CHONE vs. the Colorado Rockies Rotation

Hi everyone, I own. CHONE might not think so, but your faith in me is well placed. I think.

Projections, projections, projections. After a week of playing, it feels like we might as well toss any projections right out the window. But I should remind you that with a full season of playing time, we'll be seeing 30 times as much play as we have thus far, and I imagine that trying to predict the body of work will be relevant still, despite our small sample thus far.

So now we've touched on the infield, the outfield, the bench, what's left is now the pitching staff. Now, when I say the pitching staff, I'm referring specifically to the rotation, 1-6. That'll include Francis AND Smith. I guess I can throw Redding and Rogers into that mix as well, we'll see how far the article stretches by the time we get to them. I'm avoiding the bullpen entirely, and I say that because their performances are so based on managers' utilization of them and even then they are too volatile as far as trying to put numbers on a single season.

In this analysis, we'll cover the following metrics: ERA, WHIP, IP, FIP, xFIP, K9, BB9, HR9, W-L, and GS. If you're unsure what those all mean, check my signature on any post or just click here to see what all the commotion is about.

So without further ado, I present to you the Colorado Rockies 2010 rotation.

Click past the jump and we'll dive right in.

After 2 improving seasons and a heap load of expectations, Ubaldo Jimenez enters the season heading up the staff and turning heads as far as ace-level pitchers in Colorado go. Problem with this situation is that CHONE doesn't quite agree with the general expectations for what Ubaldo is capable of. While I personally see a continued marginal improvement on most - if not all - parts of his game, CHONE is calling for a step back. Ubaldo's 2009 showed the following: 3.47 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 218IP, 3.36 FIP, 3.63 xFIP, 8.17 K9, 3.51 BB9, 0.54 HR9, resulting in a 15-12 record in 33 starts, all leading to a total WAR of 5.7. Most metrics had Jimenez in the top-10 among MLB pitchers; WAR listed him as tied for 11th overall with Adam Wainwright.

2010, according to CHONE, won't be nearly as exciting. 30 GS, 11-9, 4.02 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 177IP, 3.83 FIP, 8.03 K9, 4.02 BB9, 0.71 HR9.

Now, when I first read this, my eye started twitching just a little bit. How could they possibly just mark everything as worse and call it quits? That seems incredibly shortsighted. Regression to the mean? Well, with 2.5 seasons under his belt, I have trouble really establishing anything as the "mean" for him. Since 2007, Ubaldo has improved (or stayed around) every level possible, including ERA, FIP, xFIP, K9, HR9. The one area that didn't show a year-to-year improvement was BB9, as it went from 4 to 4.7 from 07 to 08, but then dropped to 3.5 in 2009. Oh, and fastball velocity, but don't worry, in 2 starts he's averaging 97 mph so far. Yes, that's disgusting.

In reading Smith's projections, 3 specific numbers pop out at me, one I agree with, and two I'm on the fence on. The first is his HR9. He's been at around 0.50 HR9 in his 2 full seasons, yet Smith is calling for a 0.20 HR9 increase. While that's not a drastic change there, I don't see why it needed to go up at all. His HR9 isn't massively lower than his minor league totals or anything, and the guy gets filthy movement on his fastball, so it isn't like he's going to start throwing 100mph straightballs or anything. So there's my point of contention. The number I agree with is his increased BABIP, which I haven't listed yet. After 2009 with a .290 BABIP, Smith is calling for a .303 BABIP (how appropriate for a Colorado pitcher). I'm on the fence on this particular metric because of two things: regression to the mean, and the defense playing behind him. Ubaldo had a high-ish BABIP in his minor league career, and league average BABIP is typically around .300. However, Colorado's infield defense is good at helping to prevent BABIP doom. The last is his BB9. He made a stellar jump in his control from 2008 to 2009, but I'm not entirely sure what would bring him back. Was 2009 an outlier, or is Jimenez really just that good, and getting better?

Frankly, with a talent like Jimenez, I think CHONE just has trouble modeling him. Eno Sarris on RotoGraphs says pretty much what I'm thinking in that projection systems just don't know how to handle breakout seasons.

So what to expect? When in doubt, return to career averages, but given Ubaldo's high ceiling, low, low groundballs, and continued blossoming into the best pitcher in Rockies history, I would not be surprised to see Ubaldo crack the 6-WAR mark in 2010.

Moving to the next slot in the rotation, we have Greg Smith. Smith was acquired in 2008 as part of the Matt Holliday trade, but missed the entire season due to sickness, injury, broken mirrors, and other common forms of bad juju.

Upon his acquisition, Fangraphs was quick to pounce on his heavy flyball tendencies and write him off as a complete loss. While Smith is going to have ERA troubles as long as he pitches in Coors, but we shouldn't simply write him off. Playing the best possible OF defense when he plays will help lower his BABIP, and in turn help lower his ERA and aid the team's run prevention efforts. But I digress.

Smith's rookie season came in Oakland after being part of the Dan Haren trade from Arizona. Smith put up 190 innings, went 7-16 with a 4.16 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 4.82 FIP, 5.30 xFIP, 5.25 K9, 4.11 BB9, and 0.99 HR9. Not terribly impressive, but then again, nobody is really anticipating Smith to be anything better than a #5 starter. At least I'm not.

CHONE sees Smith's 2010 looking as follows: 5-6 in 19 starts, 109IP, 4.81 ERA, 1.49 WHIP 5.01 FIP, 5.68 K9, 3.58 BB9, and 1.31 HR9.

This particular projection is a bit difficult to really get around, because Smith had such a plagued 2009 season, but none of that plague was a shoulder/elbow problem or anything of that ilk, but rather bizarre sickness, minor injury, just nagging things that wouldn't really project into the next season. This is probably a reason for the low projected inning load, as a 2nd year pitcher, Smith has a total of those 190.1IP under his belt, so attempting to find a career average is going to spit back deflated numbers at best. Basically, 2008 worked for Smith because he had a low, low BABIP and a big, big pitcher's park to gobble up all his mistake balls. 

To respond directly to the projection, I don't really disagree with any specific number in it, aside from perhaps the low IP total. Well, I don't disagree in the sense that I throw out the projection, like I almost do with Ubaldo's, and that's simply because of the complete ambiguity of having a season lost to injury and such. My hope for Smith is that he can beat the K9 projection while rising to meet the task of the BB9 projection. Finding a way to get that HR9 down would be wonderful as well, but we're never going to see Smith posting microscopic longball rates like Ubaldo does. My hope for Smith is that he can somehow pull a Johan Santana and give up his homers when there's nobody on base. Maybe I'm just crazy in hoping such a thing, but if Smith can meet or beat that 3.6 BB9, that'll be a big part of beating the ERA/FIP areas of his projection.

Next on the list is Aaron Cook. Really, there's not all that much to say about Cookie, because he's such a predictable pitcher (providing he stays healthy).  Just take a look at Cook's career numbers vs. his CHONE projected numbers:

ERA

FIP

WHIP

K9

BB9

HR9

Career

4.34

4.35

1.44

3.73

2.63

0.75

CHONE

4.45

4.28

1.45

4.29

2.56

0.84

Not much surprising there. Cook's value comes almost entirely in his ability to stay healthy and to give us a solid inning load.  We talked about Aaron Cook (and Jeff Francis) in Counting Rocks a few weeks ago. Cook keeps getting these bizarre injuries that don't really relate to his pitching arm, like his plant foot and a non-pitching oblique strain, and blood clots in his lungs, all sorts of weird things like that. Just looking at the projections, we can see that CHONE is calling for his K9 to follow the improved trend from the past couple of seasons, his BB9 and HR9 to more or less stay on par with his season lines, and those ERA/FIP numbers are pretty much the same as just saying "he'll pitch to his career averages".

As much as I could keep going about Cook, and delve into the more detailed specifics of his career and our expectations, I'll just sum it up with this: If Aaron Cook's sinker is sinking and he can keep his 20-lb lighter frame from getting all roughed up, he's a 3-4 WAR pitcher and will be a solidifying force in the middle of the Rockies rotation.

Next on our list is Jorge De La Rosa. I talked about Jorge this offseason as well, and documented how Jorge has gotten a swing-and-miss at a higher rate than any Rockies starter in franchise history. We know his strengths (K9) and his weaknesses (BB9), and basically the combination of those two will sap his ability to be a big inning-eater, in that he'll fall behind in counts before getting outs (or not), have 6 pitch strikeouts, 7 pitch walks, things like that.

2009 was by far the best season of his career, based simply on WAR totals. His 2 seasons in Colorado really showed a turnaround from the "never panned out" label he seemed to have earned between Milwaukee and Kansas City, he bounced between the bullpen and the rotation, could never really find a foothold. When he got to Colorado, pitching coach Bob Apodaca really worked with him, and as a result, DLR found his punch-out ability again, and posted a 2.4 and 3.7 WAR in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

2009 was so great for Jorge because he posted a career-high in IP, K9, cut his BB9 to near career lows, figured out how to throw his changeup to get some easy groundball outs, and also figured out how to control his emotions increasingly and thereby was able to rebound from bad situations and still be productive.

DLR's 2009 looked like the following: 16-9, 32 GS (and one ill-fated game from the pen where he was just being thrown in to get some work), 185IP, 4.38 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 3.91 FIP, 3.76 xFIP, 9.39 K9, 4.04 BB9, 0.97 HR9. Not absolute Ace numbers, but I'd be hard-pressed to find a team that can't use those numbers in their rotation.

CHONE predicts 2010 to look like this for Jorge: 9-9, 29GS, 162IP, 4.33 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 4.07 FIP, 8.67 K9, 3.72 BB9, 1.06 HR9. Again, none of those numbers look too shabby, however you slice them. I'm interested that CHONE is calling for a further reining-in of DLR's BB9, but surprised at the low IP total. Part of me wonders if they have injury concerns, or if the low weighting is based on a career split between the pen and the rotation, or what. Just running the math real quick, those numbers lead to 5 2/3 innings per start, which isn't too far out of the realms of reason. In games where DLR is pitching "well enough" but having trouble with the free pass, I can see him getting stuck in the 6th. The difference is that I see that 5-ish inning start to be some form of "Bad Jorge" - and I cringe to even type that - but he's matured to a point (at least in my estimation) that having a bad inning won't wreck him completely, he'll find a way out, whether for better or for worse, and then still be able to round out his pitch count effectively with another inning or so of work. My favorite example of this was this game.

I'm also wondering why CHONE has his K9 taking a step back from his last two seasons, but that can be easily explained away by his career 7.9 K9. I really don't see it falling below his 2008 level (8.86), especially after his most recent start.

Really though, I don't see a lot to be concerned with about the 2010 CHONE projection for De La Rosa, but I think he'll amass more strikeouts over more innings than what Sean Smith has set out for him. Not necessarily an improvement on 2009, but somewhere between 2008 and 2009 is where I see DLR: 9K9, 4BB9, 1.0 HR9, 175IP. I'll take those numbers every day of the week from a starter, provided the defense has his back when the ball is put into play.

Well now, it seems that we've covered over 2000 words in this particular installment of Counting Rocks, so rather than try and rush through Francis, Hammel, and Rogers, I'll go ahead and save that for next week. Seeing how Hammel is the most meat of that particular literary meal, Francis will be a bunch of question marks (especially since CHONE didn't cover him), and Rogers doesn't have much of a career to base a projection on, that might be a bit shallow of an article, so I might - MIGHT - touch on some of the bullpen.

I hope you've enjoyed this week's installment of "Andrew's Number Landslide", and tune in next week for the #5, 6, and 7 members of the rotation, and probably some sort of summary of the whole shebang.

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