After a full off season of projections and analysis. Where most pick the Rockies to win the NL west. This morning after reading most of the comments over at DT on Jon's "Looking back on 2010" post.(Sorry no link, I'm sure most of you know where to find it if you haven't already) Where many projected the same thing. I decided I had to look into why. My gut told me they got lucky last year. So I decided to look at some of the numbers.
I am mostly focusing on their starting rotation. As I've felt this is the main area most choose to point out. As the reason the Rockies will win they're first NL west title. I concede that the Rockies can hit. Although they scored only 24 more runs than the Dodgers in 2009. Where they really came through was a franchise low 715 Runs against (638 in 1994) in 2009. That's still 114 more runs than the Dodgers allowed.
Yes, the Rockies can finally pitch. I think to many people think they are still a Juggernaut offensive force at the same time. While still good for 2nd in the NL their 804 runs scored last year was the 5th fewest in club history. The club scored 860 runs in their NL championship season in 2007. The most since the humidor was introduced to Coors field in 2002. Where the team averaged 895 runs over 7 FULL seasons prior to the change. Not a huge drop off, but 56 runs is more than double the difference between the 2009 Dodgers and Rockies.
So lets take a look at the best starting rotation in Rockies history.
Ubaldo Jimenez is a very good pitcher. I would say one of the best in MLB. He is clearly the best on this staff. Posting a 3.47 ERA, 132 ERA+ 7.6 H/9, 3.3 BB/9, 8.2 K/9 all while giving up only .5 HR/9 while playing half his games in the slightly less jumpy Coors field. Over 218 innings pitched, very solid. I would expect similar number from Ubaldo. All his 2009 numbers where better than 2008, but not enough for me to project a great deal of further improvement in 2010.
Jason Marquis/Jeff Francis. Jason Marquis was the first half savior for the Rockies in 2009. The only consistent winner the first two months of the season. He won 7 of Colorado's 18 wins Before Jim Tracey took over. In fact he might have been the only guy on the team to miss Clint, as he went 8-10 the final 4 months of the season. Overall he had a good year posting a 113 ERA+ better than his career average 99 ERA+. Jeff Francis who will basically replace Marquis (who signed with the Nationals) after missing all of 2009 due to shoulder surgery. Has a slightly better 101 ERA+ for his career. Considered the staff ace in 2007 with a 17-9 record. Despite an ERA of 4.22. He will be hoping to return to his career best 2007 form. In all likelihood, if he can stay healthy he might repeat what Marquis did in 2009. I highly doubt he could put up better numbers. It's a virtual wash with a lot of potential downside.
Aaron Cook is the Rockies franchise leader in wins with 63. His 2009 ERA+ of 110 is right in line with his 111 ERA+ for his career. Cook has been fairly consistent in his career. He gives up a lot of hits ( and doesn't strike out many but he also keeps the walks down. He'll also give you innings if he can stay healthy. I would expect him to be about the same this season.
Jorge De La Rosa really seemed to start putting it all together once he arrived in Colorado. He was given regular playing time, and at 27 he became more consistent. He lead the starting staff with 9.4 K/9 in 2009 but he also had the worst walk rate 4.0 BB/9. Still he was second in WHIP because of his second best 8.4 H/9. At 29 he only has 589 MLB innings. Making his big league debut at 23 and struggling mightily early on. He has very good stuff, and might continue to improve. However there is just not enough there for me to count on that. Nor do I think any one else should.
Jason Hammel has improved slightly over the past 4 seasons. Though last year was his first season with more than 85 MLB innings. Much like Cook he gives up a lot of hits and doesn't strike many out. Last year he cut his walk rate in half. 2.1 BB/9 compared to roughly 4.2 BB/9 the previous 3 seasons. His minor league number where decent and he's still only 26 so he might still have some upside. I still don't think he will become anything more than average at this point.
So the three youngest of the five had career years. Jimenez probably still hasn't reached his ceiling, De La Rosa very well might have, and Hammel's is so low it doesn't matter. Marquis is gone. And Francis is going to have to match his carrier best 2007 season. Just to match what he did. All while trying to bounce back from a major injury. Cook is pretty consistent, but his 110 ERA+ is his worst since 2003. Not by much though.
One of the main arguments I've been hearing is about depth. While I feel the Rockies have one of the best benches in baseball. I think that is slightly off set by the fact that their regular starters aren't all the highest caliber players. The Dodgers bench should also be slightly if not significantly improved this season. As far as pitching depth. The Rockies got 67 wins in 155 starts from their top 5 starters in 2009. While the Dodgers got 43 wins in 126 starts from their top 5 starters. That is a large gap. It is a large plus for them. Now I don't know much about the Rockies pitching depth in their minor league system. So I won't comment on their ability to back up Francis when he goes down. The Dodgers managed 52 wins from their bullpen and various spot starts in 2009. That might not be ideal, but I certainly wouldn't call it THIN.
I would pick the Rockies over AZ,SF,and SD, but I don't see why they are favorite to win the division.
One more thing they're road ERA was 4.06 that's .35 lower than their home ERA of 4.41 at Coors field. Where they scored and average .53 more runs per game.