The unofficial halfway point of the baseball season is upon us. Or is this the official halfway point? Whichever it is the Rockies have played 92 of the 162 games they will play in 2011. It is the All-Star break and other than Troy Tulowitzki the Rockies have three days of rest and relaxation.
After losing on Monday to the Washington Nationals the Rockies are five games under .500 and 8.5 games behind the San Francisco Giants for first place in the National League West (and 10.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card race). The Rockies enter the break losing six of their past eight games.
Carlos Gonzalez is getting another MRI on his wrist today, Tulowitzki missed games this past week with a leg injury, Jorge De La Rosa is out until probably about this time in 2012 and Aaron Cook is still on the roster. The Rockies have had to recall Ian Stewart, who after going 2-for-3 in yesterday’s game is now batting .106 on the season, and Dexter Fowler remains in AAA Colorado Springs. Ubaldo Jimenez had what can best be described as a shockingly awful first half for his standards, but…
…Jimenez did toss eight innings of five hit, one run baseball Saturday. In those eight innings he touched 97 a few times, his two-seamer had a ton of movement and he K’d eight Nationals in those eight innings against only one walk.
Things are looking up and for a guy who routinely views the Rockies as half empty, I will do my best to see the world for the pretty flowers, not the manure they grow in.
Which other players had a good first half for the Rockies? I actually have five Rockies, not named Tulo or CarGo, from the first half that I think did really well.
Todd Helton: Remember how many Rockies fans were actually asking that Jason Giambi replace Helton at first base last year? How many Rockies fans were asking that Helton retire or be traded after last season? Has there been a better everyday player for the Rockies in 2011?
We should have seen it coming. Helton is becoming one of those players who plays well only in odd year seasons. Starting in 2007 Helton’s OPS+ has alternated by season: 133, 97, 127, 85 and 130 in 2011 (100 is average, anything above is good, below is bad). Helton already has 10 home runs and the last time he hit 20 was in 2005. His on-base percentage is one point below .400 going into the break and he was really a deserving representative for the All-Star game (which makes me wonder how come he didn’t get a call, everyone else has!).
Helton’s glove at first base is still one of the best in all of baseball and now that he is back in the third spot in the lineup and producing Rockies fans are back to petitioning on Helton’s behalf for the Hall of Fame.
Juan Nicasio: Some might think this is a surprise pick. Nicasio does sport a 4.91 ERA in 44 innings in 2011but his xFIP of 3.63 says he could get better in the second half. Nicasio was in AA when the Rockies called upon him to fill gaps left in the rotation by De La Rosa and Esmil Rogers.
Nicasio’s fastball is electric and if he can develop a solid secondary pitch he will be a force. Nicasio has struck out 34 batters in his 44 innings and only walked 13. His ratio is close to 3:1 and anytime a pitcher carries a 3:1 ratio of strikeouts to walks it is a good thing. Nicasio is only 24 and a relatively new pitcher in professional baseball as he was signed later than most kids out of the Dominican Republic.
And while Nicasio is only 24 he isn’t the youngest pitcher in the Rockies rotation, the youngest pitcher is…
Jhoulys Chacin: It sure feels like Chacin is older than 23. When he pounds his glove in disgust while on the mound remember that he is barely old enough to drink legally in the United States.
Chacin has 39 career starts and after making 21 starts for the Rockies in 2011 he is definitely in the rotation to stay. In a model of consistency Chacin has a 3.28 ERA which is exactly what his ERA was in 2010. Chacin is striking out about two batters for every batter he walks and his only issue so far in 2011 is that he is allowing over one home run per nine inning (1.2 to be exact). If he can get that number back below one per nine his ERA will drop.
When Chacin is on the mound he gives the offense a chance to win the game. Chacin has only allowed more than five earned runs in a game once in 2011. In 11 of his 17 starts he has allowed three runs or fewer and with De La Rosa out due to injury and Jimenez struggling Chacin has been the Rockies best starting pitcher in 2011.
Chris Iannetta: Among catchers with 200 plate appearances in the National League Iannetta is second in home runs, second in on-base percentage, third in OPS, first in pitches per plate appearance (by a LOT), second in wOBA, third in WAR and third in wRC+. If your name isn’t Brian McCann you are likely trailing Iannetta in numerous offensive categories.
Iannetta strikes out a lot (tied for most in the NL among catchers) but he also walks a lot (16 more walks than McCann to lead the NL). This shows in his batting average but can we finally get past looking solely at batting average to judge a player offensively. It really is a poor statistic.
It isn’t only at the plate that Iannetta succeeds either; he has been very good behind the plate. Iannetta leads the NL in fielding percentage at the catcher position and only Geovany Soto has thrown out more potential base stealers.
Seth Smith: This might be bad timing as our most recent memory of Smith is of this past road trip in which he recorded only three hits in 18 at-bats. But it took that 3-for-18 to drop his average to .292 and his on-base percentage to .348. Outside of Helton there hasn’t been a more consistent batter for the Rockies in 2011.
Since the May 1st (skipping the first month of the season when an average can go up or down quicker than a ride at Elitch’s) Smith’s batting average has never been below .272 (in the .270’s between May 9th and May 15th) and never been above .315. In that same time frame his on-base percentage has never been below .330 or above .373. In April Smith hit .306/.358/.528. In May he hit .303/.376/.539. In June his numbers jumped WAY up to .308/.340/.516. Oh and he has hit two, three and three home runs in each of the first three months, respectively.
Smith has been as consistent as Rush Limbaugh looking under every rock to discredit Obama.
There are definitely some bright spots so far in 2011. The Rockies should be OK with Iannetta as their everyday catcher for at least one more season (Wilin Rosario isn’t hitting as well as the organization would hope at AA). The quest for Helton to get into the Hall of Fame will need to be built on lofty hit and double totals and it looks like he has at least a few more seasons in him to pad those stats and make the first real good argument for a Rockies player to get into Cooperstown. If Niscasio continues to develop the Rockies could have a formidable rotation in 2013 with Jimenez, Nicasio, Chacin and De La Rosa. Finally, I think Smith has proven to be a serviceable everyday right fielder for the Rockies. He isn’t going to be an All-Star but a guy who hits as often as he does, gets on base as often as he does and hits 15-20 home runs a year is definitely valuable.
Anyone you think I missed? I admittedly skipped over the bullpen as that position can fluctuate greatly from year to year or even month to month.