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Friday Rockpile: Are three No. 2's better than a No. 1?

The Rockies may not have a clear-cut ace, but their top three starters are showing remarkable consistency.

Doug Pensinger

Ace-hood is tricky to define. Is it some sort of quantifiable thing? Does an "ace" have to throw X number of innings with an ERA below Y and win Z games? In my experience with the game of baseball, an "ace" is something felt in the gut; it's when you watch a pitcher toy with hitters, make them look like fools, strike out ten per game, and break more bats than Bane.

The Rockies don't have an ace right now. They had one when Ubaldo Jimenez was at the peak of his powers, but his reign was all too short. It's nice to have that kind of guy, but in 2013 the Rockies are running with a different kind of luxury: a trio of No. 2 starters.

Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, and Tyler Chatwood have all been unspectacularly awesome. I say unspectacular because neither of the three boasts a strikeout rate higher than 6.09 per nine innings; aces typically have K/9 rates of more than 9.0. They aren't blowing guys away, but they aren't walking many people and they are keeping the ball in the yard. It's the "pitch-to-contact" mantra that finally seems to be working.

Chacin, De La Rosa, and Chatwood have ERAs of 3.62, 3.21, and 2.74 respectively. Per Fangraphs, they have accumulated 2.6, 2.3, and 1.5 Wins Above Replacement. By Baseball-Reference (which uses ERA in their WAR calculations, not Fielding Independent metrics), Chacin and DLR are at 3.8, and Chatwood has accumulated 2.5. Prorated over 180 innings (which seems to be the limit a Rockie can accrue in their current philosophy of low pitch counts), their WAR totals look like this:

Fangraphs WAR Baseball-Reference WAR
Chacin 4.4 6.4
De La Rosa 3.8 6.3
Chatwood 4.3 7.2

By Fangraphs' measure, those three starters have been solid, above-average pitchers. According to Baseball-Reference, they've been knocking on the door of stardom.

Obviously these are small sample sizes, and players performing at high levels are more likely to come back to earth than to maintain their production. But over the first half of the season, the Rockies had three legitimate No. 2 starters to depend on.

How has the rest of the NL West fared in this regard? These WAR totals are prorated out to 180 innings, as well.

Fangraphs WAR Baseball Reference WAR

Clayton Kershaw 4.7 6.9
Zack Greinke 1.7 1.4
Hyun-Jin Ryu 2.5 3.4

Matt Cain 0.8 -1.3
Madison Bumgarner 2.7 3.1
Tim Lincecum 2.2 -1.5

Eric Stults 2.7 1.9
Edison Volquez 1.2 -2.1
Andrew Cashner 1.7 1.1

Patrick Corbin 3.8 4.7
Wade Miley 1.2 -0.7
Ian Kennedy 1.1 -1.8

Let's add 'em up!

Fangraphs WAR BR WAR
Rockies 12.5 19.9
Dodgers 8.9 11.7
Giants 5.7 0.3
Padres 5.6 0.9
Diamondbacks 6.1 3.6

What does this teach us? First of all, LOL Giants and LOL Padres. Second of all, LOL NL West. Third of all, why aren't the Rockies winning the division?

They aren't winning the division because their No. 4 and 5 starters have been a disaster on par with the Hindenburg, the Titanic, and Grown Ups 2. Injuries to key starting position players have nailed their offense. Road failure continues to rear its ugly head.

But despite all this, the Rockies seem to have cobbled together a front-end of the rotation that outpaces that of their competition. If they keep performing, the offense gets healthy, and someone (anyone?) steps up in the fourth and fifth rotation slots, the Rockies could still be dangerous this year.

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Jonathan Gray, the Rockies first round draft pick, made his professional debut Wednesday for the Grand Junction Rockies. He gave up four runs in three innings of work. It wasn't the most auspicious of debuts, but the big righty has boatloads of talent and should move through the system quickly.

Carlos Gonzalez has withdrawn from the home run derby due to his lingering finger injury. I'm sure CarGo is disappointed, but this Rockies fan is secretly relieved that he won't be participating in an event that is notorious for messing up people's swings. The Rocks will still have Michael Cuddyer to root for in the derby.