Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rockies Season Depends on Pitching

The Colorado Rockies are going to score some runs. Between Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, bounce back seasons from Dexter Fowler, Chris Iannetta and Todd Helton, there are few doubts the Rockies will score runs. The question for the team as always remains around pitching. And the projections seen so far aren't optimistic. The projections make the Rockies the highest scoring team in the National League West. But those same projections predict the Rockies will give up the most runs in that same division. Thus, we get a projected team that will again settle at third place like last year with a record just above .500. Is there any room in those projections for hope?

The quick answer is possibly. Projections for Ubaldo Jiminez seem overly pessimistic. He is projected to have an ERA of 3.94 and a win-loss total of 13-10. Doesn't that seem pessimistic to you? It does here as well. There is nothing this Fan has seen to dispute that Jiminez is one of the top pitchers in the National League. He won 19 games last year with an ERA of 2.88. His WHIP was 1.19. But the projections say his WHIP will be 1.38. That would be a major regression over both of the last two years. There is no indication so far in his spring starts (yeah, the Fan knows they don't count) that he isn't throwing as well as last year. Jiminez will be better than the projections.

Aaron Cook supposedly came into camp out of shape and was quickly injured. This may be a good thing for the Rockies. The Fan has never been big on the Cook bandwagon and with young arms like Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa, Cook wasn't anything more than a fourth or fifth starter to begin with. If you bump up those two young guys and then Jason Hammel, then all you have to do to replace Cook is find a fifth starter that can at least hold his own.

De La Rosa is a guy that you expect to break out at any time. He throws a heavy fastball that induces his share of ground balls. He strikes out people. His two flaws to date are his walk rate and his homer rate. Even so, he finished last year with a WHIP of 1.32 and an ERA of 4.22. And yet his projections have him pitching with an ERA of over 5 in 2011 with a WHIP of 1.50. Again, that is projecting a regression for a pitcher that gives every indication that he is becoming a better pitcher and not the other way around. The Fan expects De La Rosa to beat projections too.

Jhoulys Chacin is the most intriguing arm on this team. All raw talent and no real results yet in the majors, Chacin got his feet wet in 2010. He finished with an ERA of 3.28 and a WHIP of 1.27 in 21 starts and seven relief appearances. His homer rate was fine. He gives up slightly more ground balls than fly balls and he struck out nine batters per nine innings. Like De La Rosa, he needs to pound the strike zone a bit more and give up fewer walks. But again, his projections are pessimistic with a projected ERA of 4.83 and a WHIP of 1.49. Puzzling. Chacin should beat those projections and really have a good season.

Jason Hammel is not a top of the rotation kind of guy. He gives up a lot of hits and isn't stingy enough with walks. But he's posted a sub-5 ERA for three straight years despite a career WHIP of 1.48. His WHIP the last two years are 1.39 and 1.40. So he's shown some improvement in that area for two straight years. But again, his projection for 2011 show an ERA over five and a WHIP of 1.48.

That's four straight pitchers we've looked at so far in the rotation that are expected to regress in 2011 instead of progress. The Fan can't see it and the thought here is that all four, or at least three of the four will be significantly better than projections. Of course, the team will have to figure out who the fifth starter will be among Felipe Paulino (ugh), Greg Reynolds or someone.

It's too early to think about the bullpen. Huston Street has injury problems every year it seems and this spring seems no different. He's not an elite closer anyway and hasn't been since his rookie season. But Belisle, Betancourt and Linstrom are all serviceable pitchers and the Rockies should be able to figure out something there. Bullpens are important but the Rockies' success or failure in 2011 ultimately seems to fall square on the rotation. If their top four guys in the rotation beat the projections like this observer thinks they will, the Rockies could content in the NL West.

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