The Rivalries: Diamondbacks vs. Rockies

The Rivalries: Diamondbacks vs. Rockies

The Arizona Diamondbacks have enjoyed more immediate success than any expansion franchise in history, while the expansion Colorado Rockies initially had middling success, but no winning season in the past six years. Now, the two franchises come off seasons with identical records, and both are built young for the future. But who comes out ahead this season?

Most prognosticators have the Diamondbacks ranked much higher than the Rockies, but when examined position-by-position, the teams appear to be pretty evenly matched: 

Catcher
Rockies -
Yorvit Torrealba, Chris Iannetta
Diamondbacks -
Miguel Montero, Chris Snyder

Each squad has a top prospect and a steady option at backstop.  Ianetta's minor league numbers are superior to Montero's, however the lefty-righty platoon situation favors the D'Backs.  Pseudo-veterans Torrealba and Snyder can each handle themselves admirably behind the dish, but neither will turn many heads with the stick.

Edge: Even

First Base
Rockies -
Todd Helton
Diamondbacks -
Conor Jackson

Todd Helton has declined the past couple of seasons, while Conor Jackson is surely still on the rise.  Will CJ surpass Helton's offensive numbers this season?  Probably not.  Helton's drop in numbers was partially caused by the Rockies' increased reliance on the Humidor, and therefore hasn't been as precipitous as it seemed.  There's no doubt that Jackson is more that ten times the value of Helton and his $16.6 M/year contract, but in a non-keeper fantasy draft, you'd still be a bit foolish to take the Arizona product at this point. 

Edge: Rockies

Second Base
Rockies -
Jamey Carroll
Diamondbacks  -
Orlando Hudson

Carroll put up some interesting splits last year:  .375 Home/.220 Road, .359 vsL/.228 vsR, .324 1stH/.272 2ndH.  Since he doesn't really hit for power or steal bases well, the batting average tells the story for him.  It appears that opposing managers figured out that he can't hit righties in the second half, and were able to get him into unfavorable matchups.  He was useless away from Coors.

Orlando Hudson also struggled away from home, but he improved in the second half.  He has more in his offensive bag of tricks than merely hitting for a high average, and is hands down the better defender.

Edge: Diamondbacks

Third Base
Rockies -
Garrett Atkins
Diamondbacks -
Chad Tracy

The Rockies have one of the most underrated players in baseball manning their hot corner.  He led all major league third basemen in runs scored and runs driven in, plus was runner up in hits, doubles, on base percentage, and OPS.  His so-so defense will allow prospect Ian Stewart to bump him to the other side of the diamond in 2008, but for the time being he is one of the top five offensive third baseman in the game.

Chad Tracy had problems making contact and fielding the ball cleanly last season.  But even if he somehow bounces back to the offensive numbers he put up away from the hot corner, he's not as impressive a hitter as Atkins is.

Edge: Rockies

Shortstop
Rockies -
Troy Tulowitzki, Clint Barmes
Diamondbacks -
Stephen Drew

Tulowitzki and Drew are both going to develop into incredible hitters in a few years, but neither is ready to provide better than league-average offense in 2007.  Being a year-and-a-half older with many more games under his belt, Drew will likely outperform Tulowitzki this season. Clint Barmes can spell Troy with fantastic defense, but he had one of the worst seasons with the bat that you'll ever see last year.

Edge: Diamondbacks

Utility
Rockies -
Kazuo Matsui
Diamondbacks - 
Alberto Callaspo

Kaz Matsui has been a bigger Japanese bust than Hideki Irabu to this point, and doesn't figure to improve now that he's on the wrong side of 30.  Meanwhile, Callaspo had as good of a minor leaguer season as anyone last year, and could be the starting shortstop or second baseman for several major league ballclubs.

Edge: Diamondbacks

Outfield
Rockies -
Matt Holliday, Willy Taveras, Brad Hawpe
Diamondbacks -
Eric Byrnes, Carlos Quentin, Chris Young

Holliday and Hawpe provide quite a bit of thunder for the Rockies.  Holliday performed better in '06, but expect  Hawpe to outdo him in '07.  The Rockies should get something akin to Juan Pierre 2002 from Willy Taveras, both on offense and on defense. 

Carlos Quentin appears likely to match the performance of either of the Killer H's, but overall, the Arizona outfield lacks the Rockies' thunder.  Colorado is also a lot deeper here; Cory Sullivan, Jeff Baker, and Ryan Spilborghs would each out-hit Eric Byrnes if given the same number of at bats. 

Edge: Rockies

Top of the Rotation
Rockies -
Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Rodrigo Lopez, Josh Fogg
Diamondbacks  -
Brandon Webb, Randy Johnson, Livan Hernandez, Doug Davis 

You could consider Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook both as solid #2 starters for a team.  You could consider Rodrigo Lopez and Josh Fogg as solid #5 starters on most teams.  So if the Rockies were to acquire an ace and a solid innings-eater (think Doug Davis or Livan Hernandez), they would have a fine rotation.  As it stands, there are a lot of question marks.

The Diamondbacks have probably the best pitcher in the NL, Brandon Webb, and a five-time Cy Young Award winner in Randy Johnson.  Even though the Big Unit likely won't pitch until the end of April, it would be a huge upset if the top four pitchers in their rotation did not combine for over 800 innings pitched. 

Edge: Diamondbacks

Bottom of the Rotation
Rockies -
Byung-Hyun Kim, Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz
Diamondbacks -
Enrique Gonzalez, Dustin Nippert, Micah Owings

Here's where things get interesting for the Rockies.  Jason Hirch could be that ace the Rockies need, but how soon can he develop?  Kim and Rodriguez have similar credentials to Lopez and Fogg.  There's a decent chance that at least one of those four pitchers has a good season for the Rockies.  Also, Brian Lawrence should be healthy by mid-season, and could provide a boost if the club still doesn't have five reliable arms by then.

The Diamondbacks have just as many options for the back end of their rotation; they just aren't likely to need it as badly as Colorado will.  Arizona's options are exclusively prospects; no proven retreads are competing with them for the #5 rotation spot, nor the Randy Johnson placeholder position. 

Edge: Even

Bullpen
Rockies -
Brian Fuentes, LaTroy Hawkins, Ramon Ramirez, Tom Martin
Diamondbacks -
Jose Valverde, Jorge Julio, Juan Cruz, Tony Pena, Doug Slaten

Talent-wise, The Rockies bullpen has a slight edge.  In addition to the four fine pitchers listed above, the Rockies have access to Ubaldo Jimenez and Jeremy Affeldt, each of whom has closer-type stuff.  The Diamondbacks bullpen shall outperform them, however, because they will likely enjoy more rest than any other bullpen in baseball.  While the Rocky pen attempts to bail out Fogg and Lopez in the fourth and fifth innings, the Diamondbacks will need only perhaps three innings of bullpen work in the average game. 

Edge: Diamondbacks

Final Word

This isn't a very scientific evaluation process.  The Rockies' edge at third base would have to be weighted more heavily than the Diamondbacks' edge at utility infielder, for example.  Also, were we to take each starting pitcher spot individually rather than holistically, the D'Backs would have an edge in at least three of the front four rotation spots.

What this methodology clearly illustrates is that the Colorado Rockies are much closer to being on par with the Diamondback than the San Francisco Giants are.  Both young ballclubs will succeed if their prospects succeed.  For the Rockies, unproven pitchers such as Jason Hirsh and Ubaldo Jimenez are key.  In Arizona, it's more important for young hitters like Miguel Montero and Chris Young to fulfill their potential.  But ultimately, more has to go right for the mountains to secure a playoff spot than it does for the snakes. 

Edge: Diamondbacks

Next Week: Diamondbacks vs. Padres

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