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Sunday Rockpile: On the development of pitching, and how the Rockies are getting the off season right.

The Rockies search for pitching sometimes requires going a little off the well beaten path.
The Rockies search for pitching sometimes requires going a little off the well beaten path.

Early in the off-season, the Denver Post tried to pitch the idea that Carl Pavano would somehow be an answer to the Rockies rotation concerns. A few months later, with Pavano locked in with the Twins and the Rockies still searching for an arm, Troy Renck continues to see a need for a veteran starter as the team's glaring weakness. Obviously by bringing up the newspaper's affinity for Pavano, I'm expressing some skepticism that a veteran SP is necessarily the only or right prescriptive for the team's pitching ills. That said, I think it would be foolish to argue that the Rockies pitching doesn't need to improve over last season's performance.

Renck sets up the "as-is" opening day 2012 rotation as follows, and I think he's probably correct, pending possible changes via trade:

  • Jhoulys Chacin
  • Jason Hammel
  • Drew Pomeranz
  • Juan Nicasio
  • Kevin Slowey

Later in the season, Jorge De La Rosa will be available, but will likely be rusty. Later in the season, Alex White, Christian Friedrich or Tyler Chatwood may have seen enough development for them to be viable alternatives to any of the above. As is the case with third base and perhaps even second, the key for the Rockies to compete in 2012 may just be to be close enough early to get to "later in the season" in good shape.

Among the things that we know about young pitching is that it can progress quickly and that small rookie samples are hardly indicative of a pitcher's true skill set. Justin Verlander had a 7.14 ERA in two starts when called up in 2005, in 2006 he was a 17 game winner with a 3.63 ERA, he had an MLB beginning not that dissimilar to Drew Pomeranz's. Pomeranz and Nicasio may be just good enough now, and without much change to their approach and skill could already be playoff competitive. As Renck points out, Jhoulys Chacin absolutely needs to improve his command to reach a similar point, but you can look at the progression of pitchers like Edwin Jackson to see that it can and does happen as a pitcher learns and matures. Alex White and Tyler Chatwood would fall into the same boat. Hammel and Slowey may be seen more as place holders, but they are both relatively reliable bottom of the rotation values.

General managers will try and eliminate as much uncertainty as possible when building teams, but outside the biggest markets, eliminating all uncertainty is next to impossible. They don't want to go into a season with too many "if this happens, we'll be good" statements, but some will be inevitable. In smaller or more budget constrained markets, GM's have a choice between putting that risk into either older players that are past their peaks but still may have something left in the tank, or younger players that have not yet reached their potential. With the pitching staff, O'Dowd's taken the latter approach, trusting that the young arms as a group will move forward. With the offense, he's taken the former, hoping that Michael Cuddyer and Casey Blake show they still have it.

Before the off season started, I expressed a wish to see the team take this exact course, and expressed my disappointment that the value of the likely internal progression of the pitching was getting underestimated in the team's expressed priorities for a veteran innings eater. I felt they were more likely to see a redundancy and inefficiently spend money on the rotation than they would by shoring up the lineup. As such, I may actually be more sanguine on the team's chances in 2012 than many. We have a weak division, and the team has the talent needed to compete in it. It's just a matter of whether it's ready or not.

From the moment the Ubaldo Jimenez trade became a near certainty, the Rockies 2012 became a gamble on variety of developmental and veteran health questions being answered positively. Without a miraculous Marlins sized infusion of revenue, there was no way the payroll was going to support anything more than this kind of risk taking. Because so many of the Rockies best young pitchers were AA or above, many already in the majors, it was clear that the most likely area that positive young player development would have an impact was in the rotation.

All of this being said, if Renck's piece was really just a prod to get the Monforts to pony up whatever it would take to land Roy Oswalt or perhaps Jackson, I'm not opposed to that plan at all. The budget likely doesn't support it, of course, but nobody would complain with that kind of late winter surprise.

Nolan Arenado and Jordan Pacheco both did brief interviews from the rookie development camp.