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Know Your Enemy: Colorado Rockies 2011 Preview

2010 Record: 83-79 (3rd) - 9-9 vs. Arizona
2010 OPS+ 92
2010 ERA+ 112 (2nd)
Key departures: Miguel Olivo (1.6 WAR), Clint Barmes (1.0), Joe Beimel (0.8), Jeff Francis (0.5)
Key arrivals: Jose Lopez (1.6 WAR), Ty Wigginton (0.4), Matt Lindstrom (0.3)
2011 Projection: 83-79 (CAIRO), 83-79 (BP)

There was no Rocktober in 2010 for Colorado, as they lost all but one of their last fourtteen games down the stretch, to finish well out of the hunt for a playoff spot. Their off-season was less about getting new players as retaining existing ones. Both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez signed lengthy contract extensions, and free-agent Jorge De La Rosa will be back with the Rockies for at least the next two years. But will it be enough to maintain their recent record of odd-year success?

For the first time since Pedro Astacio in 1999, the Rockies MVP last year, as measured by BR WAR, was a pitcher. Ubaldo Jimenez roared out of the gate, going 13-1 in his first fourteen starts with a 1.15 ERA; in the sole defeat, he allowed one earned run in seven innings. We were heartily sick of the sight of him, as three of those victories were over Arizona, Ubaldo allowing two runs in 21 frames. While the .245 BABIP proved unsustainable - it was a more normal .298 the rest of the way, and Jimenez went 6-7 with a 4.34 ERA - he still became the first pitcher in franchise history to have a sub-three ERA while throwing over 120 innings.

Colorado will certainly need Jimenez to be the ace he showed he can be, though most projections expect his ERA to be the other side of three in 2011. Behind him is another promising young pitcher, Jhoulys Chacin, who compiled a 3.28 ERA in 137.1 innings, and who only turned 23 last month. De La Rosa, Aaron Cook and Jason Hammel will fill out the rest of the rotation. The bullpen might be among the most under-rated aspect of the team: last year, all five relievers with more than 40 IP, had an ERA+ above 100, led by Matt Belisle's 92 innings of 158 ERA+. If they can get a full year of a healthy Huston Street, that will do no harm at all.

If the team had a weak link, it was the offense. Not often you can write that about a team playing in Denver, but they simply couldn't hit away from Coors. Theur season road line was .226/.303/.351, an OPS 212 points lower than at home. Gonzalez and Tulowitzki represented almost the entire offense: they produced 10.1 WAR, while the rest of the Rockies' hitters combined for only 3.7 WAR. Management didn't seem to do much to address this in the winter, except a trade for Jose Lopez to cover second-base. They seem to be relying on improvement from younger players like Dexter Fowler and Ian Stewart, and maybe a bounce-back from the Toddfather.

If the Rockies are to compete, they have to play better on the road. In 2009, they went 31-50; the only three teams with worse records in the NL, were the trio who finished bottom of their respective divisions. On the other hand, Colorado had a better home record than the Giants or Reds, so whatever they're doing at Coors - and here's where the tin-foil baseball caps come out, naturally - they would want to keep doing it. I don't think the Rockies are as close as they think, and for a team that sat nine games back, did little to close the gap. There's a reason both projection systems expect Colorado to win exactly the same number of games as last year.

I think they may do slightly better overall, but I can't see Carlos Gonzalez repeating his .384 BABIP from last year, and that would make it even tougher for the Rockies to catch up. While they can't possibly be as bad on the road as they were (can they?), I'd have them at 85 wins and a solid, non-playoff second-place in 2011.