Not all that long ago, I was really scared about the future of Arizona's pitching. There seemed to be a legitimate chance that their rotation would become what the Giants had four or five years ago. All they needed was a couple of highly touted guys to break through and stay healthy.
Two off seasons past, they already had Daniel Hudson coming off a 2011 season in which he threw 222 innings that helped lead them to 94 wins and a division title. His career ERA stood at 3.19, and he was only about to enter his age 25 season. For every other team in the division, he was a problem.
The snakes also had Patrick Corbin, who as we now know became virtually unhittable for most of last season, and then behind that they had Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, and Archie Bradley; three prospects who ranked so highly that all of them made it into the top 25 of Baseball Amer'ca's top 100 - And yes, that's top 25 overall, not just pitchers. It would be like if the Rockies had Jon Gray, Eddie Butler, and a third pitcher just as highly regarded.
This is what was coming down the Arizona pipeline, and since they had just come off a division title in 2011, I thought the recipe was there for the D'backs to dominate this division for a good portion of this decade.
Oops! Looks like I got that one wrong. Really, really wrong!
Just two years later, Hudson has had multiple Tommy John surgeries and it's questionable if he'll ever be an effective pitcher in the majors again, Corbin looks like he's about to miss most (if not all of) 2014 with a serious injury, and Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs have each been traded away to separate clubs in the American League.
Suddenly, Bradley is the only major bullet they have left (granted, it's a big, big bullet), and they may even have to rush him along this season if anything else goes wrong in that rotation. There's still a chance Bradley becomes an ace, Corbin fully recovers and is lights out again by the second half of 2015, and they get another pitcher or two that turns out to be above average and they end up with a really scary starting five, but the solid potential of this team becoming a pitching powerhouse any time in the near future is just about gone. It's amazing how fast all that potential evaporated.
The Corbin injury, assuming the reports are correct, also has some serious implications on the division in 2014. First off, it makes an already favored Dodgers' team even more of a heavy favorite, but it also may have just made the Rockies the second best team in the west.
I would need to write an entire series of articles to get into detail about each team here, but as a starting point, you can use last year's standings to note that the Rockies, Giants and Padres were all only separated by two games. In other words, there's already strong evidence that these three teams were really close.
If you've been here all off season though, you know that the Rockies have an advantage in improving over these two competitors. Unlike the Padres who lack superstars and the Giants who have a starting rotation that includes four members who are aging / declining, the Rockies have a problem that's much easier to fix. Their issue, as we've discussed at length, is that the bottom third of their roster was astonishingly awful. This was true in the lineup, the rotation, and the bullpen.
Just a few days ago, Dave Schoenfield wrote a piece about the best cores in baseball which he defined as the top five players per team based on wins above replacement (WAR) from last season. The top ten list from last year's team's included eight playoff teams, a Texas Rangers team that won 91 games and lost a one game playoff to get into the postseason, and the 74 win Colorado Rockies who actually ranked sixth.
This is just another example of the point I've been trying to drive home all winter. The Rockies have a core that's right up there with the best teams in the league, they just need the bottom of the roster to not put up negative production and unravel all the good things that our top guys bring to the table. As frustrating as this made last season, it's a good thing going forward because the bottom of a roster is MUCH easier to fix than the top.
Last's year's top five on Schoenfield's list were Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Nolan Arenado. All of whom are obviously still with the club and capable of upholding the strong core status they posted last season as long as they stay healthy.
It's this reason that I think the Rockies are going to pass the Padres and the Giants this season. Now that the D'Backs may be without Patrick Corbin however, it's becoming more and more reasonable to believe that the Rockies are going to pass them too. Suddenly there's no clear ace on that team. I don't know about you, but a rotation of Bronson Arroyo, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy, and Randall Delgado doesn't exactly strike fear into my heart.
If Patrick Corbin ends up being gone for the season, I think it's hard to undersell how much this hurts Arizona. Not only are they losing his dominant outings, but they also lose their starting pitching depth right off the bat, which is a big problem the way that team is constructed.
Even Corbin's dominance last season is easy to overlook with and 81-81 team, but a quick gander at the numbers gives us the scoop. The D'Backs were 14 games over .500 when Corbin started last season and 14 games under .500 when he didn't. At the conclusion of play on August 20th, Arizona was 65-59, just five games out of a playoff spot, and Corbin had a 2.45 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .599 OPS on the season. At that moment, the D'Backs were 21-4 in the games he started. 21-4!!!!
Corbin did stumble a bit down the stretch and not surprisingly Arizona was nowhere to be found in the playoff race once we hit the final two weeks of the season, but if anything that only goes further to highlight how important he is to this team.
Need more proof? Last May, Todd Helton, a guy who knows a little something about eyeballing pitches, said that Patrick Corbin's slider is the best he's ever seen. He even confirmed it was better than Randy Johnson's according to his eye when specifically asked.
Yeah, this loss is gonna hurt Arizona big time, and it might even be enough for the Rockies to go right by them in the standings. Only time will tell for sure though.