On Friday May 1st, something very good happened to me. I developed pneumonia. No really, it was a great thing. It meant that until today I was too tired, too ill, too everything to do more than quickly glance at the Rockies scores. Oh, I was able to lie in bed and watch the first debacle in San Diego (14-3, one of the worst overall games in recent Rockies memory), but by Sunday I had lost connection to the internet or television or the Denver Post. I had my wife help post a pre-game for the Tuesday rainout (she really is a peach), but, no I wasn’t watching. Or listening. Or writing. Or caring.
Ah, blessed pneumonia. I have managed to be in a coughing and fever-induced delirium. I knew the Rox were in trouble, losing games, but in those strange dreams you have when struggling with an illness, i had visions of Rockies starters throwing 8 innings with 0 walks, of Rockies hitters working counts and hitting fat pitches from exhausted pitchers for extra bases. I even saw in one very faint hallucination a rested, healthy, and successful bullpen. What a glorious vision. And then the antibiotics kicked in, and I opened my laptop today for the first time in days and days to discover that the best thing the Rox had going for them the past 13 days is lots of rainouts and off-days. This is a bad team getting worse. It is an unwatchable team that still is going to be on television for another 100 games. This is a group that cannot even find a way to score runs at COORS BLEEPING FIELD! It is a flat team that doesn’t have even the positive enjoyment of watching star prospects ready to come to Coors.
Please, come back pneumonia, I preferred that reality over this.
Since i have not been watching or really following, I tried to go back and see what happened. Oh, wait, that is easy:
- Starting pitching goes 5 innings ,allowing 7 runs on 4 hits and 12 walks.
- Relief Corp that is busy applying for Social Security Disability and filing over-work suits through their union coughs up a few more. Fast-pitch softball pitchers the only possible ones who can keep any velocity throwing like this. Maybe some knuckle ball pitchers? They can throw everyday, right?
- Hitters that do not take good ABs and that cannot string together more than 1 hit in an inning scores a few runs on homeruns, but only after the game is far out of play.
- The defense after watching The Walk for Mankind is too bored to stay alert enough to make routine plays.
- Fans stopped caring, and so Coors Field along with Rainy Days and Mondays always gets everyone who cares about the Rockies down.
That about cover it?
I said this year that 78 wins was probably the best they could do. I thought a good and deep bullpen (it was both, but now that Diaz and Oberg got lit up, maybe that AAA depth isn’t quite as deep as we thought and the number of pitches in a week without rest has simply burned through their best asset.
I thought the line-up would be good-to-great. It should be. But Tulo has been very very average. CarGo though healthy, still seems intent on making-up for lost time…and instead looks lost. They have gotten very good performances out of DJ and Hundley at bat – not something either is known for and when they are your two best hitters, you know there is an issue. Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon have had moments when they looks great, and then other times they just spends plate appearance trying to hit homers – and instead strike-out. Corey has 21Ks in 96 ABs and for as good a hitter as he is, that shouldn’t be. Nolan has started to fulfill his offensive potential (just 8Ks in 101 at-bats), but hasn’t quite broken through. Justin Morneau has been solid, but hardly what you want out of your clean-up hitter.
Oh, and Drew Stubbs has struck-out 20X in just 32 at-bats and has 3 hits to his name.
Their bullpen and offense should have allowed this team to stay near .500 at least until after the All-Star break where their lack of depth finally sank them.
As we have seen in the last 13 days and 9 games is every facet of the team: starting pitching, relief pitching, offense and defense struggling. And struggling mightily.
And so we cannot even watch their games anymore. They simply are not giving Rockies fans any reason to get anti-biotics or switch over from Star Trek: Next Generation repeats.
That said, we all know the real issue. The Rox starting pitchign, which was going to need players to take the next step in their development to allow this team to be competitive. Instead it has been some of the worst pitching since the 2012 team, and really the worst since the 1993 team. Armondo Reynosos is 87 years-old and is still better than any starter currently on the 25 man squad.
How bad as this group been? And why? We can see from various data points what happened.
I am on record as saying I really like Tyler. Good kid. Difficult back-story. And lots of promise.
The last two months of 2014 Tyler found his groove. Last season he found his relief point, got his motion in synce, was able to throw his fastball for strikes and his slider and change finally became devastating weapons. Even in April last year – before being called up to Coors – he had 12 games total – he had 8 with 3 walks or less. He did have 3 4-walk games and 1-5-walk game, but on the whole he had gained control of his wildness. He had 5 games then with 6 or more Ks. So he had transformed from being a guy who looked like he might bring value as a lefty-reliever (Christian Friedrich), into a starter who was starting to harness his talents. In his 19 starts to end the season at the MLB level he had 4 games with 4 or more walks. Not bad. He had 9 games with 6 or more Ks. And best of all he allowed 3 runs or less in 14 of his 19 starts, including his last 6 where he gave up no more than 2 runs.
Tyler finally had figured it out. Unfortunately, the groove he was in last year and his comfort in his motion and release point disappeared over the off-season. Its why a player like this hates to see the season stop. They finally figured it out!
In his first 4 starts this year he still didnt allow more than 2ER, though only in 20 total innings (5/start) and this was largely due to the 13 walks in those 4 games along with 3 HBP. Tyler still has nasty stuff – if he can get hitters to swing. But why swing when you guess its a ball. And that finally caught up with his last week when the Dbacks in just 2 innings used 6 walks and three hits (one homer) to put up 4 ER in just 2innings.
He is still striking out over 6 batters/9 – not fantastic but good. But he is walking nearly 8 batters/9 innings (7.77). Were it not for his strand rate of 82.1%, Tyler would have been back in the minors sooner. To be fair, Tyler did a pretty good job last year in stranding runners 73.8%, so while the 82% number is really high, he can stay close to that.
But it really isn’t about actual stats. I watched teh highlights I recorded showing Tyler with his head down during the Dbacks game, in the dugout, and he simply look spent. His confidence, and more than that, his confidence with his fastball locations, simply is gone.
Can Tyler fix it? Sure, and be as good as last year potentially. Last year he didn’t need a fluke to be that good. But as for this year right now he simply can’t throw any pitch with confidence it will be a strike, especially his fastball. Velocity-wise all his pitches are the same as last year. Except that fastball, and I think that may be because he is aiming the ball to try and get strikes. Not a way to get outs. And yes, we should remember that he did manage to strand a whole lot of runners this year. It wasn’t the results that got Tyler sent to AAA, it was what all those balls were doing to his confidence. Last year with his confidence growing he threw 63% of his pitches were strikes. This year? Just 51.3%, and since we know a good many of those pitches were “throw-em up there” types on 3-0 counts, the numbers may actually be worse. And it isn’t just the balls that are the issue. His pitches have been missing up too much lately. Last year he got 49.7% to hit a ground ball (as the movement was down and in or near the strike zone. So far this year it is just 39.7%. And almost all of that difference has been in fly balls, again showing him missing up.
Give him two or three weeks, see if he can get his release point back, and then lets see. He has a lot of moving parts as they say in his delivery, and so it is easy for one or two to get out of sync. To be of help to the Rox he has to become N-Sync.
Then we have our friend Jordan Lyles. I really like Jordan as everyone here knows and I think they did get a steal for Dexter. Because if Jordan puts it all together he has #2 stuff. He will never be a big strike-out pitcher (though he has at times shown the ability to get one when he most needs it), despite have a 92mph 4-seamer (his 2-seam is the 90 range). His slider has good bite at times, coming in at 87+mph, and his curve has at times been his best pitch. The problem scouts say his all of his pitches move too much, and when hitters lay-off of them, they often turn out to be balls. If he can harness his talent, the Rox would be excited as a pardoned pig at Bubba’s Pit Barbeque. But so far he hasn’t been able to do that. But only 58.5% of his pitches have been strikes, and batters know that. If they either wait for a fat pitch or simply wait to swing, the outcome has a good chance of turning out good. At least Jordan has given them some length, logging 36.2 innings through 6 games. On his team that is Bob Gibson territory.
Can Jordan get it worked out? This is his 4th big league campaign, and while just 24, he has to make that next step if he wants to avoid being in a year or two a guy like Kyle Kendrick – just a 4th or 5th man who gets groundballs but isn’t really anything to get excited about. Jordan hasn’t been great in a Rockies uniform other than the opening stretch into mid-May last year. With all that his pitches move, if he can throw strikes consistently to hitter can’t sit back and wait, well both his weak contact numbers and his K totals should rise quickly. But he has to establish that the strike zone is a friend of his, or at least that he visits it enough to be dating.
The third in our triumvirate of young guns, also 24, is Eddie Butler, who I honestly thought at the beginning of the season wasn’t ready for the big leagues. But he is learning, and if you are going to stink anyways, at least you are getting one of your top prospects some real-world experience against great hitters. In his 2013 season he looked like he was close to a ready product and if the Rox had been in contention (Ha!), he might have gotten a look at the show.
That 2013 season started off in A-Ball, where in 9 starts and 54.1 innings he had 8.45K/9, 4.14 BB/9, but allowed just a .172 BABIP. He was rushed to High-A, where in 13 more starts he increased his K rate up to 8.91/9 while dropping his walk rate to 2.79/9. His BABIP was more normal – .280, but he simply was still dominating allowing an ERA of just 2.39. It was at High-A that he threw that change-up in the 2013 Futures Game that was so nasty it made him an instant uber-prospect. And why not, he had been chewing up hitters and with a low-to-mid 90s Fastball and a wicked change as well as good slider (at 85.9), he looked the part. He even went to AA for 6 starts to end the year and in 27.2 innings kept up the good work – 8.13/9 K rate and a 1.95/9 BB rate to go along with a BABIP of just .188. That pitcher, that Eddie Butler, had top shelf stuff, as in #1 stuff.
But then 2014 came around and as we saw in Tyler this year, it just seemed Eddie couldn’t find his best stuff, and in some cases, any stuff. Lets leave out his few starts for the Rox. They all were difficult but the sample size was too small. If we just focus on AA Eddie’s peripherals fell apart – 5.25 k/9, 2.67 BB/9, and a BABIP of .274. His ERA was still a respectable 3.58, but that is what you see from a guy whose upside is a #4 or 5, not a potential #1 as he looked in 2013. We do know his shoulder wasn’t right in 2014, but it wasn’t just his shoulder. All of his stuff looked ordinary. There was less bite on his key pitches. His fastball wasn’t scaring people enough to bring in the change as the hammer. He looked simply average, like so many guy we have seen here the past 20 years.
Eddie has been given the chance to stay in this rotation. In 6 games he has thrown 31.1 innings, or just a bit over 5/game. Again, not good enough (high pitch counts have been the culprit more than being knocked out of game by injury or need for a PH). His K/9 rate is still in line with 2014, not 2013 – 5.46/9. His walk rate has really been his issue – 5.46/9. Wow…not what you want to see in double. His 76% LOB rate is actually in-line with his career numbers, but he is doing it wihtout the use of his fastball/slider/change repoitairre to get strikeouts. Only 24% of his pitches are hit hard, which is again why the ERA is still low, and his 52.5% groundball rate, with a fantastic defensive infield, has served him well. But only 57.9% of his pitches are strikes. And that is too low, he is too wild, for hitters to start swinging and missing regularly for strikeouts. But he has at least looked like he can be here. He may only be pitching at a #5 level, but again, its experience he will need.
Jorge De La Rosa
I won’t address Jorge here because he has only thrown 4 games and really just 16 innings. Jorge still isn’t really in baseball shape yet, but more like last week of Spring Training shape. Jorge traditional struggles the first month of the season (example, in 2013 he had a 4.18 ERA while the highest the rest of the year – September – was 3.78), and he is still in that place. They need Jorge to be Jorge – not a #1 but a really good #2. But you need a #1 to make that happen. I know the Rox got a lot of heat for not trading him and then re-signing him to a 2 year deal, but prospects have a high rate of failure and tis team needs all the pitchers who are willing to sign here, and at Coors there is none better. If Jorge is not your #1, then who is?
And Kyle Kendrick sure as heck isn’t that man. I was willing to give the Rox the benefit of the doubt on Kendrick. He had a pretty good September last year, and he has been known to get groundballs. But so far he has been a batting practice machine. His opening day game vs. Milwaukee wasn’t just a fluke, it was taking advantage of a team that has even less offense this year than the Rox. In 6 games covering 33 innings (or just 5 and half innings per game), he has given up 2.73 HR/9 while walking 3/9 and only striking out 5.45/9. His BABIP is .324, and it is not a case of bad luck. He has really fooled no one. He is stranding just 63% of runners, the lowest rate of his career. His groundball % is about his career norm -43.2%, and his fly-ball rate is about norm – 31.4% But 27% of all fly balls are going over the fence…and I am not talking foul balls. His ERA of 8.73 isn’t as bad as his peripherals show. No, they show his ERA should ONLY BE 7.24. 43.2% of contact is in the hard category, which shows that his pitches are fat, even when they result in outs.
But what is ironic is he has the highest rate of strikes/total pitches at 60.6%. Well, at least we found something to cheer about.
Look, Jordan Lyles and Eddie Butler were both top prospects for a reason, and both, if they can throw strikes, can at least be competitive. If Butler can find his mojo from 2013, even more than competitive. De la Rosa should be at least a .500 pitcher, and once he is healthy and up-to-game conditioning, we shall see. But Tyler Matzek has lost his ability to throw strikes, and he can’t be here again until he finds his release point and gets rid of the part of his motion causing him to miss in his throwing.
But Kyle Kendrick? Yes, he is earning around 5 million dollars. Yes for his career he is about a 4.50 ERA guy despite pitching in a band-box. But all that said, does anyone see anything to get excited about? He may eventually lower his homerun rate but at 30+ plus he is more likely to keep heading in the wrong direction, especially once the air warms up at Coors and other stadiums around the league. He might be able to push Jeremy Guthrie out of the hearts and minds of Rox fans as the worst starting pitcher choice of the new millennium. I really don’t expect much good change to occur. And with Matzek down on the farm for at least ten days, he probably has 3 starts to get things worked out.
As we know Jon Grey has struggled, though his stuff is coming around and he has mostly fought bad first innings to get him into trouble. And Yohan Flande is dominating AA, which he should since he is old enough to be the oppositions father, but perhaps Flande becomes a better option. But the most likely alternative is our old friend Chad Bettis. In 6 games covering 34 innings he has a 3.97 ERA, a WHIP of1.41, which is great in AAA PCL, and has 26K in those 34 innings vs 10 BB.
Is it safe to come back from my pneumonia yet? Probably not, but if I have to watch Rockies baseball right now, at least let it be guys who are part of the team’s future – guys like Bettis or David Hale (who is way behind now after being on the DL with the strained oblique and his stuff looks terrible at this point…give him another month). So I am issuing a demand to the Rockies. I will only continue to take my anti-biotic if you all start sending us real pitchers to watch. Otherwise, my pneumonia will be on your heads!
We need help from somewhere. I need you Jeff Bridich, your my only hope.