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Wednesday Rockpile: Fallout from the De La Rosa Injury

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Jorge De La Rosa has thrown his last pitch in 2011.
Jorge De La Rosa has thrown his last pitch in 2011.

Despite yesterday's game one offensive outburst, the Rockies had a really terrible Tuesday. And that was before Colorado lost the nightcap. As in, they no longer have the services of Jorge De La Rosa for the rest of year (and maybe part of next year too). De La Rosa suffered a complete tear of his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his elbow during yesterday's start.

As a result, the Rockies no longer have their only MLB-caliber left-handed starting pitcher and the man who had produced the most fWAR of anyone on Colorado's pitching staff. If JDLR wasn't the best pitcher on the Rockies staff so far in 2011, it's only because Jhoulys Chacin has been great too. De La Rosa's final 2011 line: 5-2, 3.51 ERA, 3.25 FIP, and 52 Ks to 22 BB. He was on pace for 4-5 WAR this season -- the loss of the 3-4 WAR he was in line to produce from now until the end of the year could easily mean the difference between a playoff berth and also-ran status. His loss creates a gaping hole in Colorado's pitching staff.

Fortunately, Colorado has assembled some decent depth in their system, as this year's ascendance of Clayton Mortensen has shown. Even more fortunately, it's about time for Aaron Cook to rejoin the rotation. A healthy Cook supplemented by a slightly below average performance by Mortensen/Esmil Rogers/Greg Reynolds will help mitigate the damage somewhat, maybe to the tune of filling half of JDLR's production. That proposition is iffy though, as Cook's health and effectiveness are far from a given while Mortensen is likely pitching over his head right now.

A quick digression about Aaron Cook: these next few months are crucial for his future with the Rockies. While most assumed this was Cook's last year pitching for the Rockies, De La Rosa's questionable availability in 2012 could lead Colorado to re-sign him, should he round into form. It's a combination of a contract year and a closing window of opportunity. If Cook wants to continue as a Rockie past 2011, he must jam that window open.

Back to replacing De La Rosa. Maybe Dan O'Dowd will roll the dice on one of his talented AA pitchers, Juan Nicasio or Christian Friedrich. Nicasio has been brilliant so far in Tulsa, while Friedrich has top prospect pedigree and is a southpaw. Having one of those pitchers come up would probably be the only way that the Rockies come close to filling De La Rosa's spot. However, neither has thrown a pitch over AA ball and there is a ton of risk assumed by the Rockies that their development would be stunted by a too-fast promotion. In addition, do the Rockies want to start the service clock of these pitchers so early?

Will Colorado look to the trade market to fill this need? I doubt it -- there's not much out there in terms of left-handed pitching -- Jeff Francis could be available, maybe Paul Maholm, but these guys are probably league-average at best going forward. It's not O'Dowd's modus operandi to make big trades, especially in-season and with the pieces that are available now, it's especially unlikely that he does so.

So, how do the Rockies go about replacing the production and presence of De La Rosa? Short answer -- they can't, not with just one guy. There aren't any elite LHPs available, unless you're a really big believer in Friedrich. I'd say on a list of irreplaceable players for Colorado, JDLR comes in third behind Troy Tulowitzki and Ubaldo Jimenez due to positional scarcity, if not pure performance ability. Everybody's going to have to step up for Colorado to fill this gaping hole. I just hope that they can. A rebound is still possible, what with Colorado's three stars drastically underperforming expectations so far (though arguably Tulo has performed pretty well).

I considered the Rockies' true talent level going into the season at 92 to 97 wins. Thanks to the May slump, that projection was retreating toward 90. This injury pushes it south of 90 wins and to the fringes of playoff contention. It's not an insurmountable challenge for Colorado, whose talent still hasn't shone through so far this year (and may never do so), but this injury makes the daunting task of winning the NL West incredibly difficult.

Off-Topic.

Links

De La Rosa on his injury:

"No, I'm not OK," ... "But I hope to get back as soon as I can."

Bill Chuck of the Baseball Analytics blog breaks down Ubaldo Jimenez's struggles so far this year by pitch type. It looks like the splitter is a big problem for Ubaldo so far.

It's kind of cruel that Jayson Stark has a list of landscape-changing injuries right before the Rockies suffered one.

Jim Tracy's headline comment in this article came before JDLR's injury, but the message rings true: We'll figure it out. I certainly hope that's true, Jim, but I'm not holding my breath.Colorado is 21st in wRC+ right now at 88 (12% worse than league average).  I don't think that moving Dexter Fowler to the second position in the lineup is going to fix that problem.

Finally, to add a little levity to this somber morning, Grant Brisbee has his Annoyance Power Rankings. I'm super surprised that he didn't pick Dinger.