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Rock mining week 16: where to start rebuilding?

Injuries and ineffectiveness define this year's pitching for Colorado
Injuries and ineffectiveness define this year's pitching for Colorado
Doug Pensinger

Last week I looked at the Rockies' position players and the conclusion was that the team was fairly well set other than possibly upgrading catcher and the infield bench.  After all, the team is in the top five in almost every offensive category even though Carlos Gonzalez and Nolan Arenado (not to mention Michael Cuddyer) have missed significant playing time this year.

This week, I look at the other half of the team and it is going to get a bit ugly.  The pitching staff has not lived up to its side of the game and there are many reasons for it.  Starters not staying healthy or in the game long enough, relievers that should not be on a big league roster, and relievers getting overused to make up for their teammates lack of ability.  Without further ado, here we go.

Starters

If someone would have told me that Yohan Flande would get one less start than Tyler Chatwood going into the season, I would have probably not bought mlb.tv and saved myself a lot of misery this season.  The Rockies used 13 starting pitchers prior to the All-Star break and nobody after the five that started the season has pitched amazingly well.

Due to injuries in spring training to Tyler Chatwood and Jhoulys Chacin, the team started the season with a starting rotation of Jorge De La Rosa, Brett Anderson, Jordan Lyles, Franklin Morales, and Juan Nicasio.  Say what you will about Morales and Nicasio, but those five pitchers have managed to have a record of 24-19.  The other eight pitchers that have started for the Rockies have gone a combined 3-20.  Now I realize that wins/losses can be a misleading statistic for pitchers but that at least shows the pain of what was considered good system depth.

What the Rockies' front office had done over the past few years is try to trade for pitching while also developing their own so as not to overpay on the free market to get a veteran to come to Coors Field.  The only problem is that they have become willing to accept injury concerns in these trades.

The Angels would never have traded Tyler Chatwood to the Rockies if he did not have injury concerns.  His violent pitching action combined with his short frame and the fact that he had Tommy John surgery in high school made him available to the Rockies.  Now after just a few short, disabled list-riddled seasons, Tyler is set to have his second surgery.

Brett Anderson was available from the Athletics for much the same reason.  To further the issue though, he also comes with a free agent level contract if the Rockies want to keep him for next year.  I think the front office was hoping he would shine this year as a placeholder for Jon Gray and then they could trade him for other useful parts.  While this might still happen, Brett has shown the fragility that made him available.

Add to this Chacin's injury woes and Juan Nicasio's ineffectiveness and the team had a recipe for disaster as their rotation for the season.  A normal, health rotation could have gotten through Jhoulys not being around and having to replace the fifth starter, but when four starters were no longer with the team for the month of June it got ugly.

So how does the team prepare better for next year?  I believe it has to stop relying on injury prone starters.  For this reason, they need to decide to pay Jorge De La Rosa instead of Brett Anderson.  Yes, JDLR has been injured in the past but he does not have the same issues that Brett has had in his career.  There also has to be less reliance on young arms.  If they step up, great, but it should not be expected.  The one exception, is first round pick Jon Gray, who the team will need something out of in 2015.  A rotation of JDLR, Jon Gray, Jordan Lyles, and pick one of Eddie Butler-Tyler Matzek-Tyler Anderson, would still need one addition and the team should bring in a free agent instead of relying on young players at four of the five spots.

There are many starters that will be free agents next year, but I do not believe the Rockies will be in the hunt for great pitchers like James Shields and Max Sherzer.  Instead, they need to look at the team they are playing this weekend and see if there are any starters that might be affordable.  After all, the Pirates have free agents-to-be Wandy Rodriguez, Edinson Volquez, and Francisco Liriano pitching for them this year.  Any one of those three could be an upgrade for the team until the Rockies can figure out which youth pitchers will be good enough to stick at the big league level.  Not sure if the team burned bridges with Jason Hammel, but he would be another alternative.

Relievers

If the starting pitching for the Rockies has been nightmare bad, the bullpen has been nightmares after a Friday the 13th marathon when you were 12 years old bad.  Take away LaTroy Hawkins and Tommy Kahnle (both free agent acquisitions kind of) and the team does not have a relief pitcher with an ERA under 4.00.  It has been like bringing in napalm to try and put out a brush fire.

Wilton Lopez should never have made this team, but the front office had to be proven wrong about their trade for two years in a row.  I don't know what happened to Chad Bettis after April 21st, but his ERA has doubled and he has given up runs in six of the eight games he has pitched since then.  In five of those he has given up multiple runs.  The team has to find a pitcher somewhere in the organization that can pitch better than that.

The team also continues to live in the past with a reliance on Matt Belisle that I cannot understand and a continued fascination with Rafael Betancourt possibly coming back.  These guys gave their arms to the team but they are relievers.  The scouts and staff have to replace these easily replacable parts with quality or the team won't have leads for Hawkins to save.  Unfortunately, the front office chose to spend their relief money this past year on a specialist reliever that was coming back from injury...not a real good idea in my book.

There are many internal and external options out there for next year and I will not attempt to go through them all.  I will end this rant by stating that the team has not done well at making hard decisions about starters in the system who should be converted to relief.  Even though Chad Bettis has failed this year, I think it was the right idea.  The same should have been done with Juan Nicasio a long time ago.  There are two or three young draft picks and former DSL pitchers that also could fit in this category.  Filling the best 25 man roster cannot be the only goal of the organization as development must continue, but getting positive contribution out of picthers that they have developed should be the goal.  Even if that is as a reliever.

G, B, and U

The Good-The team's lefty starters have begun the post All-Star break well. Thirteen innings pitched with eleven strikeouts and only two earned runs between Jorge De La Rosa and Brett Anderson is a good start.  Now let's see if Tyler Matzek and Franklin Morales can continue the strong trend...and then maybe the team can find a bullpen.

The Bad-The home run derby seems to continue its hex, at least on the Rockies.  In the two games after Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Morneau competed for the NL in the derby, they have gone 0-5 and 0-0 respectively and both have minor injuries now.  Morneau has missed the entire Pirates series with a stiff neck and Tulo has missed half of it with a minor leg injury.

The Ugly-The Rockies relivers have given up five runs in less than five innings since their return from the break.  Hard to win games, unless the starter pitches nine innings, with a relief core whose ERA is 8.31 (one run was unearned).  It will hopefully get better...it has to get better.