Real Bet(t)is

For the Confetti among us—a more colorful term than “Streamers,” don’t you think?—Colorado starting pitchers are easy. You use them, if at all, when they’ve got good matchups on the road. For Rotisserians, it’s not so simple. Sure, if you’ve got a deep enough roster, your league has a liberal enough substitution policy, and the Rockies have a starter worth using under any circumstances, you can sit the guy when he’s in Coors and start him when he’s not. But that trifecta is hard to hit, and otherwise you’re asking for disaster.

Can there possibly be any exceptions to this? Maybe one: Chad Bettis. Everyone recognizes, in a general way, that he’s a pretty good pitcher. He’s owned in roughly 10% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, which seems high for a Rockies starter. What may not be known is that he’s just about as good in Coors as he is on the road. On July 7, 2015, Bettis had one of the very worst outings by any starting pitcher during the past two seasons. He was in Coors, of course, and in 2 1/3 innings gave up 8 hits, including 4 home runs, 1 walk, and 10 earned runs. Why, having given up 8 runs in the first two innings, he was allowed to start the third inning and give up two more, we’re not sure.

So we wondered: suppose Bettis had, as Dizzy Dean used to say, stood in bed that morning rather than coming to the ballpark. What would his 2015-2016 record in Coors look like? Not bad, as it turns out. In 79 innings, he’d have a 3.76 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 7.97 K/9. His road stats (including last night’s 6 2/3-inning gem against the Cardinals, by the way) are very similar: in 89 2/3 innings, a 3.71 ERA, 1.271 WHIP, and 6.83 K/9.

That’s right–those stats aren’t horrible, but they’re not going to heal the sick, raise the dead, make the little girls talk out of their head, or induce you to grab Bettis, or even to keep him if you’ve got him. But there’s another dimension of his record that makes him, if not seductive, then at least interesting. Bettis, you see, is a 5-inning pitcher. Toss out that catastrophic 7/7/15 outing, and his 2015-2016 record, home and road combined, in the first five innings (including last night’s game) is: 139 1/3 IP, 1.17 WHIP, 2.97 ERA, 7.23 K/9. His record in the 6th through 9th is: 29 1/3 IP, 1.98 WHIP, 7.45 ERA, 8.07 K/9.

Does it help the Rockies, and thus help you, to know this? Not right this second, perhaps, but maybe in a little while. The downward trend in innings per start has continued in MLB this season: 5.71, as opposed to 5.80 in 2015, itself the lowest figure since 1999. As we speculated before the season, teams with good, deep bullpens are likely to be increasingly willing to yank their 5-inning starters before they get into trouble in the 6th.

So what, you say. The Rockies don’t have a good, deep bullpen. To which we say: they don’t now, but they may soon. First of all, the current bullpen isn’t that bad. It’s midpack among bullpens in WHIP and FIP, for example, which when you add in the Coors factor isn’t so awful. More importantly, the key bullpen guys have been good. Jake McGee’s been a shaky closer, but over all he’s gotten the job done (13 saves in 15 tries), and setup guys Boone Logan and Chad Qualls have been outstanding. And McGee, Logan, and Qualls have had careers that suggest their 2016 numbers don’t flatter them unduly.

Still not enough, we agree. But reinforcements are on the way. Jason Motte (onetime closer, 3.91 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with the Cubs last season) is rehabbing in AAA and should be up next week. Miguel Castro (fireballer, key to the Troy Tulowitzki trade, unhittable this season in a setup role before getting hurt) is likewise rehabbing in AAA, though not, it must be acknowledged, very successfully so far. And Adam Ottavino (lights-out as the Rockies’ closer in April 2015 before blowing out his elbow) is, so we read, recovering nicely from Tommy John surgery, and could be back around the All Star break.

We’re not sure what you do with this information. Maybe you ignore it completely, or, like Jacques Derrida, deconstruct the foregoing to produce the opposite of its ostensible meaning. Such a deconstructive reading might note, for example, that Bettis may well have a 7/7/15ish early-inning disaster again. He’s had one such meltdown each season since he entered the Rockies’ rotation, though nothing remotely like last year’s episode. And a deconstructionist might add that, even though we and all right-thinking fans might not let Bettis pitch into the 6th inning ever again, we’re not managing the Rockies, and the guy who is—Walt Weiss—tends to be, if anything, more patient than average with his starters.

Of course, Weiss has never had a bullpen remotely as formidable as the one he may have if everything goes right during the next couple of weeks or months. Who knows how he’ll respond? So maybe you file the information away and, if everything does go right, grab Bettis then. Or maybe, if you have a deep enough roster, grab him and reserve him. That’s what we’ve done. And if you’re bold enough both to acquire and to deploy Bettis right now, we salute you.

The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.

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Curacao LL
Curacao LL

Full credit to the futbol reference when the team acros town is playing for $50 million this afternoon.

I’m spot-starting Bettis away from Coors. Over a season he should be OK.