The Value of a Losing Season – What Do We Learn – Part 4

Chicago White Sox v Colorado Rockies Jason Kubel, Josh Rutledge Tyler

ARE LYLES, RUTLEDGE, AND MATZEK AS GOOD AS THEY HAVE APPEARED UP TO THIS POINT? CAN WE COUNT ON THEM IN 2015?

The Rockies have lots of questions for 2015. Will they be able to re-sign Jorge De La Rosa (a must)? Will they keep Anderson and activate his option (unless they are bowled over with an offer, you keep him for 2015 and see what happens)? But those questions are really hooked onto the bigger issue – are the Rockies really able to compete in 2015?

Again, you have had at least 6 of your starters spend time on the DL, you have had injuries to 4 of your top 6 pitchers going into 2014 (and DLR has not been healthy for most of the season but has battled). So as I say, don’t base on this year that there is no way to compete for a playoff spot in 2015. Too many cases of bad teams one year being able to compete the next year to think 2015 is already shot as well. But is it possible to compete in 2015? The answer to that is one of the questions that we have not yet earned the answer to this year….so far. The following players will be key for deciding how close they are to the playoff teams in 2015. So these players need to give answers before the end of 2014:

1)      Drew Stubbs: I know this seems to be a weird choice, because he is not part of the long-term plan for this team. That said, right now the team looks like 2015 will have 3 left-handed hitting outfielders as their starters – CarGo, Blackmon, and Dickerson. They need a right-handed bat for the outfield who is a great defender, good base-runner, and brings pop. Stubbs has had one of the best seasons of his career this year, and yes, he has feasted at Coors rather than the road (1.035 OPS vs .620 on the road), and yes, he strikes out a lot, and yes, he has had an unnaturally good year batting vs righties (usually at home), hitting .266/.745.  But, if he can keep this up the rest of the year he should be the obvious choice to be the 4th outfielder and main platoon partner. If he can keep this up for the rest of the year.

2)     Josh Rutledge: Ever since he came up in 2012 when Tulo got hurt and lit things up (until he injured his leg and became a one-legged hitter and defender), we have been waiting for him to become the everyday 2nd baseman. But it hasn’t happened. In early 2013 it was his offense, but after getting things figured out (he skipped AAA in 2012) in the minors, he was solid at bat the rest of 2013. Then it was the glove. His glove work at 2B has been a big issue when he has played, though strangely he has been better playing SS than 2B (which shows there is a big adjustment for any player, even a good athlete like Josh). He has lightening in his bat (maybe 15-20 homers) and great speed (a potential 20 steals guy). Still only 25, the past month has begun to give us glimpses of what Josh could do if he played every day – .319/.370/.874. No, he has not stolen a base this year (after going 12-12 last year), but the potential is there. So over these last 2 months the team needs to find out if Josh is ready to finally reach his talent. Will he fill the 2nd base role in 2015? Or, can he become the Rockies version of Ben Zobrist or Juan Uribe, a player who can play the two middle infield roles (never again at 3rd) and some outfield (guessing some winter-ball). If he can play acceptable defense either at 2B or as the Zobrist-style player, he allows this team to be deeper, to cover depth cheaper, and to carry the extra pitcher in the bullpen they have needed to in most year.

3)      Jordan Lyles: Anyone who has read the site knows that I am Lyles fan. Thought it was a steal to get him in the Fowler salary dump. Lyles was the staff ace in April, but in May we saw what happens when his fastball command goes. His sinker has such great movement (Aaron Cook says he think it moves as much as Brandon Webb’s did in his heyday) that it will often move out of the strike-zone if hitters take it. Which is why getting strike 1 with a fastball is so important.  But even including the big-blow-up against the Padres he only had 2 games where he allowed more than 3 earned runs (the other his first start of the season).  This is the Lyles that many thought he was going to be as he came up in Houston (rated as 23rd best prospect entering 2012). At best he looked like a potential #2 starter (or a 1B), but should be a solid #3. If he can come back and repeat what we saw in the early part of the season, then the Rockies go into 2015 knowing they have another solid, right-handed starter to help build the rotation (DLR, Anderson and Matzek are all lefties, giving the Rox currently a weird all-lefty rotation for most series right now). And perhaps, with the rehab, time-off, and the starts in the minors, he will have worked through the kinks that appeared in May with his delivery (I was always in favor of having him start in the minors to get his delivery consistent).

4)     Tyler Matzek: Tyler was a steal at #11 in 2009 draft and gave the Rox huge hope. Then his disaster in 2011 helped push the Rox to deal Ubaldo to develop depth.  But his recovery the past few years has made me a more mature 23 year-old than he would otherwise be. His initial start at Coors was fantastic (til he was left in too long…an ongoing  issue this year). His starts have been uneven at times but overall, for a kid getting his first taste of the bigs, playing for a bad defensive team for much of the time, and for a team whose offense has been up and down, he has been all they could hope for this season. His July starts have shown progression: 6.1 3ER, 6.0 5ER (the last 2 ER came when he started the 7th, allowed both runners to reach, was replaced and they scored, 6.0 4ER, 6.0 3ER, 7.0 0ER. His ERA of 4.28 is overstated by the decision to push him an extra inning, bad relief pitching, and bad fielding (his FIP ERA is 3.56). Last year as I saw him progress in the minors I thought he might yet make a decent #5 starter. Watching his composure, his ability to use multiple pitches (especially it should be noted when McKenry catches him), and his holding of his BB to 2.8/BB9 makes me think…he might have the makings of a #2 starter after-all. Not in 2015 (a potential #3 or #4 in 2015) but by 2016. We all want to see him keep this up the rest of the year (we have been fooled by early returns on pitchers before)  but if he keeps the team will have good reason to plan on him as a key part of the rotation next year.

5)     Eddie Butler and Jon Grey: I am going to put these two together because they have been mentioned together for most of the past year. Eddie got the one start – not great  – got injured, and in his rehab starts has not looked anything like the pitcher from 2013 and early 2014. He was not at his best before his call-up, but injuries forced his elevation.  He needs to find his rhythm and repeat his mechanics. His stuff if electric, not as good as Grey, but very good. But he has to be right or he is as very hittable. Grey looks the part, and has pitched the part. They have not allowed him to just go out and throw hard. They have made him work on his 3rd and 4th pitches, focus on getting ground-balls rather than Ks, and in general focused on developing the art of pitching. They know he has the arm and talent; they want him to be more than that. What these two do down in the minors and then when they eventually come to Coors in September (if not earlier) will provide the team a lesson of how close or far they are away from having a rotation both in quality and depth to match the Dodgers, Giants, Braves, Reds, and Pirates for the playoffs in 2015.

6)      Christian Bergman and Tyler Anderson: I am going to put these two together for similar reasons as Butler and Grey. Neither should be in the rotation to start the season in 2015. In a perfect setup the team goes into 2015 with DLR, Anderson, Lyles, Matzek, Grey/Butler as their starting 5. But, even without bad luck you go through at least 8 starters in a season. That is where Bergman and Anderson play a big role – knowing you have depth that can get wins in the bigs without having to spend a lot of money on veterans can allow their resources to go elsewhere (they will of course sign a couple of vets to minor-league contracts as they do every year but here we are talking of best-laid plans).  Bergaman only three 3 starts up here, going 6 innings both of the first two starts, allowing 2 and 3 runs (losing 1 and the team coming back to with the other). The third start he broke his hand and we can assume that had a part in the 7 ER he allowed in 3 innings. A 24th round pick in 2010 has just pitched well and won games at every level. He is a competitor, a battler, smart, and has done well despite being a fly-ball pitcher. He projects as a really good 5th starter in the future. Anderson was supposed to be fast-tracked to the majors but a back injury put his track on the side-rails. He is a very good mature lefty who has all the look of a Jeff Francis type pitcher who could be a nice #4 starter going forward. Right now he is stuck at AA, with great numbers (2.24 ERA) but high pitch counts. His last 2 starts he has finally gone 6 innings , and in both he allowed 0 runs and in total 6 hits. Additionally, his strike-outs have begun to rise (last 4 starts, 1-3-6-8). My guess is that Anderson is going to be at Coors soon (I was hoping before they threw Flande again…but oh well), possibly before September. He is not on the 40 man squad or I imagine he would be here already (there are no obvious moves to make right now).  If Bergman and Anderson can prove they are able to get major league batters out, the Rox can know they going into 2015 with quality depth ready to go in case of need next year.

7)      Kyle Parker: What to say about Kyle? Is he an outfielder or a 1B? We know who will man 1st next year in Justin Morneau, but in 2016? If the Rox do not bring back Cuddyer in 2015 (why would they accepts as a cheap bench player) they will need another good right-handed bat in the outfield (like Brandon Barnes but not a quality right-handed hitter).  Parker has done all that is asked of him in every level of minors – again this year hitting .298 with an .824 OPS and 11 homers.  Many of us suspect that like Matt Holliday he will be better hitter in the bigs than in the minors. But what is he? Is he a future starter in Colorado? Or is his best value in terms of trade? That will be another one of the questions to be answered by the end of the year to help the team determine its best roster in 2015.

8)      Yohan Flande, Chris Martin, Chad Bettis, Nick Masset, Rob Scahill, Brooks Brown, Wilton Lopez: All of these guys aside from Masset and Lopez are minor leaguers trying to prove to the Rockies they should be part of the pitching staff in 2015. Flande has proven he cannot get through a line-up 3 times. That said, he is a lefty (a great gift for any player wanting to make it in the bigs), and looking at his starts he has not allowed a run in his first 2 innings and only one run in the first 3 innings in his starts. In other words, the first time facing a lineup he is able to control them. This would seem to indicate they have a potential long-man and lefty-out man for their pen next year. Yes he is a long-time minor leaguer, but he has been stuck in the starting spot, which his arsenal is not well setup for.  Like Machi with the Giants, he might finally find his ticket to the majors and to success as a reliever using his unique set of pitches to face a limited number of batters. Martin, Bettis, Brown,a and Scahill are all on the 40 man roster, have all pitched here, had some success but…have not established their ability to be dependable as relievers in 1 run games. Can one of them finally figure it out and make themselves an obvious piece for the pen next year? Then there is Masset and Lopez. Both of whom are injured currently. Lopez has been a disaster but he has done it before. Whatever got in his head and/or mechanics last year, can it be gotten out? I doubt it, but one never knows. Masset was great early in the season and then seemed to wear down (remembering his injuries of the past few years and how little he pitched during that time) and then hurt his knee. He is still rehabbing but if he can come back and return to form we saw in April and May, then he would likely be in line for the 7th inning role next year…if they want to spend the money to re-sign him. Not sure if he would give a discount to the team that helped him get back to the bigs.

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