With a record of 35-46, your Colorado Rockies are on pace for a 70-92 record halfway through the season. I wanted to address a common explanation for our struggles that has worn thin with me - the injuries. Yes, losing Arenado was crushing, and has probably already cost us two or three wins over the 30+ games he has missed. Cargo/Cuddyer losses have forced our OF depth to be utilized to the fullest. Fortunately, the production of Dickerson and the righthanded bench guys have made up for much of the loss. But I really wanted to address the pitching in this Fanpost, because it's the fact that we've gone 12-deep in the rotation due to the broken bones and other maladies this season that is most often used by writers here to explain why we are where we are. The actual PERFORMANCE, though, shows that it's not just the injuries that have led to our record. It's ineffectiveness from the guys we were counting on.
Through 81 games, the projected starting rotation coming out of Spring Training has actually started 48 games. The top five starters in our depth chart (Chacin, De La Rosa, Anderson, Chatwood, and Nicasio) have only had 20 "quality starts" in those 48 outings, a meager 42% quality start percentage. They have combined for 260 innings pitched, or an average of 5.4 innings per start. Not even getting to two outs in the sixth inning is a challenge to our bullpen depth, obviously. The ERA was a pathetic 5.16 in those 48 starts, having allowed 149 earned runs in those 260 innings. They also allowed 267 hits, walked 104 and struck out only 176 batters. The WHIP was 1.43 (NL average is 1.26). The K/BB ratio was 1.69, compared to an NL average of 2.79 among starting pitchers. The other comparisons were just as bad. The K/9 was 6.1 versus 7.4, and the BB/9 was 3.6 versus 2.7. However you look at it, our FRONTLINE rotation that we were counting on simply stunk in the first half of the season when they were healthy and took the ball.
How about the other 33 games in which the other seven starting pitchers have appeared? Those seven starters combined for 14 quality starts, also a quality start percentage of 42%. The "depth" was taxed, but turned out to keep us "in games" just as often as the top five we were counting on. These seven starters (Lyles, Matzek, Morales, Bergman, Flande, Friedrich, and Butler) combined to throw 189.1 innings in those 33 starts, an average of 5.7 innings per start, actually lasting longer than the projected frontline rotation, getting about one extra out per appearance. The ERA was 5.28, having allowed 111 earned runs, not much worse than the 5.16 from the starters penciled into the rotation at the start of the season. I realize Lyles was a big part of this, and Lyles got hurt, but the fact remains that the GAP between the performance of our projected best five starters and the other seven, combined, was just not very wide. In terms of hits allowed, walks issued, and K's, the "Substitute Seven" combined to allow 219 hits (so they were more hittable), walked 67 and struck out 129. The WHIP was a bit worse at 1.51. The K/BB ratio of 1.93 actually was an improvement on the 1.69 from our "Frontline Five". So was the BB/9 at 3.2 versus 3.6 from our "best" five, though the K/9 was exactly the same at 6.1.
The bottom line? The injuries to our projected starting rotation did NOT result in a signficant dropoff in performance. You can look at this in one of two ways. Either our depth (the seven backup starters) were really almost as good as our top five going in to the season, or our top five were so ineffective that we could run out seven backup starters and get roughly the same level of performance (and even better control with slightly longer outings). The story of the first half of the season as far as as starting pitchers were concerned is that we had below-average starting pitching across the spectrum, and our "depth" only appeared "good" because our best five starters were so bad.
The bullpen, of course, has been among the worst in baseball this season, and we cannot point to injuries as the cause since only Logan has logged DL time. At least they have been better at run prevention, with a bullpen ERA of 4.55 compared to our starters' ERA of 5.22.
While I haven't delved into the sabermetric details in this Fanpost, choosing to stay with the traditional numbers that we are all familiar with, suffice it to say that the metrics are bad, even from our "good' starters. Striking out only 6 batters per 9 innings may be by design (pitch to contact to allow our sterling defense to get outs), but there are times when starters need a strikeout (runner on 3rd, less than 2 outs), and our opponent starters are better able to do that than our own starters. More troubling is the lack of control. The command and control from our projected five best starters has actually been worse than from our other seven, and way worse than the rest of the National League. All of our starters have combined to issue 0.7 more walks per 9 innings than the NL average (3.4 versus 2.7). I was actually shocked to see how good the control has been across the league, but we haven't kept up.
Unless the starting pitchers we were hoping would take us deep into a contending season actually pitch better, the prognosis is poor. Yes, we get Arenado and Cargo back next month, and Anderson as well. Will it make a difference? Not if our five "best" starting pitchers continue to pitch like fourth/fifth/sixth starters do around baseball. If that happens, 90+ losses seems in the cards, and no amount of health from our starting eight position players will alter that sad reality. 2014 is shaping up to be a blend of 2012 and 2013, not as bad as the former but hardly better than the latter. What a mess!