Thursday, March 31, 2011

Colorado Rockies set for Opening Day with high hopes

The Colorado Rockies are back.

Not just the fact that they are back in Colorado ready to open their season on Friday. They are back in the sense that once again they are at the forefront of Colorado sports.

When the honeymoon ended between the Rockies and their fans, a honeymoon that lasted the better part of five years, a marriage didn't begin, a divorce was in the works. Instead of fans simply being used to having baseball in their backyard, they abandoned their team.

The fans weren't solely to blame for the split. The Rockies front office was in disarray, stuck in an identity crisis that would take the team through dark days. Because of the early love affair with the Rockies, ownership thought that they were a big-name franchise, a place where big-name free agents would desire to come. Finally, after outbidding the New York Mets for Mike Hampton, and watching that move blow up in their face, the Rockies looked in the mirror and realized that they play in Denver, not New York, Boston or Los Angeles. The money simply isn't their to miss on a big signing.

While the front office discovered who they were, and what they needed to do to become competitive, the fans didn't understand the about-face. They didn't understand why the team was allowing names like Jose Hernandez to take the field at shortstop, and Jeromy Burnitz to play outfield everyday.

When the young crop of Rockies finally arrived in the big leagues, fans were still skeptical. They thought that the club was simply going to deal the talent once they reached their expensive arbitration years. It was fun to watch the Rockies, but fans were hesitant to jump back on the bandwagon in earnest, for fear of clinging on to a favorite player who would simply be killing time before getting their career started with a big-name team.

Apparently this winter was what it took to finally lure the fans back. The Rockies front office proved their naysayers wrong, signing not only Troy Tulowitzki to a long-term deal, but also locking up Carlos Gonzalez, a Scott Boras client, to a long-term deal of his own.

In addition to those signings, the Rockies also brought in Ty Wigginton, a proven hitter who can play multiple positions, as a fall back, just in case Ian Stewart doesn't turn the corner, or if Todd Helton can't find a way to stay healthy.

For years, the Rockies were a popular pick for either last in the National League West, or second to last. The questions were not whether they could contend, but if they could avoid losing 90 games.

For fans, going to Coors Field was just something to do on a beautiful summer night in Colorado. Baseball was just a distraction until the Broncos opened training camp in late-July.

Those days are over.

The Rockies are not only beyond the days of being the NL West doormats, they are poised to be the team wiping their feet on the other teams in the division. With new hitting coach Carney Lansford insisting that he has the formula that will help the club get over their road-hitting woes, and the security of knowing that the core of the club will be in purple pinstripes for years to come, their is reason to be hopeful.

For the past four seasons, the excitement for the Rockies has been simmering. Finally, as the Rockies roll into the beginning of their 2011 campaign, the fans excitement level is boiling over.

Now, with the fans back on their side, it is time for the team to capitalize on the field, and win the hearts of the fans back for good.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

This article is also featured on INDenverTimes.com

Predictions; Who needs 'em?

Opening Day is upon us.

Those words will make even the oldest of baseball fans giddy with excitement. For whatever reason, game number one out of 162 is inspiring. Each team throws a big party at their first home game and believes whole-heartedly that this could be their year.

While fans are busy being excited about their teams, experts are busy turning in their predictions. This year is no different.

The trendy pick this season is to put the Phillies, with re-acquired starting pitcher Cliff Lee, Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, in the World Series against the new-and-improved Boston Red Sox, who acquired San Diego slugger Adrian Gonzalez and Tampa's speedster Carl Crawford.

Some sportswriters play it safe and pick the two trendy teams that made the most offseason noise, and others go out on a limb, hoping to be correct so that they can have bragging rights.

In 2010, many writers were picking the Colorado Rockies to not only win the National League West, but to win the World Series.

The fact is, if sportswriters were as credible as many of them would like to believe, Todd Helton would have been traded long before he ever wore purple pinstripes for the latest trendy pitcher on the trading block at the trade deadline.

Frankly, some sportswriters are simply lazy, and instead of doing research and homework, they just go with the buzz.

Expert predictions hold absolutely no water. They don't affect the way a team plays, a manager manages, or a front office operates. However, many fans cling to these predictions, getting overly upset or happy when their teams name gets printed, or left off of the list.

The fact is, these predictions mean nothing. In fact, many of the experts probably dislike giving their predictions before the first pitch of the season because they know that in six months and 162 baseball games, the only thing certain is that every team will change.

Players will get injured, underperform, overperform, disappoint and excite on each and every team. Predicting who comes out on top before day one is equal to asking a five year-old what they plan on doing as a career and expecting them to stick to that plan.

When experts pick the Phillies, they think of their lineup in a tiny park. They forget that Jayson Werth is in Washington and Chase Utley is injured. They also forget that this is not a team full of spring chickens. Jimmy Rollins continues his downhill slide, and asking Ryan Howard to produce the same numbers he did three years ago is asking too much. This team is good, but expecting them to run away with the National League, even with their phenomenal pitching, is expecting too much.

The Rockies made many lists as the National League West champion. Many believe that the Giants will regress due to their pitching staff being overworked in 2010 and their mediocre offense coming back to earth.

However, all of these predictions are assuming that the San Francisco staff will collectively hit a wall and that the Rockies will be able to maintain their health, something that the club couldn't do for even a month in 2010.

Predictions are fun at the beginning of the season. They give fans a reason to hope and cheer. If a fan sees their teams name on a prediction for the wild card, division or World Series, their belief is enforced that there may be reason to cheer this summer. They should be fun.

However, when the experts somehow predicted two teams that finish under .500 to play each other in the World Series, don't be surprised.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

This article is also featured on INDenverTimes.com

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Colorado Rockies face a tough road in April

The Colorado Rockies need to get out to a quick start.

It's a story that has been written a hundred times. However, it has been written so many times because this bunch of baseball players seems to play their best when they are seemingly out of the race. In 2010, it seemed like a breath of fresh air to Rockies fans when the club went 11-12 in April.

11-12 is not very good for a team looking to make a statement, but compared to the previous years it seemed like a hot start. In 2007, the Rockies finished April at 10-16, in 2008, the year they were trying to prove that their run to the World Series was no fluke, they stumbled to an 11-17 April. In 2009, with Clint Hurdle's job on the line, the club went 8-12.

Needless to say, April has not been friendly to the Rockies.

There is a prevailing thought that the move from Tucson to Scottsdale will help the team's legs be more rested. On top of that, the everyday starters are seeing more top-shelf pitchers instead of the Double-A guys that were routinely shipped down to Tucson in previous years. Whether that tips the scales will remain to be seen.

One factor that many people forget is the cold weather that often plagues Colorado in the early spring. Just when the grass starts to turn green and the trees start to bud leaves, it seems that winter gives one last reminder that it isn't dead yet, often making fans at Coors Field think they are watching the Broncos in December rather than the boys of summer.

Baseball in the cold often results in a flip of the coin as to who is going to win. Pitchers can't grip the ball well, hitters can look forward to a sting when they connect with a pitch, and overall the game is played at a much slower pace. Winning games in cold weather is often more about luck than skill.

Taking a quick look at the Rockies early season schedule may make fans want to break out the parka rather than the shorts and flip flops. After playing five early games at Coors Field, which will almost certainly feature at least one or two frigid nights, the club will head to Pittsburgh and New York for eight games. Obviously both of those cities have the potential to feature games below 40 degrees.

After those eight games, the Rockies head home for six more games at Coors Field. After that, they get a reprieve from the cold by playing a three-game set in Miami, their final stop in south Florida before the Marlins move into a new ballpark that might actually attract more than 10,000 fans per night. After Florida, the Rockies head north to Chicago, where they play the Cubs early on once again. The last two seasons the Rockies have played the Cubs at Wrigley before May 1st and have found themselves playing in very cold games.

While the cold is certainly not an excuse to not do well, it is something that has to be factored in. It does not present the teams on the field the perfect opportunity to win based on talent.

The reality is, games in April count exactly the same as the games in September do. The Rockies have proven in the past that they are a talented enough team to overcome a slow start in April, but playing catchup for five months because of a slow start is not the ideal way to stay mentally and physically fresh throughout the season.

The Rockies may not have the ideal schedule for April, but they must find a way to come out of the gate quickly. There are no excuses for a team as talented as this Rockies bunch is. A winning April will go a long way for the Rockies 2011 postseason prospects.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

This article is also featured on INDenverTimes.com

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Barry Bonds trial finally begins

Barry Bonds, all-time home run leader and single-season home run champion, finally went on trial Tuesday.

He is charged with four counts of perjury when he testified before a grand jury in regards to the BALCO scandal that he was involved with.

As big of a deal as this trial is, it seems that the media has finally grown tired of the Bonds story. Sure, there were a few headlines, but it really wasn't the big baseball story of the day. That is a surprise considering that no games that most baseball writers are desperate to write about something different than team previews and fifth starter battles.

Has the sports fan finally turned the page on the so-called "Steroid Era"? Has the poster boy for steroids going on trial really turned into a second page story? Bonds holds what was once the most sacred record in baseball.

Babe Ruth's 1927 season in which he hit 60 home runs stood as a record until Roger Maris broke the record on the final day of the 1961 season, and even that new record had an asterisks next to it because then-commissioner Ford Frick claimed that Ruth's record would have to be bested in the first 154 games to match the number of games the slugger played in his record season.

The reality is, besides Ruth and Maris, only three players have ever tallied 60+ home run seasons. Those three are Mark McGwire, an admitted steroid user, Sammy Sosa, who has tested positive for steroids, and Barry Bonds, who, in court on Tuesday had his lawyers argue that he used steroids, but didn't know it.

The general public is so sick of the steroid talk that even an admission of steroid use from the third new member of the 60+ home run club doesn't get more than a minute of attention from the sports world. The owner of both the all-time home run record and the single-season home run record admits through his lawyer that he was physically altered through steroids, and no one cares.

The fact is, baseball needs to do something to acknowledge the steroid era. It is their black eye that has ruined their sacred record book. It is the pink elephant in the room that makes media guides blasphemous and hall of fame ballots more about finger-pointing then about the way someone played.

No longer does baseball need Bonds to be convicted to address the issue. Many of Bonds' defenders have said that there is no proof that he did steroids and that he has never admitted it. Well, that argument now goes out the window. The fact is, whether or not Bonds knew what he was doing or not, his body was enhanced by illegal steroids.

Also, Bonds case in court may be that he didn't know what he was taking, and a jury may buy that, but should the general public? Is there anyone out there who honestly believes that a professional athlete who is making upwards of $22 million per year and is a self-professed workout junkie would take a supplement without knowing what is in it is simply naive. These players livelihood depends on what they put into their body and how well they take care of it. Would a player playing at the level that Bonds was continue to take a supplement or put a needle into their body without ever questioning its ingredients? Maybe not at first, but when their body started to transform and the magic of steroids started to make the body feel so much better and become so much bigger, at that point, wouldn't even an everyday Joe start to wonder what is in the stuff that he is taking?

If Bonds didn't know what he was taking, would Greg Anderson, his personal trainer and lifelong friend continue to go sit in a jail cell for time that has amounted to over a year rather than simply testify? If his testimony is simply that Bonds had no idea what he was putting into his body, wouldn't that be pretty easy to say? Wouldn't that be easier than going to jail for the duration of every trial?

The reality is, if Bonds has an IQ of just above idiot levels, he knew what he was doing. So whether Bonds comes out of his federal case guilty, or not guilty, fans, even San Francisco Giants fans, should acknowledge that Bonds was a cheater. This doesn't mean that 90 percent of the players that Bonds was playing with weren't cheaters also, but it still puts Bonds, along with the two other record-breakers on the guilty side of steroid use.

Instead of hiding in the shadows and hoping that they can weather the storm, as Bud Selig and the rest of Major League Baseball brass seem to be doing, they should take a stand. This would be as good of time as any to erase the record and give it back to it's rightful owner, Roger Maris. It would make a statement to the steroid era and it would suggest that baseball will not put up with cheaters.

This article is also featured on INDenverTimes.com

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Colorado Rockies will succeed because of lack of expectations


The Colorado Rockies pride themselves on building from within. In 2010, their Opening Day starting lineup consisted of eight homegrown players. It was by far the most in baseball.

The club knows that to succeed, they must not miss with many draft picks, and scout very well in Latin America. They also must develop the talent that they do draft and sign quickly, or they will fall flat on their faces at the Major League level.

They have been very successful with this approach.

The club also prides themselves in high-character players. They like guys who have a "team-first" mentality. In a day-and-age in which players are paid more in one season than the average working man makes in a lifetime, finding a 20-something year old millionaire without an ego is incredibly difficult.

Usually this comes from the type of player who wasn't necessarily the most talented kid growing up. The guys with the big egos were usually the guys who were so far ahead of the pack at every level that they became full of themselves. The players who don't have an ego are usually the "lunch pail" type of guy.

What that means is that a player without a huge ego, despite the fact that he has made it to the big league level and is doing well at that level, is generally someone who appreciates the amount of work that it took to get to that level, and to maintain their status at that level. These are the perfect types of players for what the Rockies are looking for.

These types of players are used to being the underdog. No one expected them to succeed at their craft. They may have admired their work ethic, but in the end, there was usually someone else who commanded more attention due to their natural abilities.

This is one reason why the Rockies may have struggled in both 2008 and 2010.

For a bunch of guys who were used to being the underdog, suddenly being in the spotlight is not an easy thing. In 2007, the Rockies were a bunch of no-names to the national media. They were a team that might be competitive, if they were lucky, in a few years. When they suddenly stormed to the National League pennant that October, they may have even surprised themselves.

The following season they were in the spotlight. They had a target on their back. Suddenly, this club had the expectations that come along with defending a pennant. The results? The floundered.

In 2009, after the Rockies had been dismissed as a mediocre team that went on a once-in-a-lifetime run in '07, and had just traded their best player away, the expectations were at an all-time low. Everyone figured that they would be the Rockies of old, a fourth place team in the NL West, winning somewhere around 75 or 80 games. They were well on their way to that when Clint Hurdle was fired, and the club stormed back into the heat of the race, coming within a weekend of winning their first-ever National League West crown.

With two playoff appearances in three seasons, the 2010 Rockies were suddenly a trendy pick to not only make the playoffs, but to win the World Series. It wasn't local writers hurling praise on the club, it was the likes of Buster Olney and Peter Gammons picking the Rockies as the World Champs.

Once again, the expectations were high. By no means was 2010 as bad as 2008, but if the truth were told, the Rockies played the way they were capable for about two weeks in September. The rest of the season they were not firing on all cylinders. Was it the expectations that had gotten to them?

After finishing with 84 wins in 2010, the club is still viewed as one of the top teams in the National League. However, with the Phillies re-acquiring Cliff Lee thus constructing one of the best pitching staff's in baseball history, the focus isn't on Coors Field.

In addition to the Phillies, the reigning World Champs are in the Rockies division, creating even less buzz around the club. Many experts are expecting big things from the Rockies, but very few are suggesting that they will win the National League West, let alone the World Series.

The Rockies are a hard-working, no non-sense kind of team. There are no egos. However, that type of player is generally the underdog. No one expects them to win. So when those types of players have expectations put on them, they struggle. However, when they are able to lay in the weeds and strike when no one is paying attention, they suddenly become extremely dangerous.

The lack of expectation may be exactly what the 2011 Rockies need to be successful.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

This article is also featured on INDenverTimes.com

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Colorado Rockies preview with SportsCave.tv

My grandfather always told me that I have a face for radio. I guess writing suits that well, also. Anyway, if he were still around, I'm sure that he would give me a hard time about my recent interview with Dean Ouellette of SportsCave.tv.

Ouellette asked me a few questions about the Rockies offseason and some expectations for their 2011 season.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jim Tracy fits the makeup of the Colorado Rockies well

When the Colorado Rockies brought Jim Tracy in to be the bench coach for the 2009 season, there was no doubt that he was a fall back plan in case Clint Hurdle couldn't get the Rockies off to a quick start.

After a disappointing 2008 season in which the Rockies made their previous run to the World Series look more like a fluke than a rise to dominance, Hurdle was on the hot seat. Despite the front office's love for Hurdle and their similarities in terms of character, they knew that it might take a change at the top in order for the club to be successful.

While Tracy being named manager at the end of May was not a surprise to many, few would have predicted at the beginning of the '09 season that he would be the National League Manager of the Year. After sparking the Rockies to a wild card berth, and within a weekend of winning their first-ever National League West title, Tracy was a no-brainer for the award.

There is no doubt that some of Tracy's on-field moves can be questioned, over a 162 game season, there isn't a manager who pushed all the right buttons all the time. However, one reason that the Rockies were so quick to hand him the reins was due to his character. He fits right into the mold that the club works so diligently to keep.

I recently read an article that was written by David Franco from The Next Level Ballplayer. He had a chance to interview Tracy and dug deeper than normal with his questions. Below is the interview.

Special thanks to Franco for allowing me to use his insightful interview with Tracy on RockiesReview. His blog, The Next Level Ballplayer, is very insightful, it is designed for the baseball player who is looking to improve his game. He interviews top college coaches, as well as big league players, coaches and scouts.

Jim Tracy, 2009 NL Manager of the Year talks baseball and gives us a glimpse into his mindset as a MLB head coach.

Every time Jim Tracy walks in and out of his Colorado Rockies office he sees the Vince Lombardi quote on the back of his door.

“We are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.”

Those are the words that continually motivate Coach Tracy, one of the top coaches in the Bigs. I recently had the privilege to meet Coach Tracy and hear him speak. He touched on many different topics ranging from managing his bullpen to stealing signs. The rest of this article consists of nuggets of wisdom from a great baseball mind. Enjoy.

Jim Tracy on…

Failure

“Too many players these days play not to fail. Those are the guys that never reach their potential. Felipe Alou would always tell his players, “I don’t want you to play the game afraid.” When the hard work has been put in and its game time- Let it fly!”

Great Players

“Body language tells me lot about the player. The great players always look the same. They play full bore with a straight face. Whether their team is up 10 or down 10, their demeanor is the same.”

Views on the Bullpen (from the coaching perspective)

“I look at pitching from the 9th inning back. There are so few complete games thrown these days that you have to know how your bullpen plays out from the 9th inning back to the 1st inning.”

Pitching (from the coaching perspective)

“You need to identify who your pitchers are. Are they a sprinter or a starter? You take a guy like Eric Gagne who I coached in LA. He was up and down as a starter for his first few seasons [Gagne was 11-14 in his first three seasons as primarily a starter]. My coaching staff and I noticed he would look good early in games and then tire. Once we moved him to the bullpen he thrived. He was a sprinter. And he made me look good when shortly after we moved him to closer he put together that amazing streak of 84 straight saves. I don’t think that record will ever be broken.”

The hardest thing to do at the Big League level

“Being a role guy. Someone who comes off the bench in the 7th, 8th, or 9th after not playing for a week. And it’s almost always a spot were the team really needs a hit. It’s the coach’s job to find opportunities to get his role players into games on a semi regular basis. It’s the role player’s job to stay mentally sharp and always know the game situation so he’s ready even before the coach calls his name.”

Stealing Signs

“I don’t ever watch the opposing coaches and try to steal signs. I just watch the runners. Base runners tell on themselves all the time. I’m always watching for them to take a little bigger lead, or crouch a little lower, or look a bit more focused. Most guys will do something different if they are stealing that pitch. It’s the same thing with some middle infielders. They’ll tip pitches by how they move before the pitch. For example, If the SS sees the catcher call for a change up to a right handed batter, he might cheat a step towards third to cover the hole. I’m always trying to gain information by watching players on the other team.”

A current player whom you think will someday make a great manager

“Hands down Alex Cora. He was one of the best field managers I’ve ever been around. When I had him and Cesar Izturis with the Dodgers, people would come to the ballpark just to see them turn double plays. It was like poetry in motion. Alex has a great mind for the game and I think someday he will be a great manager.”

Making out his NL lineup

“First off, I won’t sacrifice defense in the middle of my field (ie C, SS, 2B and CF). I’m lucky to have 2 of the best young offensive players in the game at SS and CF (Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez), but they both are gold glove caliber fielders as well. Joey Amalfitano used to say, ‘The worst thing that can happen in baseball is when, for whatever reason, the extra hitter in the inning comes up when he shouldn’t.’”

What I look for in my line up

1 Hole- I need a catalyst that can get on base and run.
2 Hole- My smartest offensive player. A guy who understands the game and can get on base for our 3 and 4 hitters.
3 Hole- My best hitter
4 Hole- Someone with pop who can drive in runs
5 Hole- Hits for power and provides some protection for 4 hole hitter
6 Hole- Cleans up for 3, 4, 5 guys and knocks in runs.
7 Hole- My second 2 hole hitter. He’s an action guy who can hit & run and handle the bat.
8 Hole- Has good plate discipline and does all he can not to let the pitcher lead off.
9 Hole- Pitcher

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Colorado Rockies Spring Training Battles: 5th spot in the rotation

Heading into the spring, the Rockies were saying that their rotation was already decided. Ubaldo Jimenez, Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Hammel, and Aaron Cook had the five spots locked up.

However, fans have to wonder if the club was quietly running a try-out for the fifth spot.

It wouldn't have been a surprise after Cook has struggled since his 2008 All-Star season. 2010 was especially a struggle for the right-hander. He posted a 6-8 record with a 5.08 ERA in 23 starts. Even more unimpressive, the redhead gave up 13 leads in which his offense staked him to.

However, it would have been difficult for the Rockies to start the spring by saying that their winningest pitcher in franchise history, who is making just over $10 million in 2011, would be battling it out for the final spot in the rotation.

Just a few days into spring, the Rockies were able to avoid declaring a battle, when Cook complained of shoulder stiffness after throwing his first bullpen. This injury leaves Cook extremely questionable for the Opening Day roster, and seriously jeopardizes his chances of being a factor in the rotation.

The injury has opened the door to a fifth starter battle between Felipe Paulino--acquired from Houston in the Clint Barmes trade--Esmil Rogers, and newcomer John Maine.

Paulino shows extreme promise. The right-hander throws hard and is able to fool hitters, but has never been able to put it all together at the big league level. In 19 games at the big league level in 2010, Paulino posted a 1-9 record with a 5.11 ERA. That lone win? It came against the Rockies. However, in just over 91 innings, Paulino struck out 83 batters. The Rockies are hoping that they can find a way to help Paulino take the next step. The 27-year old is out of options, so if the Rockies don't see him in the rotation, he most likely will start the year in the bullpen.

Rogers is an interesting case. In his 72 innings of big league action in 2010 he showed flashes of brilliance, with the prime example coming in the July 4th game in which he threw four innings of scoreless relief, stranding the bases loaded twice after his teammates failed to help him get outs. But he also showed his weaknesses. On August 25th against Atlanta, Rogers couldn't get out of the 2nd inning, giving up seven earned runs on eight hits. Some wondered at the end of 2010 if Rogers might be a good candidate for a 7th inning-type of guy out of the bullpen. His stuff is nasty and for one inning he would be very difficult to hit. However, the Rockies still view him as a starter.

The third option is Maine. The former Mets ace fell out of favor with now-fired manager Jerry Manuel in 2010. On May 10th, Maine was removed from the game after one batter. Manuel came to the mound with the trainer, but after the game Maine said that nothing was wrong with him physically. That was the last time he pitched for the Mets.

Maine was looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2009 in which he missed most of June and all of July and August. After easing Maine into action, the Rockies saw what he could do on Wednesday, when he threw a scoreless inning after the benefit of a double play. More importantly, the radar guns had Maine at 92 MPH, a sign that his arm still has some life left.

The fact is for Maine, he is a long-shot. To write him off would be presumptive at this point, but for now it looks as if the decision is going to be between Paulino and Rogers. Either one shouldn't concern Rockies fans out of the fifth spot in the rotation, but knowing that Maine is around and more than capable of eating up some innings is definitely a good feeling.

It should be interesting to see who puts their foot down and claims the fifth and final spot.

For more on the Rockies visit RockiesReview.com

This article is also featured on INDenverTimes.com

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The problem with relying solely on sabermetrics

Much to the chagrin of baseball purists, sabermetrics are here to stay.

Many baseball fans are well-aware of the new brand of statistics, but even the casual fan has started to be introduced to the emerging new style of keeping track of how well a player performs.

Sabermetrics are a very useful tool. They dig far deeper into the actual game than traditional stats do. For instance, one of the stats that has long-determined how well a pitcher performs is his win total. Sabermatricians rightfully argue that a win does not necessarily tell the whole story of how well a pitcher pitched in a particular game.

For instance, a pitcher could conceivably throw a complete-game, one-hitter, and lose 1-0, picking up the loss. On his very next outing, he could give up five runs on 10 hits in five innings, and pick up the win because his team scored 10 runs in the first three innings.

Clearly, a win doesn't tell the whole story about whether or not a pitcher performed well on a given day.

However, the problem with sabermetrics is that while they attempt to dig deeper than traditional stats, they often simply trade one flawed stat for another.

An example of this is BABIP (Batting Average for Balls In Play). What this statistic measures is what a hitters batting average is for everything that was not a home run, a strike out, or a foul out. It essentially attempts to measure how lucky a hitter gets. Statistics would say that regardless of how good or bad a player is, 30% of all balls put into play should fall for a base hit.

So when a player has a .212 BABIP, as Chris Iannetta had in 2010, it is easy for fans to suggest that he simply was a victim of bad luck.

On the other hand, Jonathan Herrera, a guy firmly in the mix for the second base job, logged a .330 BABIP in 2010. According to sabermetrics, Herrera was lucky, and Iannetta was extremely unlucky.

The problem with this stat? It assumes that all balls put into play are equal. It doesn't take into account the pitches that a player chooses to swing at, or any flaws in his swing. For instance, Iannetta, who struggles with a loopy swing, found himself consistently popping up. Instead of squaring balls up, he was constantly working underneath pitches, lifting them high in the air, easy for the defense to catch.

Herrera, on the other hand, is a hitter who has a plan at the plate. When he doesn't get the pitch that he wants, he simply fouls off the pitch and waits until he gets the one that he likes.

While Herrera is by no means the definition of a great Major League hitter, his .330 BABIP should not simply be excused as luck. Same goes for Iannetta, his low BABIP was not simply line drives finding gloves, it was pop flies waiting for a defender to camp underneath the ball.

Another beef I have with sabermetrics is their favoritism towards power. One of the statistics that has widely been accepted by even the purists is OPS. That statistic measures on base percentage, plus slugging percentage. Anyone with a .900 OPS or above is an amazing player, but average is around .750 or so. Anything lower than .700 is bad.

On Monday, respected Rockies blogger Andrew Fisher of Purple Row tweeted "I wonder how many Rockies fans know that Chris Iannetta had a better OPS in 2010 than Jonathan Herrera. Perception is reality."

While I respect Fisher and his writing, I strongly disagree with the correlation. OPS strongly favors a player who can hit for power. It is a great statistic, but when a power-hitting catcher and a singles hitting second baseman are put side-by-side, the stat favors the guy who can hit the ball out of the yard.

Obviously home runs are an important part of baseball, but suggesting that in Iannetta's worst season, he was still better than Herrera in his best season is not doing justice to either of the two players. Herrera has an instant obstacle in his way on the slugging percentage side because he isn't really a power hitter. But just because he doesn't trot around the bases often does that mean he's not as good of a hitter as Iannetta?

Take a step back and look at the roles that both players are supposed to fill. The Rockies don't need Herrera, presumably a two-hole hitter, to be hitting doubles, triples and home runs. He is supposed to be a table-setter, a guy who can get on base and be on the pitcher's mind as he deals with the middle of the lineup.

Iannetta, however, is expected to hit for a few more home runs than others. He is not a guy who is going to foul off a bunch of pitches and steal the occasional base. While he does walk quite a bit, he is going to have an advantage in the OPS category because of his power.

Of course sabermetrics help. They dive deeper than the traditional stats. However, when they are relied upon as gospel, the fan has simply traded one flawed statistic for another. They should be used to find out certain statistics, but not used as a complete replacement for the stats that have been relied upon for over a century.

Disagree? Tell me why.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Injuries adding up early for the Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies spent much of the 2010 season on the disabled list. Troy Tulowitzki missed 33 games with a broken wrist, Todd Helton spent more than 15 days on the shelf with a bad back, and Huston Street didn't see Coors Field until June.

That is just the beginning of the list.

The Rockies struggles with injury were a major reason why they came up short in their run for the playoffs.

Needless to say, the club is trying to stay on the field and out of the training room.

Hopefully, for the club, they are just getting their bumps and bruises out of the way early on in spring training. So far, Ian Stewart and Aaron Cook are on the sidelines nursing injuries. Stewart has a sprained MCL that he hurt within the first few pitches of spring training, narrowly averting disaster when he nearly collided at full sprint with both Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Stewart is scheduled to be out about a week.

Cook's injury is a little more worrisome. He is dealing with shoulder stiffness. The pain quickly conjures up memories of Huston Street's issues at the beginning of spring in 2010. The reports on Street kept coming back positive. He had no structural damage and would begin throwing again. As soon as he began throwing, the issues came back and the Rockies were back at square one.

Cook began throwing, felt pain, quit throwing, took time off, felt better, began throwing, felt stiffness and repeated the cycle.

While Cook is not being depended on the same way he was three seasons ago, he is still a valuable member of the rotation that the Rockies are hoping they can depend on.

The latest injury news comes from a name no Rockies fans want to hear go down with an ailment. Ubaldo Jimenez was scratched from his start on Wednesday due to an infection in the cuticle of his thumb. The Rockies are not concerned, and from the sound of it, fans shouldn't be either. However, anytime Jimenez's name comes up in the subject of injuries, there is cause for concern,

For now, the Rockies have nothing to worry about. Cook's injury may be the most concerning. However, if there is one area in which the club can afford to get by for a few weeks is in the rotation. Esmil Rogers, Felipe Paulino, or even Greg Reynolds, with a good spring, could hold down the fifth spot in the rotation and the Rockies would squeak through.

For Rockies fans, the hope is that these early injuries are not a sign of what is to come, but the club being extra cautious with a month left to get ready for the season.

As far as on the field, the Rockies are officially no perfect. They, specifically Matt Reynolds and Rafael Betancourt, got beat up by the Padres, ending their perfect run at three games.

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Colorado Rockies still undefeated in spring

The Rockies are three games into their 2011 spring schedule. So far so good, they are 3-0.

What does that mean? Absolutely nothing.

Is it nice for Rockies fans to see that their team won another spring game? Sure. However, if the truth were told, the fans at home care more than the players in the clubhouse.

Especially at this point in spring, when starters are generally getting two at-bats before working on other stuff on the back fields, and pitchers are throwing two innings, and working on location more than pitch.

However, maybe getting in the winning groove is something that will be good for the Rockies. Remember back in 2008 when the club started spring training 0-8? That season didn't work out too well for them. For the most part, however, spring records mean absolutely nothing.

What does mean something is the performance of individual players.

It is always fun to see who comes to spring training with a point to prove. This year, that player is clearly Jonathan Herrera. The second baseman is one of four guys who are fighting for the starting spot. Herrera would be considered by few the front-runner. To win the job, he is going to have to beat out newly-acquired Jose Lopez, Eric Young Jr., and Chris Nelson, a former No.1 draft pick who is eager to show what he can do.

In the first two games Herrera has made it clear that he wants nothing to do with being an afterthought. He looks sharp. He has roped two triples and appears to be seeing the ball extremely well, especially for being this early.

Another positive sign was to see Chris Iannetta launch a home run to deep left-center field on Tuesday. While very few have been as hard on Iannetta as myself, the fact is, the Rockies need Iannetta to prove his doubters wrong. One spring training home run does not do that, but it is certainly a positive sign this early in camp.

If Iannetta can climb out of his own mental mess, he has the tools to be one of the top offensive catchers in the game. He sees the ball well at the plate, and can hit the ball a country mile. However, he has never been able to overcome one of the biggest hurdles in baseball. That hurdle is dragging the previous at-bat into the current at-bat. If Iannetta can prove his critics (myself included) wrong, it will go a long way to helping the Rockies win their first ever National League West title.

The other positive has been the starting pitching. While the three starters, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jhoulys Chacin and Jason Hammel have only combined for six innings, those six innings have been nearly flawless. Hammel is a slight concern because of his arm issues at the end of 2010, but showing he is healthy would be a confidence boost.

The reality is, judging a baseball team on March 1st is nearly impossible. The speed of the game simply isn't there quite yet, and players are in work mode, not concerning themselves with results. Soon enough, however, the competitive juices will start flowing and the Rockies will begin looking more and more like the team that will be taking the field for real in just one month.