Series Preview #6: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Colorado Rockies

Doug Pensinger

So, I crunched the numbers, and it turns out that the Rockies had a little trouble pitching last year. Believe me, I was as shocked as you are. But hear me out.

You remember the 2010 Diamondback bullpen, right? This is a rhetorical question. No one on a D-Back fan site will ever forget the 2010 bullpen. Well, that group put up an ERA of 5.71. I'll give you a moment to let the residual rage at Esmerling Vasquez return to a low simmer.

...

Still here? Good, because last year, the Rockies starting pitchers had a collective ERA of 5.81. That's awful even by Coors Field standards. So what I'm getting at is that the Rockies starters last year were like watching a slightly worse version of that bullpen pitch about 300 more innings than what we had to watch in 2010.

So, the prime directive for this season would seem to be to fix the rotation. Which, admittedly, has been the prime directive in Denver since about 1993. But still, it's not every season that you get to watch historically bad pitching.

Instead, the Rockies went out and acquired Jeff Francis and Jon Garland, which is sort of like seeing a starving child and handing him a stick of gum. The team is looking at this as a rebuilding year, and hoping for things like improvement for young guys like Juan Nicasio, Jhoulys Chacin, and Drew Pomeranz. They're hoping that Jorge De La Rosa makes a full recovery. They're hoping for a lot of things.

It's working so far, and the team is 11-4, but I'm skeptical that it's going to go on indefinitely.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):


Arizona
(9-6)
Colorado
(11-4)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 95 115
Colorado
Pitching (FIP-):
80 87
Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
3.3 0.5

Arizona

So, this is the first time I'm using just 2013 stats. Colorado probably isn't going to post a better wRC+ than the Yankees did last year, and major caveats apply to all of these.

Still, it gives a rough picture of why the Rockies have won 11 of their first 15: with hitting that just bludgeons the opposition (second in the league in Isolated Power), supported by a great bullpen and a surprisingly sturdy rotation. So, basically the blueprint that the Rockies would need this season to surprise people in the NL West.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Gerardo Parra, RF
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Miguel Montero, C
5. Cody Ross, LF
6. A.J. Pollock, CF
7. Didi Gregorius, SS
8. Cliff Pennington, 2B

Colorado Rockies

1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Josh Rutledge, 2B
3. Carlos Gonzalez, LF
4. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF
6. Todd Helton, 1B
7. Wilin Rosario, C
8. Chris Nelson, 3B

Pshaw, I say to all of you Johnny-come-lately Diamondback "fans" who are complaining about Justin Upton tearing up Atlanta in his first few games there. The mark of a true D-Back fan is still being angry about Carlos Gonzalez. I mean, he plays for a division rival rather than a team that I barely care about, and he's contributed about 14 more fWAR than Upton since leaving Arizona.

After a lost, injury-plagued season in 2012, Troy Tulowitzki has gotten off to a good start for the Rockies in 2013. His line of .289/.370/.556 so far is pretty close to the .304/.376/.554 he put up from 2009 to 2011, when he was one of the best shortstops in baseball. Now all he has to do is keep it up for 1700 PAs and he'll be right back to that level.

While you were doing things other than watching the Rockies, Dexter Fowler evidently made himself into something of a power threat. After hitting just 15 home runs in his first three seasons, he came up with 13 last year. Which, all right, isn't anything special, particularly at Coors Field. But he has six already this year, and may well be headed for a breakout year.

It's early yet, but Wilin Rosario is probably the early favorite for the "2011 Nick Hundley Memorial Random Guy in the NL West Who's Better than He Gets Credit for" Award. Despite only being a catcher in the academic sense in 2012, he put up an OPS of .843 that no one east of Fort Morgan noticed. He won't hit .341 all season, but if he puts up the same line as 2012 with even tolerable defense behind the plate, he could be a star.

Pitching Matchups:

Friday: Ian Kennedy (1-1, 5.79) vs. Jhoulys Chacin (2-0, 1.96)

Insightful Commentary: It's early enough that it's not worth worrying about Ian yet. His BABIP is .364, and that's going to come down eventually, just like his Strand Rate (66%) should rise a bit. Still, Fangraphs has his Line Drive Rate at 26.2% right now, and that jives with my general sense that he's given up a lot of hard-hit balls this year. The numbers aren't going to regress if every ball is hit on a line.

It wasn't too long ago that Jhoulys Chacin was a 22-year-old starter with an ERA under 3.5 at Coors Field and a K% of more than a batter an inning. Since 2010 however, Chacin has had a K% of 6.6 per nine innings, and he's seen his ERA rise for two straight years. He's still only 25, and he has a lot of natural talent, but his career has gone in a taken a bit of an odd turn since 2010.

Saturday: Trevor Cahill (1-1, 3.50) vs. Jorge De La Rosa (1-1, 3.86)

Insightful Commentary: The Dodger game was a prime example of Good Trevor. No walks, no homers, no runs of any kind, just 7.1 efficient innings. No one's expecting him to go scoreless every time out, but it was nice to see the problems that have plagued him (finding a release point to start the game, getting through the third time through the order) get ironed out for at least a game.

Coors Field isn't where most struggling young pitchers go to fix their game, but Jorge De La Rosa isn't most pitchers. After finding his way to Denver after disastrous stints in Milwaukee and Kansas City, De La Rosa has settled in as a solid veteran starter, posting an ERA+ of 105 since arriving in Colorado. De La Rosa might not make a ton of sense for a team in rebuilding mode, especially coming off of a UCL tear that caused him to miss all but 10.2 innings of 2012, but he's solid enough that the Rockies think he has more value right now than, say, Tyler Chatwood.

Sunday: Brandon McCarthy (0-2, 7.47) vs. Juan Nicasio (2-0, 5.63)

Insightful Commentary: Anything I could have said about Brandon McCarthy's struggles was said much better by Jim here. Go read that instead.

It's sort of strange to say that a guy with a 5.28 ERA could be a team's best starter, but that's the 2012 Rockies for you. To be fair, he had a FIP of 3.99, so it's not just damning with faint praise. He's had to deal with terrible injury luck in both of his first two seasons in the majors, so just staying healthy would represent a step forward for Nicasio. He's not off to a glowing start in 2013 though, with 5.63 ERA and a K:BB ratio of 1:1.

Five Pressing (?) Questions:

Isn't it weird that Denver is still getting snow? It's like, not even winter any more. Not really, actually. Denver averages 6.6 inches of snow in April, more than they typically get in February. It's a different climate from, say, the East Coast, and the mountain environment leads to more erratic snowfall than most other parts of the country.

So why are they allowed to play baseball in Colorado? Well, completely hypothetical Snakepitter, there's a team in Denver because Major League Baseball decided it would be in their best financial interests to have a team in the 21st largest metro area in the country, and a couple of snow delays aren't going to change that. Besides, you're rooting for a team in a city that regularly has triple-digit temperatures during most of the baseball season. Get some damn perspective.

How do I pronounce "Jhoulys Chacin?" Wikipedia and Baseball-Reference disagree on this one. Wikipedia stands by soft-J standard that I've always heard. However, B-Ref is going in a different direction, fearlessly asserting that his first name is pronounced, "joh-LEES." Wars have been started over less.

What's Troy Tulowitzki's current awful walk-up song? According to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, Tulo is going with Jay-Z's Public Service Announcement. In a related story, Troy Tulowitzki is the worst.

Dinger vs. Baxter in a cage fight. Who wins? America. Just as long as no one lets either of them out of the cage.

Rockies Blog: Purple Row.

(All stats via Baseball-Reference or Fangraphs unless otherwise indicated.)

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