another batting title, but he’s got a good chance to hit 300 again with all that room to drop hits in the Coors outfield and the power to slug another 20 HR.  The question was, who leads off in front of those 3 stars?  It was originally set to be a battle between Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs and Charlie Blackmon.  Stubbs looked to get the first chance to take it with his 40/40 potential. But that comes with an AVG around 230 (233 last year) and about 200 Ks.   I expected him to platoon and rarely lead off.  He still has an outside shot to be a 20/20 man, but only with 100+ games, which he may not get now.  Before the season started, Dickerson was believed to be the best hitter, but worst defensive player in center.  Barnes could play the position defensively, but hasn’t hit in his time.  Blackmon was the forgotten man.  The one who hit better than Barnes and played better defense than Dickerson.  But then he broke out in a big way.  He’s currently hitting 321 with 9 HR and 9 SB.  Not to mention 35 R.  He’s having the surprise breakout of the year.  As a potential All Star, it’s safe to say the leadoff job is now his.  He plays mainly center, but has the ability to move all over the field, and actually still isn’t the best defensive centerfielder the Rockies have (that’s probably Stubbs).  When it looked like Stubbs would play a lot, I thought second baseman D.J. LaMahieu would lead off.  Despite hitting 280, his 311 OBP isn’t what you want from the leadoff position.  With someone else seizing the job, he will drop to the bottom of the lineup, where his OBP isn’t a liability and the speed he brings to the table is a bonus.  If Blackmon burns out or there is an injury, he’s still a solid leadoff option, though he’ll have to play better than he has thus far.  With Blackmon leading off, you have the 3 All Stars.  Behind the 3 All Stars you have free agent signee Justin Morneau hitting 5th and playing first.  He’s not the MVP he used to be, but was finally healthy last year playing in 150+ games.  He hit 259 with 17 HR and 77 RBI between Pittsburgh and Minnesota last year.  I’m thinking 270 with 20 HR and 80 RBI in Colorado, which is great.  Catcher Wilin Rosario will hit 6th for the most part, though he may move up a spot and switch with Morneau against tough lefties.  Rosario has great power with 21 HR in 121 games to go with a 292 AVG.  Expect another season of 280+ with 20+ HR and 70+ RBI.  After those two RBI guys, Then Gold Glover Nolan Arenado will hit 7th and play third.  His bat wasn’t as good as his glove, but he still hit 267 with 10 HR in Coors last year.  This year he’s hit over 300 to start off with 6 HR and 28 RBI.  He just broke a finger, so he’ll miss time.  But he’s another potential All Star from the beginning of this season.  The bench will feature Jordan Pacheco as the back up catcher, Josh Rutledge to back up the middle infielders and then Barnes, Stubbs or Dickerson.  There is some depth, but this team is top heavy.  And they rise and fall with their stars.

Defensively the team is in good shape in some areas, but not others.  The infield features Gold Glovers at third and short in Tulo and Arenado.  Those are the two toughest positions so that’s good.  LeMahieu is fine at second and Morneau is serviceable at first.  Rosario is bad behind the plate, but Pacheco is okay.  And, to be fair, Rosario is improving and will be a catcher for the long haul.  Backup infielder Josh Rutledge is good with the glove at second, and serviceable at short and third.  Carlos Gonzalez is great in left, but then it falls off a bit.  Stubbs is phenomenal in center, but looks to get the short end of the platoon.  Barnes is okay, but can’t hit, so he won’t play much.  Corey Blackmon has been great this year, but isn’t the best defender.  And Michael Cuddyer is good in right, but getting up there in age.  Keeping the ball on the ground will be very important for the Rockies staff. 

Jorge de la Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin will lead that staff.  Both had pretty solid years in Colorado last year.   De la Rosa was 16-6 with a 3.49 ERA and Chacin was 14-10 with a 3.47.  Neither ERA jumps off the page, but in Coors Field that’s fantastic.  However I would worry about some regression as de la Rosa’s WHIP and BAA were not great and Chacin’s were also pretty average.  Neither one strikes a lot of guys out.  So while they did a good job stranding runners last year, who knows if they can have that much success again.  The one thing we know is that both will put runners on, and pitching in Colorado, that’s never a good thing.  I’m thinking both have ERAs over 3.50, perhaps closer to 4 and Win totals around 12.  And while 200 IP is possible, it’s certainly not a lock.  Beyond them, the questions start.  Brett Anderson was added from Oakland as a free agent.  He’s got ace stuff, but has had serious injury issues over his career.  He hasn’t made 20 starts since 2009.  The last two years were both single digit start totals.  And the 5 he made last year weren’t good.  They think injuries attributed to the bad numbers in the small sample size from 2013.  But he has to stay healthy.  And that’s far from assured.  Two youngsters make up the back end of the rotation this year in Tyler Chatwood and Juan Nicasio.  Chatwood won the job of the number 4 starter after going 8-5 with a 3.15 last year for Colorado in 20 starts.  However his numbers are due for serious regression as his WHIP (1.43) and BAA (278) were straight up bad.  There’s no way he can continue to strand runners at that rate.  So I am pretty concerned about him coming into this year.  And that leaves Juan Nicasio as their 5th srtarter.  He was pretty bad last year with a 5.14 ERA in 31 starts.   He was strong this spring, so maybe he’s turning things around a bit.  But we all know spring numbers aren’t the best barometer for what a guy will do once the season starts.  And pitching in Coors is one of the toughest places to pitch in baseball.  It’s a vast expanse where the ball carries better than anywhere else in the game, and these guys don’t miss a lot of bats.  So far, it’s been tough for the Rockies.  Anderson made 3 starts before going down with an injury and Chatwood only made 4.  The real loss was Jhoulys Chacin, who also only made 5 starts so far.  So there have been heavy doses of Franklin Morales and Jordan Lyles.  Lyles has been solid, but Morales has struggled mightily.  Luckily, Nicasio has been good and de la Rosa has been even better to power the Rockies to their hot start.  The bullpen added LaTroy Hawkins to close and Boone Logan as a lefty specialist.  They join Rex Brothers, who is a great setup man and Matt Belisle, another good arm.  Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle have also had strong seasons to this point.  But the rest of the bullpen has been as suspect as people thought.


I have to admit that I saw neither the outlook nor the prediction for this season as being bright for this season.  What we knew was that the Rockies had a great offense and a terrible pitching staff.  I recognized that there were some strong arms at the top of the rotation with potential beyond them.  But with Anderson’s injury history and the potential for regression from their aces, I thought they would struggle.  And while Anderson and Chacin went down with injury, Franklin Morales and Jordan Lyles stepped right in.  Lyles has been great.  So has de la Rosa.  And Nicasio is pitching much better than a number 5 starter.  The middle of the bullpen isn’t great, but a few arms have emerged to help them out.  And the back end of the bullpen looks pretty good.  And we knew this offense could really slug it.  I saw this team as one dimensional, in a division where the Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks looked better on paper.  But they played great to start out.  However they did falter and fall to third place.  That’s where they sit, at 28-24 at the time of this writing.  I think they will continue to slide down the standings as I don’t trust the health of their hitters or the ability of their pitchers.  I think I’ll put them down for about 75 Wins and a 4th place finish.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Arizona Diamondbacks 2014 Team Breakdown

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: 81-81 (Second in NL West)

Projected Starting Lineup/Batting Order:

RF        Gerardo Parra
3B       Martin Prado
1B       Paul Goldschmidt
2B       Aaron Hill
LF        Mark Trumbo
C          Miguel Montero
CF        A.J Pollock
SS        Chris Owings

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        Trevor Cahill
SP        Brandon McCarthy
SP        Wade Miley
SP        Bronson Arroyo
SP        Archie Bradley          
RP       Addison Reed
RP       J.J. Putz
RP       Brad Zeigler

The Diamondbacks started the 2013 season hot, but slowed down as the summer wore on.  They benefitted from the struggles LA had early on, but eventually the Dodgers caught fire and blazed past them.  They didn’t help things by falling apart in the second half.  They ended up staying in second place in the division, but they were only a 500 team and missed the playoffs by a healthy margin.  Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers have their fingerprints all over this team, which has underachieved for two straight years.  There was a belief that if this team didn’t make the playoffs, then the seats under those two would begin to get quite warm.  But with the slow start Arizona had many believe the heating of those seats has already begun with the recent hire of Tony LaRussa as CEO of Baseball Operations.  Some don’t like the move, some do.  But all agree that it’s the precursor to a change, a change that may see Towers and Gibson looking for a new gig.

The offense looks to be in pretty good shape.  Gerardo Parra finally got the everyday gig in the Arizona outfield last year after breaking in with the big club in 2009 and playing in no fewer than 120 games.  He was an excellent fourth outfielder with a career 277 AVG and some Gold Gloves to his credit.  Last year he got the full time job playing mainly right field and hit 268 with 10 HR and 10 SB.  His 323 OBP is ok but generally not good enough to leadoff regularly.  He’s got speed, though he’s not exceptional at stealing bases and he scored 79 R last year.  They hope he can pull that AVG up closer to his career mark and get on base a little closer to a 350 clip.  And if he can turn those 10 SB into 15, perhaps we have a guy who can score 100 R.  Maybe slug another 10 HR too.  But mainly he’ll play great defense in right.  The Diamondbacks like having him hit at the bottom of the lineup, but I think that’s a waste of his speed.  And while Pollock was the first choice to leadoff, Parra has taken over and I think he’ll stay there this year.   

Martin Prado will settle in as the starter at third and probably hit second.  He can play all over the field, but has become their full time third baseman.  He hit 282 last year with 14 HR, 82 RBI and 70 R.  That’s right on part with what he does, though the AVG is a little lower and his SB disappeared from 2012 (though that was an aberration….he stole almost half his career total in that one year).  He may get back over 300 this season, but if not will be right around it with perhaps 15 HR in Arizona (ceiling).  He’s not overly exciting, but does a lot of things well, can get on base and both score and drive in R. 

As is traditional, the Diamondbacks best hitter will be in the 3 hole.  That will be first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.  My pick for MVP last year, Goldschmidt won 2/3 of a Triple Crown in the NL with a league leading 36 HR and 125 RBI.  He also added 103 R, 15 SB and a 302 AVG.  His AVG and OBP has improved each season in his 3 major league seasons, and he’s got great power in a great hitters park.  He also played in 160 games last year and provides speed at first, a rarity for the position.  He’s an absolute star, and I’d expect another season around 300 with 30+ HR, 110+ RBI, 90+ R and 10+ SB.  He’s a 5 tool contributor (won a Gold Glove too) who is an absolute star in my book.  He should also have an MVP at this point, but short-sighted writers only give those to playoff teams, despite hitters on other teams having better numbers in this, the ultimate team sport.

I have second baseman Aaron Hill hitting cleanup in this lineup.  He’s not the most powerful on the team, but has the most complete skill set after Goldschmidt.  Last year was marred by injuries (87 games) but he still hit 291 when healthy with 11 HR and 41 RBI.  Over a full year that’s a 22 HR and 82 RBI mark.  In 2012, he hit 302 with 26 HR and 85 RBI, not to mention 14 SB.  I think if healthy, he can be a force, but we may see some regression.  Think 20 HR and 80 RBI to go with 10 SB max.  And expect an AVG closer to 275 (career 273 hitter). 

New addition Mark Trumbo will probably hit 5th.  He’s a true slugger, with the most power on the team.  He hit 34 HR, driving in 100 in Anaheim last year.  But that came with 235 AVG.  However, putting him 5th and saying “Just hit it deep” will unleash that power with no reservations.  It’s a good spot for a guy who can be a huge help.  His 34 HR led to the 100 RBI and 85 R, despite the low average.  He’ll strike out a ton and his defense in left may not be great, but he does one thing well, and that’s all they want him to do.  After a blistering start, Trumbo was lost to an injury.  Cody Ross is filling in admirably in left, but while the defense is better, there is not question they miss Trumbo’s power.

I put catcher Miguel Montero 6th, after a down season.  Injuries limited him to 116 games, but when he played he struggled losing 56 points off his AVG.  His HR total has dropped 3 straight years as well, though the limited games were part of it.  I think he can bounce back, but I don’t know if he’s an All Star anymore.  Think 260 with 12 HR. 

The SS position is next and I gave it to Chris Owings.  But he’s got to perform to hold off Didi Gregorious, the high ranked prospect.  Gregorious played in 103 games with Arizona hitting 252 with 7 HR and 0 SB.  It wasn’t great, and to Owings credit he won the job away.  Owings only played in 20 games last year, but hit 291 with 2 SB, a 361 OBP and 5 R.  Owings has had the better spring and he’s the one in the lineup. 

I initially put A.J. Pollock in the leadoff spot, but he hasn’t gotten to play there much.  He hit 269 with 8 HR and 12 SB in 137 games last year.  He’s got an interesting speed/power combo, but I don’t think his AVG or eye is what they want from their leadoff man.  His numbers are similar to Parra, but Parra has more experience.  However, with the injury to Trumbo, Pollock has found himself moving up in the lineup, even hitting 5th occasionally.  He struggled a little bit to start this year, and almost became the fourth outfielder.  But he’s fought to hold on to his spot, and got a chance to leadoff again recently.  They want him to take the leadoff job, but he has to earn it.  And even if he does, he’s got enough pop that they may hold him lower in the lineup to maximize his RBI potential with Trumbo out. 

I mentioned Cody Ross (278/8 HR) as a talented fourth outfielder who can do a lot of things well and seems to thrive in pressure situations.  He’s starting now with Trumbo hurt.  Eric Chavez (281/9 HR) is still around and Cliff Pennington can play both middle infield spots and swipe a bag as a pinch runner.  This offense is loaded and has lots of options.

The defense in Arizona is in good shape.  There are 2 Gold Glovers in the field.  One at first (Goldschmidt) and one in right (Parra).  So the right side is in good shape.  Prado is great at third and no matter who plays short, the defense will be fine there.  Hill is a good second baseman and Montero is solid behind the plate.  Trumbo is pretty bad in left, but with Parra’s skill in right, Pollock can cheat to left to make up for any deficiencies by Trumbo.  And he can be replaced for defensive reasons late in games.  It’s not the best setup, but 2 Gold Glovers is a good place to start.

The pitching doesn’t look to be in as good shape as the offense.  Patrick Corbin was their ace, but has been lost to Tommy John.  That means Arizona’s ace may be Brandon McCarthy now who is not ace quality.  He went 5-11 last year with a 4.53 ERA in 22 starts.  He’s had injury issues, though a lot of those were freak injuries.  He’s been successful in the past, but his first season out of Oakland and in Arizona was, unsurprisingly, not quite as good (Oakland=Great pitchers park….Arizona=Great hitters park).  He’s got potential and if he can harness his talent he could be a double-digit game winner with an ERA south of 4.  He’s not a big strikeout guy and those aren’t the numbers you expect from an ace, but that would be a successful season from McCarthy.  So would 200 IP. 

The other returning pieces to the rotation are Wade Miley and Trevor Cahill.  Cahill is another former Oakland A, who hasn’t pitched as well after leaving the pitcher friendly confines of O.Co Coliseum.  However his last season in Oakland wasn’t as good the past two years in Arizona, and he’s got more of a horse reputation, notching around 200 IP the last three years, until last year.  Injuries limited him to 25 starts, but he was solid with a 3.99 ERA and 8-10 record.  He’s not a Cy Young winner, but with their potentially limited rotation, they just need another 200 IP season with an ERA south of 4.  Cahill seems a good bet to deliver that. 

Miley pitched in his second season for Arizona last year and turned in a similar season to his strong rookie campaign.  His ERA swelled by 22 points and his WHIP and BAA also rose a bit.  The issue was walks last year, which is something he has to correct.  It’s what turned his 16-11 freshman year into a 10-10 sophomore year.  He’s not a strikeout guy.  If he can trim the walks, we’ll see another 200 IP season of 3.50 or better ERA ball and possibly 15 Wins.  He’s also got ace potential, albeit ace of this team, not others. 

Free agent veteran Bronson Arroyo was the Diamondbacks biggest signing this offseason.  He’s extremely important now that Corbin is out.  Arroyo went 14-12 last season with a 3.79 ERA in Cincinnati.  Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark is one of the few parks that is actually a better hitter’s park than Chase Field so you don’t worry about Arroyo’s numbers going in a bad direction.  The real concern is the sore back that has kept him from pitching all spring.  He’s an extremely durable starter that has never missed a start due to injury in his long career.  I know he’ll get healthy, but he may not be ready to start the season.  When he does get healthy though, expect 200 IP of sub 4 ERA baseball with few Ks and around 12 Wins. 

The hope was that Archie Bradley would step in to take the 5th starter spot with Corbin gone.  But the Diamondbacks are taking it easy with him and letting Josh Collmenter get some time in starting.  He’s a career spot starter who’s had better success than people realize (3.47 career ERA) in his time.  Randall Delgado is another young arm, part of the Justin Upton trade who can help out if needed.

The bullpen got a major overhaul with a trade for Addison Reed to be the new closer in the desert.  Reed notched 40 Saves for the White Sox last year to the tune of a 3.79 ERA.  That’s actually not a great ERA at all for a closer, but his WHIP and BAA were great and he struck out better than a batter an inning.  If he can give up fewer hits, things will improve, but he’s got experience closing and had success in another hitter’s park in U.S. Cellular Field, which leads Arizona to believe he’ll be fine in Arizona.  To support him, they have former All Star closer J.J Putz, last year’s second half closer David Hernandez and situational stars Oliver Perez and Brad Zeigler.  The bullpen looks strong, but may have to pick up some slack with the starting rotation in limbo.  And thus far, the bullpen has dealt with numerous injuries so that has held the team back to start the season.


The outlook for Arizona has shifted.  I thought they would be very good this year.  Then they had a terrible April.  The team made changes and brought in LaRussa, but since the calendar turned to May they’ve had the third best winning percentage in baseball.  So perhaps they just needed to get their legs under them.  They have a young superstar at first, two young players fighting for playing time at short, youngsters in left and center and at least 2 young starters in the rotation, potentially more if Archie Bradley makes the team.  Their closer is young.  That’s a good future.  And their veterans aren’t that old.  Prado is in his prime.  Parra is as well.  McCarthy and Cahill are prime players too.  So this is a good mix for the team this year.  Their future is in good shape, but so is their present.  However, the thought in Arizona is that both the future and present could be better.  Towers has traded away a lot of talent in the last few years.  The most recent dump was Adam Eaton and Trevor Bauer for Addison Reed and Trumbo.  Trumbo got hurt and Reed has struggled.  Before that, they dumped Justin Upton and Chris Johnson, both of whom have played well in Atlanta.  It’s hard to know what direction they are headed in, and perhaps that’s worse than even going in the wrong direction.  It’s okay to re-build if you admit to doing it. It’s okay to contend, for obvious reasons.  The real crime is being stuck in the middle, and many think that’s where the Diamondbacks are languishing.

This division is tough.  The Dodgers are good.  The Giants should be better.  And the Rockies are the surprise of this 2014 season so far.  The Diamondbacks have underachieved for back-to-back seasons.  This is the year they have to get it done.  Winning the division is possible, but a lot to ask for.  A playoff spot is a more attainable goal.  But that’s not certain either with the Giants expected to be better and at least 3 great teams in the central and 2 in the East.  They have the talent, but have to play as well as they should.  They haven’t done that the past 2 years.  If they harness their talent, I’d expect a potential wildcard slot with the weak teams at the bottom of their division.  If that doesn’t happen, expect some changes in Arizona.