The Situation: The Rockies don't really need another outfielder on the roster. Their best outfield prospect, David Dahl, is already up and raking, and Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez have acquitted themselves well for the purple and black in 2016. But the calendar has turned to September, and the Rockies don't even merit a spot “in the hunt” on wild card race graphics, so why not give Raimel Tapia and his quirky swing a look-see.
The Background: A low-six figure signing for the Rockies out of the Dominican in 2010, Tapia quite literally has hit his way to the majors. Once stateside he never hit lower than .305 at any minor-league stop and has been a mainstay on BP prospect lists since Jason Parks first laid his lusty eyes on him on the backfields. The main question around the prospect was if his hyper-aggressive approach and unorthodox swing mechanics would succeed against better pitching. The returns from his stints in Hartford and Albuquerque are encouraging and have earned the 22-year-old a big-league cup of coffee
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The Rockies might have picked the worst time to get hot this year, but some nifty GMing means their outlook is better than it has been in some time.
The long season plays cruel tricks on every team, and if it sometimes gives great and wonderful things (as it did to the 2007 Rockies, flinging a merely good team into the World Series), it usually comes to collect on that advance later on. This summer, Father Baseball pointed the Rockies in precisely the wrong direction in the second half of July. A mediocre team without a real chance to contend in the NL this year, the Rockies got hot at just the wrong time—coming out of the All-Star break with 14 wins in 19 games—and made no trades before the deadline. In D.J. LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez, and Charlie Blackmon, Colorado has three players whose long-term value is dubious, and who will be free agents by the end of 2018 (Gonzalez after 2017), but who would have had real trade value in this market. At least one of those guys should be somewhere else right now. Heck, after the dust settled and Will Smith commanded such a significant price, Jeff Bridich looked a little less than brilliant even for leaving Jake McGee’s market unplumbed.
The Situation: Tyler Chatwood has gone on the disabled list with a lower back strain and the Rockies are calling up another big-time arm, Jeff Hoffman, to fill the void.
Background: Originally from upstate New York, Hoffman went undrafted out of high school because teams were scared away by a commitment to East Carolina and large bonus demands. His first two years on campus were unspectacular but he ventured to the Cape the summer before his Junior year and took a major step forward, striking out 33 in just 24 1/3 innings for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks. Hoffman continued to improve during his draft year (2014) showing big-time velocity and feel for the breaking ball before succumbing to forearm tightness and eventually Tommy John in May. Teams continued to salivate over his potential and despite being on the shelf, the Toronto Blue Jays took him with their first of two picks in the first round. Almost exactly a year later, Hoffman made his debut in the Florida State League and was quickly promoted to Double-A. The Blue Jays then included him in the Troy Tulowitzki deal and Hoffman got to take his talents to the Rockies. Fast forward to 2016, fresh off a Futures Game appearance and in the midst of striking out 124 in 118 innings Hoffman gets the call and his first assignment is the Chicago Cubs.
The Situation: Brandon Barnes isn’t very good. The Rockies had a guy in Triple-A with an OPS above 1.400. Colorado will rectify the situation by sending Barnes out of town and calling up that prospect. His name is David Dahl.
Background: Dahl was a standout in high school, putting up big numbers at Oak Mountain High School in Birmingham, performing well at showcase events, and earning comparisons to Dustin Ackley. At the time, that was a compliment. The Rockies swooped him up with the tenth pick of the 2012 MLB Draft, and after hitting .379 in short-season Grand Junction, expectations were huge for his first professional season. Unfortunately, 2013 was a lost season, as he was suspended for missing a flight, and then missed all but ten games after tearing a hamstring. He came back strong in 2014 with a .827 OPS in stops at Asheville and Modesto. 2015 was another tough season for the young outfielder, as he suffered a ruptured spleen after a collision in the outfield, and posted a pedestrian .278/.304/.417 line in Double-A New Britain. Once again, Dahl bounced back beautifully, hitting .278 with 13 homers in Hartford, and then crushing Triple-A pitching to a borderline unrealistic tune of .484/.529/.887 in Albuquerque before earning his call-up.
Troy Tulowitzki is still searching for his missing production 11 months after leaving Coors Field.
Troy Tulowitzki returned to Coors Field last night for the first time as a visiting player, facing the Rockies nearly 11 months after the blockbuster trade that sent the five-time All-Star shortstop from Colorado to Toronto. Because the Blue Jays went 31-10 with Tulowitzki in their lineup last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 1993 the trade was immediately labeled a success, but Tulowitzki didn’t actually play all that well in those 41 games and his contract meant neither team involved was viewing the deal as strictly a short-term move. Tulowitzki’s mediocre performance has continued this season, which has to be worrisome for the Blue Jays given that he’s 31 years old and signed through 2020 at an average annual salary of around $20 million.
When the Blue Jays acquired Tulowitzki they did so knowing that his raw hitting numbers would decline because that’s just how things work with Rockies hitters. Coors Field undeniably boosts offense, often to extreme degrees, and hitters departing the Rockies can generally be counted on to post less gaudy raw numbers in their new homes. However, projecting how Rockies hitters will fare elsewhere can be tricky due to a potential “hangover” effect playing home games at altitude can have on a player’s performance in road games. In other words, it’s not always as simple as taking a longtime Rockies hitter’s road numbers and penciling those in as his overall numbers, because the road numbers might be underrepresenting his true, non-Coors Field talent level.
Tulowitzki spent the first decade of his career calling Coors Field home and took full advantage, hitting .321/.394/.558 in 526 games there compared to .276/.349/.468 in 522 road games. Even with a hangover effect possibly dragging them down those road numbers alone would have made Tulowitzki the best-hitting shortstop in baseball from 2006-2015, so the Blue Jays gladly would have signed up for .276/.349/.468. Instead he’s hit just .226/.306/.405 in 95 games following the trade, including .214/.294/.423 in 54 games this year. Once the king of good-hitting shortstops, his .717 OPS ranks 15th among the 26 players who’ve logged at least 50 games at the position this season and Tulowitzki is the third-oldest player in that group. His post-trade fall is magnified even further by the emergence of a potentially historic group of young shortstops.
A wild game at altitude, an exclamation point by Taillon, and a near-injury to Maeda.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Coors Field is a beautiful ballpark. The field itself is always well tended, as is the little forest beyond the center field wall. The building is constructed with an eye toward grandeur and comfort.
Is Tony Wolters the answer to 24 years of mile-high pitching woes?
Good-framing catchers, as best as we can define them, seem to have magical powers. They can “steal” extra strikes for their pitchers, and while it might not seem like much in the moment to get an extra borderline call, it adds up. The generally accepted consensus has been that the top framers can save their team 20 runs compared to a merely average framer. Compared to the bottom of the barrel, that swing is 40 runs. When the general public figured out how big that effect was, they rightly made a big deal about it. (When teams found out, they quietly made a big deal out of it. In fact, in Francisco Cervelli’s case, they just made more than 30 million big deals about it.)
What did we learn about various players and teams this month? Less than we'll learn in the next one.
Early season baseball is full of articles about “What we’ve learned so far” after a week, or two weeks, or a month of play. You can’t really blame the sportswriters and TV sports producers and podcast hosts who come up with these pieces. They have to talk about something, and there aren’t any pennant races or awards competitions to discuss in April.
As Russell Carleton has demonstrated, though, most measures of baseball performance take far longer than a week or three to stabilize. Drawing conclusions from a 10- or 20-game sample is akin to statistics problem sets involving drawing balls from an urn. A really, really big urn. With lots and lots of balls in it. When you draw a few balls from a really, really big urn with lots and lots of balls in it, you don’t get a good picture of what’s really in the urn.
We can look at the relevance of April numbers by correlating them to players’ full-year figures, and comparing the correlation in April to that of May, June, July, August, and September. (Throughout this analysis, April includes a few days of March play in the relevant years, and September includes a few days of October games.) To do this, I selected batting title and ERA qualifiers from each of the past 10 seasons and compared their monthly results to their full-year results. I had a sample of 1,487 batter seasons with corresponding monthly data in about 87 percent of months and 850 pitcher seasons with corresponding monthly data in 86 percent of months.
Admittedly, there’s a selection bias in April data, and it applies mostly to young players. Since I’m comparing monthly data to full-year data for batting title and ERA qualifiers, I’m selecting from those players who hung around long enough to compile 502 plate appearances or 162 innings pitched. If you’re a young player who puts up a .298/.461/.596 batting line in April, as Joc Pederson did last April, you get to stick around to get your 502 plate appearances, even though 261 of your plate appearances occurred during July, August, and September, when you hit .170/.300/.284. On the other hand, if you bat .147/.284/.235 in April, as Rougned Odor did, you do get a chance to bat .352/.426/.639 in 124 plate appearances spread between May and June, but you get them in Round Rock instead of Arlington. So there’s a bias in this analysis in favor of players who perform well in April (giving them a chance to continue to play) compared to those who don’t (who may get shipped out). This shouldn’t have a big impact on the overall variability of April data, though, since the presence of early-season outperformers like Pederson who get full-time status on the strength of their April is canceled, to an extent, by early-season underperformers like Odor who don’t.
So is April more predictive than other months? Here’s a chart for batters, using OPS as the measure, comparing the correlation between batters’ full-year performance and that of each month.