The 2011 Colorado Rockies Preview - Pitching

2010 was a season to remember for many individual Rockies players. The highlights were the breakouts of Carlos Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez, who finished 3rd in their respective "best of" award voting. Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki also won their first Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards. Ubaldo threw the first no-hitter in franchise history, and was the NL Starting Pitcher in the All-Star Game. Tulowitzki had a September for the ages, chasing Babe Ruth's single-month HR total. Matt Belisle established himself as a top-flight reliever in the NL. After a brief cameo in 2009, Jhoulys Chacin burst onto the scene by setting the 3rd lowest ERA in franchise history. Rafael Betancourt, in his age-35 season, also set near-historic marks for efficiency in the form of a strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB), marks that have been topped by only Dennis Eckersley, Mariano Rivera, and strangely enough, Edward Mujica of the San Diego Padres in 2010.

Despite many individual successes, 2010 ultimately was a season of disappointment for the entire team. Tulowitzki had his wrist broken during interleague play, and while the team stayed afloat, it was clearly costly to lose the franchise centerpiece for a month of the season. Dexter Fowler and Chris Iannetta were both sent to AAA Colorado Springs to attempt to fix their ailing swings (Iannetta finished below the Mendoza line). The Rockies finished their 2010 campaign with an 8-game losing streak, capped in Game 161 when the team failed to get Jimenez his coveted 20th win in his breakout season. Inconsistencies and injuries forced the team to cut ties with longtime Rockies Brad Hawpe (SDP), Jeff Francis (KCR), Manuel Corpas (FA), and Clint Barmes (HOU).

The 2010-2011 offseason proved to be an exciting one for the Rockies, however, as Troy Tulowitzki signed what will likely amount to a lifetime extension. Carlos Gonzalez followed suit, signing an unprecendented (at least for a Scott Boras client) extension for the next 7 years. Jorge De La Rosa, citing positive experiences with the Rockies, signed a 2-year extension with options that can add up to a total of 4 years, despite having guaranteed 3-year offers on the table.

The team made it clear that they recognized their deficiencies, in the forms of road batting and struggles against left-handed pitching. To rectify these situations, they went after 2B Jose Lopez in trade and UTIL Ty Wigginton in free agency. To lessen the load on the bullpen, the Rockies traded for part-time closer Matt Lindstrom.

All in all, it wasn't a very flashy offseason, at least in terms of new acquisitions. The organization has made it clear that win or lose, they're going to stick with their players.

The Rotation
1. Ubaldo Jimenez
It's hard to follow up a season where you post a 2.88 ERA, going 19-8, and break the single-season strikeout record for your club. But Ubaldo is still learning how to really harness his gifts and PITCH, rather than just throwing. One might say he's already there, but it's really hard to try and cap a pitcher with as much potential as Jimenez. Expect 100mph of fastball being crammed down your throat.

2. Jorge De La Rosa
At times, he's maddeningly inconsistent, but since he's joined the Rockies, DLR has learned to rein in his temper and maintain composure and performance even when the balls aren't finding gloves. An unappreciated power lefty, DLR is looking to build on his 4.22 ERA in 2010 and really stand out as a solid #2 pitcher in the NL. Expect high strikeout numbers with high-ish walk numbers to go with them.

3. Jhoulys Chacin
With a changeup that's been likened to Johan Santana's, Chacin made his 2010 debut to the tune of a 3.28 ERA over 21 starts (and 7 relief appearances). Given a strikeout and walk rate higher than we'd expect from his minor league numbers, 2011 might be a growing year for Chacin. With the tutelage of Bob Apodaca though, The Machine is going to develop into, as Jim Tracy puts it, a very special pitcher. Expect groundballs and above average strikeout numbers - and whirring and clicking, if his nickname is to be believed.

4. Jason Hammel
Rescued from Tampa Bay's bullpen during the Spring of 2009, Hammel has been reviled as an inconsistent starter (due to his propensity for The Big Inning), but one who will give you 175IP. Despite criticism, Hammel twice posted the franchise-best K/BB numbers for a starting pitcher, both over 3 punchouts per free pass. Hammel's weakness is hittability in crucial moments, which fuels the critical fires, but Hammel has quietly become a favorite among many Rockies fans. Expect a mid-90s fastball and a buckling curve that will leave hitters speechless - or golfing.

5. Esmil Rogers
Will he-won't he-will he-won't he: Rogers' career thus far has been bounced back and forth between the minors, the bullpen, and the rotation. Given his age and relatively recent conversion to the art of hurling (from Shortstop), Rogers has been surprisingly decent, but maddeningly inconsistent. Awarded the #5 slot in light of Aaron Cook's injury. Expect a straight, but strong, fastball, a lot of frustration, and a lot of people defending him.

The Bullpen
Closer Huston Street (RHP)
Loved by some, hated by others, Street will be taking the 9th inning and getting the opportunities to nail down the close leads. Despite having one of the worst seasons of his career in 2010 as far as ERA goes, Street also battled injury in 2010, not throwing a pitch for the major league club until June. From there, he leapfrogged good months and bad months, having a weak June and August but a strong July and excellent September. Expect lots of sliders/2seamers/really bendy pitches and a lot of time to think/worry between them.

Setup Rafael Betancourt (RHP)
As mentioned in the first paragraph, Betancourt's 2010 was historic. 12.85 K/9, 1.16 BB/9. Betancourt may just be the best setup man in the league right now. Expect to see fastballs, and lots of them.

Setup Matt Belisle (RHP)
Belisle's 2010 breakout was completely unexpected, unless your name is Andrew Fisher. Belisle led relievers in innings pitched, and if you buy into pitching WAR, he was worth about as much as a league-average starting pitcher. Expect to see a step back for Belisle, as overwork left him faltering down the stretch in 2010, but not a complete backslide.

Reliever Matt Lindstrom (RHP)
Lindstrom was a part time closer in his time with the Florida Marlins and the Houston Astros. Despite being far more hittable than the average pitcher (.358 BABIP against), Lindstrom was able to muster a 4.39 ERA with the Astros. He's been reported to be working on a changeup this spring, an absolute must for a pitcher in Coors Field. Expect Lindstrom to be taking some 7th inning duties from Belisle and in the event of something catastrophic with Street, save opportunities as well.

Reliever Matt Reynolds (LHP)
Reynolds was called up in August to add some lefty support to the bullpen. Reynolds posted very high strikeout rates in AAA Colorado Springs (as well as Tulsa and Modesto in 2009) and will likely be used as some sort of a lefty setup man, despite not being specifically slated there. He still has work to do from Spring, involving leaving pitches up and other nasty bad habits. Expect to see him as part of any number of Jim Tracy Chessmaster routines.

Reliever Franklin Morales (LHP)
The "other lefty" in the pen, Morales fall from grace has been very visible since his heroic callup in 2007 to lead the Rockies to the original Rocktober. Morales' weaknesses include lack of composure on the mound, general wildness, and balks. His strengths mostly involve being a lefty who can throw 96. Expect to see a man pitching with his Rockies career on the line, because this season, there is no going back for Morales; it's Do or Die time.

Long Reliever Felipe Paulino (RHP)
After being removed from the #5 starter hunt in Spring Training, Paulino focused exclusively on just overpowering hitters for an inning or two at a time. It seemed to work, as he said he felt very comfortable just letting it fly after his demotion to the pen. Did I mention that Paulino was the 2nd fastest fastball in the majors behind Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010? Expect to see heat - straight Gasolina, baby.

Tomorrow, we'll run through the starting lineup and the bench.    

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