The Value of a Losing Season – What Do We Learn Part 1

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The Value of a Losing Season – What Do We Learn – Part 1: The Breakout Surprises

For the fourth straight year the Broncos training camp has opened and the Rockies are already in full-out Chicago Cubs mode. The last 4 years have been frustrating for even the most optimistic fan, but as we now start to look to 2015, the big question is what value might the team derive from this season?

In a lost year, the only real value (aside from a draft position) is what you can learn about your team – your manager, your current players, and your farm system. Smart teams do that. One of the complaints of Houston Astros fans over the past few years is that the Astros have not been trying to learn during this period, merely playing for #1 draft spots (had they been learning during this time – they would never have dealt away Jordan Lyles). What about the Rockies?

In 2011, a season that began with the Rox the chic pick for the World Series (or at least the NL West), the team went into the season thinking from 2010 it had learned that they had a good to great rotation featuring Ubaldo, DLR, Jason Hammel, Jhouly Chacin (as a rookie in 2010 had an ERA of 3.28), Aaron Cook, and a young power arm in Juan Nicasio. It thought it had learned it had two of the most explosive young players in the league in Tulo (remember that September of 2010) and CarGo, both freshly locked up, and were setting themselves up for a period of consistent contention baseball. Sadly, we know what happened – Ubaldo until late 2013, never was the Ubaldo of early 2010 and had to be dealt, DLR blew out his elbow at a time when the team realized 2013 was going to be the earliest year for great returns, Hammels was hurt and ineffective, Cook was done, and in the minors Reynolds was officially a bust (injuries) and Matzek had imploded. The team acted quickly – they knew they were wrong about their pitching situation and dealt Ubaldo (a trade that was essentially a loss for both sides, since the Indians did only get 3 months of good pitching for 2 #1 picks). The Rockies chose to learn, whether what they learned they acted properly upon – we can argue about.

2012 was a season you could not learn from due to the weird condition of Coors. I am unable to pull up the stats, but the opposition ERA that year was either a record or nearly so. You could not evaluate if a pitcher had a future or not that year (although it did destroy the confidence of guys, like the two #1 picks the Rox got returned from the Ubaldo deal). You could not in that year determine if an offensive player was the real deal or not – not when Chris Nelson hit .301 with a .810 OPS. 2012 is the definition of a lost year  – poor play, poor results, low learning factor.

2013 was a season that did provide learning for the team. They learned that Nolan Arenado was not only capable of playing 3B in the majors, but was in fact a once-in-a-generation defensive talent. They learned that Dexter Fowler was not an $8 million player. They saw in the last 60 days of the season, that Charlie Blackmon was ready to be an everyday player. The saw a powerful top 3 of a rotation to take on the NL West in Chacin, DLR and Chatwood. They learned that Rex Brothers and Adam Ottovino were going to be key parts of the bullpen in the next year. With what they learned in the minors that year (the development of Butler, the drafting and immediate performance of Grey, the huge performances by Winkler and Bergman, and the return of hope with the Matzek), they thought they were in good shape pitching-wise. The trade of Pomeranz for Anderson (again, they knew that at Coors, Drew wasn’t going to be able to start, and getting Anderson looked like a steal).  They used the data from 2013 to then over the off-season trade Dexter to get Jordan Lyles as well as dealing away pieces were not necessary for success – Herrera and Outmann – to get key depth pieces in Morales and Stubbs. Lessons well learned, they headed into 2014.

Sadly…there are some things you cannot learn during the season. No one in the post-season exams saw the damage in the shoulder of Chacin or that Chatwood’s TJ repaired elbow was ready for a replacement as well. They could not learn that of their intended or desired starting 8  – Rosario, Morneau, Rutledge, Tulo, Arenado, CarGo, Blackmon, and Cuddy – only Blackmon would stay off the DL! (I think in the focus on the pitching injuries, we forget how few games the team’s desired starting 8 played together, and even if you chose DJ over Rutledge, 6/8th of your starting position player being lost for 15 days minimum is not a recipe for success or something most teams can overcome). They also could not anticipate the Chatwood hamstring, the rash of broken hands, the elbow injury in the middle of a no-hitter in what was likely Winkler’s last game in AA, or any of the other weird stuff that has happened to pitching in the Rox organization. Add to that the regression of two important players – Rosario and Brothers and this season flat stinks!

But…is there information that the team can learn from this season to prepare the team for 2015 with a real chance to compete.  In this first article a look at the two biggest pluses this season.

1)      Corey Dickerson – Before 2013 few other than really nerdy Rockies fans who watch the minors because they can’t get enough Rockies baseball knew of Corey Dickerson. I will be honest and admit going into 2013 I thought he was likely a 4A player who might…if he could learn to play some position, be a useful bench player. In 2013 he held his own – .263 with a .775 OPS and 5 homers in 213 PA doesn’t blow you away, and certainly isn’t up to his level of performance in the minors (.322 with a .981 OPS and between 22 and 32 homers in full seasons).  But he no longer looked like a 4A player. 2014 has been a real break-out for Corey. He has been very consistent month-to-month (July so far is his low mark at .293/.896), and his road numbers are excellent for a player who has to adjust to pitching difference when they leave Coors (.286/.851 with 5 homers compared to .369/1.108 with 8 homers). Yes, he tries to steal far more than he should (8 of 13), he strikes out too much (he hits the ball almost as hard as Tulo according to stats they keep but would like a more nuanced swing in 2 strike and 1-out ABs where a homer is not needed), still struggles against lefties (.255/.752 2 homers in 52Abs), and his defense still needs work. But those are all things he can and will continue to work on and improve in. He just turned 25 at the end of May and doesn’t become arbitration eligible until 2017 and FA until 2020. I suspect they may try and lock him up this year to buy out arbitration risks, but we will see. The Rox generally move their players more slowly through the minors than some clubs, so by the time Dickerson hits FA he will be 31, an age when players as a rule decline. So the team should get his best performances at a lower price with higher age at reaching FT playing status. While Tulo is the clearly the MVP of the team, Dickerson probably would rate out as the MVP of the players who were expecting to be part of the depth.  And planning for 2015 it is safe to say the team is planning to run Dickerson out in Left Field most days in 2015.


2)      Tommy Kahnle – I think it is safe to say Kahnle at this point is not yet at the level of the 3 great Rule 5 players in history –  Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton and Dan Uggla. A hit on a Rule 5 player depends on finding a player for whom the light is about to go on. I keep harping on the fact that we expect players, because of their talent, to figure it out quickly, to follow the paths of the Trouts, the Tulos, the Fernandez or even a Jhoulys Chacin. Things like control, additional velocity, learning to hit curves, or developing pull power happen at different points for each player. Kahnle had the power arm that kept the Yankees holding on to him but the lack of control meant he wasn’t going to go any further. The Rox saw something (and although we complain a lot about the Rox pitching, but Jim Wright, Bob Apadoca, and Mark Wiley have done a great job getting pitchers ready to perform…then it is up to them) and figured they could work with him to maximize the talent (and the cost was cheap). And what have they gotten? 39 games, 55.1 innings a 1.066 WHIP, a 2.77 ERA (granted his Fielding-Independent ERA is 3.76, but the pitchers pitch to their defense, so I am not as worried by the 1 run higher ERA playing for a normal fielding team) . His big power arm has provided only 45Ks in the 55.1 innings (I was expecting a K/IP but given his multiple innings he goes it should surprise he has relied on outs other than by K).  The only big issue is the 24 BB in those 55.1 innings (2 were IBB), or a 3.9 BB/9 is not horrible (Rex Brothers at 5.5 BB/9 is an issue).  His ability to go the 5th and 6th innings for this team, given the number of pitching outings this season that didn’t make it through the 5th has been a severe issue.  Just like Adam Ottavino last year, he has slowly moved from the long-man role to a later and later inning role. Kahnle certainly does look like a significant part of the bullpen for the next several years…and all it cost was $50,000.

Next up…Players Who Have Continued Their Growth


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