CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Transaction Action: Op... (08/26)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: AL A... (08/24)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Today: No J... (08/27)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (08/27)

August 26, 2009

Prospectus Today

The Rockies' Road to the Playoffs

by Joe Sheehan

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

With another extra-inning win, their second straight, the Rockies closed the Dodgers' National League West lead to just two games, the closest any NL West team has been to Los Angeles since April 24, coincidentally a day the Dodgers won at Coors Field. The Rockies have made up 4½ games in 14 days, going 10-3 while the Dodgers were limping in at 5-7.

Dramatics have not been terribly common for the Rockies this season, who had just one extra-inning win prior to Monday night's 14-inning classic against the Giants. They haven't been particularly successful in one-run games, just 15-17 after their 5-4 win over the Dodgers. In fact, the Rockies' incredible hot streak-52-22 since June 4-is remarkable for how little luck has played a part in it. The Rockies have outscored their opponents 398-289 in that timeframe, which would normally create a 48-26 mark. They've outplayed that by a bit, but 48-26 would still be a fantastic record, a 106-win pace over a full season.

Look at that run differential again, and what you'll see is that the Rockies, while playing home games in Coors Field, have held their opponents to less than four runs per game for half a year. That's incredible, but it's also a team-wide effort. The Rockies are third-best in the NL in walks allowed, and fifth-best in home runs allowed. Yes, the team that plays at altitude has allowed fewer homers than all but a couple of squads. The Rockies, led by ground-ball pitchers Aaron Cook and Jason Marquis, don't put balls in the air. It would appear that the strategy that failed nearly 15 years ago is now successful. It helps when you play defense; the Rockies, again fighting the effects of physics, are ninth in Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Their 2007 pennant-winning team had the highest PADE in team history, while last year's disaster-the one that mostly missed Troy Tulowitzki-had below-average range. The difference is even more dramatic if you go back to June 4; the Rockies had allowed a .330 batting average on balls in play up to that date. Since then, the number is .294. That coincides with personnel decisions by new manager Jim Tracy, giving more time to Carlos Gonzales and Clint Barmes at the expense of lesser defenders.

The Rockies have defended their way to the wild-card lead and within shouting distance of the Dodgers. The offense has been helpful, 10th overall in EqA thanks to balance-no Rockie is above a .304 EqA, but nine of their top 11 guys are at .253 or higher, and the ones who aren't have been losing playing time. The Rockies have become a fantastic secondary-average team, leading the league in walks and extra-base hits, the latter being more than just a park effect: they don't hit for average on the road (.238) but they do slug (.171 isolated power).

It's run prevention that has been the story here, just as it was two years ago when the Rockies won the pennant. The Rockies lead the league in quality starts despite having no pitchers who could get picked out of a lineup. Jason Hammel is here because the Rays had a roster logjam at the end of spring training. He threw seven good innings in last night's game, has a 91/27 K/UIBB ratio, and has allowed a mere 12 homers in 132 innings pitched. He's one of five Rockies starters who have made 123 of the team's 126 starts, remarkable stability that has been another key to the team's success this season. Any team that doesn't have to dip down to its sixth, seventh, and even lower-ranked starters has a big leg up on the competition. The Rockies lost Jeff Francis in spring training, but everything since then has gone right for them where their starting pitching is concerned.

The Dodgers' lead is down to two games, but it's actually six. That's their edge on the Giants for a post-season berth, the critical number. Should they and the Rockies both stay ahead of the pack, the difference between finishing first and second in the NL West is tiny, a seeding decision, and as we've seen in the past, teams play to win a post-season berth, not a division title if the former is already locked up. The Dodgers have no need to panic; they've actually outscored their opponents during their current 13-18 slide, and have a +23 run differential in August to go with a 10-13 record. They have the best third-order record in baseball-the best measure of overall performance-and a 93 percent chance of making the playoffs that includes a 70 percent chance of winning the West.

I wouldn't mind seeing Joe Torre run his bullpen a bit differently; just three days after the inspired decision to use his best reliever against the middle of the lineup in the eighth inning, Torre managed to lose an extra-inning game without using either Jonathan Broxton or George Sherrill, despite both having two days' rest. Instead, he allowed James McDonald to pitch the 11th inning, and five batters later, the game was over. McDonald hasn't been awful, but he's not Broxton and he's not Sherrill. Torre has to do a better job of getting usage out of his top relievers in that kind of situation.

Other than that, the Dodgers don't have much that they need to change. They have a fixed lineup and a deep, if slightly overworked, bullpen. They've been running open tryouts for the final two rotation slots in the absence of Hiroki Kuroda and the failure of Jason Schmidt to stay healthy. In contrast to the Rockies, the Dodgers have used 10 starters, and will make it 11 with Vicente Padilla this weekend. Individually, you'd take their top three against the Rockies' top three, and even their nominal top four, but the stability and performance the Rockies have gotten from Jorge De La Rosa and Hammel has been better than what the Dodgers have gotten from the combination of Kuroda, Kuroda's replacements, and the revolving door in the fifth slot.

You can't get too caught up in the narrative. The Dodgers still have a two-game lead and the better team, although the gap between them and the Rockies has narrowed throughout the season. My real takeaway is that the gap between the Rockies and the other wild-card contenders has been understated. This is much, much better team than the Giants or Braves or Marlins, and having taken a closer look at them, I'm sold on the fact that it's the NL West, not the East or Central, that will provide half the league's playoff teams this season. The Braves simply won't score enough to back their staff, nor will the Giants. The Rockies have a complete team, their sole weakness being a bullpen that is deep but not terribly effective-as we saw last night-and while not 52-22 good, deserve to be considered the favorites in the wild-card chase.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Rockies

16 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

drmboat
(754)

"They have the best third-order record in baseball—the best measure of overall performance—"

I would agree that third-order record may have the best correlation to past performance, but I have never seen the predictive analysis that would allow you to say that it shows that the Dodgers should do better going forward.

I once tested Pythag records vs. actual records at various points in the season, and there is very little difference in correlation between Pythag records and actual records when compared to W-L at the end of the year, and actual records correlation gets better the closer you are to the end of the year. I'd love to see a justification that third-order record will predict future performance better than actual record.

Aug 26, 2009 11:12 AM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

Of course actual W-L now correlates better with actual W-L at the end of the season. Those wins and losses are already counted.

If you want to measure the predictive value of actual W-L vs pythag or 3rd order winning percentage, count only future games.

But regardless, both will break down as rosters change. The combined WAR of all the players on the team would probably be better.

Aug 26, 2009 12:03 PM
rating: 6
 
buffum
(458)

I could pick Ubaldo Jimenez out of a lineup.

(Actually, I would recognize Jason Marquis as well, but Jimenez is legitimately in the discussion of the top 15 pitchers in the N.L.)

Aug 26, 2009 11:28 AM
rating: 2
 
Ted Smith

I agree with you about Torre's use of the bullpen last night; I couldn't believe he had McDonald in for that situation, with both Sherill and Broxton available.

The Dodgers have a very favorable schedule going forward, with the only games against teams with winning records being against the Giants (6 times)and a season-closing series at home against the Rockies. For them not to hold on for at least a wild card spot would represent a monumental collapse. Not quite on the level of the 2007 Mets, but pretty bad.

Aug 26, 2009 11:59 AM
rating: 3
 
cyborg

Why is there no mention of Tracy's use of the bullpen. Street wasn't available and in the 9th with Furcal on 3rd and two outs, and Beimel on the mound, he didn't walk Manny to get to Loney.

Instead he brought in Daley to pitch to him and Manny got an rbi single to tie the game. Using Daley only left Herges in the bullpen.

Granted it worked out but it wasn't a good use of the pen.

Aug 26, 2009 14:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Sharky

Strange. No mention of Dexter Fowler and his defense in CF?

Aug 26, 2009 12:11 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Or Aaron Cook's recent injury.

Aug 26, 2009 13:24 PM
rating: 1
 
wonkothesane1

It seems they are overcoming his poor defense in CF, probably due to the ground ball pitchers mentioned. They didn't get the best performance from Taveras out there last year (although it was still better than the poor numbers Dexter is putting up), so it's probably not a big enough difference to mention here.

Aug 26, 2009 13:54 PM
rating: 0
 
brian8065

First of all I am a Rockies fan, so I should disclose that.

The Rockies have outscored their opponents by 104 runs since Tracy took over. He made real changes to the linup, benching Atkins, moving Stewart from second to third, and putting Barmes in at second. These changes were significant. He also changed the clubhouse.

For that same time period the Dodgers have outscored their opponents by 35 runs. This is a big difference over 80 games for the Rockies and 77 for the Dodgers. It is more relevant of a predictor of the future than the entire season in my opinion.

Aug 26, 2009 13:00 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Hurdle was already benching Atkins for Stewart and Stewart wasn't a regular starter at second base anyway. On those fronts, Tracy hasn't done much differently. Even then, Stewart and Atkins aren't producing that much differently, but Stewart has been much better with the glove.

The thing is that Hurdle's only solution to the Rockies problems was to bench Tulowitzki. Hurdle even benched him once during a hot streak because of a single 0-fer night. Tracy stuck with Tulowitzki even while he was running cold. He's also stuck with Carlos Gonzalez.

I'm also not real sold on how much Tracy "changed the clubhouse". It's not like he turned the Pirates into contenders. Besides, after 2007, there were all these articles about how close-knit and Christian the Rockies clubhouse was. Hurdle was also very popular with the players. I doubt that Tracy is inspiring the team more than God (or Hurdle) did.

Aug 26, 2009 13:36 PM
rating: 2
 
cyborg

Actually, he immediately gave Atkins a vote of confidence:

http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/recap;_ylt=Anb_LYs17G33giGCyJ3cm6u4u7YF?gid=290529127

"I sat over on the other side of the field in this ballpark for a number of years and I watched Garrett Atkins drive in over 200 and some odd runs over the course of a couple of different seasons. If we're going to turn some things around, he needs to be in the middle of our order."

Although a month later he did threaten to send him down.

Aug 26, 2009 14:48 PM
rating: 0
 
brian8065

"Hurdle was already benching Atkins for Stewart and Stewart wasn't a regular starter at second base anyway. On those fronts, Tracy hasn't done much differently. Even then, Stewart and Atkins aren't producing that much differently, but Stewart has been much better with the glove."

Hurdle wasn't benching Atkins, Stewart was playing 3b, 2b and LF, Stewart's WARP is .4, Atkins is -1.3.

Aug 26, 2009 14:58 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Rephrase, Atkins was no longer a fulltime player when Hurdle was fired.

I'm not sure why you include WARP...though some of that difference might be from defense (which I think WARP calculates). Also, isn't WARP calculated relative to position? If so, was Stewart's WARP calculated as a 2B which sets the replacement bar lower?

Aug 26, 2009 15:07 PM
rating: 0
 
hennethannun

It does seem odd that an article that discusses the Rockies surprisingly effective pitching staff at some length doesn't even mention Ubaldo Jimenez, especially when he is the attached image for the article on the homepage.

It's even odder to say that the Rockies staff is led by Aaron Cook and Jason Marquis (though perhaps he meant that the rockies staff induces groundballs behind groundball specialists cook and marquis, but isn't jimenez getting 50+% GBs?) and doesn't include a pitcher who could be picked out of a lineup. Jimenez was the only rockie who truly merited all-star consideration back in july and has been even better since.

Certainly there are lots of reasons why the Rockies have pulled themselves back into playoff contention, but any article on that particular subject has to at least have one sentence about his somewhat surprising performance (he was good last year and had worlds of talent, but it was no sure thing that he would be able to cut his walk rate while raising his strikeout and groundball rates).

Aug 26, 2009 17:08 PM
rating: 2
 
I75Titans

As for the Rockies 15-17 record on 1-run games, it's important to note they started the season 0-8 in such contests. Their first 1 run victory came on May 10th.

They were due some luck in that category, and have regressed to the mean during this 3 month run.

Aug 27, 2009 08:34 AM
rating: 1
 
OTSgamer

With the Dodgers now having a four game lead after taking a nailbiter today, I feel safe in saying that they hang on and win the West.

That said, the Rockies look to be the wild card, and frankly I'm impressed. They've played great the past two and half months, and as you mentioned luck hasn't necessarily been on their side. I do not, in any way, see this as a repeat of the 2007 squad. It's a legitimate contender, and I wouldn't be shocked to see them having a parade in late October.

All I know is that if I'm the Phillies or the Cardinals, I do not want to get this bunch in a five game series. In fact, given my preference -- based both on the Dodgers struggles the past couple of months, and Torre's recent history of early playoff exits -- I'd rather play the Dodgers than the Rockies.

Aug 27, 2009 23:19 PM
rating: 1
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Transaction Action: Op... (08/26)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: AL A... (08/24)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Today: No J... (08/27)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (08/27)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
The BP Wayback Machine: Can Spring Training ...
Fantasy Article The Adjuster: Relief Pitchers
Fantasy Article Fantasy Three-Year Projections: Relief Pitch...
Fantasy Article The -Only League Landscape: American League ...
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Don't Call It A Committee!
The Lineup Card: Nine Ways to Improve Your F...
Fantasy Article Player Profile: David Robertson

MORE FROM AUGUST 26, 2009
Premium Article Transaction Action: Operatic Wagner, or Soap...
Premium Article On the Beat: Midweek Update
Changing Speeds: The Slash Stat Triple Crown
Premium Article You Could Look It Up: Don't Fence Me In

MORE BY JOE SHEEHAN
2009-09-03 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Soaring Cardinals
2009-09-02 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Feeling Expansive
2009-08-27 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: No Joy in Wrigleyville?
2009-08-26 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Rockies' Road to the P...
2009-08-24 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: AL Awards Quandary
2009-08-21 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: A Wagnerian Ovation?
2009-08-19 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Left Wing
More...

MORE PROSPECTUS TODAY
2009-09-03 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Soaring Cardinals
2009-09-02 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Feeling Expansive
2009-08-27 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: No Joy in Wrigleyville?
2009-08-26 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Rockies' Road to the P...
2009-08-24 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: AL Awards Quandary
2009-08-21 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: A Wagnerian Ovation?
2009-08-19 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Left Wing
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2009-08-28 - Prospectus Hit List: Breaking in and Breakin...