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September 22, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Colorado Rockies

by Jay Jaffe, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines an overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.

Today we offer a farewell salute to the Colorado Rockies, whose lineup and rotation just had too many holes. It's time to kiss the Rockies goodbye.

Baseball Prospectus' Take
Signs of hope: The Rockies' offense still has a young core; just Todd Helton and Ty Wigginton are older than 28, and the 37-year-old Helton is putting the finishing touches on his most valuable season since 2007. Among the youngsters, 26-year-old Troy Tulowitzki is arguably the game's best shortstop and 25-year-old Carlos Gonzalez has shaken off a slow start to for a line of .311 AVG/.383 OBP/.578 SLG since May 1 (though a late-July wrist injury cost him a couple of weeks). Dexter Fowler, 25, has solidified his spot in the majors by posting career bests in OBP (.365) and slugging (.433) with plus defense, and 28-year-old catcher Chris Ianetta has regained the ground he lost over the previous two seasons stuck behind Yorvit Torrealba and Miguel OlivoA great up-the-middle nucleus is a key component for a successful team.  

Signs of disaster: It's no secret that the Rockies play in the majors' most hitter-friendly park, but in three of the previous four years—two of which resulted in playoff berths—they've managed to rank in the middle of the NL pack in runs allowed, whereas this year they're 15th. Ubaldo Jimenez's decline and the injuries to Jorge de la Rosa and Juan Nicasio were three contributing factors to their slide, but Jason Hammel and Aaron Cook have gotten worse, and Esmil Rogers flopped in his rotation audition. The starters have combined to post a 5.54 ERA since the All-Star break while whiffing just 6.1 hitters per nine and surrendering 1.3 homers per nine. The team's recent success on the mound owed plenty to pitchers with high ground-ball rates, but the Rockies have slid from second in the league to seventh this year while falling from seventh to 11th in strikeout rate, and from eighth to 14th in home-run rate. Combine that with subpar defense—their .689 defensive efficiency is five points below league average—and you've got a recipe for trouble.

Signs you can ignore: Alex White has been torched for an 8.46 ERA while allowing an eye-popping 11 home runs in 27 2/3 innings with the Rockies, and has allowed as many homers (14) in 42 2/3 big league innings as he did in 190 2/3 minor-league innings. White's minor league ground-ball rates have generally been well above 50 percent, so the 2009 first-round pick figures to do a better job of keeping the ball in the park. He'll need time to refine that skill, though, and would be better served trying to do so at Triple-A Colorado Springs. -- Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus

Projected 2012 Lineup
Batting order
LF: Dexter Fowler
2BMark Ellis
CF: Carlos Gonzalez
SS: Troy Tulowitzki
1B: Todd Helton
RF: Seth Smith
3B:?
C: Chris Iannetta

Rotation
SP: Aaron Cook
SP: Jhoulys Chacin
SP: Esmil Rogers
SP: Drew Pomeranz
SP: Alex White

Bowden's Bold Move
The Rockies head into the off-season desperately needing a veteran starting pitcher they can rely on. However, it is unlikely they will fill these needs through free agency. After nailing Tulowitzki and Gonzalez to long-term contracts last offseason, they will avoid committing major dollars beyond the next few years.

Therefore, the Rockies should look to trade for Astros lefty Wandy Rodriguez, who they claimed on waivers in August in hopes of swinging a deal. Rodriguez, who will be 33 in January, is signed through 2013, with a 2014 team option. The price of the two good prospects to get him would be painful, but the Rockies do have a nucleus of young talent at the major league level that is ready to win now; they just need some pitching help.

If the Rockies acquire Rodriguez, they could be a surprise team in the National League next year.-- Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 90-72
The jury's still out on whether giving up Jimenez with a favorable contract for a package of prospects from Cleveland will pay dividends for the Rockies down the road, but it does hurt the team's upside for 2012. With the uncertain health of de la Rosa and Cook (with the latter needing to be re-signed after the season), having Jimenez at the front of the rotation along with Chacin and Hammel would be a lot more reassuring. The bullpen should be solid and pretty much every main contributor in the lineup is already signed for next year, so the Rockies can still win in 2012 without Ubaldo; it's just a little more difficult.

Worst-case scenario: 72-90
Having trouble cobbling together a rotation in Coors Field can lead to disastrous results. Both White and Pomeranz are very good prospects who should contribute positively to the team over the next decade, but young pitching is a fairly up-and-down commodity. The lineup, while having a good supporting cast in Helton, Iannetta and Seth Smith, is still very much driven by the combination of Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. With Ian Stewart disappointing, the Rockies had trouble fielding adequate players at second or third for most of the year, and a Tulo injury in particular would hit the team especially hard. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
While the Rockies disappointed at the big-league level in 2011, there was plenty of good news down on the farm. With a combination of plus power and arm strength, Wilin Rosario returned from knee surgery to stake his claim as the catcher of the future, while his Texas League teammate, outfielder Tim Wheeler, exploded with 33 home runs and 21 stolen bases while hitting .287/.365/.535. The most remarkable story, however, was 2009 first-round pick Tyler Matzek, who was looking like a bust with a 9.82 ERA after 10 starts for High-A Modesto before leaving the organization to work with his high school coach and rediscover his mechanics. He returned with the kind of velocity not seen since his prep days, and while the command still needs work, at least his ceiling is back. Despite an ugly 2011, the Rockies remain young and talented, and they should play a role in the National League West for years to come.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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