It's no secret that the Colorado Rockies' starting rotation is supposed to be their Achilles' heel this year. Hell, some people thought it would be their Achilles' heel, Smaug's underbelly, and the Death Star's thermal exhaust port (EDITOR'S NOTE: It was an inside job, tbh) all rolled into one. Through 28 games, though, the starting pitching has been solid enough to keep the Rockies in games and let the offense do its thing. By some sort of strange alchemy, the assembled-by-scotch-tape rotation has led the Rockies to a 17 and 11 record, good for first in the NL West.
But just because things have worked out well recently doesn't mean they will continue to do so in the future (looking at you, 2011 Rockies). The cracks in the armor are still there, even if the arrows haven't found the seams yet. The Rockies' starters are second to last in MLB in strikeouts per nine innings, at 5.75. They've pitched the seventh fewest innings, and all the teams below them are obvious non-contenders. Four-fifths of their rotation missed significant time last year due to injury (Chacin, Garland, De La Rosa, Nicasio). Let's not kid ourselves; this is a ragtag crew with significant downside.
So the Front Office has decided to be proactive, as 2013 shapes up to be a surprisingly competitive year. Yesterday, the team signed . They are going to send him to extended spring training to get stretched out, then to a Minor League team to see how he handles game action. There's no guarantee he makes the big club, but this is the kind of low-risk high-reward move the Rockies should be making. to a minor-league deal
There's no denying that Oswalt got shelled in Texas last year. He posted a 5.80 ERA for the Rangers in 59 innings pitched (nine starts, eight relief appearances). He allowed a .316 average and a 1.53 WHIP, to go along with an unsightly 18.6 percent home run/fly ball rate (11th worst in MLB last year among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched). The man got hit hard.
But there's still reason to believe there's gas in that tank. He struck out nine batters per nine innings last year, indicative of a guy who can still miss bats. His walk rate was a pristine 1.68 per 9 innings. His Fielding Independent Pitching (which measures only the events the pitcher completely controls: walks, homers, and strikeouts) was a solid 4.23. His xFIP, which regresses home run rate to league average, was an excellent 3.27. Both those stats are historically more predictive than ERA.
Furthermore, his fastball velocity in 2012 (91.5 mph) was the same as it was in 2011 (91.4mph), when he posted a 3.69 ERA for the Phillies. While he might not be rushing it up there in the mid-90s like he could in his heyday, he still has pretty good life on the pitch. This is a guy who, apart from 2012, never posted an fWAR below 2.5 in his career. He has a career ERA of 3.28 and accumulated nearly 50 fWAR.
At the moment, this signing is just depth. But if (when?) a current member of the rotation gets hurt, or Francis pitches himself off the roster, or Nicasio needs a AAA tuneup, Oswalt could be an excellent solution to a serious problem.
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Troy Renck writes about the Rockies' growing confidence. Veterans like Michael Cuddyer and Troy Tulowitzki claim that there's a different vibe in the clubhouse this year, largely due to Walt Weiss's presence.
Interleague play begins for the Rockies today, as the Tampa Bay Rays come to Denver. Renck writes about the two tough lefties the Rockies are due to face in the series. The Rays are sort of like the anti-Rockies; they have more pitching than they know what to do with, but an offense that struggles to score on a lot of nights.