In Part 1 of my attempt to explain the past 4 years I argued that the main reason for Rockies failures the past 4 seasons was due to the bullpen issues. As the data shows, that wasn’t the reason for failure in 2011, but from 2012 to 2014 the bullpen was apocalyptically bad, and that at least 2013-2014 might indeed be blamed on the bullpen, at least for the depth of their failures.
That said, those of us who have followed the Rox since the earliest days know that the Rox have in 21 years had 20 or so seasons of bad starting rotations. Many would argue that bad bullpens are only the product of bad starting pitching or that bad bullpens alone cannot sink a team. In fact, the 2009 team had arguably the best rotation in team history and a bullpen that was almost 2014 bad, which of course ended up biting them in the playoffs. But the Rox have been to the playoffs 3 times and at least 2 of those times it did it with at best “acceptable” starting rotations, but great bullpens (the 1995 team is hard to evaluate today because of the offensive period and the lack of a humidor). Only that 2009 team really was backed by a great rotation.
So just as we reviewed the question of whether or not the bullpen was the primary cause of the 4 year decline of the Rockies, we will ask the same question of the starting rotation.
THESIS – The Starter Have Been Bad, but Not the Main Cause of the Misery
Okay, this has to be a thesis that doesn’t even have to be proven wrong, right? Well, the reality is that the starters have rarely been great, even in years when they had winning records. The 2007 season started with a group of 5 of Cook, Francis, Rodrigo Lopez, Jason Hirsch, and the giant killer Fogg. You think the 2015 group looks weak? That isn’t exactly the 1971 Baltimore Orioles. I am not sure, at the point in their careers, that the 2007 group was better than this team’s rotation (assuming Jorge De La Rosa comes back soon and is his old self). Certainly there is more potential with this year’s group. Of course 2007 was supplemented by Ubaldo and Franklin Morales coming up mid-season. Hmm, might a Jon Grey or Tyler Anderson or even (if he can get healthy) a Kyle Freeland? Just saying.
For a frame of reference the 2009 starting rotation had a 4.10 ERA and a WHIP of 1.357, so the 2010 team was close to that high water mark of Rockies performance for starters. As you may remember that 2009 team featured 5 starters who all won 10 games with Jorge De La Rosa winning 16, Jimenez and Marquis winning 15 and Cook and Hammel bringing up the rear with 11 and 10. All five starters had ERAs of 4.38 or less, with Jiminez bringing in a great season before his near Cy-Young year with a 3.47 ERA (Interestingly DLR’s 4.38 was the highest among that group despite a staff leading 16 wins, but that was largely due to a 5.21 first half ERA as his 2nd half ERA was a fantastic 3.32).
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE PAST 4 YEARS OF STARTING ROTATIONS AND THEIR DISASTERS
The 2010 group had a nice ERA (4.21), and was better than any group since, but really, is that saying much? When we look at the past 4 years since that 2010 group we see the 2011 group was undone by injuries. The 2012 group was undone by the humidors failure and a weird season. The 2013 group had one of the best (if not the very best) top 3 in Rox history (better even than the 2009 group of all 10 wins). And 2014…let’s just say of the opening 5 starters (7 if you count Chatwood and his injured hamstring to start the season and Chacin), only DLR made all his starts. Next highest was just 22! Mostly thanks to injuries, but also poor performance (cough, Nicasio, cough, Morales). The 2013 group at least got 81 starts from its big 3 (sadly, it got 81 starts from the Frankenstein’s monster group of 4th and 5th starters).
But if we look back at the starting rotations (and let’s just throw out 2012 as so weird it cannot be really thought about…ever again!), the 2011 group was bad, but not historically bad. The 2007 starters had an ERA of 4.58, within .2 runs of the 2011 and 2013 groups. Now, that is not an unimportant difference (or the .3 runs for the 2014 group), but it shows that the Rox can win with a group that is, well, “just good enough.” If we look at SIERA (a next step from Fielding Independent Pitching which attempts to look deeper at how pitchers should have performed based on underlying factors in each AB), the 2009 and 2010 teams are clearly better (with SIERA ERAs of 3.95 and 4.12), but the 2011, 2013 and 2014 group were within .2 of the 2009 group. So they weren’t bad…or at least they shouldn’t have been bad. Every advanced stat that tries to take into account Park Effect and National League performance. Yes, taken into account those factors the 2007 team gets better (4% better than the league), and the 2009-2010 group was 11 and 8% better than the league. But the 2011 and 2013 group was only 5 and 8% worse than the league. Yes, on the wrong side, but if the offense was better in 2011 and the relief corp and offense was better in 2013 they should have been better, at least closer to .500.
SUMMARY – THE STARTERS WERE BAD SOMETIMES BUT NOT SO BAD ALL THE TIME TO BLAME FOR WHAT WE HAVE HAD TO ENDURE!
That said, the 2012 and 2014 teams were awful! 26 and 14% worse than the league. It didn’t help that the bullpen stunk both years and the offense simply wasn’t good enough.
So yes, the obvious. Two of the four years can clearly be put in the “rotation helped sink the team” category (thanks Captain Obvious). But two other years they could have been close to at least a .500 team if the other two parts of the team had been good or great.
So for the Rockies, the starters have to be at least with 5-8% of league average to give the team a chance. If not, than trying to avoid 100 losses becomes all we have to care about.
In many ways this is really what we have learned the past 21 years. If the rotation can just keep the team close in games and avoid burning out the bullpen, then they have a chance to at least be decent (.500). When the rotation really stinks there is no reason to pay attention after Opening Day.
THE SITUATION FOR 2015
We all are holding our breath this year. Yes, if DLR is healthy he can be between 4 and 20% better than the league. Jordan Lyles has skills, can eat innings (if healthy), and looks to be simply getting better as he turns 24. Tyler Matzek was great the 2nd half of 2014 and has the stuff to be a pretty good, maybe a really good #2 starter (but we have only seen 19 starts so far in his career). Kyle Kendrick would be a great 4th or 5th starter, but as your #2? And then there is Eddie Butler. What will we see? Is he healthy? Is he ready? Sometime this year we may well see Chad Bettis, Jon Grey and Tyler Anderson. So, can this group be “good enough”? How many of you believe that? Do the Rockies?
THE SCARY DETAILS OF ROCKIES STARTERS 2010-2014
The tables below show the top 8 starters each year. The data next to them lists the number of starts, the ERA, WHIP (walks plus hits/inning, a measure of traffic and thus the number of innings they can pitch is limited), their ERA+ (a good measure of ERA that takes into account park effect and the league as a whole), and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching which seeks to remove luck from the equation by looking only at walks, strikeouts, and homeruns). For the whole team (the bottom number for each year) is shown the Batting Average allowed for all starters, the OPS allows for all starters, the ERA for all starters and the WHIP for all starters. I also have included the number of innings pitched by the starters as a comparison for year-over-year performance as inning eaters.
|Stats for Starts only for all pitchers|
|Ubaldo Jiminez||33 – 2.88/1.155/161/3.10||Ubaldo Jiminez||21 – 4.46/1.374/102/3.58|
|Jason Hammel||30 – 4.81/1.396/96/3.70||Jason Hammel||27 – 4.76/1.427/96/4.83|
|Aaron Cook||23 – 5.08/1.559/91/4.54||Aaron Cook||17 – 6.03/1.691/76/4.54|
|Jhoulys Chacin||21 – 3.28/1.274/142/3.55||Jhoulys Chacin||31 – 3.62/1.314/126/4.23|
|Jorge De La Rosa||20 – 4.22/1.315/110/4.30||Jorge De La Rosa||10 – 3.51/1.186/130/3.36|
|Jeff Francis||19 – 5.00/1.361/93/3.88||Juan Nicasio||13 – 4.14/1.270/110/3.65|
|Esmil Rogers||08 – 6.34/1.748/76/X.xx||Esmil Rogers||13 – 6.28/1.814/65/5.62|
|Greg Smith||08 – 6.23/1.872/75/6.08||Kevin Millwood||09 – 3.98/1.215/115/4.29|
|BA allow/OPS allow/ERA/WHIP||BA allow/OPS allow/ERA/WHIP|
|Total Starter Innings||955||Total Starter Innings||939|
|Starts by top 8||162||Starts by top 8||141|
|Jeff Francis||24 – 5.58/1.478/83/4.27||Jeff Francis||12 – 6.27/1.607/71/4.54|
|Drew Pomeranz||22 – 4.93/1.479/94/4.81||John Garland||12 – 5.82/1.588/77/4.93|
|Alex White||20 – 5.51/1.684/84/5.23||Chad Bettis||08 – 5.64/1.679/79/4.93|
|Jhoulys Chacin||14 – 4.43/1.623/105/5.15||Jhoulys Chacin||31 – 3.47/1.262/129/3.47|
|Jeremy Guthrie||15 – 6.35/1.688/73/6.37||Jorge De La Rosa||30 – 3.49/1.384/128/3.76|
|Juan Nicasio||11 – 5.28/1.621/88/3.99||Juan Nicasio||31 – 5.14/1.471/87/4.25|
|Christian Friedrich||16 – 6.17/1.559/75/4.63||Roy Oswalt||06 – 8.63/1.794/52/3.08|
|Tyler Chatwood||12 – 5.43/1.655/86/5.17||Tyler Chatwood||20 – 3.15/1.428/142/3.66|
|BA allow/OPS allow/ERA/WHIP||BA allow/OPS allow/ERA/WHIP|
|Total Starter Innings||765||Total Starter Innings||880.1|
|Starts by top 8||134||Starts by top 8||150|
|ERA/WHIP/ERA+/FIP||Probable Top 8|
|Tyler Matzek||19 – 4.00/1.394/105/3.78||Jorge De La Rosa|
|Franklin Morales||22 – 5.37/1.623/79/5.42||Kyle Kendrick|
|Jordan Lyles||22 – 4.33/1.366/98/4.22||Jordan Lyles|
|Jhoulys Chacin||11 – 5.40/1.437/79/4.82||Tyler Matzek|
|Jorge De La Rosa||32 – 4.10/1.237/104/4.34||Eddie Butler|
|Juan Nicasio||14 – 5.38/1.473/79/5.45||David Hale|
|Yohan Flande||10 – 5.19/1.203/82/4.00||Jon Grey|
|Christian Bergman||10 – 5.93/1.555/72/4.74||Chad Bettis|
|BA allow/OPS allow/ERA/WHIP|
|Total Starter Innings||905.1|
|Starts by top 8||140|