Jason Follain. 2nd February, 2011 - 8:36 pm
Per baseball-reference.com, a team?s Pythagorean record is what you would expect a team?s regular season record to be given the aggregate number of runs it scored as well as the number of runs it allowed over the course of a season. At season?s end, this gives us an idea of the teams that may have underachieved or simply were a tad unlucky. Pythagorean records can be extremely close to actual record, believe it or not. In fact, 25 of 30 Major League teams? Pythagorean records were within 3 or less wins of their actual record.
The Rockies are one of the teams that have a good chance of improving in 2011 because of their Pythagorean records.
As they pulled within one game of the NL West lead after a 12-2 drubbing of the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 18th, Colorado seemed primed to make yet another one of their patented September runs down the stretch in 2010. Despite being in the midst of one of the most torrid stretches ever seen by a hitter when Troy Tulowitzki hit 14 home runs in 15 games, unfortunately for Rockies? fans, that was the closest they would get to the division lead. Colorado promptly lost 13 of 14 games to finish the season, as they could not summon the same magic that propelled them to their 2007 World Series appearance. Their Pythagorean record suggested that they should have won 87 games instead of the 83 that they ended up winning, thereby supporting the notion that this Colorado team is a lot closer to contention than their actual record implied.
What Went Wrong
Outside of Cy Young candidate Ubaldo Jimenez and breakout rookie Jhoulys Chacin, the most glaring weakness of what is otherwise an extremely well-rounded ballclub is a starting rotation that suffered from injury and ineffectiveness in 2010. Not to say that the Rockies haven?t come a long way since the days when starting in Coors Field was a virtual death sentence for pitchers. However, Jason Hammel, Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and company were unable to hold up their end of the bargain at the back-end of the rotation in what is now the Humidor era in Denver.
While Hammel had some nice peripheral statistics with his K/BB ratio of 3.00, a respectable ground ball percentage of 46.7% and an impressive 3.70 FIP, he gave up far too many hits to be considered a dependable member of the starting staff. In 2010, he had the third worst batting average against in the NL with a figure of .280, which was aided by an even worse .328 BABIP, the worst among NL starters. Frequently, BABIP is cited as a number that can suggest how lucky, or unlucky in this case, a pitcher was with balls put in play, but what is usually lost in this discussion is the fact that BABIP should be compared to that individual pitcher?s career norm and not the rest of the league. With that in mind, when you compare 2010 to his career BABIP of .325, you see that batted balls off of Hammel have a propensity to fall in for hits at a much higher rate than his contemporaries.
It may have been unfair to expect much out of Jeff Francis, given that he sat out the entire 2009 season due to injury and that 2010 was more of a bridge year back to normalcy than anything. However, the reality was that he did struggle enough to the point where Colorado was comfortable with moving forward in 2011 without him. Aaron Cook, who had previously anchored this Colorado staff, labored with his control last season, having walked almost a full batter more per nine innings than his career average. This certainly contributed greatly to him posting an ERA of 5.08, a figure that is higher than he had produced in any season since 2003.
What Should Change in 2011
One thing that Rockies? management is surely excited about for the upcoming season is having the 23 year old Chacin for a full season. He brings his solid four-pitch repertoire to the table and is looking to further the success he had in 2010 when he compiled a 2.98 ERA in 21 starts. Chacin seems to have the look of a front of the rotation starter, given his 9.04 K/9, 46.6 ground ball percentage and .222 batting average against. Ultimately, it will be his control that will determine his success in 2011. If he can shave one walk per nine innings off of his 2010 figure of 4.00, he should be able to do a good job of being Robin to Jimenez?s Batman.
Another thing that management is counting on is the further development of Jorge De La Rosa, as evidenced by what will likely end up being a three year contract totaling $30.5 million that they agreed upon this offseason. His past performance clearly hasn?t warranted that type of contract, but the Rockies feel that they have a power lefty on their hands capable of taking a major step forward, a la Jonathan Sanchez. Like Sanchez, though, his control is what is holding him back. That and the fact that he only has one season in which he started a full slate of games, so starting 30+ games in 2011 will go a long way towards solidifying the Colorado rotation.
Even though the Colorado offense has been near the top of the offensive leaderboards in recent years, second and third base have been spots on the field where they have struggled to find consistent performers. The prevailing thought is that they have found two proven major leaguers to bring stability to the everyday lineup in Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez. Even though Wigginton has been unable to find a permanent home, having played for five teams in over nine seasons, he does possess the power that teams crave from their corner infielders. Lopez, on the other hand, is coming off of a horrendous 2010 campaign, based on which one could assume that he couldn?t be any worse in 2011. Fortunately, the Rockies have other options at the second base to turn to, if necessary.
It is worth mentioning that Colorado locked up two of their cornerstones by extending Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez with lucrative contracts that run through 2020 and 2017, respectively. This move solidifies the middle of the order for years to come and allows the front office to focus their activities on other areas that might need improvement. However, if the starting rotation can improve on a spotty year in 2010, one would be hard-pressed to find a team that excels in as many facets of the game as the Colorado Rockies.