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Don’t Forget de la Rosa

For a southpaw with plus velocity who won’t turn 28 until April, Rockies hurler Jorge de la Rosa has experienced quite the nomadic career. Originally signed out of Mexico by the Arizona Diamondbacks all the way back in 1998, de la Rosa has since passed through Boston, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Colorado, and has been involved in four trades. Within one week in the fall of 2003, de la Rosa was shipped from Boston back to Arizona in the Curt Schilling trade, only to be sent packing to the Brewers in the 9-player Richie Sexson swap. Jorge was part of a July 2006 deal that sent him to Kansas City for Tony Graffanino, and was bartered yet again in April of ’08, this time heading to the inhospitable environs of Coors Field.

The main culprit for the 6-1, 210 pounder’s game of roster hot-potato has been his control. Despite pumping gas in the low 90’s and complementing the heat with three other offerings, de la Rosa has walked nearly five batters per nine innings (4.92 BB/9) in the big leagues, a continuation of his work in the minors (3.64 BB/9). de la Rosa’s strike zone issues have left him fighting to stay in one place for more than a season or two, as he has compiled a career 4.86 FIP.

2008, however, brought with it legitimate progress. de la Rosa made 23 starts and tossed 130 innings both in ’07 with the Royals and ’08 with the Rockies, and the results this past season were far more promising. The Monterrey native posted mild peripherals with Kansas City, with 5.68 K/9, 3.67 BB/9 and a 5.27 FIP. In 2008, de la Rosa upped his strikeout rate considerably, punching out 8.86 batters per nine innings. His control still came and went (4.29 BB/9), but the end result was a sturdy-looking 4.06 FIP.

de la Rosa added a tick to his fastball this past year, throwing his heat at an average of 92.8 MPH (91.4 MPH in ’07). In addition, he started throwing his slider a good deal more, using the 84 MPH breaker 16.1% of the time in ’08 after snapping off a slide-piece just 6.4% in 2007. Armed with a solid fastball, a sharp slider, a slow 73 MPH curve (9.3%) and an 83.5 MPH changeup (18%), Jorge improved his Outside-Swing and Contact rates considerably.

After garnering an O-Swing% of just 20.3% with the Royals in 2007, de la Rosa got batters to fish out of the strike zone 25.6% with Colorado in ’08, slightly above the major league average. To boot, his Contact% fell from 82.1% in ’07 down to 76.4% in ’08. That was the 10th-lowest contact rate among pitchers tossing at least 130 frames, sandwiched between A.J. Burnett and Jake Peavy.

Burned by the home run in the past, de la Rosa modestly upped his groundball percentage from 40.6% to 45.7% this past season. The extra worm-burners, coupled with the K’s, were enough to qualify de la Rosa for Rich Lederer’s list of starters posting the best combination of groundball and strikeout rates over at The Baseball Analysts. Not surprisingly, the group of starters keeping the ball on the ground and missing bats were the most successful of the four types of pitchers studied (high K and GB rates, high K and low GB rates, low K and high GB rates and low K and low GB rates). Said Lederer:

“I am intrigued by de la Rosa, who was 5-2 with a 2.45 ERA and compelling peripheral stats in August and September, a period covering 11 games and nine starts (including five at Coors Field) and 58.2 innings.”

With the health status of Jeff Francis (shoulder) very much in doubt, de la Rosa figures to capture one of Colorado’s rotation spots. Keep a close eye on Jorge this spring- he could finally make good on the promise he has only hinted at to this point in his career.