Everyone’s looking for the next big fantasy starter in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, hoping it clicks for a young player finally given a chance or that a veteran takes an unexpected step forward. Three years ago I managed to grab Cliff Lee out of the free agent pool before everyone else, and two years ago I gambled on Josh Johnson in a mid-teen round. While I was enjoying JJ’s breakout season, someone else in my league was enjoying Jorge de la Rosa‘s.
The definition of a journeyman, JDLR was traded four times before his 28th birthday. The Royals traded him to Colorado for Ramon Ramirez early in the 2008 season after he’d posted a 5.27 FIP (just 5.68 K/9) in 130 innings the year before. In the exact same number of innings with the Rockies after the deal, he struck out 46 more batters, jumping up to 8.86 K/9. If we remove the ninth spot in the order (assuming pitchers), he still posted a 7.68 K/9. Correlation does not equal causation, but it’s interesting that De La Rosa went from ~6% sliders and ~12% curveballs before the trade to ~16% and ~9%, respectively, after joining the Rox.
Anyway, whatever it was worked and continued to work, and it helped JDLR to a 3.7 WAR season in 2009, when he struck out 193 batters in 185 innings and won 16 games. His ERA (4.38) was solid and his WHIP (1.38) was tolerable given his production in the other categories. At just 28 years old, there was reason to believe that De La Rosa could maintain a similar level of production for the foreseeable future. His 2010 campaign was sabotaged by an injury to the middle finger of his throwing hand, keeping him on the shelf from late-April to early-July. He struggled with the long ball after returning (14 HR in 98.2 IP) but finished the season with a still solid 4.22 ERA (4.30 FIP) and a very good 8.36 K/9, but the same fantasy impact from 2009 wasn’t there.
Now that he’s re-upped with the Rockies for two guaranteed years plus a third year player option and a fourth year club option that could end up paying him north of $40M, what should we expect out of De La Rosa in 2011? Ultimately, you’re looking at more of the same. He’s sustained the sky-high strikeout rate in close to 440 IP with Colorado (he’s been using his curveball less and less, by the way), ditto the walk rate right around four per nine. Other than homer rate, De La Rosa’s peripherals have been pretty consistent over the last three seasons, certainly a good sign going forward. Age-related decline isn’t a concern just yet.
I suspect that last year’s long ball trouble is jut a blip on the radar as well. He only ran into trouble following the injury, a sample of less than 100 innings. Furthermore, five of those 14 post-injury homers came in his first eight innings back. His 0.9 HR/9 the rest of the way matches his mark from the previous two seasons. The injury and slight drop in strikeout rate might make you pause before drafting De La Rosa next spring, but I actually think he’s a little undervalued. If healthy (always a question), he’s a safe bet for tons of strikeouts and double digit wins without blowing up your ERA and WHIP, and the potential is there for him to really step forward and start wowing people. If you’re going to gamble on an upside starter in the middle of your draft, guys that have shown the ability to miss bats are gold.