The Value of a Losing Season – What Do We Learn – Part 3

Brothers Juan Wilin


2014 has been a disappointing year for a number of reasons. Optimistic fans point to the slew of injuries and that were it not for a run of bad luck (back to June of 2013) the Rox would be in the race for Wild Card if not the division. But other fans point to a bigger issue: the regression of key players. The Rockies sadly have had 5 key players who had a regression that hurt the team in key places. The real issue is that the Rockies counted on players they should not have – players in key places, and that the errors made by management in counting on these five players is the real reason the team is floundering at the bottom of the entire major leagues.

Going from least-disappointing regression player to most we start with :

1)      Adam Ottavino: I am hesitant to put Adam on this list but in 2013 at age 27 Adam seemed to have finally found his way. He started the season as the team’s long-man but after the injury to Rafeal Betencourt, he moved up the pecking order. For 2013 he had a 2.64 ERA and a WHIP of 1.328. Yes, in the 2nd half, worn out 47.1 innings in the 1st half, his 2nd half WHIP jumped to 1.530, but some of that was bad luck (.360 BABIP). Overall though, he was all the team could hope for, and was slotted in as the 8th inning right-handed arm for 2014. And for the first 5 weeks, things worked well this year. But in baseball, players are always learning and adjusting. The killer slider that Zero could count on early began to stay up and over the plate more, but also, players just chose to not swing at the slider if it had good spin. Too often the sliders were balls. Adam has a good 93-94 mph fastball, but it took him a while to adjust his approach to mixing his pitches better. He has been streaky this entre year, and that is not unusual for relievers, but too often in key situations he has failed to hold leads or has given up a run in a tight setting. Adam can still improve and become a key component of the bullpen in 2015 (he qualifies for arbitration in 2015), but they innings may be the reason for the poor performance, in which case, managing him in 2015 will be key to managing his performance.

2)      Matt Belisle: Given that Matt didn’t have a great 2013, saying he further regressed in 2014 might be an overstatement, but after a good May, he has been far from the Matt they counted on from 2009 to 2012. Last year his ERA jumped from 3.71 (in a league leading 80 appearances) to 4.32 in 2013 (in 72 appearances) to 5.66 in 2014 in 45 appearances so far. His ERA in June and July, exactly when they needed him the most, are 6.17 and 10.57. At this point, Matt his a long-man at best and we are probably seeing the last days of Matt with the Rockies…a player who has given a lot to the Rockies over the years. If he comes back next year it will be a minor-league deal. His arm needs rest (he did well in May when the team gave him regular rest).

3)      Juan Nicasio: Another story of a player we have watched for a long-time who we all want to succeed, who tempts with talent and….has sadly regressed. We know how he was almost killed by the line-drive. Then the knee injury. Then last year, supposedly healthy, we saw good outings the first 2 times through a line-up, before the eventual blow-out. We were told in 2014 he had added two pitches including a change-up in the form of a splitter. He looked great early in the season. But, for whatever reason, he went back to being a two-pitch pitcher, a slider usually his 4-seam fastball. Rather than a break-out season…we saw a slow-regression to Colorado Springs. There were the usual problems the 2nd and 3rd time through line-ups in May, but his ERA was saved by good pitching from Kahnle,  Masset and others. When they needed him to get through his own issues, the bottom fell out. His last 4 starts: 4.2IP 5ER (5/30), 5.1IP 7ER (6/5), 3.2IP 10ER (6/10), 2IP 3ER (6/15). Just when they needed starting pitching (Chacin struggling, Chatwood on the DL, Lyles breaks hand, and Arenado on the DL), Nicasio didn’t just regress, he imploded. Of the original starting 5 the team planned on using this season, he is the only one who is no longer part of the rotation because of performance, an important thing to remember (Morales was always planned on being a fill-in starter, not a regular starter).  In Colorado Springs, things have not been much better.  However, his last 3 appearances are as a reliever, and he in 5.2 innings he has allowed only 4 hits…not bad in the PCL. I argued for the past year that Nicasio could be the long-term answer as a closer, allowing him to pump his fastball up to 95 and making the slider look even sharper. He did earn his first save on July 20 so perhaps this will become the plan. As a starter his regression damaged this team as heavily as any of the individual injuries. As a reliever, he could be an interesting part of the future in 2015 – their bullpen is going to undergo massive change, and that arm and experience getting through lineups the first time in many games without allowing hits has to get Rockies management at least somewhat excited.

4)      Wilin Rosario: Picking the player whose regression most hurt the team was a hard choice. I ended up not picking Wilin (you can guess without looking who the winner is), but it was close. His defense early in the season wasn’t bad – about average for the major leagues. But whether it was the hand injury, the flu-bug, or whatever, since his return off the DL he has been a huge liability behind the plate – allowing passed balls and wild pitches in situations where they had a double-play set-up or with a runner on 3rd base. We all can think of the instances. His game calling has been… suspect at best. We know the Rox went hard after both Ruiz from the Phils and McCann of the Yankees. They almost got both. What would the Rox ERA be with one of these two players behind the play?  Mike McKenry is a nice back-up, and as we saw in the game he called for Tyler Matzek on July 26, he does a good job with young pitchers. But he is not a starter and that is what Rosario was meant to be. But all that would have been okay if the offense was what it was last year. His .292/.315/.801 (with 21 homers) was pretty good for a 2nd year player playing the toughest position on the field. So what happened this year? Again, the health is probably an issue, but .238/.274/.678 with 9 homers isn’t the work of a starter with poor defense. The only big impression we have seen this year is on taking walks – 14 this year compared to only 15 in 2013 and 25 in 2012. But that is not enough. What to do with Wilin? I really have no answer…but I am pretty sure he will not be the starter behind the plate for the Rox in 2015. A trade piece? A move to 1st? Just a back-up? Wilin’s regression didn’t just hurt the team’s record this year, but his value as a trade chip as well.

5)      Rex Brothers: Rex in the first half of 2013 had arguably, along with Ubaldo in 2010, the best pitching performance of any Rockie in history. He was unhittable for much of early 2013 and finished with a 1.74 ERA and a 1.272 WHIP (good for Coors). Yes, he still had walk issues (4.8/9BB in 2013 after 4.4 and 4.9 in his first two years). His K rate had slowly declined from 13.1 to 11.1 to 10.2 last year, but that was thanks to learning to get out with something other than a K. Were it not for the walks it is likely he would have gone into 2014 the closer for the Rox (he had 19 last year after Rafeal Betencourts sad string of injuries). Instead the Rox signed ancient Letroy Hawkins to serve as the primary closer and mentor to Rex (Hawkins has been like Betencourt, a control artist over his career). Had Rex repeated 2013, even with all the other issues this team has had, they might well be near .500 rather than 17 games below (the number of games lost due to the pen’s failures from the 7th on could alone count for those 17 games). Instead we got…well, the guy throwing out there is not Rex. For much of the season he is fastball has been 89-91, not his 93-95mph that has been. Some days the velocity is there, sometimes not. The slider on some days is still nasty as ever. But he will go from throwing a killer slider to finish a batter to throwing 4 straight ones as balls nowhere near the plate. In fact, it is not that he has missed close that has been the issue, it is that his pitches miss so far from the zone that no hitter will bail him out. Both the team and Rex have said there is no injury to blame (though the loss of velocity and control sure mirrors both a Tommy John injury or a rotator cuff problem). So instead we must face the fact that Rex….just regressed this year. A guy who was drafted to close, who did close last year, and who was counted on to close…has had to pitch the 6th inning at times and when put in to just get a left-handed hitter…he fails. I don’t put the whole bullpen issues and the team’s failures on Rex but….just like when Rafeal got hurt last year the whole bullpen fell to pieces because the role that pitchers were meant to play was thrown into confusion and pitchers who were competent both in terms of stuff and mindset for the 6th or 7th fail in the 8th.

What to do with the future or Rex? He doesn’t enter into arbitration until 2015. He will be here next year, but they need him to return to at least 2012 if not 2013 form. However, the team should have learned this year they cannot build the bullpen around him. If they don’t learn that…then next year’s pen will be in worse shape than this years.

Up Next….Players Whose 2014 (Including the Last Two Months) Could Be Exciting for 2015.



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