This is a rare time of year. We can forget, for a moment, about an abysmal season wherein the Rockies fielded one of the worst pitching staffs in the history of a game that stretches back before cars existed. We can, if we try really hard, forget for a moment that Rockies management has done nothing to address said rotation during the offseason other than allow doctors and time to return their best three options to health, and hopefully to form. We can forget, for just one moment, the hard, cold reality that this is probably a season of rooting for mediocrity.
Because this is spring. This is a time for fans.
Spring is for hope. Spring is the moment every baseball fan reserved for excitement when they uttered the words "there’s always next year." Well now it is next year. We have an entire season to be fatalistically realistic about our home squad but in the early days of Spring Training, Rockies fans should be looking closely at the following three possible scenarios with great (and cautious) hope.
(Note: This article assumes general health and no major catastrophes; we are playing in a fun land where anything is possible and no one has lost a game yet!)
1. The Defense Of Wilin Rosario
It could easily be argued that Wilin Rosario was the single most exciting thing about last year’s Colorado Rockies. He is the most powerful rookie to ever wear purple. And he does it all while playing the most demanding daily position on a baseball diamond. Well kinda. It has been well documented that Wilin Rosario had significant troubles behind the plate in his rookie campaign. The documentation is equally well in order on his offseason work to improve defensively. And, in yet another triumph of documentation and the defense of Wilin Rosario, many (including members here on Purple Row,) have been quick to point out the lack of specifics on the improvements to Rosario’s backstop abilities.
Has he improved at blocking balls in the dirt? Has he calmed his demeanor? Will he show the ability to handle chaotic situations with decisiveness and professional execution? These are all important questions, but secondary to the concern that he had been tipping pitches. Satchel Paige once said "I use my single windup, my double windup, my triple windup, my hesitation windup, my no windup. I also use my step-n-pitch-it, my submariner, my sidearmer and my bat dodger. Man’s got to do what he’s got to do."
In other words, deception is key. It’s hard to throw a "bat dodger" even in MLB 2k13 if the batter knows what’s coming.
Improvement on this one singular facet of the Baby Bull’s game goes a long way in improving this club overall. It aids a pitching staff that badly needs all the aid it can get, especially helping Drew Pomeranz regain his confidence knowing that his best fastball is not being sat upon. Rosario becomes league average in terms of blocking, calling, and not tipping pitches, his arm and bat allow the Rockies avoid search number 173 for the "catcher of the future." This allows the organization to focus on replacing Todd Helton at 1B, figure out what to do with the wealth of depth in the outfield, and y’know, one of these days address the pitching.
2. The BABIP Of Dexter Fowler
Did Dexter Fowler finally have his breakout season? Or was it luck? Is there such a thing as "figuring it out?" and did Dex combine that with his excellent eye to create more solid contact leading to better and more consistent offensive production? Or did he have an aberrational season last year to which he is sure to come down from? All fair questions and they can only be answered by Dexter Fowler.
Ok, so his BABIP from last season of .390 is higher than any season Todd Helton has ever had. There are certainly problems with assuming that a high BABIP equals luck, but few people would argue that Dexter Fowler is better at placing the ball than the Toddfather, so that number will probably come down a bit. That being said, Fowler's BABIP has been high his entire career, and his OBP has been on a steady uptick the last few seasons which suggests a continued ability to better his approach which should continue to see his offensive production progress even if his luck runs out.
Dexter Fowler’s BABIP sticks around .360 while he continues his upward trend at getting on base. This all becomes much more impactful due to a healthy Tulowitzki and a motivated Cargo to drive him in. He keeps his BA just above .290 and even garners some fringe All-Start candidacy talk!
3. The Fastball Of Jorge De La Rosa
It seems like not so long ago I was reading this article by Woody Paige. It seems like not so long ago that Jorge De La Rosa (JDLR) taking the mound was appointment television. And really, it wasn’t. With last year’s appearances meaning little, JDLR looks to fulfill the narrative of the pitcher two years removed from Tommy John surgery who comes back better than ever. JDLR’s fastball could be the key to the Rockies outperforming expectations.
His changeup may be de la Rosa’s best pitch, but R.A. Dickey’s Cy Young campaign showed us all again how the fastball keeps hitters honest. ERA and WHIP from last season can be explained by a number of factors, however, this fangraphs pitch FX chart shows an obvious reduction in fastball speed coming off the surgery. Was this drop simply a result of strength not being entirely back? Or was it an attempt not to push too hard considering there had been setbacks? Or has he simply lost the zip on the ole’ number one. The radar gun this spring could tell the story of how the Rockies season will go.
Jorge De La Rosa posts a consistent 4.03 ERA which would be an average of his last three real seasons and 145 IP (an average of his ’08-’10 numbers) and returns his fastball to an average close to 93 making him one of the more difficult lefties in the National League once again. Isn’t spring fun?