This is the Colorado Rockies’ installment of our Mount Rushmore series, but one wonder’s if the conceit gets a little fuzzy when we’re dealing with a team named after a mountain range. Wouldn’t the Rockies locate their version of Mount Rushmore on Mount Estes or Pike’s Peak, or any of the zillions of 14ers in the state? But despite the failure of this metaphor to adequately address the team’s nickname, we will carry on.
The Rox have only been at things for a quarter of a century. They still haven’t managed to hire someone to figure out how to win and how to keep players healthy in the thin air of the purple mountains majesty. But they have had their moments, including a World Series appearance in 2007. But with such a short lifespan, they don’t exactly have a long list of heroes to choose from. There’s the Toddfather, Todd Helton, of course. Larry Walker won his MVP at altitude. Current sensation Nolan Arenado is a really impressive player. There’s also a lot of Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette in the franchise’s past, which is, perhaps, why the Rockies seem to be ever looking toward their future. Toward a day when they solve the riddle of baseball in an oxygen- and moisture-reduced atmosphere.
Sermons on the Mount
The Rockies have tried every which way to assemble talent, including the dubious practice of scouting for religious values. Their Mount Rushmore isn’t too bad for such a young team, despite what’s often seemed like a stagnating front office.
Todd Helton: The former Tennessee Vol’s quarterback ironically played first base. You’d think he’d have been an outfielder if he had a good arm. Well, he wasn’t. Instead, he played first base better than dang near anyone in the game. Of course, Helton, also did great work in the batters box. It being Colorado and all, it can be hard to see his value through a Coors-induced haze, but he created 405 more runs than an average batter through age 32, about 40 a year. He hardly missed a game doing so. Things went south after that with injuries wrecking his bat. He limped over the 60 WAR line, but he’s got a credible Hall case. If you don’t overdo the Coors. He’s clearly the Rockies’ franchise player.
Nolan Arenado: What an exciting young player! He’s got Brooks Robinson’s glove and a very good bat to go with it. Actually, his hitting his improving with age. Now just 26 years old, he’s entering his likely peak years and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2020. He’s earned 25 WAR as of this writing, and could end up with 40 or 50 in a Rockies uniform before the siren song of free agent moolah calls to him. Or the Rockies trade him because they won’t commit to him long term. Or he starts turning into an injury pincushion like former teammate Troy Tulowitzki.
Charlie Blackmon: Blackmon kind of came out of nowhere a few years back and settled in as an everyday player. He’s below average glove and baserunner, so his value is primarily tied to his ability to hit well for an up-the-middle guy while faking centerfield reasonably well. Now age 31, he’s going to start slowing up quickly, but if his newfound power is real, he can add +25 runs to the ledger, and that’s plenty enough to play in a corner.
Trevor Story: The good news about your fourth Rushmore face having only 4.3 WAR is that he’s only in his second year, and there’s plenty of room to grow. The bad news is that three-quarters of that value was last year. Story placed fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2016. While he’s running and fielding better than last year, his bat seems to have gone backwards. He’s walking more often, but his isolated slugging has regressed by 100 points from last year. His BABIP is not really at fault. It’s down a bit but not much. He is striking out a little more, but he’s also walking more. Instead it looks like he’s banging the ball into the ground more often. That’s driving down his line drive rate, so when he puts the ball in play, he’s not doing so effectively. He’s also hitting about two-thirds as many homers per fly ball. In other words, he’s not barreling the ball up very well so far in 2017. The team promoted Story aggressively, and it’s possible that the league caught up to him over the winter, and he’s been unable to adjust so far.
Now, if I had to name my personal all-time favorite Rockies, I’d have to start chiseling Bruce Ruffin’s face onto the mountainside. But then, that’s mostly because I’m an old Phils watcher. But I like Larry Walker a lot, and I definitely include him. Arenado and I share a birthday, so mark him down too. And Ellis Burks who is one of my wife’s favorites and, she tells me, is very cute. Hey, happy wife, happy life…happy Rushmore.