From some years, I've struggled to understand something called "Skills Ownership," as explained annually in Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster:
- Once a player displays a skill, he owns it. That display could occur at any time -- earlier in his career, back in the minors, or even in winter ball play. And while that skill may lie dormant after its initial display, the potential is always there for him to tap back into that skill at some point, barring injury or age. That dormant skill can reappear at any time given the right set of circumstances.
There are caveats and corollaries, too; you should get the book next spring. Anyway, Skills Ownership came to mind Tuesday when I was looking at the Colorado Rockies, who have won 17 of their last 19 games. Because I'm not at all sure that they're just a bunch of guys having a lucky half-season.
The Rockies are leading the National League in scoring. Sure, a good chunk of that is Coors Field. But Coors Field isn't what it used to be; now it's merely a good hitter's park. What the Rockies have is a bunch of hitters having good seasons and a few hitters having great seasons. And what I'm wondering is how surprised we should be.
• Chris Iannetta's doing exactly what he did last season, and essentially what he did in the minors.
• Todd Helton's doing much better than last season ... but last season was probably the outlier.
• Clint Barmes is doing exactly what he did last season, which was better than he'd done in the two previous seasons ... but not all that different from what he'd done in 2005.
• Among the Rockies' four primary outfielders -- Seth Smith, Dexter Fowler, Brad Hawpe, and Ryan Spilborghs -- only Hawpe seems to be over his head more than a little bit. He's 30 and has a .288 career batting average, but is batting .333 this season (with correspondingly impressive on-base and slugging percentages, thanksto a league-leading 24 doubles).
Are all these guys going to continue hitting like they have? No. Of their top 10 hitters, nine have played in at least 60 of the Rockies' 71 games. Somebody's going to get hurt. Somebody's going to hit in tough luck. While they obviously have some hitters doing a bit better than we expected, Atkins is the only guy doing worse than expected. That's going to balance out, at least a little. But I think what we're seeing is a lineup full of healthy, talented hitters who do take advantage of their home grounds. And I don't think they're due for a fall.
Among the pitchers, I see just one bright red flag: Jason Marquis, who's 9-4 with a 3.71 ERA despite striking out only 4.1 batters per nine innings. On the other hand, Marquis' ratio of ground-outs to air-outs this season is easily the highest of his career, and it looks like he might have picked up something from Aaron Cook.
Bottom line: I believe the Rockies are for real. Unfortunately for them, the Dodgers have practically locked up the West and there's going to be a spirited race for the lone wild-card entry. But if you haven't been paying attention to the Rockies, it's time to start.