Baseball with an Altitude

Baseball with an Altitude has moved…again by Drew Bienhoff
June 12, 2006, 1:02 pm
Filed under: Rockies

Baseball with an Altitude has been invited to join the All-Baseball community over at Most Valuable Network, which is the home of Dan Lucero and Up in the Rockies.  Hopefully this will become the permanent home of BWAA. It offers this blog more exposure to more baseball and Rockies fans. David, the resident Minor League expert, will also be joining me at the new site.

CLICK HERE for the new home of Baseball with an Altitude or click this:

Thanks for reading and I look forward to seeing you at the new site! Drop me a comment and let me know what you think.


Time to Refocus by Drew Bienhoff
June 10, 2006, 11:51 am
Filed under: Rockies

After spending the last few weeks thinking about the draft, I had to bring myself back to the Majors after I was somewhat disappointed by the decisions made on Tuesday by the Rox scouting department (more on that later courtesy of David). Still, I trust Schmidt, Geivett, and company to make the right choices. Now, as for the Rockies…

The Rox managed to eek out a series victory against the Pirates thanks to some offensive fireworks. Jamey Carroll had a whopping 8 hits in 10 at-bats over the final two games.  After seeing the offense knock 14 hits, 5 sac flies (tied the ML record), and 6 extra base hits, I was hoping it would be a game that would get the offense back on track.  Of course, they went out and laid an egg against Brad Penny last night.  Still, the resurgent Penny has had the Rockies' number thus far this year.  He's 3-0 in three starts against Colorado with a 0.47 ERA. Ouch. With two more tough matchups in Brett Tomko and Derek Lowe looming ahead, we'll find out which Rockies offense we can expect to see more of – the one that lit up Oliver Perez or the one that got dominated by Penny.  Unfortunately, I think the outburst against Pittsburgh was an aberration.

The Rox also made a transaction yesterday, acquiring Kaz Matsui from the Mets in exchange for the underutilized Eli Marrero.  The Mets chipped in $4.6 million as well, so the Rockies only have to pay Matsui what he is owed for the rest of this season (about 450K). This is a nice move by Dan O'Dowd.  Matsui had no future in New York, where he seemed to be bothered by the big city and obviously never lived up to his potential.  Kaz has a chance of regaining his Japanese All-Star form in the low pressure situation in Colorado. If he doesn't, then the only loss would be Marrero, who was expendable with Jorge Piedra making his season debut. A solid low risk, high reward deal. Matsui was sent down to Colorado Springs to get some reps in at shortstop. I'd be fine with Kaz taking some of Barmes' at-bats, although Clint has been picking it up lately, hitting .333 over his past 10 games (most of which were at home).

Draft Preview by Drew Bienhoff
June 6, 2006, 12:58 am
Filed under: Rockies

David here, back with a draft preview instead of an MLU: 

Andrew Miller, 6-7, 210, LHP, UNC, 21 yrs old

Miller entered this spring as the top-rated prospect for the 2006 draft and proceeded to live up to that lofty billing. Miller wound up being the highest non-signing of the 2003 draft, and proceeds to attend North Carolina and has improved every season, becoming more consistent and more dominant. He dominated in the wood-bat Cape Cod League each of the last two summers and was rated as the league's top prospect by Baseball America in both years. He did not allow an earned run in seven of his first 13 starts and surrendered just four extra-base hits, and he didn't lose his first game until May 12. He had 290 strikeouts in 270 career innings, setting the North Carolina career record with at least two starts remaining. At 6-foot-7 and 210 pounds, Miller has an ideal frame with a clean delivery and easy arm action. His four-fastball registers consistently in the 93-95 mph range and can touch the upper 90s. This year he has used more of his two-seamer, relying more on sink and movement than velocity. He pitches at 89-92 with the two-seamer. Miller also has a major league offering with a mid-80s slider with a sharp bite. He uses his sinking, two-seam fastball in replacement of a changeup. He easily led the NCAA DI in ground ball outs, a good sign he is pitching low in the zone. He can miss his spots at times and tends to be a bit wild in the strike zone. Another concern for scouts is that Miller's long, lanky body may lack the strength to allow him to be a workhorse starter or to maintain his stuff deep into starts. Similar issues affect his mechanics and could raise injury concerns as well. Still, the consensus has Miller joining a rotation at the major league level as soon as 2007, but there is a thought by some scouting directors he will one day be at the back end of the bullpen with his fastball-slider combo.

Evan Longoria, 6-2, 215, 2B/3B, Long Beach St., 21 yrs old

 After emerging last summer with an MVP performance in the Cape Cod League, Longoria enters the draft as the consensus choice as the best of a weak crop of hitters. He wasn't drafted out of high school or in junior college, but his game and body have matured since then. Longoria has grown two inches and 25 pounds since junior college, adding strength to a smooth swing that generates solid-average power. He has excellent hands that translate well both at the plate and in the field. Longoria's bat speed gives him at least average power, and it allows him to let balls get deep and use the entire field. While he filled in at shortstop last spring for the injured Troy Tulowitzki, the eventual No. 7 overall pick of our beloved Rockies who is playing currently at Double-A Tulsa, Longoria has played mostly third base in 2006 and is a solid defender there with plenty of arm strength. If drafted, he will eventually join his college teammate up the middle of the diamond. He would play second base, where he'd be a Chase Utley-like player with better defense.

Brad Lincoln, 6-0, 200, RHP, Houston, 21 yrs old
Lincoln began building momentum as a possible 2006 first-rounder with a breakout performance in the Cape Cod League last summer. He has continued improving and made himself a candidate to go to the Royals with the No. 1 overall pick, and the Rockies have had discussions about him. Lincoln raised his arm slot while on the Cape and became more confident challenging hitters. He's throwing more downhill, making his size (6 feet) less of an issue, and locating his pitches better in the strike zone. He pitches at 93 mph with good life on his fastball, touches 95-96 and has peaked at 98. He holds that velocity throughout games. His curveball is equally as impressive, and he can throw it for strikes or break it out of the zone as a chase pitch. He also shows feel for a changeup that's an average to above average pitch already. Lincoln is close to big league ready. Dont fall for the Jason Jennings comparions. Lincoln is smaller in stature and has bigger "stuff", possibly the best in the draft. He brought more consistency to the mound than any other college pitcher this season.

Luke Hochevar, 6-4, 200, RHP, Fort Worth (Indy League), 22 yrs old (23 on Sept 15th)

Rated the second-best college starter in the 2005 draft, Hochevar tied for the NCAA Division I lead with 15 wins and led Tennessee to the College World Series. He was a candidate to go No. 1 overall to the Diamondbacks, but his signability dropped him to the Dodgers at No. 40. If this were the first year he was eligible, he would in no doubt grade out as the best player in the draft. On Labor Day weekend, Hochevar switched agents from Scott Boras to Matt Sosnick and agreed to a $2.98 million bonus. Then he switched back to Boras, reneged on the deal and accused the Dodgers of trying to force him into a bad deal. His path is similar to Angels prospect Jered Weaver, who sat out the year and then ended up signing. He has turned into one of the best pitching prospects in the game. Dan O'Dowd admitted to the Denver Post the other day that he has had discussions with Scott Boras concerning Hochevar. Aiming to re-establish his worth for the 2006 draft, Hochevar has joined the Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association. His first two starts he lit up the radar guns from 90-97 mph with his fastball. Hochevar also showed his mid-80s slider, and he can turn to a curveball and changeup. His command isn't as sharp and his stuff starts to drop by the fourth inning, both products of his long layoff but should be better over time. He has had trouble repeating his delivery, but overall he has looked just as he did early in 2005. Also, he is a Colorado product, as he was raised in Fowler, Colorado.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse… by Drew Bienhoff
June 4, 2006, 6:43 pm
Filed under: Rockies

Oh where, oh where has my offense gone? A complete inability to hit the baseball just resulted in one of the most embarrassing sweeps in recent memory. The Rox managed a whopping five runs over the three game set against the Marlins, giving them 22 runs over their last dozen games.  That's a putrid average of 1.8 runs per game!  It's not like they're facing Oswalt, Smoltz, or Webb either.  They're getting dominated by Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen, among others.  Honestly, who saw this coming? I sure didn't.  I figured the team might be playing a little over their heads in April, but I didn't think that anyone was far exceeding their expectations. Well, what a difference a month makes.  Check out the difference in OPS between April and May for the Rockies regulars (I'll ignore catcher since it has been a revolving door):

Helton: 1.162 (April) vs .706 (May)
Carroll: .833 vs .733
Barmes: .673 vs .319
Atkins: .973 vs .798
Holliday: .772 vs 1.216
Sullivan: .918 vs .496
Hawpe: 1.109 vs .884

If it weren't for Holliday, the King of May and the lone exception to the rule, this team would have sunk below .500 long ago. With the way they're hitting the ball, it's a miracle they made it into June above .500 (you can thank the great starting pitching for that.) Helton has been a non-factor since his return from the DL.  Carroll has been more or less the same, but not quite as effective.  Barmes went from a bad MLB regular to a guy destined to spend time at AAA.  Atkins has killed some rallies by grounding into untimely double plays.  Hawpe has still been good but just not to the extent that he was in April.

Despite all that, the main culprit responsible for this offensive collapse has been Cory Sullivan.  His inability to make good contact (.179, 22 K in May) out of the leadoff spot has sent this offense into a tailspin.  If he's not setting the table, Helton is hitting with the bases empty.  Todd is at his best with runners on base. If the top of the order isn't producing, that puts a lot of pressure on the less talented bottom of the order to try and make something happen.  And as we've seen lately, these hitters don't perform well when they're pressing.  Hopefully Ryan Spilborghs (9 for 30, 2 HR) can step in and do what Sullivan has failed so miserably to do.

Still, to be fair, everyone is at fault for this collapse.  The ship needs to be righted quickly or this could turn into a season-ending June swoon.  With the Pirates coming into town tomorrow, the Rox badly need to avoid losing their fifth straight series.  Aaron Cook is on the hill in the first game against the Buccos' Ian Snell. Cook needs to show once again that he is the ace and the stopper in this rotation.

Not Again… by Drew Bienhoff
June 2, 2006, 4:49 pm
Filed under: Rockies

Tuesday's loss against Chris Young was a tough one.  The combination of Young on top of his game and an unusually wide strike zone by home plate umpire Travis Reininger didn't give the Rox much of a chance.  Aaron Cook was the recipient of yet another hard-luck loss despite giving up only 2 earned runs over 7 innings.  Cook's record stands at 5-5 despite the fact that he has not allowed more than 3 ER or gone less than 6 innings in any of his five losses.  By going out and giving the Rockies a chance to win in every one of his 11 starts, Cook has cemented his status as the ace of the staff.

Unfortunately, the stranded runner beast reared its ugly head again on Wednesday.  The Rockies had ten hits to San Diego's four yet they couldn't seem to buy a key hit to drive in the baserunners.  Colorado stranded 20 men on base, including leaving runners in scoring position in the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th innings. The same lack of clutch hitting that has plagued the team over the past month cost the Rockies a very winnable series.  Ending a roadtrip exclusively through the NL West at 2-7 is unacceptable if the team wants to remain competitive in what is quickly becoming the best division in baseball. 

On a more positive note, the pitching (notably, the rotation) has been excellent thus far. The team ERA going into tonight's game against Florida stands at 4.12, 7th in all of baseball. Unfortunately, this fabulous pitching is being wasted thanks to a lack of run support.  I suppose it only figures that at the time the Rockies are pitching the best that they ever have in their 13.5 year history, the offense is performing at its worst.  The Rox have managed only 222 runs thus far through 53 games, good for 28th in the MLB, ahead of only the lowly Cubs and Royals.  That puts them on pace for 678 runs scored, which would easily be the lowest in franchise history (current low is 758 by the 1993 expansion Rockies).  If the team wants to have any chance of staying competitive in the division, the offense needs to kick into gear this homestand, starting tonight against Dontrelle Willis and the Marlins.  If the offense can get rolling again, the Rox may find themselves back in first place before the All-Star Break.

Finally…It’s Over by Drew Bienhoff
May 29, 2006, 12:07 pm
Filed under: Rockies

The wait for Barry Bonds 715th homer and the Rockies' terrible start to the road trip finally ended on Sunday, as Bonds went yard and the Rockies erupted for a six run fourth inning.  Personally, I'm just glad that baseball fans are going to get a rest from the "Bonds 24/7 Channel" that ESPN transformed into for the past month. 

As far as the actual game went (besides the 715 circus), the Rockies played pretty well.  BK had a pretty decent start, keeping the Rox in the game before handing it over to the bullpen.  Martin, Ramirez, King, and Fuentes returned to old form (old meaning this past April) and shut down the Giants, allowing only a single hit over 3 2/3 innings. 

This game was huge for the Rox as they avoided falling to .500 for the first time since starting 2-2.  Not only that, but they are heading to San Diego and Petco Park, where they have hit well in the past.  Taking two out of three in this series is a must, as the Rox have their top 3 starters going as well as the luck of avoiding Jake Peavy.  A sweep is probably too much to ask for, but if the Rox ended this road trip 4-5 after starting 0-5, that would be a tremendous accomplishment.  The pressure lies on the offensive end because the rotation keeps going out and pitching well.  If the bats start rolling, this team just might get back on track as they head into June, where they will face cupcakes such as the Marlins, Pirates, and Nationals.  While this division is going to be a tough one to win, don't count the Rockies out just yet.  If they can stay at or slighty above .500, they'll remain in the race deep into the summer.  Los Angeles and San Francisco are one key injury away from falling back towards .500, Arizona's overused bullpen (Valverde is struggling) and poor production out of the two through five starters in the rotation could bring them back to earth fairly soon. San Diego just isn't a threat in my opinion.  I'd be surprised if they finished above .500.

Quick and Ugly Series in LA by Drew Bienhoff
May 25, 2006, 3:55 pm
Filed under: Rockies

Wow.  I did not see that coming.  The idea of getting swept did cross through my mind after the first loss, but I never thought the Rox would look that bad over three games.  The offense was just plain brutal against two mediocre pitchers in Seo and Sele and a pretty good Brad Penny. This time around the problem wasn't that the Rockies were stranding runners in scoring position but rather they just couldn't find a way to get runners into scoring position.  The few times they did, moronic baserunning (sending Gonzalez with nobody out and Helton on deck? Nice job, Gallego) killed the rallies. I'm going to hope that this was just a bad series and the bats can get hot again, but I'm slightly worried because the offense has been pretty lukewarm for quite awhile now.  Still, as disappointed as I am in the way the team played, I have to remind myself of what Hurdle said after Wednesday's loss:

"If you tie your emotions to a three-game swing in baseball, you'll go crazy."

One of the few intelligent things to come out of Clint's mouth.  Well said.

As the Rockies head to San Fran with their tail tucked firmly between their legs, they find themselves in a position where they badly need to win the series. They need to prove to themselves (and the fans) that the egg they laid in LA was merely an abberation.  The good news is that Jeff Francis is toeing the slab tonight, but the bad news is that Jason Schmidt opposes him.  Still, Jeff should keep the Rox in the ballgame, so it's up to the offense to snap out of its funk and get this team out of the L column.