Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Colorado Rockies: How NOT to Build a Rotation

The Colorado Rockies have a significant history of insignificance. While they have made 3 postseason appearances in their short existence, they haven’t been able to capitalize on their occasional success, and in short order fell back off to being a sub .500 club last year. For a long time Coors field was considered nothing, if not a hitters park, and while that may be true despite their use of a humidor to try to deaden the flight of the ball in the thin/dry Rocky Mountain air, there’s no excuse for the quality (or lack thereof) of the Rockies’ staff.

Guillermo Moscoso pitched admirably for Oakland last year, and when given an opportunity to spot start in Colorado was promptly shelled in back to back starts. Moscoso gave up 12 runs in 9 & ⅓ innings. It feels safe to say that while he didn’t help any, he’s not really the problem here, and probably won’t be making any more starts for the Rockies in the immediate future.

Christian Friedrich started strong, with back to back quality starts but has since looked an awful lot more fallible, giving up 8 and 3 runs over 10 total innings. It’s indicative of exactly what the expectations are in Colorado that his most recent 5 inning 3 run start has been cited as a good performance. Now granted it is a serviceable start, he did strike out 6 and he only walked 1 batter but that’s not what you’re looking for out of your starters. 5 innings, no matter how dominant are not a goal most starters should have. That said, Friedrich has managed to strike out over 25% of batters faced, and could provide some value for the Rox. He is however an extreme flyball pitcher around 75% of balls in play going to the sky, and 31% of balls in play are line drives so far. Those are unsustainable numbers for any semblance of extended success. That said, he’s only faced 101 batters so far, so this is a case  where the sample size, could be indicative of nothing more than the amount of data, not the value of the results.

Drew Pomeranz has not made himself out to be a terrifically effective starter so far. Pomeranz has been out since May 7th with a bruised quad, but in the 5 starts he managed for the Rox, he only made it into the 6th inning once, in his 6 & ⅔ inning effort against the Dodgers. In the early going, Pomeranz showed a propensity for the walk, this season allowing 15 free passes to his 20 strikeouts in only 23 innings. I don’t know exactly what to say about Pomeranz’s performance, it seems to be pretty clear, he managed 1 valuable start for his team in 5 attempts, and only because of how few innings he had pitched, he was able to bring his ERA under 5 with that performance, and while his two starts preceding that outing had been positive enough, only 3 total runs over 9 innings, he did walk 6 batters over those 9 innings and 4 more over that one quality start. He’s not exactly impressing in his rehab starts at the moment either, but he is perhaps rediscovering a delivery that is less erratic. I don’t see Pomeranz making a serious impact for the Rox this season but at 23 there’s plenty of time for him to develop into a more effective starter. With that said, the team may decide to suffer through some more of his brand of pitching if he can keep from walking the bases loaded in AAA.

Jhoulys Chacin looks to have fallen off from his excellent season last year in a big way. Early this month the Rox put him on the 15 day DL with shoulder inflammation, which turned out to be a torn pectoral muscle. Chacin walks too many batters when he’s on, so when that got worse, that might have been cause for concern, but perhaps this issue has been bothering him longer than we knew. Weakness in his pitching arm would certainly be cause for concern if it impacts his ability to spot his pitches. He’s been up and down in his ground ball rates but he’s at an all time low this year, and his line drive rate (24%) is 9% higher than last year. All of this is cause for concern. I’d expect some type of rebound as the season wears on, but Chacin needs to make sure he’s got good strength in that arm before making any starts in the minors.

Alex White is not exactly pitching himself into the good graces of management either, though as I’ve highlighted so far, they might not really be any pickier than having warm bodies on the field at the moment. White has 2 quality starts so far, and has looked to be one of the better overall options for the Rox this season despite his unsightly 6.28 ERA. He’s not walking a ton of batters so far, and has 18 strikeouts over his first 28 & ⅔ innings. Not exactly overpowering but potentially more effective than some of his rotation mates. He is sitting with an ugly .337 BABIP despite his ground ball pitching so far. He is giving up 21% of balls in play as line drives, which is higher than may be desirable, but he is getting batters to swing on top of pitches, and that can eventually breed success. He’s not preventing home runs in any intense fashion, but 4 over his first 5 starts isn’t terrible, just not good. Overall, White could work out to be better than he has shown so far in Colorado, but at the moment he’s just a warm body on the mound. Overall, White is another young pitcher on this staff at only 23 years old pitching in one of the worst pitchers parks in baseball. He’s not excelling on the road either, but confidence and experience could go a long way toward helping resolve those issues.

Juan Nicasio is looking a bit shaky as well, though he does have the best ERA of the regular starters for the team, which isn’t saying a lot at 5.11 but he has hovered around a much more acceptable 4.50 between bad starts. He has managed to put together some very good starts, and has gone 6 innings or more in 6 of his 10 starts so far, so if there’s one thing Nicasio is doing better than anyone else for the Rox, he’s battling to save the bullpen, even when he’s not at his best. He has walked 21 batters over the 56 & ⅓ innings he’s given his club so far, but he’s also struck out 53, so while his walk rate isn’t exactly palatable, he is doing pretty well to get timely strikeouts despite it. He is allowing an unsettling amount of fly balls and 26% of balls in play have been liners, which doesn’t sound pretty, and it isn’t. He’s given up 7 homers so far, which isn’t terrible, though when you’re giving up fly balls like he is, more are bound to leave the yard than one would like. Overall Nicasio has shown great promise, despite not getting excellent results, and that might continue to be the case throughout the year.

Jeremy Guthrie is a curveball pitcher, he throws it about 12% of the time. They don’t break well in Colorado and that has been evident in Guthrie’s results. Guthrie was the staff ace for a bad staff for 5 years in Baltimore, and looks to be showing exactly what he’s made of so far for the Rox. Guthrie’s curve heavy arsenal is killing him at home, so far in all 3 starts at home he’s given up 6 earned runs in each start, and given up 5 homers. When a curveball doesn’t break, it’s a BP fastball, and that’s not good news in a live game situation. Guthrie has pitched pretty well on the road, his last road start being anything but pretty, though some of that could be attributed to the error(s) that lead to 4 unearned runs scoring. He’s not been able to get the strikeout numbers he’s used to, and he’s giving up walks in near 10% of plate appearances, which is a terrible combination. He’s also seeing 24% of balls in play go for line drives, up from a career mark of 18%. He’s given up 9 home runs in his 40 & ⅔ innings so far, which works out to about 2 per 9 innings pitched. Guthrie needs to rely more on his slider and change at home to get through that thin air, and while he might be working it out, he couldn’t do so fast enough for the Rox.

Jamie Moyer may be the oldest player in major league baseball, he has literally been pitching longer than I’ve been alive, and this season, at 49 years old he seems to be up and down. He has pitched a total 53 & ⅔ innings for the Rox so far, and could well turn his most recent troubles around in his next start. He does, above all else, know how to pitch. Moyer looks to be as much a victim of bad luck as anything else so far. His .350 BABIP is unsightly to say the least, to realize that it’s over 60 points higher than his career mark is perhaps more unsettling. I don’t believe it’s anything but hasty to say that Moyer is done. He’s a smoke and mirrors finesse pitcher, but he’s been that guy for years and has shown the ability to provide legitimate value for the Rox. It is somewhat worrisome that he’s walking more than he has since his world series championship with the Phillies, but his strikeout rate is right around the mark he produced that season as well. He is giving up a few too many homers for my liking (11 in 10 starts), but his line drive rate (19%) is right about his career average. Moyer might well be the best pitcher on this staff regardless of age or arsenal. He’s looking to be the only starter who’s actually getting robbed by his own team. there’s no excuse for a .350 BABIP, and that will come down, and once it does, his WHIP should follow.

The Rockies aren’t exactly known for having a dominant pitching staff, they have to combat an oversized outfield, an outright inability to use some breaking pitches at home, and until recently were saddled with the most homer happy park in the majors. What’s perhaps most frustrating for the Rockies is that they have the 3rd most productive lineup in the National league, but are 10 games under .500. That’s going to happen when you have the second worst team ERA in the league. The honor of “most embarrassing pitching staff in baseball” belongs to the Minnesota Twins, but with the Rox problems keeping starters healthy, that much could change at any time. While the team website has been declaring this the “year of the fan”, it has to tough to root for a team that could squander a 10 run lead in any given inning.

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