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Chi Chi González is here to provide breathing room—hopefully

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The current rendition of Chi Chi González is nowhere near the pitcher we joyously celebrated toward the end of May.

He should still be in the starting rotation—for now.

As Kyle Freeland began the year on the injured list, González stepped in and posted the second-best ERA among Colorado starters. We’ve seen an abysmal body of work from González since Freeland returned, but we’re seeing key figures in those innings that tell a multi-faceted story:

Chi Chi González - 2021

Dates IP ERA FIP xFIP K% BB%
Dates IP ERA FIP xFIP K% BB%
Through 5/18 35 2/3 4.79 4.30 4.93 11.3% 7.3%
After 5/18 17 2/3 7.64 6.66 4.33 17.5% 5.0%

His ERA has fell apart, but his xFIP, strikeout percentage and walk percentage are... improved?

Predictive stats: What is going on?

FIP is commonly regarded as a more predictive metric than ERA. FIP only accounts for the three true outcomes (K, BB, HR; the full equation can be found here), while xFIP takes it one step further and replaces the ‘home run’ part of the equation with ‘expected home runs allowed’. It normalizes on the league-average fly-ball-to-home-run rate.

Also of note: xFIP is a better predictor of future ERA than standard FIP. This isn’t to say a plus-six FIP should be disregarded, but how much should we scratch our heads while looking at such a wide difference?

Alas: Chi Chi has been extremely unlucky in the air in the past few weeks. He’s allowed nine home runs this year and six of them have been in his last four outings. González’s xFIP wasn’t great before those four appearances, but it was marginally equal to his ERA—and not all that bad for a fifth starter that was recently non-tendered.

The true visual test: Command

“A lot of pitchers in this league cannot miss spots, and Chi Chi is one of them,” said Bud Black after González’s last outing (6/10). If his current struggles are just the result of a few misplaced pitches (or six), perhaps we should assume his xFIP is indeed his best measure of predictive success and he just got burned a little more than most.

When Freeland returned from the injured list, González was expected to perform as a reliever. He faced a poor transition, but was quickly thrown back in the rotation when Jon Gray was injured. It’s tough to feel a consistent degree of ‘ready’ under those varying parameters, especially when it comes to the fine-tuned precision of locating pitches. Precision can waver when an arm is suddenly forced to get ready during in-game time constraints.

This is perhaps a reason why relievers walk more batters than starters do. This year, the walk percentage among starters is 7.9 percent; for relievers, it is 10.1. González has actually walked less batters during his bullpen-and-back-to-starter transition, but his FIP reasons that his misses have been worse:

They have been left over the plate and sent over the fence.

Note his improved strikeout percentage, though. By using “K%” rather than “K/9”, we know his recent cold spell isn’t just a streak of long innings that happened to have a couple punchouts. This spike could be a product of hitters entering a heavy attack mode when they face González—as the home runs may suggest—but maybe this isn’t a bad thing in the long run with a closer-to-average home-run-to-fly-ball rate.

The reality: Dire straits in Triple-A Albuquerque

There is a more viable reason for Colorado to keep González in the rotation: there just isn’t anywhere else to turn right now:

Triple-A Albuquerque (through 6/14)

Pitcher GS IP ERA FIP xFIP Age
Pitcher GS IP ERA FIP xFIP Age
Ryan Castellani 7 31.7 7.96 8.36 7.54 25.2
Brandon Gold 6 28.3 7.94 5.90 6.00 26.7
Jose Mujica 6 26.3 9.23 7.08 5.87 24.9
Dereck Rodriguez 5 18.0 9.00 6.37 5.92 29.0
Ian Clarkin 4 18.7 9.64 10.51 7.74 26.3
Antonio Santos 3 18.7 7.23 5.91 6.09 24.6
Ryan Rolison 3 12.3 4.38 3.41 4.30 23.9
Data courtesy of minorleaguesplits.com

Ryan Rolison is out for at least a month after having his appendix removed, which means the big league club would have to reach down to Double-A to call up a routine starter with an ERA below seven.

The organization needs González for the readiness of the minor league arms behind him. Keep in mind what happened to José Mujica in 2020, when he was arguably called up in a less-than-desirable timeframe.

The Rockies could be playing the long game when it comes to refining their organizational depth—and they might have to, given these stats—but it could be challenging among starters if Jon Gray and/or Germán Márquez are on their way out. Should that happen, Colorado would likely pursue a waiver pickup or tap into the Triple-A reserve ahead of schedule. Writing off González could open the floodgates and cause even greater aftershocks through each level of the minors.

(Maybe this is the biggest reason Chacín is still around, too.)

The next chapter of Chi Chi will commence this evening, as he takes on the 16th-ranked wRC+ but awaits the dreaded ‘Slam Diego’ lineup that has often made hell of missed pitches. Tonight will be González’s third consecutive appearance as a starter.

★ ★ ★

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One arm in particular has given the Rockies plenty of breathing room in the past month. Austin Gomber continues a tremendous stretch of starts, this time keeping the Padres scoreless for eight innings. Patrick Saunders provides a full recap.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ xFIP is the highest in baseball just months after parting with Gomber. They could benefit immensely from his services.

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★ ★ ★

On the farm

Albuquerque won a 4-3 ballgame on Sunday, but they would later taste the losing side of a one-run contest on Monday. No runs were scored by either team after the fourth inning.

Chris Owings is back: he hit second in the Albuquerque lineup and collected one hit in three at-bats. He pieced up a first-inning double and quickly suggested that he’s picking up right where his hot bat left off in April. Waiver pickup Rio Ruiz was the only Albuquerque player with multiple hits on the evening.

Ian Clarkin continued a trend of tough showings for Albuquerque starters. He allowed five earned runs in three innings of work and left a big chunk of innings for the Isotopes bullpen. The relievers would shine, however: Jesus Tinoco collected three scoreless innings of work while Antonio Santos and Joe Harvey each worked a scoreless frame.

★ ★ ★

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