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The 2001 Rockies - World Champs or Biggest Disappointment Yet?

By The Denver Baseball Observer

March 28, 2001. The Denver Papers are ready to hand the World Series rings out to the Rockies' players today. But let's not be hasty, this team has some problems that will not be easy to overcome. By the same token, it is without a doubt the best Rockies team ever - on paper. You'll have to forgive the Observer if he has doubts about the ability of this organization to win where it counts - on the field. But, there are a lot of positives on this year's team, so let's look at them first:

  1. Todd "the wad" (referring to the cash he got in his contract extension) Helton. Simply one of the best players in the game today. Fun to watch, can carry the team on his shoulders.
  2. Larry Walker. Also one of the best in the game today, and a pleasure to observe. Larry can also single-handedly win ballgames in bunches.
  3. The outfield. Gant is a much better fielder than most people realize, Hollingsworth and Pierre at top-notch, and Walker is in a class by himself. If they stay together the whole year, they will make a lot of pitchers and fans happy.
  4. Most of the infield. Cirillo, and "The Todds" (Walker and Helton) are solid fielders that take away hits and cut runners down. Perez, unfortunately, is almost bad enough to negate the other three.
  5. Pitching. If the rotation avoids injury and prolonged slumps the Rockies will be hard to beat every day, at home and on the road.
  6. Field management. Buddy Bell and his staff have proven themselves to be professional, knowledgeable, hard-working and creative managers. It is truly a pleasure to watch these guys direct a team, especially after "Baylor Ball".
  7. Fans. The fans are still coming, though in smaller numbers and bringing a lot less enthusiasm. Gone are the spontaneous "Go Rockies" cheers that shook the stadium like thunder. But, the fans can still rock the joint when they have something to cheer about, and that has to demoralize the opponents and invigorate the home team.

Here are some of the little problems that will have to be overcome for the Rockies to be champions:

  1. Ownership - The Rockies are being run by Jerry McMorris and the Monfort brothers. The former made his money in the Trucking business and the latter through the meat packing business. They are not baseball men, and have not shown themselves to be great managers. What they have shown is a willingness to blame everyone else in the organization for their problems and to step in and make ill-conceived moves at the slightest provocation. Forbes says the Rockies are worth $343 million, maybe it's time the three of them took the money and ran. 
  2. Depth - Even though the team appears to be solid almost everywhere, there are generally no alternatives if any regular goes down for a protracted period, with the exception of the outfield.
  3. The middle of the infield makes champions, and the Rockies have a big problem at shortstop. Neifi Perez is simply a terrible shortstop, but unfortunately he is "sneaky bad". He won the Gold Glove for fielding last year and he always hits around .300. If you look at the statistics, he seems great. What you don't see is that he is out of position at the beginning of every play - he plays too deep and toward second and never adjusts to hitter's tendencies, thus allowing more hits than most other shortstops. Also, he is frequently caught daydreaming, being out of position on a play that usually results in errors given to other fielders, and allows base runners to take extra bases. At the plate, he is prone to strangeness - faking bunts at inappropriate times, missing signs, swinging at bad pitches. He does not have a good enough on-base percentage, and most of his hits are at "garbage time", rather than when they are needed. On the other hand, Todd Walker at second is a great fundamental player, both on the field and at bat.
  4. Leadoff hitting - Pierre is a big question mark, if he doesn't set the table for the "boppers", it is going to be hard to win games anywhere.
  5. Competition - The Dodgers, Diamondbacks, and Giants all improved themselves in the off season. The Rockies had a six year window in which to win the championship in the West while all of the other teams were mediocre. The window may be closed now. 

Predictions

  • The Rockies will finish third in the West by a hair. If they get a few breaks, they will beat the Dodgers for 2nd and contest for the Wild Card. The Diamondbacks will win the West. If LA and Arizona collapse, the Rockies will win the West. Their record will probably be 90-72.
  • Helton will probably have an off year, dropping to .350 with 35 homeruns and 120 RBI.
  • Walker will return to form, winning the batting title and MVP.
  • The "Blake Street Bombers" will be back with Gant, Hollingsworth, both Walkers, and Helton hitting at least 20 home runs. This may be the first team with 3 Todds hitting 20 or more dingers.
  • Hampton will have a monster year, winning 20+ games, and having a great year with the glove and bat. He may win the Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and Cy Young awards. Or, he could get injured in April and spend the year on the DL.
  • The editorial quality of the two Denver paper's sports departments will continue to plummet now that they are a government-sponsored monopoly. Don't believe anything they say.

Position-by-Position Assessment

Catcher - Neither Mayne or Petrick are great defensive catchers, but Mayne seldom makes mistakes and Petrick will be the same kind of backstop in the near future, possibly by the end of this year. Both are good hitters, with Petrick having a chance to become exceptional, with the bonus of speed and instincts on the base paths.

First Base - Helton is one of the best in the field and at bat. Unfortunately, there isn't much behind him so he will have to start at least 150 games for the Rockies to contend.

Second Base - Todd Walker is solid all around. His backup will be Shumpert or Butler, which leads to some drop-off, but not much. If Walker hits 20-30 homers, it will be a huge boost for the Rockies title chances.

Shortstop - The Rockies need to replace Perez. It probably won't be this year but luckily Perez and his agent will not sign a multi-year contract so he doesn't fit in the team's long-term plans. If they trade him and get even a mediocre shortstop in return, the pennant is guaranteed.

Third Base - Jeff Cirillo is solid with the glove and bat. He is also proof that moving to Coors field doesn't make doubles hitters into home run champs. Jeff averaged 14 home runs in the four years before he came to Colorado and hit just 11 last year (did you see that Ron Gant?).

Left Field - Ron Gant and Todd Hollingsworth will platoon in left. Gant still has tremendous power and shows flashes of the superstar he could have been. Hollingsworth has been inconsistent, but could be reaching his prime. He is an excellent fielder with good speed and an average arm, hits well with power and hit even better on the road than at Coors.

Center Field - Juan Pierre was spectacular last year, both in the field and at bat. He has been criticized for being just another Hunter/Goodwin type, but there's nothing wrong with that in the Rockies scheme. If he can maintain a high on-base percentage and field his position, that's all they need to win.

Right Field - Walker fields the position as well as anyone in baseball history. If he regains his old form at the plate, it will be a fun year for everyone except opposing teams.

Bench - Roberto Kelley has the tools to be a great role player, Shumpert fills in everywhere and hits.  Norton is no Cirillo, but may be an able fill-in and pinch hitter. Brent Butler looked good in spring training and may be a good utility player.

Starting Pitching - Hampton will lock down the number one slot and become a fan favorite. After that, who knows? Neagle has been mediocre for years, Astacio is inconsistent, Bohannon seems to be getting better and may be #2 by year end. Villone is an unknown, and there will probably be several #5's as the season progresses. After Hampton, it's basically pray for lots of Rockies runs.

Relief Pitching - A big bright spot last year, should and must continue for the Rockies to win 90 games. It looks like they have enough arms to maintain it no matter who has good and bad years.