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Identifying problematic trends at the bottom of the Rockies' pitching staff

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The Rockies have watched the bottom of their pitching staff destroy their season four years in a row.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The entire baseball world is on pause right now. Most teams are on hold waiting for the off season to begin, but that can't happen until the World Series is over. Unfortunately, the World Series is also on hold because even though both LCS match ups didn't make it past Game 5, TV dictates that we have to wait until tomorrow night for that to begin.

As a result, there's very little new material to chew on out there. So instead of re-linking stuff from the weekend, I figured we would have a better day here if we kicked off our own discussion with the biggest issue surrounding this team over the last four seasons: The wretched pitching staff.

If you've been a part of this community for the last couple of seasons, you know that one of the big points I've tried to reinforce is that the problems plaguing this team are at the bottom of the roster and not the top. In a 162 game regular season, the bad players on your team generally lose you the game more often than the good players single handedly carry you to victory. (The two obvious exceptions being a great starting pitcher who can take control of the game [but can only pitch once every five days] and players so elite like Troy Tulowitzki that they're likely to have a positive impact on the game in one way or another almost every day they are out there.)

For bad players on the offensive side of the ball, I've created a "Drag Factor" stat to help identify where the problems are in the lineup / bench. However, the even bigger problem for the last couple of seasons has been on the pitching side of things, so today we're going to look at a "Drag Factor" for pitchers.

Here's the equation I came up with for this exercise:

Pitching Drag Factor = ((ERA-  -100) * The number of plate appearances batters had against the pitcher) / Total plate appearances against the entire pitching staff that season

A couple quick notes about this ...

1) I used ERA- (where a score lower then 100 = good and a score high than 100 = bad) because it provides a park adjusted pitching stat (a MUST for this exercise if we ever compare to other teams), is based off 100 being average like wRC+ (so it makes it comparable to the hitting Drag Factor), and is generally a strong measuring stick in terms of what happened on the field. Ideally, fangraphs would have the wRC+ numbers against each pitcher and we could use that to keep it consistent, but until that happens this is as good as it's going to get, which is still pretty darn good actually as the results will be extremely close.

2) We have to use plate appearances against instead of innings pitched because we want to penalize pitchers who face lots of batters and don't get as many outs as the guys closer to average.

Okay, here's the results of the last ten seasons worth of Drag Factor scores so we can compare the current team to others over the last decade.

2014

PDF 2014

2013

PDF 2013

2012

PDF  2012

2011

PDF 2011

2010

PDF 2010

2009

PDF 2009


2008

pdf 2008

2007

PDF 2007

2006

PDF 2006

2005

PDF 2005

Note: I capped the ERA- scores at 300 because once that number gets too high it starts pumping out Drag Factor Scores too high for guys who faced a very small number of hitters in a season. (Even 300 might be too high to cap it at. 250 or even 200 may be a better number in the future looking at the results and comparing things to what I actually saw on the field over the years)

One final table here before I dive into observations. This last one adds up the hitting Drag Factor scores as well as the pitching Drag Factor scores over the last ten seasons so we can see the divide between the three teams with winning records and the other seven who were all double digit games below .500

PDF both hitting and pitching

* * * * *

There's so many things to dissect here, but since that's a ton of information, we'll go with just a few short observations today and maybe build on the rest over the off season.

1) When you add up the pitching and hitting Drag Factor scores, the magic number to get over .500 seems to be somewhere around 20. Get below that and you're probably headed for a fun season. Unfortunately for the Rockies, they've been above 27 for seven of the last ten years (and probably ten of the last 13 years but I didn't have time to finish any more pitching tables before 2005).

2) Injuries absolutely killed the 2014 pitching staff. Other than Franklin Morales, and Juan Nicasio, nobody on that list faced more than 300 batters this season. This season the problem was less about the original rotation racking up a ton of innings of terrible baseball and more about Brett Anderson, Tyler Chatwood, and healthy Jhoulys Chacin not pitching anywhere near enough innings to prevent several other names from piling up Drag Factor scores on this list.

3) There's lessons to be learned from both the 2006 and 2008 teams as they slashed their Drag Factor scores significantly in one off season. The biggest thing about these teams is that they had help coming from within the farm system that pushed out older, unproductive players. In 2006 / 2007, the players coming out of the minors were extremely strong. In 2007 for instance, the Rockies had to use 30 pitchers, but they had enough cheap, quality arms in the minors at the time, they were able to keep up with all the injuries and not compile a big Drag Factor Score.

4) The growing success of Tyler Matzek late this season was extremely important, because as long as he stays on the field, that's a ton of cheap innings that likely won't need to go on these Drag Factor charts next year.

5) The Rockies have three major swing pieces going into the next season that not many people are talking about but have the potential to severely alter the pitching Drag Factor score one way or the other. They are Jordan Lyles, Jhoulys Chacin, and Tyler Anderson. Consider the following two extreme scenarios.

A) Lyles keeps learning what it takes to succeed at the major league level and pitches well enough to stay off the Drag Factor list, Chacin comes back and gives the team at least 150 innings, and Tyler Anderson makes the jump early enough and well enough to give the Rockies at least 100 innings of league average pitching.

B) Lyles takes a step back or gets injured, Chacin's shoulder is wrecked to the point where he can't be a productive member of the team anymore, and Tyler Anderson can't make the jump until at least 2016.

Reality will probably be somewhere in the middle of these two scenarios, but stop for a moment and think about how different the pitching Drag Factor scores would look if each of them played out. These are three guys getting very little press right now, but they are vital to figuring out the 2015 puzzle.

6) There's a reason I (and others like PurpleToPurple) keep selling 2016 as the point for potentially really good things to happen with this franchise. When the Rockies get there, they will still have Jorge De La Rosa and Tyler Matzek under control, Tyler Chatwood and Dan Winkler will both be two years removed from Tommy John surgery, we'll know more about what we have in Jordan Lyles and Tyler Anderson, Eddie Butler and Jon Gray will have had another year to develop, and Kyle Freeland could be knocking on the major  league door.

I don't think all of those arms are going to work out, but I feel like the Rockies have a good shot at getting enough of them to work out that they can get their pitching drag factor score under control while guys like Tulo, Arenado, and Dickerson shine on the other side of the ball. (I'm not sure about Cargo yet. He may have to be moved to get another piece we need)