Friday Rockpile: Christian Friedrich's Debut in Context

Christian Friedrich threw the Rockies' 6th best start of the year Wednesday. It was also the 5th best MLB debut by a Rockies starter ever.

Christian Friedrich was incredibly impressive Wednesday in his major league debut. In the 36 hours since he left the mound, fans, analysts and even the Rockies internally have been trying to parse together what to make from it. It was one start against a poor offense in a pitcher's paradise, but it was one very impressive start indeed.

In fact, he became one of just eight pitchers in Rockies history to win his MLB debut as a starter. Ironically, three of those eight came in the last 12 months by pitchers in the current rotation.

The game score his start produced was the fifth best by a Rockies starter in his debut, ever.

What does it mean? You might be surprised to learn that it means almost nothing, but that it is impressive nonetheless.

Friedrich is John Sickels' prospect of the day at Minor League Ball. He had this to say:

With better health, he's back up into the 90s now, topping out at 94 MPH on Wednesday and averaging 92. He has two breaking pitches, a curve and a slider, and both offerings appear sharper this year. Better velocity separation with the revived fastball helps, but his secondary pitches just look better in general. He also has a solid changeup. His command and control improved this spring after wobbling during his tenure at Tulsa.

Friedrich's successes this spring don't completely erase past concerns, but he looks a lot more like the confident, talented pitcher the Rockies drafted in 2008 than the guy who stumbled through Double-A.

I've compiled notable MLB debuts as starters - the eight winners plus top prospects and names. Names likeUbaldo Jimenez, Jhoulys Chacin, Cory Vance, John Burke, and Aaron Cook were not included, as their debuts came in relief.

Name Debut Date Age Decision Gm Score Venue Opponent
Mark Brownson 7/21/1998 23 W 85 Astrodome HOU
Jason Jennings 8/23/2001 23 W 81 Shea Stadium NYM
Drew Pomeranz 9/11/2011 22 W 63 Coors Field CIN
Juan Nicasio 5/28/2011 24 W 63 Coors Field STL
Christian Friedrich 5/9/2012 24 W 62 Petco Park SDP
Jamey Wright 7/3/1996 21 ND 62 3Com Park SFG
Franklin Morales 7/18/2007 21 ND 58 Dodger Stadium LAD
Bryan Rekar 7/19/1995 23 W 49 Coors Field PHI
Chin-Hui Tsao 7/25/2003 22 W 49 Coors FIeld MIL
Esmil Rogers 9/12/2009 24 ND 49 Petco Park SDP
Mark Thompson 7/26/1994 23 W 41 Jack Murphy Stadium SDP
Greg Reynolds 5/11/2008 22 L 40 Petco Park SDP
Jeff Francis 8/25/2004 23 L 38 Turner Field ATL

Off the bat, one should notice the very poor showing of Jeff Francis, the best Rockies-drafted starter of the last decade. Compare to the best showing, Mark Brownson, who used a glorious curveball to torment the Astros. His career lasted just 11 games, thanks to a 6.94 ERA, 9.70 at Coors Field.

Bryan Rekar is a different kind of example. His debut was decent enough, but after three starts, he had a 3.09 ERA and had averaged 7.2 IP per start. He ended up going 7-10 with a 5.62 ERA in three years with the Rockies before being taken by the Devils Rays in the expansion draft. He finished his career at age 30 with a 5.62 ERA.

So of course, Friedrich's debut guarantees him nothing as far as his career goes. You knew that already, but it isn't as if this is the most worthless warning out there.

Who Gets the Short Straw?

It might guarantee him something though - a shot at another start. A chance to stick. As Troy Renck wrote, the Rockies suddenly have usable depth and options in the rotation. Another adjective - quality - remains to be seen. However, after a strong rehab start with Modesto, Jeremy Guthrie is ready to re-join the rotation next Tuesday in San Francisco. There will not be a six man rotation, so someone has to go to AAA.

With the worst rotation in the National League, it would be tough to demote a starter who is pitching well, which counts Friedrich and Alex White after their 2012 debuts. Jeremy Guthrie will stay - he is making too much money, has no options, and has too much of a quality MLB track record not to. Jamie Moyer has the lowest ERA on the staff. Drew Pomeranz is the future and is arguably the best overall performer on staff. Juan Nicasio has been uneven, but he has also been dominant in half of his starts.

What seems likely is to make one turn with a 6-man rotation, running Moyer, Nicasio and Pomeranz against the Dodgers, White and Guthrie in San Francisco, then Friedrich to open the homestand against Arizona and evaluate his performance at Coors Field. At that time, a decision could be made.

Off-topic
Mobile off-topic

All the Glory, Trevor Story

We profiled Story last week in the Farm Report, and he is getting attention elsewhere as well. John Sickels ranked Story aggressively as the Rockies' #4 prospect in the offseason, ahead of Baseball America (#6), Fangraphs (#6), Baseball Prospectus (#8), and Purple Row (#12). Despite that high ranking, Sickels is already upgrading Story after one month:

I had him at Grade B pre-season but he's a B+ now and heading higher.

He also earned the praises of Mike Newman at Fangraphs yesterday. In a twitter conversation with me, Newman added that Story is a:

...Hell of a player. A new personal favorite. My first impression of Story is that he WILL max out the tools he does have. It's cliche, but very important so early. I couldn't have been more impressed with him as a ballplayer.

Links

Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki wanted to play even after injury - The Denver Post - Anyone shocked?

Baseball Prospectus | Raising Aces: Where's Ubaldo? His strikeout rate is down, his walk rate up, his home runs up, his ground balls down. Essentially, everything about Ubaldo's performance is significantly worse. This article, which is understandably behind a pay wall, evaluates Ubaldo's mechanics - his posture, torque and stride specifically, with before and after screenshots. Very clearly, his shoulder is flying open. Two starts (October 2, 2010 and May 6, 2012) were graded for balance, momentum, torque, posture, release distance, and repetition. He was even on release distance and better in 2012 on momentum, but the rest were much worse. This is a great read.

BaseballAmerica.com: Draft: Mock Draft: Mock Draft: Version 1.0 The first mock draft came out yesterday, and Jim Callis suggests the Rockies may diverge from choosing a starting pitcher, given their lack of success in the first round since Jeff Francis. The pick is Alabama HS outfielder David Dahl.

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