Five Questions: Colorado Rockies

DENVER, CO - APRIL 06: First baseman Todd Helton #17 of the Colorado Rockies is welcomed home by Troy Tulowitzki #2 of the Rockies and Carlos Gonzalez #5 of the Rockies after they scored on Helton's three run homerun off of starting pitcher Chad Billingsley #58 of the Los Angeles Dodgers to give the Rockies a 5-4 lead in the third inning at Coors Field on April 6, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Here are five (actually six) questions with Rockies blogger Andrew J. Martin of Purple Row. The Pirates face the Rockies in the home opener Thursday.

What was your opinion of the massive contract the Rockies gave Troy Tulowitzki late last year? I know he's a terrific player and that many Rockies fans welcomed the deal, but to the outsider, it looks like an enormous an unnecessary risk, given the number of years Tulowitzki was already under team control.

The issue with so many outsiders not liking the deal is kind of a misunderstanding of Colorado’s business model. The seeming expected model of payroll efficiency is WAR converted to dollars and stack that against payroll. While it’s a good surface analysis of the process, it clearly doesn’t take things like merchandising and attendance into consideration. The fact is that Denver loves its sports heroes, and will shell out money to come see them. Even during the lean years, Colorado fans came out to watch Todd Helton. In fact, Colorado attendance has only dropped below two million per year in one season, 2005.

With Tulo, both sides had expressed interest in making him the new Helton. So why not get it done early, so there’s no chance of Boston or New York (or whoever) tempting him with a larger contract? If Tulo continues on as a ~6 WAR player, this contract will pay for itself. Take a look here if you are interested in reading more about the Rockies’ large contracts.

Do you expect new second baseman Jose Lopez to improve his numbers over those of last year, and will Coors Field help him?

Absolutely. For one thing, Safeco is absolute death to right-handed pull hitters. Coors Field is not. Lopez also has been suffering from extreme cases of lowBABIPitis, another thing that Coors Field will help with. 2010 was godawful, and there’s no excusing it, but if Lopez can do anything like 2009 (.883 road OPS), Coors Field could help him fill in the rest.

Is this the year Dexter Fowler finally breaks out? It isn't as if he has been terrible, but watching the guy, he the guy looks like a future superstar, and so far he hasn't played like one.

I’m going to venture a guess and say "maybe." I lean toward yes, but I hate picking breakouts. The thing that makes 2011 different is this: Fowler is the leadoff hitter. There’s no screwing around with him in the two hole or anything like that, he’s the leadoff hitter. He knows his role, he’s going to play to his role, and he has the tools to be something impressive. With his speed and gap power, Fowler could be a .360 wOBA player (something like .280/.370/.450). Remember, he did hit 20 doubles and 14 triples in 2010.

What were the causes of Jhoulys Chacin's breakout last year, and what do you expect from him this year?

I don’t know if I’d call Chacin’s 2010 a breakout. He wasn’t exactly languishing in his first couple of years in the league, because, well, he hadn’t had any. Chacin is just flat-out good. He has a changeup that’s been likened to Johan Santana’s, he has the ability to be striking guys out in the 6-7 K/9 range, and the stuff to induce 50-plus percent groundballs.

That said, I do expect some growing pains, but given a full season in the rotation, I imagine they’ll be 175-plus innings of growing pains. His K/9 and BB/9 were somewhat unexpected, given his minor league numbers, but we might be able to chalk some of that up to batter unfamiliarity. So like I said, perhaps a small step back, but not one that will lose his rotation slot. This is the beginning of what’s going to be an impressive career.

Esmil Rogers will be starting the Pirates' home opener. What does he throw, and what can we expect from him this year?

I’m going to catch flak for this, but Rogers won’t stick long. He’s a converted shortstop with a straight mid-90s fastball, a decent slider-curve mix, and a tenuous grasp on a changeup. The fact is that pitchers in Colorado need strong control of a changeup if a sinking fastball is not available. I really see him as more of a LaTroy Hawkins type. Then again, FIP/xFIP say that his ERA was overblown last year, that his six-plus ERA was BABIP-induced, so there’s that. I don’t have high hopes for him, but at the same time, I’m still going to root for him to hold the No. 5 slot until Aaron Cook returns.

Despite a successful season overall, the Rockies went 31-50 on the road in 2010. Does that concern you, and is that road record the result the team being built for the unique environment in Coors Field?

Yes, it concerns me. They were last in the majors in road batting by a long shot. The Rockies were far too "grip-it-and-rip-it" in 2010 - and also 2009. Those two clubs hold the top two marks in franchise history for strikeouts in a season. At least the 2009 Rockies also had the franchise mark for walks, to contextualize their strikeouts; the 2010 Rockies were about 75 walks behind that.

The team is somewhat built for Coors Field, but the misinterpretation is, "Well they just went and got a bunch of home run hitters!" This isn’t 1995 anymore. Coors Field isn’t "LOL homers" anymore. It’s still hitter-friendly, but the strength has shifted from strictly homers to power alleys. The Rockies' developmental model farms line drive hitters who ideally can take it to both fields.

Bringing in hitting coach Carney Lansford will hopefully show improvements in that area of performance over what former hitting coach Don Baylor had done. Lansford specifically wants to move the batters away from the home-run swing and use the whole field as it is. Whatever he’s done, it seems to be working thus far on catcher Chris Iannetta and right fielder Seth Smith. Third baseman Ian Stewart has been in and out of injury since the beginning of Spring Training, so the jury’s still kind of out on him.

The point is, Colorado has recognized their road struggles as something serious to rectify. Whether it works, well, we’ll have to see how it plays out.

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