Formerly hailed as a Coors Field version of an ace, Aaron Cook came into the 2010 season with a decent amount to prove, and some productive shoes to fill. The big thing to discuss during the 2010 preseason was far from "Aaron Cook's spot in the rotation could be in jeopardy" but rather "Can Cook and Jeff Francis match Jason Marquis' 2009?"
Amusingly enough, the guy the Rockies got as part of a dump of Luis Vizcaino, Jason Marquis, had suddenly become the bar for what the middle of the rotation was supposed to look like. During the 2009 season, Marquis went 15-13, was voted into the All Star Game, rediscovered his sinker - and along with it, his groundball, and was generally a very pleasant surprise. His 3.8 fWAR was more than the Rockies could've dreamed of, as Colorado fans were realistically hoping for a league-average pitcher (about 2 fWAR).
After Marquis' departure, the discussion, as stated above, was how Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis could fit into the 2010 rotation and match that 3.8 fWAR.The road to said success was paved mostly with high expectations of Cook, as I was expecting him to rebound to 4 fWAR form and give upwards of 175IP. The expectations of Francis were substantially lower, given the fact that he hadn't pitched at all in the 2009 season, and there was just no telling what kind of pitcher would take the mound.
Francis didn't end up taking the mound for Colorado until May, where he posted 18.2 innings of 2.89 ERA baseball. I was downright excited about this, and was thinking that the two of them would somehow get to like a 7 or 8 fWAR total, and just blow my expectations out of the water. Well, despite a solid FIP showing from Francis, he was still downright hittable, and his ERA never got back below 4 for any other month of the 2009 season. So that swung the pendulum back to Cook.
Cook's 5.52 ERA in April pretty much had me thinking that their expectations would be flip-flopped, that Cook would be lucky to post a 2 fWAR while Francis would be the 4 fWAR workhorse of the middle/back of the rotation. Well, I was half right. Cook pitched an uninspiring April, then bounced back to average Aaron Cook production for the months of May and June (4.40 ERA, 4.15 ERA), had a terrible July (6.48 ERA), got hurt in August by jamming the crap out of the big toe on right foot and putting himself on the DL. Turns out he was hiding that hurt toe (seriously guys, I understand that you want to help the team RIGHT NOW, but you're pitching yourself out of a job next season by hiding these things - just ask Brad Penny in his final year with the Dodgers) and was eventually put on the DL.
After returning for 2 starts in September, Cook's luck just got worse as he took a liner in the leg off of 2010 MVP Joey Votto, fracturing his fibula and ending his season. Seriously, the guy couldn't catch a break.
So month-by-month, here's the story of Cook's season:
April: Can't find sinker, walks a bunch of guys, ineffective.
May: Still hasn't entirely found sinker, but things are starting to go better.
June: Finds sinker, isn't walking guys, looking like the Cook we all know and love.
July: Hurts self, hides it. Still has sinker, but starts hanging it to get the strikes. Can't keep the ball in the park.
August: DL. Cook to the pen?
September: Back and healthy. A bit wild still, but people aren't getting hits off of him. Breaks leg. Season over.
I don't really know what else there is to say about it. Cook just never really found his "balance", and he just seemed to be off the mark the entirety of the season, June excepted.
Here's some fun facts about Cook's 2010:
1. The only season where Cook had a higher ERA was 2003, where he pitched 124 innings at a 6.02 ERA.
2. Cook's 3.67 BB/9 was the highest in his entire career.
3. Cook's 1.56 WHIP was tied for 2nd highest in his career with 2004, and the highest was 2003, at a 1.75 level.
4. Cook's .307 BABIP was only the 4th highest in his career, below 2008, 2004, and 2003.
5. Amongst groundballing pitchers with 125+ IP, Cook was the 4th highest GB%, at 58.1% (also a career best for seasons with 20+ GS - 2004's 58.1% was the only better year).
6. Of pitchers with a 55% or higher GB%, Cook had: The highest ERA, highest FIP, highest xFIP, highest BB/9, and lowest K/9. He also had the lowest WAR, but he also had the lowest IP total. Bump that 127.2IP up to Jake Westbrook's 202.2 or Trevor Cahill's 196.2 and Cook wouldn't have much trouble matching their 2.3 or 2.2 fWAR totals (respective).
Final Grade: C-.
It would've been higher, as injuries aren't really his fault, but hiding that toe injury really put everyone involved at a disadvantage. I was tempted to score it a D+. Maybe I should have. The fact is that this was one of the worst years of Cook's career, and it wasn't just "oh noes seeing eye grounders", it was a lack of form, control, and basically the things that Cook needs to succeed as a MLB pitcher.
Fact is, Cook kind of is what he is, but 2010 was still somewhat of an aberration. His control has never been as poor as it was, so there's hope that he'll be able to work things out with Bob Apodaca over the offseason and become a pitcher Colorado can rely on. I mean, 2006, Cook was a 4.3 fWAR pitcher, and 2008 he topped that at 4.7. Cook's value in 2011 really will just come down to longevity. While the Rockies are stacking some decent depth this offseason, not having to tap any of those resources in light of a 200IP season from Cook would be absolutely marvelous.
We know there's a lot of skill in there, and Cook could likely be needed in 2012 as well while Colorado waits for Christian Friedrich.
Oh, and for those of you keeping score at home:
Jason Marquis' 2009: 3.8 fWAR
Aaron Cook's 2010: 1.5 fWAR
Jeff Francis' 2010: 1.9 fWAR
Francis + Cook 2010: 3.4 fWAR
Good try, guys.