Sunday Rockpile: Is the Rockies rotation finally stabilizing?

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 5: Reliever Tyler Chatwood #32 of the Colorado Rockies pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on July 5, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Not that it's going to be any help for the season at this point, other than adding a little team pride and lowering the expected draft pick in 2013, but there are signs that the latest iteration of the Rockies four man rotation may be moving from the "terrible" category to the merely "not good" category. Of course, this exercise has been kind of like predicting the economic recovery, where even the slightest uptick engenders often misguided optimism that there's a more robust change in store, but with recent performances by Jeff Francis and Drew Pomeranz in particular, there are encouraging indications that at least half of the Rockies four man front will now consistently put the team in a decent position to win some baseball games.

As for the other half, Christian Friedrich should be watched most closely for a similar step to consistency, although he clearly hasn't quite reached it yet. Jeremy Guthrie, meanwhile, is just on a showcase tour for a later July trade despite being put on the Rockies second half rotation map. The steps forward that we should be looking for from his slot in the rotation will be happening in Colorado Springs or wherever else the Sky Sox play over the next few weeks. Also noted in the above, Wilin Rosario remains a rookie.

Heading into the season we would have thought that the Rockies would have numerous candidates to eventually replace Guthrie by now, from the recently demoted Josh Outman to recovering injured pitchers like Juan Nicasio and Jhoulys Chacin, or even Jorge De La Rosa, but slow recoveries are just one of the many ills that have beset the pitching this year, as noted by Troy Renck today, but also be sure to check out PHLP's FanPost on that subject if you haven't yet.

In the meantime, Renck also takes aim at Rockies bridge relievers Guillermo Moscoso and Tyler Chatwood, but more than that he's taking a shot at the design of Colorado's four man system for putting them into such important roles. I think Chatwood falls into the same "be patient, he's young category" that a lot of the team does this year and we as fans will eventually be rewarded for taking our lumps there this year, whereas Moscoso has always been a smoke and mirrors guy that becomes pretty much useless when the smoke clears and the mirrors get smashed by all the line drives he gives up.

The main problem is that the four man system that the Rockies have set up almost requires a shadow four man long bullpen with the starters they'll be replacing. It's just a matter of optimizing that alignment, and I don't know if Jim Tracy has figured that part out yet. Josh Roenicke seems to be the team's de facto short replacement "ace," getting used in relief of Francis the last couple of times, and despite yesterday's struggles, he seems well suited for the role of holding opponents down for a short duration leading into the set-up/closer chain. The system gets broken a bit after Roenicke, however, particularly as Tracy uses pitchers like Moscoso or Chatwood to replace starters that don't make it a full five innings. Essentially, Tracy's following the standard five man rotation playbook for managing the bullpen of a unique four man front.

The team really needs a more stable veteran regularly backing up Friedrich from the pen, and the Chatwood lumps would be better served in Guthrie starts. The Rockies do have the ideal candidate for working behind Friedrich on their roster, but Matt Belisle isn't going to get moved from his current role as primary set-up to Rafael Betancourt. Outside Belisle, it's a bit tricky, maybe this should become Adam Ottavino's regular gig, or perhaps Carlos Torres will prove the answer. At any rate, the Friedrich/Chatwood pairing should be split up.

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