After what started off looking like a promising recovery from his 2011 Tommy John surgery, Jorge De La Rosa's 2012 season went completely wrong. There wasn't a lot of optimism going into 2013 for the pitcher who had only 13 starts under his belt in the last two seasons. His shaky spring training did not do much to reassure fans.
Jorge De La Rosa's 2013 season didn't just defy those tempered expectations. He proceeded to bounce back and post his best season ever in terms of WAR. As a testament to the quality of the Rockies' top half of the starting rotation this year, this career record was only the third best WAR for a Rockies pitcher. Alongside Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood, he was one of the main reasons why Rockies starters were able to post the third best ERA in franchise history despite the team's overall lackluster performance.
Outside of a very occasional start where he let things spin out of control, De La Rosa became one of the bright spots - and the greatest comeback story - for the Rockies in 2013. He built a track record of being consistently dependable and giving the team a chance to win. This came despite poor run support: 13 of his 30 starts came when the offense scored two or fewer runs.
Outside of having his best season ever, De La Rosa demonstrated the ability to pitch exceptionally well at Coors Field. In 14 games, he posted a 2.76 ERA, allowing only three home runs, and came out with a home record of 10-1.
De La Rosa's success came with a number of anomalies compared to his career to date. He seems, quite literally, to have become a different pitcher. His strikeout rate (K/9) dropped by nearly a third compared to his 2008-2011 seasons with the Rockies. His 6.01 K/9 is very atypical, especially for someone who had always been considered a strikeout pitcher.
De La Rosa's reliance on the strikeout was replaced by his ability to limit the damage and power of opposing hitters by keeping the ball on the ground. He posted his lowest flyball rate ever, and induced 19 double play groundouts- a number eclipsed by only his 2010 season. Batters posted a .384 slugging percentage against him, his career best for a complete season. He allowed 11 home runs - only 3 at home.
After missing his first scheduled start of the year, De La Rosa got off to a shaky start in his 2013 season opener in Milwaukie. This start - in which he allowed four runs including a home run, walked three, and lasted only 77 pitches - was hardly reassuring considering that he was being paid for $11 Million for a season that was a huge question mark. He quickly settled in, delivering four consecutive quality starts against NL West rivals. On April 14, De La Rosa earned his first win since May 13, 2011. He delivered a spectacular 2-hit, 7-strikeout performance, and Todd Helton's pinch-hit home run ensured the 2-1 victory and series sweep of the San Diego Padres.
On May 12, De La Rosa took a no-hitter to 6-2/3 innings before allowing a single to St. Louis third baseman David Freese. May was by far his best month: he allowed seven runs, nine walks, and zero home runs on his way to a 4-0 record.
Overall Grade: A
For every success story of a pitcher who bounced back quickly from Tommy John surgery to perform better than ever, there are going to be countless stories of setbacks, of pitchers who were never able to perform at their pre-surgery level, or who were not able to recover at all. While De La Rosa's recovery was fraught with setbacks and doubts, he came back in 2013 to pitch better than before.
The Rockies exercised their club option for $11 Million dollars for the 2014 season. They are expected to go into talks with De La Rosa to discuss contract extension. After his recovery and subsequent 2013 performance, and considering his success at Coors Field, I believe it would be in the best interest of the club to look into a 3-4 year deal.