Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post has a brief article up today imploring the Colorado Rockies to make some changes if the team is going to be able to compete in the NL West this season. The bulk of Kiszla’s argument centers around moving the aging Todd Helton out of the 3rd spot in the lineup and the acquisition of a big name pitcher to stabilize the starting rotation. While Kiszla’s argument is a valid one, I don’t think it’s quite a complete one.
Helton has been a fixture in the Colorado lineup since his late season debut in 1997 at the age of 23. Now, at 36 (he’ll be 37 in August), Helton just isn’t the feared hitter that he once was. While still more than capable of batting over .300 he is no longer the power threat of old and he struggles to drive in runs like he did when he did earlier in his career. However, the blame for that isn’t solely tied to the fact that Helton has gotten old quickly. The lineup around him has changed dramatically over the years. It’s a team built differently and the lineup isn’t setup in the way that it should be in order to maximize the abilities of those penciled in each day.
The Rockies should start their lineup off with the guys who can get on base and manufacture runs with their speed. Eric Young Jr. and Dexter Fowler need to hit first and second in the lineup. This would give the guys hitting third and fourth – i.e. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitski – opportunities to drive in runs on a consistent basis. Following Tulowitski should be Sean Smith or Brad Hawpe, whichever happens to be in the lineup that day, and then Helton, Ian Stewart, and Miguel Olivo. On the days where Clint Barmes starts at second instead of Young, bat Fowler first and Barmes second.
As Kiszla mentions within his article, Young’s best position defensively is second base. The trouble with getting him into the lineup on a daily basis is the production the team gets from Barmes and the fact that members of the team’s front office and management staff think very highly of him. It’d be tough to relegate him to the bench and limited duty. Young has been tried in the outfield in an effort to get him into the lineup more frequently but his defensive prowess has hurt the team more often than it’s helped. Plus, with the outfielders this team already has it doesn’t seem prudent to bench one of them in favor of the inexperienced Young.
As for fortifying the starting rotation, I’m not certain that a big name guy is the best way to go. For starters, the team already has an ace in Ubaldo Jimenez. Aaron Cook and Jhoulis Chacin give the team two more quality starters and in due time we should see Jason Hammel, Jorge De La Rosa, and Jeff Francis back from injuries. That’s six viable starting pitchers (assuming Francis can regain some of his old form) and little room for a top-of-the-line starter such as Roy Oswalt, as Kiszla suggests. Would Oswalt (or another top starter) help this team? Absolutely. What team wouldn’t he help? But the argument that this team needs an Oswalt-like acquisition just seems unnecessary to me. They’d be better served finding some bullpen help while they wait out the return of Huston Street and Taylor Buchholtz. Franklin Morales, Rafael Betancourt, and Manny Corpas have been solid at the backend of the bullpen, but inconsistent enough that they could use the assistance.
Kiszla was right, the Rockies could use some changes. I just don’t think that they need to be as dramatic as he lets on. Besides, the team is sitting at .500, just 3.5 games behind a San Diego team that can’t possibly maintain the production they’ve been getting. Hope is not lost in Colorado. After all, the NL West is one of the weaker divisions in baseball and this Rockies team has the talent to win it.
The guys over at MLB Trade Rumors initiated a brief discussion this afternoon about some of the remaining free agent starting pitchers that are still unsigned even as the first month of the season nears a close. Like most who’ve discussed the subject to date there was a focus on the four big names amongst those without contracts – Jarrod Washburn, Pedro Martinez, Braden Looper, and John Smoltz. While it seems as though many have covered (sometimes time and time again) these four pitchers and where their respective paths may end, I’d like to ask about one of the other names on the list of remaining free agents.
Drafted in the first round (30th overall pick) of the 2001 draft out of Pepperdine University, Lowry signed shortly after the draft and moved quickly through the San Francisco Giants minor league system, making his Major League debut with four short September appearances in 2003. The southpaw bounced back and forth between the Majors and AAA throughout the 2004 seasons but did manage to make 16 appearances (14 starts) in a Giants uniform. His fourth start earned him career victory number 1 as he hurled a complete game shutout against the Cincinnati Reds. That year the Giants went 10-6 in Lowry’s appearances with the rookie posting a 6-0 record, a 3.82 ERA (115 ERA+) in 92 innings, with a K/9 rate of 7.0.
Despite the modern day obsession over pitch counts and innings limits for young starters, Lowry seemed to arrive just at the forefront of that line of thinking and would see his workload increase dramatically in 2005. Over 204.2 innings across 33 starts (just over 6.2 innings/start) he posted a 13-13 record, a 3.78 ERA (113+), while increasing his K/9 rate to 7.6 and lowering his HR/9 rate to 0.9.
The following April the Giants signed their young left-hander to an extension that covered his three arbitration years and contained a club option for his first year of free agency. Lowry struggled that season to a 7-10 record with a 4.74 ERA (95 ERA+) in 159.1 innings (27 starts). It would be his poorest year-to-date while he battled a number of nagging injuries – mild oblique strain in April forced him to miss a month and elbow trouble caused him to miss most of September. The 2007 season saw a marked improvement as he posted 14-8 record in 156 innings (26 starts). His ERA improved to 3.92 (114 ERA+). But again, his season was cut short due a forearm injury.
August 29, 2007 Lowry started for the Giants at home against the Colorado Rockies. He would give up 7 hits, 7 ER, 3 HR, while walking four batters. He would be pulled after two batters in the fourth inning. The Giants would lose the game 8-0. Lowry hasn’t started a game since then.
The forearm injury that cost him the end of the 2007 season would cost Lowry the 2008 season as well after surgery to repair what the Giants team doctors diagnosed as exertional compartment syndrome. After sitting out the entire season, he once again had to go under the knife in the Spring of 2009 in order to alleviate continued shoulder problems associated with the original injury. That May he was rediagnosed as having thoracic outlet syndrome and most questioned whether the initial surgery should have been done at all.
As early back as December we started to see rumors about potential interest in signing Lowry for this upcoming season scattered about MLB Trade Rumors. Some of that interest ended up amounting to nothing as many teams simply filled their needs via other avenues. But there hasn’t been any active interest in signing him even as we come to end of the first month of the season.
There are a number of teams that currently have a need in their starting rotation and a 29 year old left-hander with the track record that Lowry has should at least be able to find a minor league deal somewhere, shouldn’t he? As far as I can tell he hasn’t had any setbacks in recovering from injuries and I don’t recall any announcements that he was retiring.
They say you can never have enough pitching. With the money that team’s just throw away when they release ineffective/aging/overpaid players there ought to be a few hundred thousand dollars available to take a flyer on Lowry rediscovering some of his potential.
2,430 games. 21,870 innings. 108 double stitches per ball. Baseball is officially back as of 8:00 PM tonight!
Spring Training games start later this week so what better a time to make some early predictions for the upcoming season.
Division / World Series Winner(s)
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies
NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West: Colorado Rockies
NL Wild Card: Arizona Diamondbacks
NLCS: Arizona at Philadelphia
AL East: New York Yankees
AL Central: Chicago White Sox
AL West: Seattle Mariners
AL Wild Card: Boston Red Sox
ALCS: Seattle at New York
World Series: New York over Philadelphia in 6 games
National League Awards
MVP: Chase Utley (runner-up: Albert Pujols)
Cy Young: Dan Haren (runner-up: Tommy Hanson)
Rookie of the Year: Jason Heyward
All Star Game starting pitcher: Roy Halladay
American League Awards
MVP: Miguel Cabrera (runner-up: Ichiro)
Cy Young: Felix Hernandez (runner-up: Josh Beckett)
Rookie of the Year: Wade Davis
All Star Game starting pitcher: C.C. Sabathia