Monday, June 27, 2011

Jim Tracy Is Having a Very Bad Season

When Jim Tracy took over as manager of the Rockies 46 games into the 2009 season, Ian Stewart was hitting .187, sharing time as third base with veteran Garrett Atkins and playing a little bit in left field and second base as well. Tracy made Stewart pretty much his everyday third baseman, and Ian played in 102 of the remaining 116 games. He rewarded Tracy by hitting 18 homers and driving in 50 runs in just over half a season.

And the Rockies posted the best record in their history.

Stewart got off to another slow start this year, after getting hurt and missing almost all of spring training. This time, though, Tracy was not willing to be patient and inserted the mediocre veteran Ty Wigginton as his starting third baseman after giving Ian Stewart a grand total of 52 plate appearances.

Carlos Gonzalez was called up from the minors shortly after Tracy took over the team in 2009, but showed very little early on. On the 4th of July, when the Rockies reached the midpoint of the season, CarGo was hitting .194 with one homer in 74 plate appearances. Yet Tracy stuck with him, and Gonzalez played like an MVP the rest of the way, hitting .313 with 12 homers in less than half a season. This year, Dexter Fowler was hitting much better than CarGo's early-2011 performance when Tracy decided to exile him to Colorado Springs.

The point is, Jim Tracy didn't use to solve his problems by getting rid of players who were underperforming. His greatest strength with those 2009 Rockies was his patience: He decided who could play, and he let them go out there and do it, no matter what their numbers said.

Tracy has been charged with always favoring a crappy veteran over a younger player, but that certainly hasn't been the case this year. Yes, Ty Wigginton is the epitome of the crappy veteran, but Fowler was replaced by the rookie Charlie Blackmon, and the crappy veteran second baseman Jose Lopez was replaced by the less-experienced Jonathan Herrera, who has now apparently been replaced by the even-less-experienced Chris Nelson.

The problem with Tracy, as I see it, is that he's not deciding who he wants to have on the field so much as he's deciding who he doesn't want out there. Particularly with Dexter Fowler, one got the sense that he didn't care whether or not he had a better player than Dexter, just so long as he got Dexter and all his strikeouts out of the lineup. Charlie Blackmon is not a better player than Dexter Fowler, and has never been a better player or a better prospect, but Tracy made the decision not to play Dexter, then looked around to see if there was anyone else he could put in the lineup. Similarly, he's decided that Seth Smith shouldn't play against lefties - without asking himself whether he had a better rightfielder than Smith who should play against lefties. That's how we got such ludicrous decisions as Eric Young Jr. starting in right field against the Yankees on Saturday.

The key question to ask yourself about Dexter Fowler, or about Ian Stewart, isn't "Do I want this player in the lineup?" The important question is, "Do I have a better player than this guy, or is he my best option?" Jim Tracy needs to start asking himself the latter question. It really doesn't matter who isn't playing center field. It very much does matter who is playing center field.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dexter vs. Charlie

A few days ago, I said that by the end of this month, Charlie Blackmon's OBP and slugging percentage would both be lower than Dexter Fowler's. Well, it's only the 25th of June, and Blackmon's OBP is .328 and his SP is .321. Meanwhile, Dexter has a .340 OBP and a .348 SP, and he's still at Colorado Springs.

Get that? The Rockies sent down a good defensive center fielder and replaced him with a left fielder who trails him in the two most important offensive categories. Brilliant.


Eric Young Jr. starting in right field, and batting second? There is absolutely nothing Eric Young Jr. can do like you'd want a major league right fielder to do.

It's hard enough to win games at the major league level; it's doubly hard when you completely punt one of your corner outfielders.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Seth Smith - or "Smitty," as the players cleverly call him - is an exceptionally good baseball player, but he doesn't seem to receive nearly the recognition he should. He hits for a good average, delivers power with doubles, triples and homers, knows how to take ball four, and plays a pretty good rightfield, although he had a couple of hiccups out there last night. Of course, after Brad Hawpe, I would probably look pretty good in rightfield.

Did you realize that despite the presence of Tulo and CarGo, Smith leads the Rockies in slugging percentage this year, by a pretty wide margin? His .925 OPS is also easily the highest among the regulars. He had a huge game last night, hitting two homers, driving in three of the Rox' four runs, including the game decider in the top of the ninth. And for all that, his name didn't appear in the Denver Post game story until the turn page.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Exile of Dexter Fowler

It's official: Dexter Fowler has been optioned to AAA, and he is no longer on the 15-day disabled list or on a rehab assignment. Dexter's career arc is very similar to Ian Stewart's. They both took over their starting jobs in 2009, and put in two seasons of more or less league-average play. They both got off to slow starts in 2011 and found themselves back at Colorado Springs.

Dexter is a year younger than Stewart; he's 25 and Ian is 26. Major league players tend to peak around the age of 27. The Rockies have two guys who have held their own in the majors the past two years and should be just entering their primes, and they're both at AAA.

I made the case for Ian Stewart being better than the man who replaced him, Ty Wigginton. It is even more obvious to me that Dexter Fowler is better than his replacement, Charlie Blackmon. There has never been a season in their lives, prior to 2011, that Blackmon was close to Fowler as a baseball player. Last year, Charlie Blackmon hit .297 at AA with 11 homers, which tied for fourth on the team. Honestly, after that performance, the guy should have been considered no prospect. The sum and substance of the evidence that Charlie Blackmon is a quality major leaguer consists of the past two weeks.

I guarantee you this: By the end of the month, Charlie Blackmon's 2011 OBP and slugging percentage, despite his famous hot start, will be lower than Dexter Fowler's 2011 OBP and slugging percentage, despite his famous slump.

It's hard enough to win a pennant in the major leagues. It's almost impossible to win a pennant when you're not putting your best team on the field.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Mr. Clutch

Ty Wigginton's last four home runs have been:

* A solo shot in a 9-1 Rockies loss.
* A solo shot in an 11-7 Rockies loss.
* A solo shot in an 8-2 Rockies loss.
* A solo shot in a 7-1 Rockies loss.

He hasn't homered in a Rockies win since April 26th. He hasn't hit a homer with a man on base since April 20th. Thanks a lot, burrhead.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sorry, Charlie

The feel-good story of the year for the 2011 Rockies so far has been Charlie Blackmon, who has hit .410 since his call-up from the minors a week and a half ago, including a scorching .688 in his last four games. While I hate to be such a Gloomy Gus, this is one bandwagon upon which I shall not be jumping. I say this for three primary reasons:

1) Blackmon is hitting about as empty a .410 as it's possible to hit. He's 16 for 39, but with one lone extra-base hit (a double) and no walks. Blackmon's OPS of .846 is actually lower than that of Chris Iannetta, who is hitting .235.

2) Blackmon's minor-league hitting record is not great. He was hitting .337 at Colorado Springs, but everyone hits like that at Colorado Springs. Brad Emaus is hitting .344 for the Sky Sox, and Josh Fields is hitting .365. Eric Young Jr. hit .363 down there before his recall a few weeks ago, and he doesn't look like a major-league hitter at all.

3) Blackmon's pretty old for a rookie; he turns 25 two weeks from yesterday. He's roughly the same age as the man whose job he took, Dexter Fowler. Dexter turned 25 in March. Look at it this way: When Dexter was 23, he was hitting .266, putting up a .363 OBP and playing a good defensive centerfield in the major leagues. When Blackmon was 23, he was hitting .307 and putting up a .370 OBP for Modesto in high-A ball. One of these gentlemen is a much stronger prospect than the other.

So while Rockies fans may have fantasies of Charlie Blackmon turning into some Caucasian version of Ichiro, he looks a lot more like the new Scot Thompson to me. What I suspect will happen is that his .410 start will earn him the left-field job for the bulk of the season. That batting average provides a hefty cushion; he could go 2 for his next 21 and still be hitting .300. As soured as Jim Tracy is on Dexter Fowler (and as little attention as he and Carney Lansford seem to pay to drawing walks), Blackmon's batting average is probably going to have to drop to around .250 before they recognize that Dexter is actually the better offensive player.

On the other hand, Blackmon is from rural Georgia, and his middle name is "Cobb." So maybe the fates are looking out for him.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cutting Tulo in Half

Troy Tulowitzki was a sexy preseason pick as the Most Valuable Player in the National League this year, and while Tulo hasn't exactly been bad, he hasn't really played at an MVP level, either.

But I wouldn't worry about it. Tulo has always been a pure second-half player; his numbers have improved after the All-Star Break every season of his career. And this is arguably the best first half of his career, comparable only to that of his rookie year. He's already set a career high in homers for the first half of the season, with 13, when his previous best was nine.

Take a look at this: Here are Tulowitzki's basic numbers, broken down by first half and second half, prorated to a 150-game season.

First Half
BA: .265 HR: 23 RBI: 77 Runs: 90 OBP: .340 Slugging: .456

Second Half
BA: .314 HR: 29 RBI: 111 Runs: 101 OBP: .382 Slugging: .541

So in the first half, he's the meh Cal Ripken, the run-of-the-mill All-Star shortstop of 1986 or 1996. In the second half, he's the MVP Cal Ripken of 1983 or 1991.

Tulowitzki has been accused of being a Coors Field creation, but his first half/second half splits are more dramatic than his home/road splits. If he's helped significantly by Coors, he's also helped significantly by July, August and September. And hopefully October.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On Building a Champion Without Resorting to the Likes of Ty Wigginton

I admit that part of my antipathy to Ty Wigginton stems from an esthetic choice. My preferred method of building a championship team, both in theory and in practice, is to develop through the farm system, or to acquire young players from other teams that haven't yet had their shot. Seeing a group of young men collectively find its way into the majors, and eventually coalesce into a champion, as we saw in Colorado in 2007, is much preferable to hauling in the likes of a 34-year-old Gary Sheffield as a free agent. To say nothing of hauling in a rummy like Ty Wigginton.

Do you know how many of the regulars on the 2009 Rockies, the winningest team in franchise history, had previously played regularly for other clubs? None. Carlos Gonzalez had played half a season (badly) in the outfield for the Oakland Athletics, and Yorvit Torrealba was the backup catcher for the Giants and Mariners, but neither of them ever played even 100 games in a season for another team. Everyone else who had as many as 100 plate appearances for that team came up through the Rockies system.

That's my idea of team-building. You develop young guys and give them a chance, or you bring in players from other teams and make major leaguers out of them. That's how you catch lightning in a bottle.

It's possible for a champion to succeed by bringing in other teams' used-up parts, as the Giants did last year. But I wonder if San Francisco will ever embrace Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell to its collective bosom the way we did Brad Hawpe and Ryan Spilborghs. I rather doubt it.

And make no mistake: If I felt that Ty Wigginton was going to be a crucial piece on a World Championship team, I'd be happy to have him aboard. But he's not. Cuz he sucks.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ty Wigginton Is Killing This Team

The Rockies were up 3-0 in the third inning of their game against the Dodgers Sunday afternoon when L.A. pitcher Rubby de la Rosa reached on an infield single. Jamey Carroll followed with a bounding ball two steps to the left of third baseman Ty Wigginton - a picture-perfect double-play ball, with Wigginton's momentum already moving him toward second base.

And then the ball clanged off his glove. Everyone was safe. After a bunt and a strikeout, it looked like Ubaldo Jimenez would get out of it anyway, but then he walked Matt Kemp, the hottest hitter in baseball, and James Loney hit the first pitch he saw for a grand slam. Dodgers lead, 4-3, and although the Rockies made a charge at the end, they'd never catch up, and ended up losing 10-8.

Whenever bad stuff has happened to the Rockies this season, Ty Wigginton has been in the middle of it. The turning point to the season, to my mind, came on Saturday, May 14, against the Padres. The Rockies had cooled off since their hot start, but they went into that game in a virtual tie for first with the Giants, and got out to a 7-1 lead at home, with Joulys Chacin rolling along. Then came a couple of walks, Chacin botted a grounder, and Wigginton flubbed a simple little bouncer. Before long the Padres had come all the way back, the Rockies fell out of first, and they have never been back.

Make no mistake: Wigginton botches the un-clutch plays as well. He's a dreadful third baseman. According to, Wigginton has been worse than replacement level in the field every year since 2004. He played for the Orioles last year, and the Orioles are a bad team, but even they had the sense to move him off third base last year.

But he makes up for it with his bat, right? No. Wigginton shows a little bit of power, but he has a mediocre batting average and never walks, so his on-base percentages are quite poor. He hasn't had an OBP above .320 since 2008. This year, he's at .310 Last year, by comparison, Ian Stewart's OBP was .338.

Ah, Ian Stewart: There's the rub, isn't it? As hitters, Stewart and Wigginton are pretty similar; Stewart has a lower batting average, but he walks more, so he's on base more often. Their power numbers are about the same. Defensively, Stewart is far superior. Then you have to consider that Stewart is 26, an age when most players are just entering their prime; Wigginton is 33, a journeyman on the downside of his career.

So you have another player who hits as well as your starter, fields much better, and has a much greater chance to improve his game - and you stash him in AAA. Why? Well, Stewart got off to that famous slump this year, after he was hurt in spring training, and his numbers are pretty ugly for the 2011 season. Then again, he did what the club asked, he went down to AAA and hit the snot out of the ball, earning a return trip to the majors.

On his second tour of duty with the Rox this year, do you know how many plate appearances he got before Jim Tracy decided Stewart wasn't any good after all? Twenty-four. He got six starts at third base before he was discreetly disposed of like an old tissue. Twenty-four times at bat was enough to throw a young slugger with the potential to hit 40 homers into the trash, for a guy the Orioles didn't even want.