During last night’s broadcast Alanna Rizzo, Root Sports roving reporter, went in-depth in discussing how much the Rockies lineup had changed since Opening Day. She elaborated on the fact that the Rockies have had seven different players at second base, seven play third, eight different outfielders, 10 different starting pitchers and even three different starting first basemen. This all was a sort of round about way of giving the Rockies an excuse for their poor play compared to preseason expectations.
I think it is self inflicted.
In 2009 when Clint Hurdle was fired as the Rockies manager and Jim Tracy promoted from bench coach to skipper the first thing he did was solidify the Rockies lineup. On a daily basis after Tracy was promoted you could find Clint Barmes in the same spot in the lineup day in and day out and Barmes responded after that vote of confidence (for a period of time anyway). Whether it was the repeating lineup or whether it was a shock of reality to the players that they got their manager fired, it worked.
What did Tracy do coming out of Spring Training in 2011? Immediately tinker with the lineup on a daily basis. He refused to announce who the everyday second basemen would be, was Todd Helton batting fifth or fourth, who was the team’s everyday right fielder and there was even some questions around who would play third base. Really the only certainty Rockies players, and fans, could count on was Troy Tulowitzki at short, Carlos Gonzalez in left and Dexter Fowler in center and the rest of the lineup was up for debate before each game. This doesn’t even take into account where the players would bat in the lineup, which was even more hectic.
Another thing we know about baseball is that everyone – even the greatest – go through slumps. The Rockies came out of Arizona with a fairly young team and that would indicate that there would be even more slumps. I think Tracy and the Rockies organization had their expectations entirely too high. There was no room for a slump because at the first sight of an 0-for-10 streak, a youngster was getting sent to AAA. If anything these kids need patience and confidence, not fear.
Let’s look at some of the defensive positions in which the Rockies have had a lot of turmoil and/or numerous players playing that position. What should have been the expectations of the Rockies brain trust going into 2011? And did they overreact to small sample sizes?
Last night Rizzo keyed on second base and said the team hasn’t had constant production from the position and that has forced the team to use seven different players at one of the most important defensive positions on the field. Starting the season at second was Jose Lopez who entering the 2011 season carried a career .297 on-base percentage (which was higher than his 2010 OBP and 2010 marked the third season in a row in which his OBP dropped from the previous season). What did Tracy and the Rockies front office expect? When Lopez was cut from the Rockies his OBP was .233 and I think the Rockies brought this disaster on themselves when inking Lopez in the first place.
Enter Jonathan Herrera who to most fans was an immediate Godsend. The small package that carries Herrera’s heart and soul was never big enough for Tracy so Herrera never stood a chance to play every day (but apparently Mark Ellis who is the same size is big enough?). Herrera doesn’t have enough at-bats in the big leagues for anyone to really know what to expect from him but it does look like he will provide a good glove and slap hits with no power. That’s an acceptable player for the position if the power positions hit like they should (and they haven’t). At the beginning of May Herrera had a .430 OBP and then Tracy started sitting him every third or fourth game. His playing time slowly decreased – think of the consistency I talked about earlier – and his numbers started to fall. Whether it was Herrera just regressing to his ability or the playing time, either way he was never given a fair shake.
Finally we have Chris Nelson, the last player to get a “serious” look at second base. Nelson had hits in 12 of his first 18 games, including his first two big league home runs, and in the back-end of those 18 games he was in a “slump” (1-for-5 isn’t good enough, I guess). The former first round pick was given four games to work out of his slump. Four games! On June 20th Nelson was 1-for-5 against the Cleveland Indians, he didn’t start the next. Then he started four games in a row, didn’t get a hit in any of them and just a few days later was sent back to AAA. Thanks for playing.
Now the Rox are using Mark Ellis at second base and one thing is for sure; he will enter a slump in the very near future. His career track record says he cannot keep up the torrid pace he has set since joining the Rockies. When that happens what will Tracy do? Based on his track record this season Ellis with either be designated for assignment or relegated to bench duty. Who will take his spot?
Tracy will give the vet more than four games to get out of a slump. He always lets veterans play out of slumps, much more so than rookies.
Most stat heads say that a player needs 1,000 plate appearances in the big leagues before anyone can really understand how a player will perform in the big leagues; Fowler had 1,050 career plate appearances entering the 2011 season and his triple slash going into 2011 was .259/.351./401. At the time of his release he was batting .238/.340/.348. His average was down slightly compared to his career average. We know Tracy looks at average before OBP but what I am not sure of is if Tracy knows the difference between Fowler’s 2011 average of .238 and his career average of .259 is four measly base hits in 2011 (I did the math). If Fowler had 54 hits instead of 50 he would be batting .257 and I bet he would still be with the Rockies. Four hits! The only real drop to be concerned of after only 200 at-bats was his power and Dex isn’t a power guy.
The Rockies front office (this can’t all be on Tracy) just expects too much from Dexter at this point. He isn’t going to hit .300 and as long as he gets on base about 35% of the time all is good. I am still not sure why he was sent down. Give me CarGo, Fowler and Seth Smith in the OF any day of the week.
For some reason the fans of the Rockies could see who should be starting in right field for the Rockies long before Tracy. Tracy has over managed entirely too much and this includes “protecting” his left hand batters from left hand pitchers. I think anyone will tell you that they would rather have Smith’s bat in the lineup over Ryan Spilborgh’s any day of the week. It was as if Tracy believed that Smith is physically incapable of hitting left hand pitchers. A light bulb finally went off over Tracy’s head when the Rockies were in New York and Smith got a hit off of C.C. Sabathia (a very tough lefty) and drove in the Rockies first run of the game on June 25th. Since then Smith has played almost every game no matter who is starting against the Rockies. And not only has Smith been yanked in and out of the lineup depending on the opposing starting pitcher, he has had at least one plate appearance in every position of the lineup in 2011 except fourth and eighth.
Tracy continues to preach that it will take more than 25 guys to get the Rockies to the postseason, that he needs to utilize his 40-man roster. The Rockies clubhouse staff should just install three or four rotating lockers because it seems like a new player is brought up from AAA on a weekly or even daily basis. Cole Garner was just with this team long enough to experience Turner Field for a day and get one at-bat.
Can anyone really say what the Rockies “A” lineup has been at any point this season? Would you be even willing to bet $5 that you could guess the Rockies lineup before walking into Coors Field? Who is batting second? Who is playing second? What about right field? Left? Who is playing third base now that the Rockies recalled Ian Stewart? (I didn’t even touch on Stewart’s misfortune of only being allowed 52 plate appearances, that can be best described as sporadic, before being sent to AAA.)
In years past when I brought my scorebook to Coors I would challenge myself by writing in the Rockies lineup before it was announced. In 2011 I wouldn’t even bet half a bag of peanuts that I could guess the lineup.
The randomness and mass use of player personnel is a direct reflection of Tracy and the Rockies front office. It has been done because of misguided desire rather than need, as Ms. Rizzo tried to elude to last night.