Over the last week I have previewed the 2012 season for the Rockies position by position. There have been some fan favorites jettisoned from the team and some new faces (albeit longer in the tooth) who have jumped on board.
Today we talk starters, pitchers that is.
Players lost: The Rockies rotation is their biggest weakness. Last year the team really struggled with starting pitching so there is a lot of room to improve in 2012. Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Hammel and Aaron Cook are the most familiar names for most fans that the Rockies traded or lost (of course Jimenez was traded before the end of 2011 but he still had 21 starts for the Rockies in ’11 good for third best on the team). Kevin Millwood and Clayton Mortensen also had nine and six starts, respectively, with the Rockies last year and neither are with the team in ’12.
I think most fans are not too sad to see the departure of most of these guys with the exception of Jimenez. Jimenez has the franchises only no-hitter and his historical start to the 2010 season is something many fans will remember for a long time. He didn’t perform up to par in 2011 and was sent to the Cleveland Indians for a quartet of players. Now Jimenez might not even be considered the “ace” of the Indians staff. I have a feeling Jimenez pitches in ’12 closer to his ’10 season than his ’11.
Players gained: Along with Drew Pomeranz and Alex White who the Rockies received from the Indians for Jimenez the Rockies really added a pile of pitchers who could start for the team in ’12. Tyler Chatwood was acquired from the Anaheim Angels for Chris Iannetta, Jeremy Guthrie was sent to Colorado from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Hammel and Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman were traded to Colorado for Seth Smith from the Oakland A’s.
Dan O’Dowd was apparently looking for quantity, not quality.
Guthrie finished 2011 tied with Derek Lowe with the most losses in the major leagues with 17 L’s. He did have a 4.33 ERA which isn’t too bad but his FIP and xFIP actually suggest that his ERA slightly lucky and he should have been closer to 4.50 earned runs per nine. O’Dowd has stated that Guthrie was acquired simply because he has pitched 200 innings or more in each of the three past seasons. And as a statement as to how bad the Rockies pitching could be in ’12 is that Guthrie has a chance to be the teams Opening Day starter.
Speaking of xFIP; Moscoso finished third worst in xFIP in ’11. Two other pitchers that might possibly see time in the Rockies rotation in 2012 also finished in the top 10 (or in this case the bottom 10) in xFIP: Esmil Rogers (5th) and Chatwood (6th) join Moscoso as pitchers who were awful in ’11.
Outman only pitched 58 1/3 innings in ’11 and while his ERA in this small sample size was 3.70 his WHIP was 1.45 which tells me Outman was pretty lucky; allowing nearly 1.5 batters to reach base each inning is going to lead to runs, especially in hitter friendly Coors Field. His xFIP was nearly 4.8 and Bill James and ZiPS both project his ERA to be over four in ’12.
Minor leagues: The Rockies have had quite a few highly ranked pitching prospects in recent years, the problem is that very few of them have lived up to expectations. The Rockies have turned a few pitchers into solid contributors in recent history but very few pitchers have turned into All-Stars for the Rockies. Jeff Francis, Jason Jennings and Aaron Cook are the success stories from the Rockies amateur player draft but I don’t think many would consider any of them to have been considered a true ace. Jimenez and Jhoulys Chacin are two recent success stories of players the Rockies signed from Latin America but for the most part fans are losing confidence in the Rockies ability to draft and develop good young pitching.
This year Pomeranz, Chad Bettis, Tyler Anderson, Peter Tago and even Tyler Matzek make up the list of promising arms in the Rockies minor leagues. Pomeranz is clearly the one name the Coors Field faithful will see on the field most often this upcoming season with Bettis as a possibility to see some time, possibly out of the bullpen, in 2012.
Who makes Opening Day roster: My guess at the Opening Day rotation: Chacin gets the ball for game 1 followed by Guthrie, Juan Nicasio, Pomeranz and White. It is really hard to predict what the rotation will look like because Moscoso, Outman, Chatwood and Rogers will also be competing for a spot. In my mind Moscoso, Outman, Chatwood and Rogers are all equally awful so the Rockies might as well see if White’s two-seamer can get outs at Coors.
Who might come up during the year: All depends on who is sent down to start the year. Christian Friedrich will compete for a spot in the rotation again this year and is likely to start in AAA with the possibility of coming up during the year. Bettis certainly has a chance to come up in ’12. And we also have to mention Jorge De La Rosa which takes me to…
Pitching injuries from 2011: Nicasio and De La Rosa both suffered severe injuries in ’11 and both were very different. Nicasio was hit on the side of his head by a batted ball while in a game. The initial word was that it could have been life threatening but here we are at the starting of Spring Training and Nicasio is already throwing to live batters. When he was first injured last year there was concern if he would ever pitch again much less this upcoming season. He is a walking miracle at this point and it looks like he will be in the rotation this year. He is 100% and ready to go.
De La Rosa on the other hand needed Tommy John surgery early last year and the chance of coming back inside of a year from that surgery is next to nil. It looks like De La Rosa will return to pitching in May sometime and he will have 30 days to pitch in the minor leagues before returning to the Rockies without the Rockies being required to make another roster move. The word from the Rockies camp lately is that he might be back with the Rockies as early as June which would be amazing.
With the Rockies rotation being led by a guy who lost 17 games last year, a third year pitcher (fourth if you count his 11 innings in 2009) who’s WHIP, ERA, average against and on-base against were significantly worse in the second half of ’11 and a guy coming off a dramatic head injury really makes the starting rotation the weakest part of the Rockies going into 2012. Even if De La Rosa comes back in late June and pitches extremely well the rotation for the Rockies could finish the year as one of the worst units in baseball.
Next up: relief pitchers