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Monday Rockpile: Helton's Heroics are Great, But What To Do About Pitching?

Oh man that was good. I'm so good.
Oh man that was good. I'm so good.

Todd Helton is Clutch.

You all saw it yesterday, the dude is clutch. Down 4, 2 outs, 2-2 count, bases jacked? In his situation, I watch that homer drop, too.

Helton is leading the Rockies in Win Percentage Added, a stat devised to describe a player's impact on any given season in terms of percentage chance of the team winning a game. Currently, Helton is leading the Rockies, having added 1.63 Wins to their season total. Carlos Gonzalez is directly behind Helton, adding 1.54 Wins of his own. One of the major differences between WPA and your standard issue slash line is that WPA takes the situation into account. WPA will credit the batter more when they hit the game-tying RBI double, such as Helton did back on 4/13 against Arizona, while AVG/OBP/SLG will simply mark a double being hit. Clearly a double is more impactful in a high-leverage situation than it would be if your team was leading by 8.

It's been a bit weird to watch the Rockies so far in 2012. Currently, the Rockies are sitting at a 10-11 record, good for 4th place in the division, and the team's Pythagorean Win-Loss Record (or Pyt) is the same: 10-11. (That basically means that the combination of Runs Scored - 107 - and Runs Allowed - 110 - would suggest a record of 10-11.) Having a better record than one's Pyt tends to suggest winning the close games and losing blowouts, while having a worse record would suggest the opposite: tight games fall to the opposition, and the team has many a blowout. Around this time in 2009, Pythagoras suggested that the Rockies were better than their record, but it wasn't showing at that moment.

Off Topic

Amazingly, the Rockies are 2nd in the majors batting in high-leverage situations, compiling a slash line of .308/.406/.558 (156 wRC+) when the heat is on. In low-leverage situations, when the game is relatively out of hand in either direction, the Rockies are 3rd in the majors, with a .290/.350/.503 (124 wRC+) batting line. So far we've painted a picture of a team that is made of icy veins and cold stares in the face of imminent glory as well as a team that doesn't know the meaning of the word "Quit". The disturbing part for me is the team's performance in medium-leverage situations: .224/.280/.357 (70 wRC+).

To clarify without all the numbers, the Rockies destroy the baseball when the game is on the line or the game is out of hand. When they just need to keep pace, however, they suddenly begin flailing.

This isn't to say that the Rockies bats are the entire problem. Far from it, in fact. The Rockies 104 wRC+ puts us at the top of the middle-third of MLB batting (11th). When you consider that the team is tied with the Dodgers for division lead in offensive output, you know that the lineup can swing in the NL West.

Pitching, on the other hand, has been absolutely atrocious. Rockies starters have pitched the 4th lowest total number of innings in the Majors, have the 5th worst ERA (positive note: the 3 teams below us are CONSIDERABLY worse!), 3rd worst FIP, and possibly the highest number of Antacids Above Replacement Rotation in the Majors.

As a counterpoint, the Rockies bullpen has pitched the 7th most innings in MLB, 22nd best ERA (park adjustments bump us to roughly middle-of-the-pack), but 4th best FIP (2nd best after park adjustments). Hats off to these guys, for the most part.

So this basically narrows down the problem: the Rockies rotation sucks out loud right now, and the lineup isn't swinging until the crazy exciting moment or when it doesn't really matter anymore.

This is the risk the Rockies took in 2012 though. We said it pre-season, that the lineup will be good enough, but it's going to come down to pitching, as it always seems to. I'll be especially interested to see how the organization reacts if they don't start shaping up soon. Colorado has a stable of young pitching who is looking to prove themselves against MLB bats, and they're in a sort of holding pattern until somebody pitches themselves out of a rotation spot. Even if/when the Rockies and Sky Sox begin swapping starters, there's going to be growing pains with the callups. This may not get better.

A major problem with the rotation, aside from the whole "allowing more runs than the offense scores" thing, is a strange lack of flexibility. The guys in the rotation are either not specifically part of the problem or they're too experienced to simply send down or cut. David Ohno and I had a brief twitter exchange a few weeks back where he basically said that Moyer is in the rotation at the expense of Tyler Chatwood/Alex White/Christian Friedrich/whatever other prospect should be getting those innings.

I do expect some of this stuff to level out as the season progresses. Not to say that the rotation will suddenly become world class or the lineup will rival the Yankees, but things will start smoothing out. The ultimate question is how long the organization's patience will be with guys like Chacin, and how long the Veteran Presence of Jamie Moyer will continue to be an asset.