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January 31, 2003

Team Health Reports

Team Health Report: Colorado Rockies

by Will Carroll

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Projected Lineup

 2B Brent Butler
 CF Preston Wilson
 RF Larry Walker
 1B Todd Helton
 3B Jose Hernandez
 LF Jay Payton/Jack Cust
 C Charles Johnson
 SS Juan Uribe

Rotation

 Jason Jennings
 Denny Neagle
 Shawn Chacon
 Denny Stark
 Aaron Cook

Closer

 Jose Jimenez

Coors Field changes everything.

Well, almost everything. An injury is still an injury, even at altitude. Thus, given there's no evidence to suggest that playing 5,000 feet above sea level does anything to affect health, UTK is one of few forums where baseball doesn't have to be park adjusted.

I'm sure the Rockies have tried storing Larry Walker in a humidor, but it hasn't worked so far. Walker remains both the heart of the Rockies attack and fragile as a Belleek plate. Of course, the Rockies realize that Walker is only good for about 130 games a year, and they do an excellent job of maximizing his value, while employing adequate backups in Gabe Kapler and Jack Cust. I'm intrigued by the idea of Walker playing only in Colorado; but in the end I doubt it would work, since he'd need some days off in a long home stand, and the Rockies would miss his bat too much on the road.

Preston Wilson may or may not benefit from playing on Planet Coors, depending on which side of the Sheehan vs. Jazayerli: Mile High Mayhem (Only on Pay Per View!) argument you're on. He should be at full strength after suffering through wrist injury woes; running into the wall at Wrigley will do that to you. Wilson gets his yellow light based on history - he's been unable to stay healthy for a full season. It's one thing to have nagging injuries and play effectively, but another to always have something wrong. Wilson, unfortunately, appears to be leaning toward the latter.

Charles Johnson earns his yellow light, but getting out of Miami saved him from red. The party line from Florida was that Johnson had more than a strained back last year, but like most things having to do with the Marlins, that information doesn't appear to be worth much. Marlins manager Jeff Torborg was determined to make Johnson into a platoon player, but Johnson should get the lion's share of the catcher ABs in Colorado. Johnson's decline will be slowed by the illusions of Planet Coors.

It's tough to look at his numbers and think that Todd Helton was playing hurt for the last couple seasons (though his two homers from June 1 to July 23 of last season might have tipped you off). Helton says his back problems have often kept him from swinging with full force. Back problems are tricky to judge, but Helton's have never been structural or enough to knock him out of the lineup for long stretches. Any back injury is likely to warrant a yellow light, so Helton gets one, albeit a dim yellow.

Only Jason Jennings merits worry among the Rockies' starters. If you have one pitcher who's worrisome, you don't want it being your ace. Jennings has made major jumps in innings pitched two years in a row, and can be expected to pile up even more this year. He tailed off markedly in both velocity and stuff by the end of last season - keep a close eye on whether his off-season of conditioning and rest for his arm was enough to bring Jennings back to Rookie of the Year form.

Yes, the Rockies look to be a fairly healthy team; and yes, it's important to be healthy to win. But being healthy won't win a title on its own. A mediocre team, if healthy, can only be mediocre. In the NL West, the level of talent is too high to imagine that they'll all fall under the expected level of the Rockies, health and home park included.

Will Carroll is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Related Content:  Charles Johnson

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