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July 27, 2006
Rockies, Marlins, Twins
Normally when discussing the offense of the Colorado Rockies, the thoughts that come to mind have to do with inflated home statistics and poor pitching. Not only have the Rox done a fine job of putting together a solid rotation in 2006--mostly held together by the success of Jeff Francis and
Garrett Atkins, 26 and in his second full season with the club, has put together a fine season for the Rockies, adding to the glut of hot corner talent around the league. Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe have also put together productive offensive seasons, with Hawpe chipping in with the glove as well. His Rate2 of 111 is extremely helpful, especially when one considers he is in the cavernous outfield in Denver. Holliday (94) and Atkins (84) have not helped as much with the glove, but the trio inhabits the 1-3 spots on the team Value Over Replacement Player page. Zone Rating gives Holliday and Atkins a great deal more defensive value, but still puts Atkins below average for his position.
As stated, one assumes that Colorado hitters produce for the most part in their hitter-friendly confines. This was evident in the last Rox Notebook, where Jamey Carroll was the subject. Not so for these three though, as seen in the table below:
Players Home AVG/OBP/SLG Road AVG/OBP/SLG Garrett Atkins .288/.365/.485 .332/.410/.548 Brad Hawpe .281/.364/.445 .317/.402/.590 Matt Holliday .350/.402/.588 .295/.340/.520
Atkins and Hawpe have actually performed better in opposing team's parks than in their own, and while Holliday seems to have benefited from Coors, he certainly is no slouch on the road either.
As far as what may have caused the improvement of the three, we can look to batted-ball data. Garrett Atkins has seen his line drive percentage stay steady with last year's 23% mark, but he has managed to cut down on his groundballs and his infield flies. The drop in groundballs was significant; he is down to 37.7% from 46.1% in 2005. Atkins has also managed to cut his strikeouts down to 10% from 13%; a small but welcome improvement, especially when combined with an impressive walk rate increase from 8% last year to 11% this season.
Hawpe has a little more luck on his side, as his batting average on balls in play is a very high .385. His walk rate has remained steady, and his groundball rate has dropped considerably--from 52% all the way down to 40%--but his strikeout totals have increased somewhat. Some regression may be expected from Hawpe, due to outperforming his expected BABIP.
Holliday looks to have the least change in his batted-ball types, as his strikeout and walk rates remained relatively steady, and his GB% and LD% also seem fairly static. The increase in his production mostly seems to have come from the dramatic shift in his infield flies, which dropped from 14.2% in 2005 to a mere 6.2% this year. He is also somewhat outperforming his expected BABIP, but not by a great deal.
Overall, one can expect these three players to form the core of the Rockies offense along with Todd Helton for the next few seasons. Now that they have most of a young rotation assembled with a meaningful chunk of a starting lineup, quality role players will be necessary to survive in the increasingly competitive National League West. It will be interesting to see how general manager Dan O'Dowd fills in those gaps in the coming offseasons.
A relatively short time ago, some were discussing the Marlins as possibly the worst team in baseball, their potential to be among the worst teams of the 21st Century, and so forth. After an off-season in which the team disgorged such veterans as Carlos Delgado, Juan Pierre, Paul Lo Duca, A.J. Burnett, and Josh Beckett, an air of despondency settled over the franchise.
Then came the month of June, when the Fish went 18-7. All of that talk stopped. The Marlins rocked the world in June on the strength of a Major League-leading 2.73 ERA, led by rookie Josh Johnson (3-1, 1.78 ERA in June), but truly featuring a team effort--only two Marlins posted ERA's over 3.00 for the month--Brian Moehler, and Yusmeiro Petit in a single relief appearance. Their team OPS was a respectable 793 in June, 10th in MLB, with standout performances by Dan Uggla (7 HR in 68 AB)
In July, things have cooled off. The team's only 10-11, and they sport a 5.00 ERA, very far from leadings the bigs. Still, youngsters Johnson and Scott Olsen have held on to some of the gains they made in June, as has Jacobs. Meanwhile, Hanley Ramirez has come back from a horrible month (.190/.250/.260 in June) to put up more robust numbers better associated with a successful rookie campaign (.268/.348/.549 in July).
Still, the Marlins' big month of June seems to have been enough to forestall what was expected to be a big trade deadline house clearing, with prizes such as soon-to-be-expensive young stars Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera available to the highest bidder. After all, with a 46-52 record at press time, the Marlins were only a half game behind the Atlanta Braves, who are still widely considered contenders.
A quick look at the Playoff Odds Report shows a chasm between the Marlins and the Braves wider than their half-game deficit would suggest. The Report places the Braves with a 12.18% chance of making the postseason, nearly three times higher chance than we give the Marlins, who stand at 4.52%.
What explains the difference? The Braves have outscored their opponents handily, by 27 runs, while the Fish have been outscored by nine runs. Adjusting for strength of schedule and ballpark, among other things, makes for an 18-point difference in third-order winning percentage.
Now, that doesn't mean that the Marlins made the wrong decision by not positioning themselves as sellers at the trade deadline. To begin with, the "veteran" stars the Marlins were supposed to deal are still young enough and inexpensive enough that the Marlins don't need to deal them. Cabrera is 23, Willis is 24, and neither is eligible for free agency until after the 2008 season. Keeping Willis and Cabrera could also be considered a sign of good faith by the South Florida fans who were repulsed by the Marlins' off-season fire sale. And that's without mentioning the idea that the Marlins could manage to capture lightning in a bottle once again, and make an improbable run at the playoffs. They might not have the best chance in the world, but even a 28-1 longshot does hit sometimes.
In short, the Marlins have something to gain and little to lose by maintaining the status quo. The Floridians' actual talent level is likely closer to July's 10-11 record than to June's 18-7. What it certainly does not approach is the depths hit by the Royals and the Pirates this season, solidly anchored to the major-league cellar.
On June 16th, Caleb Peiffer noted in this space that the Twins were "one bat short of fielding nine quality major league hitters." In the NL Central this year, that would be a compliment; in the AL Central, it could be devastating. Since then, the Twins have suffered even more, losing Torii Hunter and Shannon Stewart to injuries. Accordingly, the Twins might only field six or seven quality hitters these days. At the extreme, it can be worse still: Wednesday's lineup included Nick Punto, Mike Redmond (batting third!), Rondell White, Jason Tyner, and Josh Rabe.
That doesn't sound like a juggernaut, but it resulted in a 7-4 win over the White Sox, and that level of unexpected production has become the norm. The Twins pitching staff has deserved all of the attention it's gotten in Minnesota's 34-8 run of late, but the other half of the team has been just as effective. Even more dramatic is the increase in offensive production since the streak began:
AVG OBP SLG OPS Before June 6: .265 .324 .390 714 June 6 - July 25: .303 .369 .463 832 July: .314 .366 .472 838
Before the streak, the Twins were getting OPSs below 715 from six defensive positions. Since then, eight positions have been above .770. (
If you're trying to get back into a competitive division race, it's wonderful to get career-best months from the fringe players on your roster. But when you're looking ahead to next month, it's foolish to count on All-Star caliber performances from those same guys.
Fortunately, the Twins do have a core of bona-fide offensive contributors in Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer. Even better, Hunter and Stewart could return soon, taking some of the pressure off Tyner and White. But in the most realistic scenario, that core leaves the Twins back where Caleb found them last month: missing an important cog in a division where 92 wins could still leave you in 3rd place.
The Twins, then, might compete with the Tigers and White Sox in another area: the mid-season trade market. Given Luis Castillo's struggles, Minnesota could be the team that would benefit most from the addition of Alfonso Soriano, even if it meant suffering through his infield defense. The Twins have also been linked to
Perhaps the savviest move available to GM Terry Ryan would be a similar upgrade at third base, someone along the lines of Aramis Ramirez. Nick Punto will come back to earth eventually, and on the off chance he doesn't, he can slide over to second base. An impact acquisition in the infield--that is, one who doesn't cancel out his offensive benefit with his work in the field--would give the Twins depth they haven't enjoyed all season. And that might be enough to bring the playoffs back to the Metrodome.