Rockies starting pitchers struggled in 2014. They finished the season 24th in fWAR, 27th in ERA-, 29th in WHIP, and last in K/9, BB/9, and innings pitched (IP). They were also forced to use a league high 15 different starting pitchers, mostly due to injuries. It isn’t all doom and gloom though. They have some very promising young prospects, improved their pitching depth during the off-season, and should see better health than they did in 2014. All of that is bound to make them at least a little better, right?
De La Rosa, who turns 34 the day before the season opener, comes into 2015 as the ace and anchor of the pitching staff. In 2014, his 32 starts were 10 more than any other Rockies pitcher and his 184 1/3 innings pitched led the staff by nearly 60 innings. His performance in those starts was roughly league average, with a 4.10 ERA, 96 ERA-, and 101 FIP-, good enough for 2.1 fWAR and 2.4 rWAR.
Surprisingly, De La Rosa has thrived in the hitter’s haven of Coors Field. Since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2013, Jorge has a superb 2.92 ERA and 3.56 FIP at Coors. In his last 57 home starts for the Rockies, the team has an astounding 48-9 record! Winning and losing isn’t all about the pitcher, but with a record like that, I have a hard time believing that it’s just a coincidence.
Given his great success there, particularly relative to the way that most pitchers struggle in that environment (all other Rockies starters have a 4.98 ERA at Coors Field since 2013), I recently wrote over at Purple Row about a plan to get him as many home starts as possible. The Rockies seem to have similar ideas, as De La Rosa is scheduled to start the home opener on April 10th, depending on the severity of a groin injury that has limited him to just one spring training start. In 2015, Steamer projects Jorge for a 4.46 ERA and 2.4 fWAR in 190 innings. ZiPS is not as optimistic, projecting a similar 4.44 ERA, but just 1.2 fWAR and 121 2/3 innings.
Tyler Matzek is a big reason the Rockies rotation could take a step forward this year. A first round pick by the Rockies in 2009, Matzek was once rated as high as the 23rd best prospect in all of baseball before control issues looked like they were going to derail his career. Since having a ridiculous 8.9 BB/9 in 2011, Matzek has steadily improved that number every year since; dropping it to 6.0 in 2012, 4.8 in 2013, and 3.7 in 2014.
After getting his first call to the Major Leagues in 2014, Matzek’s command continued to improve with just 3.4 BB/9 in 117 2/3 innings over 20 appearances (19 starts). The reduced walk numbers weren’t the only promising thing about Matzek, though. He also put together an impressive 4.05 ERA (95 ERA-), 3.78 FIP (88 FIP-), and closed the season with the best month of his short career. In four September starts spanning 26 2/3 innings, Matzek was fantastic. He put together a 1.69 ERA (39 ERA-), 2.12 FIP (49 FIP-), 9.1 K/9, and 3.0 BB/9. Tyler will look to leverage that strong finish into a successful season in 2015, his first full season as a Major Leaguer.
ZiPS projects Matzek for a 4.30 ERA and 2.4 fWAR across 182 1/3 innings in 2015 while Steamer projects him for a 4.76 ERA and 1.1 fWAR across just 114 innings. Steamer’s projections seem awfully pessimistic to me and I expect him to be a strong number two starter behind De La Rosa. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we’re all calling him the number one starter by the end of the season.
One of the few new faces we’ll be seeing in a Rockies uniform this season is Kyle Kendrick, who signed a one year, $5.5 million contract with the Rockies this February after spending the first eight years of his career with the Phillies. The owner of a career 4.42 ERA (111 ERA-) and 4.65 FIP (116 FIP-), the Rockies likely don’t expect him to be great this season. Kendrick, who has made 62 starts and thrown 381 innings over the last two seasons, is a guy who will hopefully be able to give the Rockies some length and relieve some of the pressure from a bullpen that threw the third most innings in the Majors in 2014.
Another positive to having Kendrick on the roster is that it gives the Rockies another Major League quality arm to use in the short term while their top prospects get some additional experience in the minor leagues. This, in theory, will allow the Rockies to call up those prospects because they want to, not because injuries and poor performance have forced their hand. Kendrick’s career high fWAR is just 1.6, but with all these things that won’t show up in a stat like WAR, he may end up being more valuable than that for the Rockies.
Kyle is slated to get the ball in the season opener against the Brewers. A lot of fuss has been made about it, but starting on opening day doesn’t necessarily mean that the Rockies think he’s their best pitcher. ZiPS projects Kendrick for a 4.99 ERA and 1.5 fWAR across 166 innings in 2015 while Steamer projects him for a 4.81 ERA and 1.1 fWAR across 137 innings. The Rockies included an incentive in Kendrick’s contract that pays him an extra $500k if he pitches 190+ innings, so the team is hoping that he beats those projections.
Coming off his best season as a Major Leaguer, Jordan Lyles enters the 2015 season expected to be somewhere in the middle of the Rockies rotation. Even though he’s only 24 years old, this will already be Lyles’ fifth big league season. After struggling to a 5.35 ERA (136 ERA-) and 4.55 FIP (116 FIP-) over 377 innings in his first three seasons, Lyles turned a corner in 2014, putting together a 4.33 ERA (101 ERA-) and a 4.22 FIP (98 FIP-) across 22 starts and 126 2/3 innings. The improvement resulted in Lyles having 1.6 fWAR and 1.1 rWAR, both career highs, despite missing two months with a broken hand.
Lyles was picked up by the Rockies along with Brandon Barnes in exchange for Dexter Fowler prior to the 2014 season. He was coveted by the club for his youth, at just 24 years old he still has plenty of time to improve, and his ability to get ground balls. Since 2012, he’s 12th out of 86 pitchers (min. 400 IP) at inducing ground balls. This plays well with the elite infield defense of the Rockies and the huge outfield at Coors Field. It’s a trend that both Lyles and the Rockies hope will continue in 2015.
The date of Lyles’ first start has yet to be announced by the team, but it seems likely that he’ll slot in on either April 7th or 8th against the Brewers. ZiPS projects him to have a 4.70 ERA and 1.4 fWAR across 143 2/3 innings while Steamer projects him at a 4.57 ERA and 1 fWAR across just 92 innings. Both of those innings totals, especially Steamer’s, seem curiously low, so expect the WAR numbers to improve simply due to him throwing more innings than they expect.
Yesterday’s unexpected release of Jhoulys Chacin puts the fifth rotation slot in flux. There has been no official announcement as to who will fill the space previously filled by Chacin, but my best educated guess is that it will go to the recently acquired David Hale, at least in the short term.
Traded from the Braves to the Rockies for two minor league catchers, the 27 year old Hale has limited Major League experience, but the experience he does have has been relatively successful. Across 98 1/3 innings, he’s put together a 3.02 ERA (83 ERA-) and a 3.92 FIP (107 FIP-) with 5.3 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. In his 44 innings as a starter (8 starts), he’s been even better, with a 2.05 ERA (56 ERA-), 2.93 FIP (80 FIP-), 7.4 K/9, and 3.5 BB/9.
Hale figured to see time in the rotation at some point during the season anyway, being there from day one might just be a bit earlier than we all expected. If Hale is able to perform the way he has so far in his Major League career, he will be a more than passable option at the back end of the rotation. ZiPS and Steamer disagree pretty severely on the projections for Hale this year, with ZiPS at a 5.49 ERA and Steamer almost a full run lower at 4.56. If/when Hale makes his first start of the season is yet to be announced.
Minor League Options
The Rockies have a plethora of potential options in the minor leagues. There are realistically about 10-11 more pitchers who could potentially see time in the starting rotation, depending on performance and injuries. I’ll go more in depth about a few of the more exciting prospects who we might see in the big leagues in 2015. For the rest, I’ll just give a quick rundown of their career stats, their 2014 stats (if applicable), and their 2015 projections.
The top prospect in the Rockies’ system is Jon Gray. The 23 year old was the first round pick of the Rockies in 2013 has been rated as high as the 13th best prospect in all of baseball prior to the 2015 season and doesn’t appear to be far away from being on the Major League roster. Gray has a repertoire that includes a fastball that he typically throws 92-95 but can be pumped up to 97-99 when he needs it, a very good slider, and an improving change-up that is still a work in progress, but has the potential to become an above average pitch. Gray has yet to reach the big leagues and isn’t currently on the 40-man roster, but I’d imagine both of those things will change soon. He is likely to be called up at some point during the 2015 season.
ZiPS projections – 4.47 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 3 BB/9
Steamer projections – 4.43 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 7.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
Butler, the best prospect in the Rockies system aside from Gray, was the Rockies first round pick in the 2012 draft. He got a cup of coffee in the Major Leagues last season, making three starts that encompassed 16 innings with a 6.75 ERA (158 ERA-) and a 5.69 FIP (132 FIP-). Eddie was dealing with some injury issues last season, so it will be interesting to see if he can improve on those numbers now that he’s healthy. Eddie is considered by many to be a little closer to the Major Leagues than Gray and will probably be the first of the two to be called up. Butler works with a mid-90’s sinker, a great change-up, and a slider that is still a work in progress.
Major League/2014 stats – 16 IP, 6.75 ERA (158 ERA-), 5.69 FIP (132 FIP-), 1.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9
ZiPS projections – 5.24 ERA, 5.04 FIP, 5.3 K/9, 3.7 BB/9
Steamer projections – 5.07 ERA, 4.86 FIP, 5.6 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
If Tyler Anderson can stay healthy, there’s a good chance that he can become a solid Major League pitcher. Unfortunately, health has been an issue for Tyler. Anderson, the first round pick for the Rockies in 2011 (sensing a trend?), has been great in the minor leagues (career 2.39 ERA there), but has dealt with a recurring shoulder injury that has kept him on strict pitch counts and prevented him from ever throwing over 120 innings in a season. It has also prevented him from pitching at all in spring training this year. When healthy, Anderson has a low 90’s fastball and a very good change-up, but is still working on developing a third pitch to keep hitters off balance. If he can stay on the mound, it’s possible that we’ll see Anderson pitch for the Rockies in 2015.
ZiPS projections – 4.59 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 6 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
Steamer projections – 4.58 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 6.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
Major League Stats – 69 1/3 IP, 6.88 ERA (159 ERA-), 5.14 FIP (118 FIP-), 5.6 K/9, 3.9 BB/9
2014 Stats – 24 2/3 IP, 9.12 ERA (213 ERA-), 5.52 FIP (128 FIP-), 4.7 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
ZiPS projections – 4.93 ERA, 4.49 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
Steamer projections – 4.10 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 7.6 K/9, 3 BB/9
Major League/2014 stats – 54 2/3 IP, 5.93 ERA (138 ERA-), 4.74 FIP (110 FIP-), 5.1 K/9, 1.7 BB/9
ZiPS projections – 5.65 ERA, 5.39 FIP, 4.9 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
Steamer projections – 5.04 ERA, 4.97 FIP, 5.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9
Additional options not currently on the 40-man roster
Major League/2014 stats – 59 IP, 5.19 ERA (121 ERA-), 4.00 FIP (93 FIP-), 5.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9
ZiPS projections – 5.34 ERA, 5.18 FIP, 5.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9
Steamer projections – 4.50 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
Major League/2014 stats – 17 2/3 IP, 7.64 ERA (210 ERA-), 4.89 FIP (134 FIP-), 4.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
ZiPS projections – 5.13 ERA, 4.83 FIP, 5.3 K/9, 3.8 BB/9
Steamer projections – 4.63 ERA, 4.62 FIP, 6.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
Major League stats – 862 IP, 4.18 ERA (104 ERA-), 4.59 FIP (113 FIP-), 4.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
2014 stats – 4 IP, 15.75 ERA (453 ERA-), 13.38 FIP (384 FIP-), 4.5 K/9, 4.5 BB/9
ZiPS projections – 6.22 ERA, 5.75 FIP, 4.1 K/9, 3.8 BB/9
Steamer projections – 4.20 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 5.7 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
Major League stats – 487 IP, 4.45 ERA (106 ERA-), 4.74 FIP (113 FIP-), 4.5 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
ZiPS projections – 5.46 ERA, 5.23 FIP, 4.4 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
Steamer projections – 4.89 ERA, 4.84 FIP, 4.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Major League stats – 767 1/3 IP, 3.72 ERA (91 ERA-), 4.04 FIP (99 FIP-), 6 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
2014 stats – 9 1/3 IP, 10.61 ERA (248 ERA-), 8.06 FIP (188 FIP-), 8.7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
ZiPS projections – 5.94 ERA, 5.50 FIP, 4.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
Steamer projections – 5.23 ERA, 5.11 FIP, 5.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
Major League stats – 12 IP, 4.50 ERA (110 ERA-), 7.13 FIP (174 FIP-), 5.3 K/9, 5.3 BB/9
ZiPS projections – 6.73 ERA, 6.42 FIP, 5.8 K/9, 5.4 BB/9
Steamer projections – 4.41 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 4 BB/9
That wraps up our first look at the starting rotation. Feel free to comment and let me know any feedback you have! Also, don’t forget to subscribe, like View from the Rooftop on Facebook and follow on Twitter. Check back on Thursday, March 26, for the next installment of the Rockies 2015 Position Preview Series: Middle Relief.