18 April 2007

Rockies Preview: Mile High Middle Muddle

Here is the stat line of a hypothetical middle of the order hitter about 60 games into a season:

200 24 59 13 0 5 87 29 33 31

AVG --- OBP --- SLG
0.295 0.397 0.435

It's pretty good. It does seem like the power numbers could be better, though. Maybe these are the numbers of an aging slugger, or someone nursing an injury that saps his power.

In fact these are the combined numbers of the Rockies big four hitters of Holliday, Hawpe, Atkins, and Helton so far in 2007. These are all young players, except for Helton, and none are apparently carrying any injuries. Where has all their power gone?

It's probably just an early fluke, and we should expect the power numbers to come back up. Last year the big four combined for a slugging percentage of 0.536, even including Helton's illness-related dropoff in production. Right now the Rockies are scoring and allowing runs like a 0.500 team, but if the power of the big four returns ( and everything else remains as it is ) they may win 84 games or so.

The Dodgers start a two game set in Denver tonight. I have learned to fear the Rockies big four hitters over the past year, to the point that I am angry with the Dodger pitchers when they let someone not in the big four get on base. As I fan I feel they should feast on the weaker 5 in the lineup for outs and then just try to survive the big 4. I wonder, does any other team have such a difference between their top 4 hitters and the rest of the lineup? Maybe, but like last year, the Rockies look pretty weak outside of the big 4, unless young players such as Tulowitzki and Iannetta break through. They need to replace Matsui and Taveras, though.

Jeff Baker has a 1.031 OPS in 40 major league games, by the way. Maybe the Rockies should get him into the lineup more, eh?

What about the Dodger's current 3 through 6 hitters? How do Nomar, Russ, Gonzo, and Kent compare so far in 2007?

203 35 62 16 0 6 96 35 22 25

AVG --- OBP --- SLG
0.305 0.374 0.473

They make more outs, but have more power. This just shows how surprising the Rockies power drop has been, since one would never expect the Dodgers 3-6 hitters to outslug the Rockies 3-6 hitters. This current state won't last all year, though a Dodger fan can hope. To be sure, this "outslugging" is 1 extra home run, and 3 extra doubles. It really is early.

There is one last important thing about the 3-6 comparisons that is greatly in the Dodgers favor. None of the Rockies 3-6 hitters play a defensive position, an "up-the-middle" position. None. Two of the Dodgers 3-6 hitters play up the middle, at catcher and second base. The Dodgers, then, will have an easier time surrounding their middle of the order hitters with quality. I believe this is a huge advantage for the Dodgers. And this also helps explain why the Rockies have such a hard time surrounding their big four: they have to fill the toughest 4 defensive positions at the same time. The Rockies have no overlap between the middle of the order and the middle of the diamond, and so far they suffer for it. It's not an insurmountable problem, as I suspect there have been plenty of good teams whose 3-6 power hitters didn't play at all up the middle. And maybe the Rockies up-the-middle youngsters will pan out. But it's a handicap.

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