Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the Colorado Rockies. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
2011 was nothing short of a disappointment for the Rockies, who were considered by several to be a serious contender for the pennant when they broke camp in March. A 17-8 record in April was great, but didn't seem to be out of line. Injuries and down years from a shocking number of players led to just 56 over the rest of the season, good for a 4th place finish in the NL West.
2012 looks like it could be an in-between kind of year. Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, both acquired for Ubaldo Jimenez at midseason, look like they could contribute soon, but not quite yet, and not much was done over the offseason to address gaping holes in the infield. Veterans Casey Blake and Marco Scutaro will fill in the gaps while the organization waits on the arrivals of Nolan Arenado and...well, second base is a huge problem. On the pitching side, Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio are doubts to start the season healthy (though Nicasio has recovered quite nicely, considering), so O'Dowd took the curious step of acquiring, among others, Jeremy Guthrie (career fly ball%: 41) and Jamie Moyer (career fly ball %: 40.4). It seems so strange to say such negative things about this team, given what the consensus was just one year ago, but here are the Rockies, a team who will struggle to place third in the division.
It's not as extreme as it was in the pre-humidor days, but Coors Field is still a fantastic place to hit and an awful place to pitch. Adjust accordingly.
Manager & Coaching Staff
2009 NL Manager of the Year Jim Tracy was recently handed a contract extension by GM Dan O'Dowd, a curious decision indeed. Tracy is reportedly very good at handling the clubhouse, but his on-field decisions can be maddening. His runners are aggressive on the basepaths - Colorado had more steal attempts than anybody else in the league in 2011. It looks like he's going to be around for a little while longer, so you can expect random give-up lineups, erratic bullpen management, and players playing out of position in 2012 and beyond.
Expected Position Battles
Jeremy Guthrie and Jhoulys Chacin are the only guys guaranteed spots in the rotation, so there's a wide-open race for 3 spots. Basically, there are 6 guys competing for these spots, with the understanding that De La Rosa will get his spot back whenever he returns. Meanwhile, Nicasio will probably have to prove himself before being handed back the job, something he might be able to do in March anyway. Candidates include Jamie Moyer (NRI), Guillermo Moscoso, Josh Outman, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, and Tyler Chatwood. This race is almost impossible to handicap, so let's take a brief look at each player's fantasy value:
Moyer: He's 49 and last pitched in 2010, when he gave up 20 homers in 111.2 innings.
Moscoso: He was a fringe pitcher in fantasy before he left Oakland. His fly ball percentage in 2011 was 55.5%, so the switch from O.co to Coors will not be kind.
Outman: No helpful fantasy skills. The only non-Moyer lefthander in the group, which gives him a chance to stick.
Pomeranz: If he can find a way to miss bats at the major league level, he'll be a useful midseason pickup.
White: He was humbled in his 10 game MLB debut last season. Coors didn't help; he gave up 9 home runs in only 16.2 innings pitched there. The home ballpark will always be a problem, but even those numbers are extreme. He needs to control the walks, which will help him be more effective later in games (His BAA third time through the order was a healthy .396). There's upside, but not enough worth gambling on.
Chatwood: Has all the looks of a guy who was promoted too soon.
Nicasio: The risk-averse may find value in Nicasio from a late-round draft pick. He was on his way to a very respectable rookie season when he was injured, and the speed of his recovery is very encouraging.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Dexter Fowler - CF
Marco Scutaro - 2B
Carlos Gonzalez - LF
Troy Tulowitzki - SS
Todd Helton - 1B
Michael Cuddyer - RF
Casey Blake - 3B
Ramon Hernandez - C
Fowler will be the leadoff hitter, assuming he won't need a AAA stint to get his season turned around for the third straight year. New starting catcher Ramon Hernandez has played 97, 91, and 81 games in the last 3 years, so Wilin Rosario should get plenty of plate appearances as his backup.
Jhoulys Chacin | Jeremy Guthrie | Juan Nicasio? | Drew Pomeranz? | Josh Outman?
Could the Rockies give up more than 800 runs this year?
Closer Rafael Betancourt is a beast (more on him below), but is there anybody who can get him the ball other than Rex Brothers? Brothers is nice and young at 24, he strikes a ton of people out, and he keeps the ball on the ground. He's a good bet to take over for Rafael if anything goes wrong, though he could stand to keep the walks down. As I mentioned, nobody else really warrants a mention for 2012, but for some reason Edgmer Escalona intrigues me as guy who could be relevant down the road.
Potential Fantasy Sleeper
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
Rafael Betancourt in 2011: 9.13 K/BB, 1.01 HR/9 as a member of the Rockies, 0.87 WHIP
Betancourt has all the peripherals of an elite closer, but he's not being drafted that way, presumably because he's 36 and Brothers is waiting in the wings. Don't worry about Brothers; at 23 among RPs, Betancourt is a fantastic value. The "undervalued because his job is in question even though there's no real reason to believe he'll play his way out it" discount is one of my favorite discounts.
Spring Storylines to Watch
I'm sorry to keep going on about injury recovery almost every day in this space, but Juan Nicasio's return from a broken neck is endlessly fascinating. I don't know much about medicine, but I showed the details of the injury to my wife, who is an emergency room nurse, and she said she's surprised he's even alive, much less getting ready to pitch again. I'm rooting for this guy hard.
Follow the Team
Broadcaster: Drew Goodman (Twitter)
Andrew Martin (Twitter)
Rox Girl (Twitter)
Andrew T. Fisher (Twitter)
Bryan Kilpatrick (Twitter)
Greg Stanwood (Twitter)
Other blog(s) of note:
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.