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Saturday Rockpile: Chacin the Good Kind of Wild Card

This offseason, I wrote that we really did not know what to expect from Jhoulys Chacin in 2011. His potential window of production was wider than any pitcher on the staff, ranging from a middling back-end starter to a dark horse Cy Young candidate. That kind of wild card can be dangerously exciting, and Chacin has delivered. In the absence of Ubaldo Jimenez, the 23-year old has pitched like an ace.

After throwing his first career complete game shutout, the Venezuelan is 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA. Turn it upside down and any which way you want, there is no angle from which Chacin is not impressive. The start to his season isn't exactly shocking if you paid attention to him at the end of 2010. Dating back to August 22 of last year, Chacin is 7-2 with 1.50 ERA in 11 starts. He allowed an earned run in just six of those and has turned in scoreless outings in 4 of his last 7. Even if you push the time line back to the All-Star break, he has an ERA of just 2.08.

What is interesting is that he has found success in a different way than 2010. Whereas he lived on the strikeout last season and sacrificed his walk and strikeout rates, he has reverted back to his minor league ways so far this season. His strikeout rate has dropped, but his walk rate has been nearly halved while his ground ball rate has jumped from 46% to 66% in 2011's small sample. Personally, I like this version better.

Chacin has allowed zero runs in 16 innings at Coors Field this season. He is ten shutout innings from having a career ERA below 3.00 and holds two of the Rockies five quality starts in 2011. We may have our breakout candidate right here.

Of course, there is the bad kind of wild card. Ian Stewart is that guy so far. Capable of an All-Star home run mashing season and capable of being lost at the plate for long stretches, he can be...frustrating. Stewart is frustrated himself:

 "I haven't been able to throw out a hit here or there," said Stewart. "A broken bat, a jam shot, nothing. It's really been humbling. It's wearing on me mentally because I'm struggling, but I'm trying to stay positive and continue to work in the cage so I can be ready. That's all I can do."

His line isn't pretty:

1-for-20, 1 BB, 11 K, zero line drives

It isn't as if he is getting unlucky. He is just lost - his timing is completely off. There is no greater potential for improvement in the Rockies lineup than if Ian Stewart starts hitting, from many aspects. His ceiling production is the highest, obviously. But there is more. Currently, the Rockies are getting a .140/.204/.220 line from their third baseman - that does include time at the hot corner by Ty Wigginton and Jose Lopez. Yes, that is dead last in MLB, worse than the A's, worse than the Mariners, worse than the Pirates and Astros. For all the talk of Jonathan Herrera forcing Stewart out of the line-up, Herrera doesn't play third base. Stewart would be starting if he was hitting.

Or take it from another angle. The hot start from Troy Tulowitzki has earned him four intentional walks in 2011...matching his total from 2010. Colorado is currently getting more than solid production from Todd Helton in the 5-hole, though I doubt anyone is comfortable expecting that all season. I see no better way to improve the line-up than for Ian Stewart to figure it out. Can he? I am honestly starting to doubt it. For now, it looks like he is going to be forced to earn playing time in his infrequent at-bats.



Rogers to start Monday; Jimenez return set for Tuesday | Inside the Colorado Rockies
On the day Jhoulys Chacin threw the Rockies' first complete game shutout since Ubaldo Jimenez outdueled Tim Lincecum last Memorial Day, Jim Tracy announced there would be no reprise of a Jimenez/Lincecum matchup Monday, as previously thought. Instead, Esmil Rogers will get the start against Lincecum so as to stay on regular rest. Jimenez will face Jonathan Sanchez Tuesday, and Jorge de la Rosa draws the red-hot Rockiekiller Matt Cain on Wednesday.


Five reasons the Rockies own baseball’s best record - Big League Stew - MLB Blog - Yahoo! Sports
Mark Townsend breaks down how the Rockies have survived thrived this April, and without their ace.