Jorge de la Rosa Stays in Colorado

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While Jorge de la Rosa took his title as the second best free agent starting pitcher to the market, he eventually decided that he didn’t want to go anywhere and re-signed with the Rockies. He received two guaranteed years with a third-year player option, which will be followed by a fourth-year team option if de la Rosa decides to stay on for a third year. Depending on that fourth year, de la Rosa is expected to make either $31.5 or $42.5 million over the length of the contract. Does the reward justify the risk?

Over his career, de la Rosa has been an enigma. After two failed stops in Milwaukee and Kansas City, he finally experienced success in Colorado. In his first season with the team, his strikeout rate jumped from 5.68 to 8.86, allowing him to post 2.4 WAR over 130 innings, but it was 2009 that saw his real breakthrough: the 28-year-old started 32 games while striking out 193 batters in only 185 innings pitched. A nasty finger injury limited de la Rosa to only 20 starts last year, but he still flashed the potential that made him one of the league’s better starters the year prior.

While it is easy to get sucked in by the velocity and the high strikeout rate, de la Rosa does not come without warts. His control has always been a problem as he has posted a walk rate over 4.0 BB/9 in each of his three seasons in Colorado. He has succeededwith a combination of groundballs and strikeouts that have let him pitch around the walks, but his inability to pound the strike zone could be a long term problem, which limits his ability to work deep into games. If the groundball spike he experienced in 2010 is real (and it could be since he started relying on his change-up far more often), that will help him overcome the command problems.

But even with the increase in GB% and a lot of strikeouts, de la Rosa is still something of an underachiever, and this contract pays more for what he could be than what he has shown on the field. His career xFIP of 4.37 is quite good, but his 5.02 ERA does not match the peripherals. The difference is almost entirely due to an inability to strand runners, producing a LOB% of just 69.7% over the last three seasons. For a pitcher with his ability to miss bats, the number is quite low. On one hand, you could see this as a positive, in that he has shown ability above and beyond his results, but there are pitchers like Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras that have struggled with stranding runners their entire career.

Committing multiple years and big money to a player with one good season under his belt can be a dangerous gamble. But de la Rosa’s strikeout rate sets him apart from every other non-Cliff Lee pitcher on the market, and if he is able to stay healthy, 200 strikeouts is an attainable goal. Clearly, the Rockies see the value in locking up a player with such a high upside. Given the money they’ve committed to him, though, they’re going to need him to pitch more like his xFIP suggests he can and less like he has so far in his career.



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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


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Lee
Guest
Lee
5 years 5 months ago

“His career xFIP of 4.37 is quite good, but his 5.02 ERA does not match the peripherals. This is almost entirely due to an inability to strand runners, as he’s got a LOB% of just 69.7% over the last three seasons.”

xFIP normalizes HR/FB rates…and since we expect a higher HR rate in COL, one would in turn expect a natural gap between xFIP and ERA. (As you can see that perennially Rox pitchers are top 5 in the league in ERA minus xFIP). You’re right that his LOB% accounts for some of it as well, but that’s not nearly the only factor.

Lee
Guest
Lee
5 years 5 months ago

Here’s something:

de la Rosa is a guy that relies completely on the K to be effective, and in doing so his best pitch is, by far, is his slider. Considering the fact that COL suppresses Ks, and more specifically breaking balls, would de la Rosa have been better off shopping his wares to the tune of a 1 or 2 year deal to post a 9+ K/9 rate to establish himself as an elite strikeout SP? As it stands, his probably losing even more of the 8-10% he is expected to lose by pitching in the thin air, and if his true K/9 is somewhere in the mid 8s in Colorado, you can bet his he’d launch himself into the top 10 in the league with some heady names if he played a full season in a K friendly park.

Maybe I should write for Fangraphs?

Lee
Guest
Lee
5 years 5 months ago

I’ll take back “by far”, because he got a lot of outs with this Changeup this year, and it looks like he’s really developed it over the past few seasons. But the point remains the same…

John
Guest
John
5 years 5 months ago

I find it hard to believe at 30 years hold he would leave 31.5/42.5 on the table. Risking that for a one year deal assuming he will morph into an elite pitcher outside of Coors, with a very short track record to boot, seems…questionable.

Resolution
Guest
Resolution
5 years 5 months ago

What do you mean by Coors suppresses breaking balls?

There was a pretty good study that shows it’s actually fastballs that are most impacted by the thin air, rather than breaking balls at Coors (seems count-intuitive, but I’d rather trust pitch F/X movement plots rather than my gut here)…

Lee
Guest
Lee
5 years 5 months ago

@Resolution

Even if that’s true, he could clearly use some help with his fastballs too, and no matter what pitches are affected Coors indisputably suppresses Ks more than any park in the league.

@John

(First off, I didn’t mean elite pitcher, I meant elite strikeout pitcher, and a K/9 of mid 9s would definitely qualify.)

If he thinks he’s fleecing COL, then sure, you’re right. Take the money, as this is the last real (8 figure) payday he’ll ever see. But if he actually believes in his ability, and that he is really the same pitcher that he’s been for the last 3 seasons (he made significant changes to his approach when he arrived at COL, favoring the slider over the curve, and developing a Changeup) then why not take a 1 year deal?

Say he signs 1/12 with another club. Yes, there are some bad scenarios: worst case he gets hurt and never plays again. Ok, bad move. Chances of that? ~1%? He could simply pitch poorly and get unlucky. The next deal he’ll sign would be less than this one, but he could take another one year deal for only a little less money. My point is, the bad scenarios aren’t that bad. Of course he may like Colorado (who doesn’t? It’s an awesome place…) and that’s great. But for a guy who is just hitting the peak of his ability and entering the 4th year of his kind of “reborn” phase, taking a 1-year deal in a non-Coors field park, where his ERA is bound to come down, and K/9 bound to go up, to me, is a plus EV salary move.

Griggs
Guest
Griggs
5 years 5 months ago

I also think breaking balls are affected by not only air density but grip issues caused by a dry climate.

As a Rox fan, I’m happy with this deal and it seems to be win/win. DLR is certainly inconsistent; 10-11M a year is great for a top of the rotation guy but not good for a bottom of the rotation guy and either DLR can show up unfortunately. I prefer this to the Tulo deal.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 5 months ago

I also think breaking balls are affected by not only air density but grip issues caused by a dry climate.

Grip issues are also (probably more) affected by humidity … hence the “rosin bag” to dry the hands (via moisture absorption).

Curveballs thrive on wind resistance. There’s the problem in high altitude.

As one who pitched in ChicagoLand (college), the days when the wind was blowing directly out to center were both a blessing and a curse. Curveballs were going to drop better than ever (Bernoulli’s Principle), but fastball velocity would be decreased slightly, and anything hit high in the air was going to be ridiculous.

Lee
Guest
Lee
5 years 5 months ago

Yea. I’ll admit I just assumed that the air density was why breaking balls suffered, I don’t actually have any proof or references… aside from a degree in physics.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
5 years 5 months ago

“I don’t actually have any proof or references… aside from a degree in physics.”

OOOOOH FACE! He done busted out the degree.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
5 years 5 months ago

Thanks for the unbiased article Chris. Time will tell whether DLR is hitting his stride and can get his pitch count down to stay in games longer and if he can avoid some odd injuries that have prevented him from completing a whole season the last few years.

If he can pitch the way he did the second half of 2009, I think this deal looks very good for the Rockies.

Great point on the high walk rate from DLR Chris, I think that is the major thing keeping him from a more upper echelon of pitchers.

ldd233
Guest
ldd233
5 years 5 months ago

This is not the Chris Quick who runs Bay City Ball?

JK
Guest
JK
5 years 5 months ago

I thought Carl Pavano was the second best free agent starting pitcher on the market…

Dave
Guest
Dave
5 years 5 months ago

DLR was 1 k/9 better on the road in 2008, when he joined the Rockies.

2009, even home-road k/9 splits.

2010: 9.5 k/9 @ coors. 6.9 k/9 on road.

Lee
Guest
Lee
5 years 5 months ago

A couple things: 2010 was a SSS, lets look at his entire splits over the past 3 years:

Home K/9 = 9.1
Road K/9 = 8.7

Now, baked into those numbers are home field advantage, and in case you didn’t know, about 1/3 of HF advantage is based of purely a larger strikezone.

So, despite him actually posting a better K/9 in Coors in his past ~420 innings of work, if his home park were somewhere else, and assuming no sample size issues, he’s still definitely going to see his K rate go up with a change of uniform.

Dave
Guest
Dave
5 years 5 months ago

OK. Maybe DLR is an outlier? One pitcher is a small sample size. So I looked at the total TEAM pitching splits for a season.

Rockies TEAM pitching splits for 2010:

home k/9: 7.7
road k/9: 7.7

Rockies TEAM pitching splits for 2009:

home k/9: 7.2
road k/9: 7.2

Coors does not appear to change k/9 rates.

Lee
Guest
Lee
5 years 5 months ago

You are again missing the home field advantage that I just explained. Now go check every other team in the league’s home/road K/9 splits. The majority will be better at home. What you are seeing is Coors poor K environment negating their homefield advantage. Also, go back a few more years and keep looking. For various reasons park factors take about 4 years to get a decent degree of certainty.

Chris
Guest
Chris
5 years 5 months ago

You have a source for this home field theory? I’ve seen plenty of Rockies home games where you couldn’t put a pitch down the middle and get a called strike. This kinda sounds like it may have come out of… Well, I think you know where I’m going with that.

fredsbank
Guest
fredsbank
5 years 5 months ago

colorado rockies
team IP:1446
road K:600
home K:634

yeah, that’s pretty epic home field advantage, especially considering that only 4 rockies pitchers passed 100 Ks, and the two closest were relievers (betancourt 89 and belisle 91)…

tonysoprano
Member
tonysoprano
5 years 5 months ago

I don’t see much of the Rockies but where does he fit in their rotation, 2-5. I know Jimenez is one but what’s the rest of the rotation?

Tomcat
Guest
Tomcat
5 years 5 months ago

If Chacin continues as he did in 2010, and gets ground balls at the 55%+ rate he did in the minors he will become the 2, then De La Rosa, then Hammel, then Cook.

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