Todd Lynn Helton
Helton has become a doubles-and-walks hitter. These kinds of hitters tend to be slightly undervalued, because neither doubles nor walks show up in batting average or home run totals, and doubles will only marginally boost RBI totals. Of course, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and OPS are becoming more and more mainstream each year, and every baseball fan has heard of Helton, so I don't know if he's actually underrated at the moment. But I wonder if he still isn't seen mostly as a declining, overpaid, Coors-aided hitter these days?
Helton piled up 22 doubles on the road in 2007. His on-base percentage away from Coors was a terrific 0.407. Helton may not be the 1.100 OPS monster he was from 2000 to 2004, but he's still a terrific hitter. Even if his power has declined a bit from his hey-day he still a very tough out and a threat to drive in a runner from any base.
Matthew Thomas Holliday
Who is better, between Holliday and Helton, right now? I know, I know, the answer has to obviously be Holliday. But it's closer than I thought when I looked at it.
On the road, the 2007 comparison is kind of a wash. Helton has a higher on-base percentage, while Holliday has slightly more power. What about the things besides hitting? They both play pretty good defense at offensive positions, though Helton is at the easier position. ( Both are near the top of the NL in 2007 in the RZR rankings at hardballtimes.com ) Holliday has okay speed, while Helton has become a plodder.
It's in Coors field where Holliday really comes out ahead of Helton. Holliday is taking advantage of the extra Coors homeruns while Helton isn't.
If the comparison is between Holliday at his peak and Helton at is peak, then there is no contest. Helton wins easily. Now Holliday's true offensive peak may yet be higher in coming years, but since he's already 28 he's not likely to get a whole let better than he already is. Speaking as a Dodger fan, I think Holliday and Helton are both plenty good already.
Troy Trevor Tulowitzki
He has some pretty extreme home-road splits. Maybe that shouldn't be held against him too much. My understanding is that it's hard to hit well on the road after getting used to the favorable hitting conditions at Coors. It must be even harder on a young player. Still, his road OPS of 0.720 doesn't scream out "star player", even if he is a fine defensive shortstop.
I guess he is a star, though. The home numbers are terrific and it seems he's going to only get better. I'd love for him to be a Dodger, sure, though if Furcal is healthy this year he might just have a better year than Troy.
If Tulowitzki ever wants to have a shot at becoming the best shortstop in a league with Rollins and Ramirez and Reyes, he'll have to decrease his strikeout rate and increase his walk rate. The power is there, the great defense is there. He can hit. He just has to be more discerning at the plate.
Entering last year the Rockies were offensively great at the four corners of first base, third base and left and right field, but not good at all up the middle at short, second, center field and catcher. Those up-the-middle defensive positions are of course the hardest to fill with good offensive players. The emergence of Tulowitzki last year really helped the Rockies offense and was one reason they were able to climb all the way to the peak before being dropped into the wood-chipper in the World Series.
Bradley Bonte Hawpe
I swear I don't remember ever typing out the name "Bonte" last year, which is strange, because I must have done player capsules on the Rockies at some point last year, right? I'm too lazy to do a search of my own blog to find out. But not too lazy to go ahead and make a horrible pun in the next paragraph. It's all about priorities.
Brad Hawpe had one sacrifice hit last year. This is one too many for a player as solid offensively as Hawpe is. But my question is this --- when he bunted to get that sacrifice hit, did Hurdle give him the "bonte" sign?
Garrett Bernard Atkins
Atkins had a poor April last year, and then followed it with a brutally bad May. Not a Kouzmanoff-in-April-of-2007 bad, but pretty bad nonetheless. And then after that he was terrific. I wonder how he starts out this year?
Yorvit Adolfo Torrealba and Christopher Domenic Iannetta
The good news for the Rockies in their quest for offense up the middle ends with Tulowitzki at short. The other three positions are still black-and-purple holes in the lineup, and it begins with the catching tandem of Torrealba and Iannetta.
In limited at bats at home last year Iannetta bizarrely had an OPS of 0.538. I think even Mark Hendrickson would do better than that, given 100 at-bats in Coors Field. ( Especially if he was allowed to bat against a clone of himself. ) In more playing time than his catching-mate, Torrealba was lucky sevens at home with a 0.777 OPS, but his road stats were miserable. Unless young Iannetta suddenly gets better there's not a lot to choose from here.
I guess Torrealba will get the bulk of the playing time again, but I doubt it matters much who gets it. I'm so glad the Dodgers have Russell Martin.
He's younger. He gets on base more. He has a much better throwing arm. He has more power, though it's close. He doesn't wear a batting helmet 4 sizes too big for him.
So Taveras wins a comparison with Juan Pierre. Kudos!
What he won't win is a comparison with Ryan Spilborghs, and yet Taveras is still the probable starter in center field. I feel your pain, Rockies fans.
Jayson Truitt Edward Nix
The Rockies will miss Kaz Matsui. They'll miss him for his good defense, but even more they'll miss him because they're apparently replacing a slightly sub-average offensive second baseman with a completely untested young non-prospect who is almost certain to be awful unless his swing changes and hot few months to end last year really mean something.
Check out some projections of how he might do in about 450 at bats this year. They average about a 0.250 batting average, single digit home runs, 30 walks --- there's just nothing in his minor league record to suggest he'll be any kind of answer at second base. I know, he fixed his swing. I've heard that before. At least he has a stellar defensive reputation. He was drafted as a shortstop, after all.
To be fair no one has yet said Nix will be the second base starter --- he just seems to be the frontrunner right now. He's out of options and he closed out last year in AAA very hot. He's listed at the top of the depth chart for the Rockies at their official site, whatever that is worth. Glove man Omar Quintanilla is also a candidate to win the second base job, but he doesn't figure to do any better. Barmes, Baker, and Stuart are also in the mix at second. And then there is also Marcus Giles in camp with a minor league deal. Second base for the Rockies is rather mysterious right now.
The Rockies have fewer offensive question marks than most teams. You pretty much know what you're going to get from the big four corner players. None of them are very young or very old so you won't see a big improvement or decline from any of them. Unless Iannetta can really break out they won't get much from catcher. There are a lot of mediocre players competing to see who can put up lousy numbers at second base. Taveras is who he is in center field --- a slightly better version of Juan Pierre. Only Tulowitzki is a real question mark --- he could improve dramatically, or take a step back, or anything in between. Young second year players are like that. Given that the Rockies are going to have three holes in their lineup, they really need Tulowitzki to keep improving.
It's hard to say how good the Rockies offense really is, given park effects in Coors and especially the hitting-away-from-Coors effects. Their offense on the road isn't really anything too special, but if the pitching is a team strength again then the Rockies should be able to tread water at about 0.500 on the road and excel at home, which is how they won the NL wild card last year.
So pitching really is the key to the Rockies repeating their playoff trip this year, and I'll look at the Rockies pitching in the next entry.