Cockcroft: Colorado Rockies preview

Updated: February 5, 2007, 10:50 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com
Any discussion about the Colorado Rockies seemingly begins and ends with Coors Field, where the mile-high altitude for years has made it easily the game's most hitter-friendly environment. But in 2006, Coors wasn't Coors anymore, settling closer to the league norms for much of the season, and now we have to look at the Rockies in a whole different light.

A quick look at the final Park Factor numbers shows Coors finished second in the majors in runs scored (1.149) and 10th in home runs (1.167), though things weren't quite so friendly to hitters for much of the summer. Only a September that saw the Rockies and their opponents combine to average 16.8 runs and 3.1 home runs at Coors, compared to 11.5 and 2.0 on the road, vaulted Coors that high in either ranking. Up until that point, Coors was considered an above-average hitters' ballpark, though no more hitter-friendly than, say, Chicago's Wrigley Field, Arizona's Chase Field or Toronto's Rogers Centre.

As a result, it's time to discard the old fantasy slogan "never draft a Rockies pitcher." Three Rockies starters finished with ERAs of less than 4.25 while qualifying for the league title; by comparison, the team only had three total do that in its first 13 years of existence. Plus, closer Brian Fuentes managed a second straight 30-save, sub-3.50 ERA campaign, marking the first time that has happened in franchise history. Jeff Francis, now 26 and coming off back-to-back years of at least 13 wins, the second time that has happened in franchise history, seems primed to lead the way with a surprising season for a Rockie, and Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez each should have some matchup value. Plus, top prospect Jason Hirsh, acquired in the winter trade of 2006 team ERA champion Jason Jennings, offers some promise of a future right-handed ace to pair with Francis.

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