Rockies Rotation: Rocky & de la Rosa

This post continues our Depth Chart Discussions. You can find the Depth Chart Discussion posts gathered here.

There aren’t many more spots left to cover in our Depth Chart Discussions. It’s not surprising that the Rockies rotation was one of the last areas claimed. Even in the very capable hands of RotoGraphs writers (yours truly excepted, of course), there’s not much to get excited about when thinking about pitchers pitching half their games at Coors Field. No one has really seemed to crack the Coors Code yet when it comes to pitchers. Since the team’s inaugural season in 1993, qualified Rockies starters have put up an ERA under 3.00 exactly once: Ubaldo Jimenez did it in 2010. There are three other three qualified pitcher seasons under 3.50.

Jeff Sullivan recently wrote about how Jorge de la Rosa has figured out how to pitch at Coors Field; in fact, he’s been better there than in other stadiums as a whole. De la Rosa is actually a deep sleeper for me going into 2015, so let’s just dive right in and talk about him since he’s the undisputed ace of the staff (for now).

Jorge de la Rosa IP W K ERA WHIP K% BB% FIP
2014 184.1 14 139 4.10 1.24 18.1% 8.7% 4.34
Steamer 191.0 11 148 4.47 1.40 17.7% 8.3% 4.26
ZiPS 121.2 9 90 4.44 1.39 16.7% 8.6% 4.51

None of de la Rosa’s numbers look great, especially in this era of lesser offense. So why my [slight] optimism? For one thing, his velocity was up from 2013, showing that he’s recovered more fully from his 2011 Tommy John surgery. He nearly doubled his first half K%-BB% in the second half—not that we should put much weight on that alone. The more interesting thing, perhaps, is that as the season went on he used his sinker and cutter less, and his splitter more—and the splitter is damn good. Not many starters throw a splitter anymore: among qualified starters in 2014, only twelve threw a splitter, and only Hiroki Kuroda threw it more than de la Rosa. Jorge’s, however, was the best. It induced a 15.5% swinging strike rate (pretty high for a splitter) and turned an amazing 68.3% of balls in play into ground balls.

De la Rosa also started to use his curveball slightly more in the last couple months of the season, and that yielded very high whiff and ground ball rates, too. That said, he can’t throw the splitter and the curve all the time, and the rest of his pitches have graded out poorly. If he can leverage the splitter and the curve a little more, and if they continue to get the same kind of results, I can see a K% in the low twenties and an adjustment to his ERA and FIP to match. This isn’t much, but when looking at pitchers in Colorado, this is about as good as it gets. He’s a depth flyer in deeper mixed leagues or NL-Only’s.

Tyler Matzek is also one of my deep sleepers for 2015, but I’ll say right off that you probably won’t need to draft him in any league. Still I’ll offer a couple of reasons to add him to your watch list after your draft.

First, he ended strong, with improvements in SwStr% and Contact% in September. It’s only 27 innings, so take that lightly, of course. But the improvements seem to be connected to increased use of his slider, which was very good for the season on the whole, and reached new heights in September. Aside from an abbreviated start in July in which he threw 16 pitches total, Matzek threw his slider at least 25 times in his 19 other starts, and in only seven of those did he yield better than a single on the pitch. It produced a 36.0% whiff rate and a 55.8% ground ball rate overall. In his last eight starts, that whiff rate was at or above 40% more often than not.

So, as with de la Rosa, any cause for optimism stems mostly from the success of one pitch. With Matzek, that pitch is the type that seems to lead to arm injuries fairly often, so there’s something else to worry about. There are a lot of questions—chief among them, whether he can wield the slider more consistently—but that’s why you add Matzek to the ol’ watchlist while you wait to see some signs of those questions being answered.

None of Jhoulys Chacin, Jordan Lyles, or Kyle Kendrick are very good, but hey, at least they pitch in Colorado! David Hale could compete for a rotation spot, but again, he’s not very good, especially for fantasy purposes.

More likely, some of these guys will get pushed aside when the Rockies decide that Jon Gray and Eddie Butler are ready for extended trials in with the big league club. Gray is the Rockies’ #2 prospect per Baseball America, and represents significant upside. In 43.1 August innings at Double-A Tulsa, Gray struck out more than 30% of the batters he faced. His MLB debut will happen soon, but it will be important for both Rockies fans and fantasy owners to temper expectations of him being an immediate ace and a savior of the team’s rotation. Instead of reading me babble on about something about which I’m uncertain, why not read what expert Kiley McDaniel had to say about Jon Gray.

Eddie Butler hasn’t had overly impressive minor league stats, but the Rockies have trusted him enough to move him quickly through the system. Back in February, Jeff Zimmerman pointed out that Butler should be able to maintain a high ground ball rate given the downward movement on all of his pitches. At the same time, Zimmerman notes, Butler’s pitches don’t vary in speed very much. His strikeout rates plummeted in the upper minors, and his 2014 cup of coffee in the majors was all but a disaster. He has a decent pedigree, and is only 23 years old, so it’s possible he figures things out. But he’s going to have to regain that bat-missing ability at the upper levels if he’s ever going to be useful to the Rockies, let alone to fantasy owners. More time in the minors is nigh. It’s tough enough to pitch in Colorado as it is; better to not ruin the confidence of a guy who has some upside but is clearly not ready to combat big league hitters.

Hire Robert J. Baumann to live-blog your next birthday party, family reunion, or corporate event. You will not want to forget it soon.

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Since I’m in a daily lineup change league, I love carrying a Rockies pitcher in my rotation and only starting him on Road starts.

Jordan Lyles and Matzek are both sleepers of mine and if you can afford to play them in only away parks, they should put up decent numbers.

Good article.