Friday, July 20, 2012

All-Time Teams #9: Colorado Rockies

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

Finally, I get a well-deserved break after seven difficult teams in a row. (Of course, you wouldn't know that by how long it's taken me to get this one completed.) Now, don't get me wrong. The older franchises are much more interesting when it comes to assembling these teams, but there are more decisions I'm more likely to agonize over. When it comes to teams like the Diamondbacks and Rockies, there's just so much time I'm willing to spend on filling out the final spots on the roster.

For instance, how in god's name was I supposed to choose this team's pitching staff? There were a few fairly obvious choices, but after that it all kind of ran together.

Thankfully, there are modern metrics to make some sense of what would otherwise look like a collection of really bad pitchers. Instead, they look like a group of mostly mediocre-at-best hurlers, but so be it.

Since this franchise wasn't exactly known for its starting pitchers, for the first time in this series we get a bullpen filled with actual relief pitchers. Of course, they're not much to write home about either.

OK, I'll stop piling on the team that's only in its 20th year of existence and get to naming the actual players I selected.

Franchise History
Colorado Rockies (1993- )

Starters
C - Chris Iannetta (2006-2011)
1B - Todd Helton (1997- )
2B - Eric Young (1993-1997)
SS - Troy Tulowitzki (2006- )
3B - Vinny Castilla (1993-1999, 2004, 2006)
LF - Matt Holliday (2004-2008)
CF - Carlos Gonzalez (2009- )
RF - Larry Walker (1995-2004)

Rotation
Ubaldo Jimenez (2006-2011)
Aaron Cook (2002-2011)
Pedro Astacio (1997-2001)
Jeff Francis (2004-2008, 2010, 2012- )
Jason Jennings (2001-2006)

Closer
Brian Fuentes (2002-2008)

Reserves
C - Jeff Reed (1996-1999)
1B - Andres Galarraga (1993-1997)
IF - Clint Barmes (2003-2010)
3B/1B - Garrett Atkins (2003-2009)
OF - Ellis Burks (1994-1998)
OF - Dante Bichette (1993-1999)
OF - Brad Hawpe (2004-2010)

Bullpen
Steve Reed (1993-1997, 2003-2004)
Bruce Ruffin (1993-1997)
Jerry Dipoto (1997-2000)
Jose Jimenez (2000-2003)

Manager
Don Baylor (1993-1998)

I can't say I have any overly analytical method of choosing the managers for these teams. Generally, it's the managers who lead the most successful teams that tend to be recognized as the best, and my approach doesn't stray too far from that formula.

For a team like the Diamondbacks, it was easy to think of Bob Brenly, the guy who managed them to the only World Series title in their brief history, as the choice. But, for the Rockies, I went with Baylor, because he led them to three consecutive winning seasons (including their first playoff appearance) in their third-through-fifth years of existence.

Clint Hurdle may have guided them to their only World Series appearance, but it was their lone winning season of his six-plus year tenure, and was mainly the product of a late-season hot streak that, incidentally, came to a rather sudden end at an inopportune time.


Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

Larry Walker deserves to be the Rockies' first Hall of Famer, plain and simple. The main argument against his candidacy is he played the majority of his career in the hitter-friendly Coors Field of the late '90s and early '00s. But, as I wrote about him back in January, his numbers more than hold up when advanced adjustments are made. His OPS+ of 141 is right there with many offensive-oriented Hall of Famers, including Duke Snider, Eddie Mathews, Reggie Jackson and Harmon Killebrew. The latter three, in fact, were selected as deserving of the Hall of Fame's inner circle by the voters in Baseball: Past and Present's latest project (Mathews is deserving, Jackson and Killebrew are questionable as "inner circle" types, but clearly Hall-worthy).

Larry Walker

Where Walker's case suffers a bit is his lack of a lengthy career. Not that it was abbreviated per se, but his 16 years (not counting a 20-game stint as a 22-year old) included four seasons of less than 400 plate appearances, two at the end of his career and two presumably due to injury. So, his career total of just over 8000 plate appearances is less than impressive, but it would be far from the lowest total among Hall of Fame position players.

Furthermore, as this handy visualization produced by Adam Darowski shows, Walker's career value numbers measure up compared to the current Hall of Fame population. (Drag Walker's target over that of the HOF median player to see what I'm talking about, then come back and continue reading.)

Are you back? Good.

As you observed, the inner ring and bullseye of Walker's target line up almost perfectly with the HOF Median target, meaning his career Wins Above Excellence and Wins Above MVP, both measures of peak value, are better than just about half of all Hall of Fame position players.

Just as, if not more, importantly, the outer portion of Walker's target (career Wins Above Replacement) is larger than the HOF Median, meaning his induction would actually improve the overall quality of Hall of Fame non-pitchers.

Considering there's no confusing him with a compiler, this is quite impressive. In fact, it's Hall of Fame worthy, in my book.

Next Up: Detroit Tigers

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