Catching up with the Colorado Rockies: Purple Row

This off-season The Nats Blog will be holding weekly interviews with blogs for all thirty teams. One site a week leading up to the start of the 2011 baseball season. This week I spoke with Andrew Martin from Purple Row, one of the top Colorado Rockies blogs on the net, to talk about their crop of young superstars and recent transactions.

TNB: Did you have any idea that Carlos Gonzalez would become a triple crown threat when the team acquired him from Oakland?

Purple Row: All the scouts had Gonzalez pegged as a potential all star, but Triple Crown wasn’t even in my mind. I mean, it’s rare enough to have a fielder as good as Gonzalez that can also hold his own at the plate, but to see such high SLG numbers was pretty impressive as well. My thought was that if Gonzalez was pulling down somewhere around .360-.375 wOBA or .850-.900 OPS (somewhere in those ranges) I’d be astounded, and figured “wow, we won that trade, when you consider Huston Street”. But Gonzalez winning the batting title? Just wow.

There’s obviously a lot of room for growth for Gonzalez, as he’s kind of Dante Bichette + fielding right now, when you look at his home/road splits. I’m excited about this guy’s future all the same.

TNB: The Rockies stayed competitive throughout the season but tailed off towards the end and finished behind the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres, where do you see yourselves ending up in 2011?

Purple Row: 2010 was jam-packed with injuries and a lot of workload placed on a few players. We saw Matt Belisle, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Carlos Gonzalez all have breakout years, but we also saw their supporting cast struggle. Tulowitzki might be excepted from this bunch, as he raked when he was healthy, but the team missed him while he was out with a broken wrist (thank you Scott Baker). Additionally, with other health issues for guys like Huston Street and Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook and Jorge De La Rosa, the pitching staff became kind of a mess. Franklin Morales cost the team some games early, and when Manny Corpas stepped back up, the ship sort of seemed to right itself, but then he fell apart the minute Huston Street came back. Street was pretty shaky the whole season as well. With Cook, Francis, and DLR out for a decent amount of time apiece, Colorado was more or less forced to put Greg Smith and Esmil Rogers on the mound. Rogers on the mound isn’t that big of deal, as he could still have starting in his future, but Greg Smith is a #5 for a team that plays in a pitchers’ park, and probably doesn’t belong in the Rockies’ rotation. The good thing is that the team did have that depth, so all said and done, only 8 different pitchers took the mound as a starter in 2010, and they weren’t forced to bring in bizarre characters like Tim Harikkala or Mark Redman or Valerio De Los Santos or Denny Bautista to try and give a few reasonable innings to give the bullpen a break.
Health will be key for 2011. If the team can stay healthy, I’m comfortable making another “top of the division” type of prediction for the Rockies. The team is already making strides to improve emergency depth, bringing on guys like Joe Crede, Mike Jacobs, Billy Buckner, and Clayton Mortenson.

TNB: Where do you rank Ubaldo Jimenez among the Roy Halladay’s and Cliff Lee’s of the league?

Purple Row: Ubaldo isn’t there yet. He’s one of the flashier and more exciting pitchers to watch, given his 100mph fastball, groundballing tendencies, and the fact that he’s named Ubaldo. The thing that Halladay and Lee have going for them is not only solid strikeout stuff but excellent control (if you weren’t aware, Cliff Lee’s 10.28 K/BB was the highest K/BB for a starting pitcher in major league history, and was beaten by: Dennis Eckersley, Mariano Rivera, Edward Mujica, and Rafael Betancourt). Ubaldo just isn’t there yet. If he can keep his K/BB ratio in the realms of 2.0-2.5, he’ll be downright dominant. There’s room to grow still for Ubaldo, but I personally don’t see him ever really standing next to a guy like Roy Halladay. He has top-10 potential, for sure, but there’s elements of his game, mechanically, mentally, etc, that he needs to figure out. Good thing is he’s gonna be 27, so there’s plenty of time for him to learn.

TNB: Are you pleased that Jorge De La Rosa and Rafael Betancourt will be returning to Colorado next season?

Purple Row: Betancourt, absolutely yes. Despite a suspect ERA and an early season bout of ineffectiveness (he was laid up with sickness over the offseason and basically got a late start on getting back up to pitching form), Betancourt might have been one of the most effective setup men in baseball. I mentioned above that Betancourt’s K/BB was higher than even Cliff Lee’s (11.13), and his 12.9 K/9 was downright disgusting. Funny story, Betancourt gave up more home runs than he did walks. He gave up 9 home runs, 8 walks. He was already under contract for the 2011 season, but the team basically gave him another extension for 2012. If Raffa can produce anywhere near 2010 numbers, I’ll be incredibly comfortable with that extension.
DLR – I’m somewhat torn. On one hand, he’s been a completely different pitcher since joining the Colorado Rockies, and he’s likely better than most of the team’s other options. On the other hand, they’re paying him roughly $10.5M for the next 2 years, potentially 4 to post a 4+ ERA/FIP. A lot of DLR’s effectiveness, in my opinion, might be related to his supporting cast. Ubaldo Jimenez is obviously a power pitcher, and DLR is the best strikeout guy in the rotation. Having the two back-to-back gives you the potential for 2 lockdown pitchers going back to back, but it might also give batters the chance to adjust to power pitching. Should Aaron Cook or Jhoulys Chacin get into a solid groove, it might call for some juggling of the rotation, just to get Power split up by Contact. Basically put, DLR is the strong lefthander that the rotation needs. If I had my way, I’d see the following rotation (and mind you, “my way” also includes everyone performing to potential): 1. Ubaldo Jimenez; 2. Jhoulys Chacin; 3. Jorge De La Rosa; 4. Aaron Cook; 5. Jason Hammel.
tl;dr version: Yes, I’m happy.

TNB: Is the sky the limit for Troy Tulowitzki?

Purple Row: Tulo is such an exciting player to watch. He’s a team leader, the fans love him, the organization loves him, his teammates love him, and he loves them all right back. The big thing for Tulo has been a stance change he made mid-2009 that has yielded simply disgusting results. One of our members at Purple Row did a writeup on Tulo’s production post-stance change and basically, since changing his stance, he’s gone from “heh he’s just another Angel Berroa or Bobby Crosby” to “whoah”. The guy is hungry to be the best, in his fielding, batting, and he’s hungry to be the worst in terms of hair styles.