Five bold predictions for the Rockies entering 2014: Pitchers

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Five bold predictions about Colorado's pitching staff this year, based upon a combination of stats, analysis, and gut feeling.

I have what can charitably be called a checkered past when it comes to guarantees, including ill-fated guarantees of division title attainment in both 2010 and 2011, so I'm going to lay off of those entering the 2014 season. Still, that doesn't mean that I don't have some strong feelings about Colorado's 2014 squad that I want to stake my name to under the title of bold predictions.

So I will. Bryan got the ball rolling last night with his Chad Bettis reliever notion and I'll continue in that vein this morning. Without further ado, my bold predictions for Colorado's pitching staff in 2014, from tamest to boldest:

1. LaTroy Hawkins will lead the Rockies in saves this year

Now this might not seem like a very bold prediction given that Hawkins is already the team's closer, but honestly from all the comments I'm reading both on this site and elsewhere, there's not a lot of belief that Hawkins will hold onto the closer role for most of 2014. This is due to the fact that Hawkins is 41 years old (adorable fan club and all) and that Rex Brothers exists on the team.

I won't disagree that Brothers is a better pitcher than Hawkins, but as other have noted, that will free up the Rockies to use the lefty fireballer in more high leverage situations - an arrangement that will be agreeable enough to Colorado that Hawkins will remain the closer for the majority of the year, if not all of it.

2. Eddie Butler and Jon Gray don't see the major leagues until at least September

As excited as we've been to read about all of the prospect accolades on Butler and Gray this off-season, it's important to remember a few things.

One, that Butler only has 27 innings pitched at the AA level and that Gray doesn't have any at all. AA baseball can be pretty challenging, especially for pitchers as young as those two, and there's still plenty in terms of honing command and learning how to pitch that can be gained at that level and at AAA Colorado Springs.

Two, that the Rockies might not need either prospect given their recently improved pitching depth. The team realistically has 10 or 11 starters that are ahead of the duo on the depth chart in terms of 2014 availability, including the five rotation members, Franklin Morales, Jordan Lyles, Christian Friedrich, Chad Bettis, and Pedro Hernandez. The Rockies likely won't be in a place this season when they need to dip below that level to find a starter...unless they're really on a playoff push, in which case all bets are off.

3. Jhoulys Chacin rebounds from his injury quickly and puts up an All-Star caliber year that matches or exceeds last season.

Chacin is a criminally underrated pitcher nationally due to the nationwide ignorance of park effects on a pitcher's common numbers. After all, what could be that special about a pitcher that has a 3.47 ERA and 1.26 WHIP? Considering that the league average value for those two metrics is 3.87 and 1.30 respectively, it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that you were talking about a league average pitcher.

However, when you're a 25 year-old pitcher putting up those numbers (and almost 200 innings pitched) at the most extreme hitter's environment in baseball as Chacin did, those numbers become 27% better than league average (127 ERA+), adding up to a fantastic season worth 5.8 rWAR. That's definitively an All-Star level of performance and it's a shame that Chacin didn't get more credit nationally for it.

In fact, Chacin already has a claim to being Colorado's best ever pitcher by virtue of his franchise best 3.61 career ERA. He already ranks 3rd on the career rWAR list for pitchers and if he repeats 2013's effort this year, he'll be number one on the list. All this for a player who will play 2014 at age 26! I haven't bet against Chacin much in his major league career and I'm not going to start now.

4. Juan Nicasio will be the 3rd most valuable pitcher for Colorado in 2014

Nicasio was more or less a replacement level pitcher by rWAR last year in his 157 2/3 innings for the Rockies, but his peripheral numbers suggest a pitcher who was unlucky and who may be on the verge of a breakout season. Specifically, Nicasio's fielding independent pitching (FIP) rate, which takes defense out of the equation and looks at what is in a pitcher's control, was 4.25, well below Nicasio's 5.14 ERA last season.

In addition, Nicasio has gone through a fully healthy off-season for the first time as a major leaguer after injuries marred the off-seasons after 2011 and 2012. Nicasio needs to work on his secondary offerings and his efficiency, but he's got major league quality stuff and a bulldog's demeanor on the mound. He should be in line for a high innings count with respectable results in 2014, providing at least two wins of value for Colorado this season.

That's the good part. The real reason that I feel that Nicasio, ostensibly Colorado's 5th best starter entering spring, will be 3rd best in 2014 is that I foresee injuries and/or ineffectiveness striking the rotation. Maybe Tyler Chatwood or Jorge De La Rosa can't replicate their dazzling 2013 numbers or maybe an injury strikes one or more of the quartet ahead of Nicasio - but I'm not bold enough to pick which players will be struck by the injury or ineffectiveness bug.

Either way, I think a combination of health, relative ineffectiveness of the other starters, and improved effectiveness for Nicasio will make him the 3rd best starter on the team.

5. Franklin Morales will throw more innings as a starter than he does as a reliever this year

So now I'm entering the realm of the fanciful. Morales has the stuff to be a mid-rotation or better starter, but has thus far in his major league career been able to command it consistently enough to be an effective starting pitcher. My crystal ball says that, if given the chance by the Rockies out of camp this year, Morales will be the most effective he's ever been as a pitcher.

Unfortunately for the Rockies but fortunately for Morales's big league career, I foresee him getting multiple opportunities this season to prove that he can be an effective starting pitcher in MLB, which means that he'll rack up enough SP innings to eclipse the innings he'll amass as the long man out of the pen.

So what do you think Rockies fans? What are your bold predictions for the Colorado pitching staff in 2014?

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