Wednesday Rockpile: Will Colorado's Starting Pitching Stay This Bad?

DENVER, CO - APRIL 17: Starting pitcher Jamie Moyer #50 of the Colorado Rockies returns to the dugout with catcher Wilin Rosario #20 of the Colorado Rockies as he exits the game after the seventh inning against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field on April 17, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. Moyer became the oldest pitcher in the major leagues to earn a win as the Rockies defeated the Padres 5-3. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

First of all, Don't Panic. Much of what I wrote last week remains true today. Namely, we're only a little ways into the season and some regression toward the mean is in order. Of course, I was mostly writing about the hitting, and this week the lesson might well be for the pitching -- but I'll get to that. The idea that's really proving true is the demarcation point of the Rockies needing to score at least 4 runs. When they do, they're 5-0, when they don't they are 0-6. Pretty simple, right?

Back to the small sample thing and pitching -- with all I've said still remaining true about a small sample size, the 2012 season so far has been just about the worst case scenario for the starting pitching staff. As a rotation, Colorado's 5.87 ERA is 27th, their 1.67 WHIP, 5.54 FIP and 5.15 xFIP are all dead last. They have struck out the 2nd fewest men in MLB (27) while walking the 5th most (27). Yes, that's a 1:1 K/BB ratio. In all, that has lead to performance that collectively has been below replacement level (-0.1 fWAR). It's pretty safe to say that Colorado's rotation has been the worst in MLB so far (and by a pretty wide margin).

But most damning is this stat -- Colorado's starters have combined for only 57 IP over 11 games this season, 29th in MLB (and the team that they are better than in IP, Cleveland, has only played 9 games). That's only 5.18 innings per outing, so basically the Rockies are asking the bullpen on average to pick up 3 or 4 innings per game. Heck, Colorado already felt the need to send one of its relievers down in Tyler Chatwood (who will be transitioning back into a starting role) to get a fresh arm up in Edgmer Escalona.

Last year the bullpen picked up 508.2 IP -- this year at this pace they'll be pitching over 589 innings, which would have been the most in MLB last year by 25 (and that's if there are no extra innings games)! While Colorado's bullpen has been stellar this year (3-1, 2.70 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 1.23 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR), they only have so many quality innings in them. Much more support is needed from the starters if they can be expected to maintain this pace.

There are a couple of different ways to look at all these figures. The glass half full side would say that despite this putrid starting pitching, the team is still at 5-6, the bullpen is doing a great job, etc. And that crowd has a great point. The offense has been pretty great against RHP (.283/.356/.482, 135 sOPS+) and their totals against LHP (.220/.276/.340, 77 OPS+) have certainly shown signs of unluckiness to this point (.237 BABIP). If they are consistently able to put big numbers on the scoreboard, starting pitching will matter less and less.

However, if the bullpen breaks down under the workload they're being given and the starting pitching remains at this level, Colorado's offense would need to be Herculean (6 or 7 runs a game) to maintain contender status. Though I do like this lineup (six days of the week), that seems like a pretty tall task. Jorge De La Rosa can't come back fast enough and Colorado needs some more length out of Jhoulys Chacin in particular.

I'm not naive -- I think that the realistic best case scenario for this group is league average performance. But if the burden on the offense can be lessened down towards 4 or 5 runs scored per game, this is still a contending team.

Off-Topic.

Jamie Moyer -- Old Winner

There's a few articles on the internet celebrating Jamie Moyer becoming the oldest pitcher ever to win a MLB game. Besides the Denver Post, there are some nice odes to Moyer, the best of which might be the one at ESPN, though the AP story and Thomas Harding's story are pretty good too. Moyer was also named MLB Network's Quick Pitch MVP of the night.

On Jim Tracy and the Failure of the Modern Bullpen

Two separate articles here that both deserve a few minutes. In the first, the Hardball Times' Chris Jaffe writes about the peculiar managerial career of Jim Tracy. Specifically, how he has engendered such strong negative feelings despite being a pretty ordinary manager.

Secondly, Tom Verducci of SI condemns the modern bullpen structure. It's a frustrating topic for me, and Verducci breaks it down very well.

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