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    Friday, June 29, 2012

    Retired Numbers Series: Colorado Rockies

    Covering newer teams in the Retired Number Series is always interesting-it makes me feel like I’m living through history. Despite the Rockies’ newness, I have no recollection of MLB without them; seeing them retire their first number number feels like it should be something of a milestone, even as someone who is a fan of other teams. And, with several successful runs in their short history, they are not lacking in good candidates.

    Notes on the Numbers
    Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.

    There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.

    The Already Retired Numbers
    The Rockies, as mentioned, have not yet retired any numbers.

    Compared to the League
    With no retired numbers, the Rockies are obviously last in every way that I can compare teams’ standards. The Rockies are one of three teams without any retired numbers. The other two are the Mariners and the Rockies’ partners in the 1993 expansion, the Marlins (the Marlins did originally retire 5 for their first president, but have since rescinded the move). It is interesting to note that both teams newer than the Rockies, the Diamondbacks and the Rays, have each retired a number.

    So Who’s Next?
    The Rockies seem to have some of the straightforward cases of any team I’ve covered. To start with, Todd Helton leads the team in both bWAR (58.7) and fWAR (62). As the team’s first home-grown star and a career Rockie, Helton would obviously make a fitting choice for the first retired number in team history when he hangs it up. Number 17 has played with the team since 1997, with his first full season in 1998. Interestingly, this seems to again parallel the Mariners, who appear to be waiting to retire Ken Griffey, Jr.’s number before anyone else’s. This brings up the question of when the Rockies will retire Helton’s jersey: will they retire it immediately, or wait to see how he fares in Hall balloting? I would assume the former, but I really have no evidence either way.

    Part of the reason that it’s clear the Rockies want to retire Helton’s number first is that Larry Walker has a very compelling case to have his number retired as well, yet the team has held off. And the team does indeed appear to be considering retiring number 33; no one has worn it since Walker left in 2004. They do have a good reason for doing so; Walker immediately follows Helton on both WAR lists (47 fWAR and 46.5 bWAR). Walker spent 1995 through 2004 with Colorado.

    Third place on both lists is current shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who first played with the team as a 21-year-old back in 2006. Tulowitzki seems to have claimed the position of heir to Todd Helton as the team’s franchise player as well, with a contract that runs through 2020 (with an option for 2021). To date, he has posted 25.8 bWAR and 26 fWAR, meaning the 27-year-old is in good position to eventually pass Walker, and possibly even make a run at whatever Helton sets as the franchise record. Tulowitzki wears number 2.

    Tulowitzki recently passed Matt Holliday, who had 17.5 bWAR and 22 fWAR while playing for the team from 2004 to 2008. Had he stayed with the team to build on those marks, he might have stood a chance. However, since he will be with St. Louis for the foreseeable future (“the foreseeable future” being through 2016 or 2017, in this case), his chances at retired number-dom seem slim at best.

    On the subject of former Rockies who now play elsewhere, Ubaldo Jimenez stands atop the pitching bWAR leader board with 17.8 (for reference, he also had 20.3 fWAR while with the team). Even if he were still with the team, his case would look rather precarious, as he seems to have flamed out over the past year after peaking in 2010. Also, it appears that he may have burned some bridges in Colorado, further damaging his case. Jimenez wore 38 while pitching with the team from 2006 to 2011. He may get some sort of bonus for being the team’s first true ace, but I doubt that will be enough to overcome all the holes in his case.

    Following Jimenez on the pitching leaders list is Aaron Cook, and as solid as he was (15.4 bWAR from 2002 to 2011), he was hardly ever great.

    Returning to the position players, Blake Street Bombers members Vinny Castilla and Andres Galarraga follow Matt Holliday (Castilla is fifth on both lists, while Galarraga is sixth in bWAR and seventh in fWAR). Castilla spent nine years (1993 to 1999, 2004) with the Rockies while posting 15.9 bWAR, 18 fWAR, and some wildly-inflated pre-humidor numbers. While his run with the team was solid, number 9 does not stand out the way his teammates Helton and Walker did. Galarraga is similar: impressive-looking yet inflated numbers, and decent but not great value (13.4 bWAR, 14 fWAR). On top of that, he played even fewer games with the Rockies than Holliday (but from 1993 to 1997). I suppose it’s worth mentioning Dante Bichette at this point. However, he didn’t play with the team as long Castilla (only seven seasons, 1993 to 1999), and his value was far less (3.1 bWAR, 8 fWAR). I don’t see the team dropping this far down the list for candidates.

    That just leaves current members of the team then. Carlos Gonzalez is swapped with Galarraga on the charts (seventh in team history in bWAR and sixth in fWAR). In his fourth year with the team, 26-year-old Gonzalez has already put up 13.1 bWAR and 15 fWAR. He’s off to a strong start this year, and under contract through 2017. I wouldn’t call him a favorite just yet-he has a long way to go to even get close to Walker. But he does have time and age on his side at the moment, both of which can make a big difference. (Also, as a side note, I find it interesting that Gonzalez, who arrived with the team in the Holliday trade, took over Holliday’s old number 5 upon arrival.)

    On the note of youth and potential, the team has a handful of young pitchers in Drew Pomeranz, Juan Nicasio, Christian Friedrich, Alex White, and Jhoulys Chacin, each of whom comes with a varying pedigree. Chacin is the only one who’s shown anything at the major league level to date, but even he’s having a down year. On the position player side, their equivalent would be former top-15 prospect Dexter Fowler, who is 26, but only an above-average regular so far. Obviously, none of them is at all likely this early in their careers, but I figured I should mention them for the sake of completeness, especially since no one else on the roster stands out as even promising.

    So, In Closing...
    As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the Colorado Rockies in the future are, in order:

    Todd Helton-17
    Larry Walker-33
    Troy Tulowitzki-2
    Carlos Gonzalez-5
    Matt Holliday-5
    Vinny Castilla-9
    Ubaldo Jimenez-38
    Dante Bichette-10
    Andres Galarraga-14
    Jhoulys Chacin-45
    Drew Pomeranz-13
    Alex White-6
    Dexter Fowler-24
    Christian Friedrich-53
    Juan Nicasio-44
    Aaron Cook-28

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