I have written previously here about what the future of the Rockies looks like and what needs to go well for the Rockies to compete. In an overall sense, the Rockies need their young pitching to become good. If Chacin, Nicasio, Pomeranz, White, Chatwood, Matzek, Friedrich, and Anderson do not develop then the Rockies franchise will have to chase high dollar free agents to salvage the Tulo-Cargo prime years. That is the future.
The present is a bit different. The Rockies offense will be good this year, good enough to win a World Series if paired with a good staff. If the Rangers, Angels, Giants, Phillies, or a few other teams with good staffs had the Rockies lineup, it would not be hard to imagine them competing for a World Series. So since last year concluded everyone has agreed that the 2012 Rockies will go as far as their starting pitching staff takes them. This is of course true. So how far does the starting pitching staff need to take them to reach the playoffs? What will the Rockies need from this staff?
First of all let’s look at the Rockies franchise precedent. The Rockies have made the playoffs 3 times since the franchise began in 1993. In 1995 the Rockies made the playoffs but it was in a shortened season with a record of 77-67 in a 4 team division and the team obviously slugged its way to that spot (the team ERA was 5.44). The two other times were 2007 and 2009. These were the only 2 years in franchise history that the team has won more than 83 games (90 in 2007, 92 in 2009). So the Rockies franchise has really only had two good years. Let’s look at what happened in those two years.
Every year (except for 2008) since the Rockies moved into Coors field in 1995 the Rockies have ranked at either 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th in the NL in runs scored per game. Obviously scoring runs has not been keeping the Rockies from the playoffs. However, every year except for 2007 and 2009 the Rockies have 12th-16th in the NL in ERA. The two years the Rockies made the playoffs they pitched significantly better. In both 2007 and 2009 the Rockies ranked 8th in the NL in ERA (4.65 in 2007, 4.41 in 2009). So to make the playoffs the Rockies pitching doesn’t need to be outstanding, it just needs to be around league average. Over the last 5 seasons the NL wide ERA has been:
Each of the last 5 years the ERA has decreased; as to if we will see that trend continue, who knows? But last year the NL wide ERA was 3.82 and the Rockies team ERA was 4.43, which ranked 15th in the NL. Last year the team that ranked 8th in ERA was the Cardinals, at 3.79. Just what would we need from the Rockies starters to get to a 3.79 ERA? Let’s break down the numbers:
- There are 1458 innings to be pitched in a year (discounting extra-inning games and not pitching the bottom of the 9th in a road loss)
- To get to a 3.79 ERA a pitching staff would give up 613.98 runs over 162 9 inning games.
- The Rockies bullpen had an ERA of 3.91 last year. They also threw the 5th most innings in the NL (508.2). If the Rockies bullpen repeats the exact same ERA and innings load as last year they would give up 220.8 of the allotted 614 runs.
- That leaves the starting staff with 393 runs left to give up over the other 949.8 innings. This would compute to a starters ERA of 3.72.
- Each rotation spot for the Rockies would need to average 190 innings pitched.
Now here is where it gets interesting. It seems like quite a task to get the Rockies starters ERA down to 3.72 given that last year it was 4.73, but let’s do some toying around to see what it would actually take:
- Jeremy Guthrie has averaged about 206 IP over the last 3 years. Let’s say he gives the Rockies 206 innings and an ERA of 3.90. That uses up 89.3 of the starters allotted 393 runs to give up.
- Let’s say Jhoulys Chacin does give us a 200 inning year. He is able to improve slightly on his career ERA of 3.52 down to 3.45. That would mean he would give up 76.6 of the allotted 393 runs.
- Assuming Juan Nicasio is healthy this year, let’s say he gives the Rockies 180 innings. The sample size of Nicasio’s last year (71.2 IP) is tough, but he did have a 4.14 ERA. If he can average that, he will give up 82.8 of the 393 allotted runs.
- Assuming Drew Pomeranz breaks with the big league club I would guess that he would give the Rockies around 160 innings. We have no idea what to expect as far as an ERA, but for the sake of the exercise let’s say he pitches well as a rookie and has an ERA of 3.90. That would mean he would give up 69.3 of the allotted 393 runs.
- This is where it starts to get tricky. So far, the 1-4 in the Rockies rotation has stayed healthy and met pretty decent expectations above. But there are still 203 innings to be pitched and only 75 allotted runs left to give up, an ERA of 3.33. This would mean the Rockies would need the 5th man in the rotation to pitch significantly better than the rest of the staff, something that is obviously not going to happen. Can Alex White give the Rockies 203 innings with a 3.33 ERA? Not likely. Guillermo Moscoso? No. Josh Outman? No. Tyler Chatwood? No. A combination of the 3? Certainly not. Even if Jorge De La Rosa came back from injury in July and pitched 100 excellent innings (let’s say 100 innings with an ERA of 3.50) that would leave the need for 103 innings from someone else at the tune of a 3.16 ERA. I don’t see it happening.
- I am not saying that the Rockies cannot make the playoffs, but when we talk about the starting staff taking a step forward, it is a significant step and would need some outstanding performances.
- Here is how it would need to break down:
|5||Jorge De La Rosa||100||38.8||3.50|
|other spot starts||103||36.2||3.16|
The above math leaves the Rockies with a few different options to achieve a staff that pitches to the 8th best ERA (and also a playoff spot) in the NL. Here they are in my estimation:
- Jhoulys Chacin becomes an ace. If we tweak the above math to give Chacin 215 innings with an era of 3.20, the spot start demand would move to only 88 IP and shift the ERA to 3.72, much more attainable.
- Juan Nicasio is a force. If we tweak the above math to give Nicasio 200 IP and he has an ERA of 3.50, the spot start demand drops all the way to 83 IP with an ERA of 4.55, which is much more within the hopes of Alex White/ Chatwood/ Moscoso combo.
- Drew Pomeranz has an unbelievable rookie season. If he gets to 175 IP and has an ERA of 3.35 the spot start demand drops to 88 IP with an ERA of 4.09.
Of these scenarios, I see #2 as most likely. Nicasio taking a step forward would be the biggest odds changer on the 2012 Rockies. Obviously this assumes that Guthrie pitches well, that everyone stays healthy, and that Jorge De La Rosa is great when he returns; all 3 of those happening are not likely. It will be an uphill road for this staff, however a few other factors are in play that should encourage Rockies fans after reading this. For one, while the offense should be sufficient, it could be outstanding. If Tulo-Cargo stay healthy and Fowler has a breakout year this team could score a lot of runs, changing the demands on the starting staff significantly. The other factor could end up being a large one: the second NL wild card. One team will make the playoffs in 2012 that did not measure up last year; this could lower the bar just enough for this team. But make no mistake about it, this team will not be making the playoffs without either Chacin or Nicasio pitching very well, perhaps even both.