Eddie Butler And Colorado’s Volatile Rotation

The top four spots in the Rockies’ rotation, barring injury, seem pretty much set for the start of the 2014 season, but most of them carry significant risk. The exception is Jhoulys Chacin; other than a pectoral injury that cost him 3 1/2 months in 2012, he has been an effective, durable pitcher over the bulk of his seven professional seasons.

But then you’ve got Jorge de la Rosa, who has pitched more than 130 innings in just two of seven seasons since he transitioned to a starter full-time in the majors. Brett Anderson hasn’t thrown more than 83.1 frames since 2010. Tyler Chatwood is a decent, if thoroughly unspectacular, back-of-the-rotation starter.

The battle for the fifth spot likely comes down to one of the following options:

  • Top-prospect-turned-journeyman Franklin Morales, who has 25 career major-league starts dating back to 2007.
  • Juan Nicasio, who battled back from a horrific broken neck, suffered when he was hit in the head by a liner in 2011, to have his first full healthy major-league season in 2013. Unfortunately, he has a career ERA of 4.92 in 55 major-league starts.
  • Jordan Lyles, a guy I’ve seen pitch a lot in person over the last few years and have never viewed as much more than a replacement-level starter in the majors…who for some reason the Rockies traded Dexter Fowler for. Hey, who knows, they’ve got to know something I don’t, right? Right?!

As you can see, out of the seven pitchers outlined above, the only one who can confidently be counted on to be both healthy and effective is Chacin. I get the feeling the Colorado rotation is going to be a revolving door, with ample room for guys outside those seven to make an impact.

A couple months ago, I wrote about why I’m so high on Rockies prospect Jonathan Gray, but Colorado has another top pitching prospect who is likely a bit closer to major-league ready, and that’s Eddie Butler. After tearing through the Single-A South Atlantic League (1.66 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) and High-A California League (2.39 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) in 2013, Butler got called up to Double-A.

I attended Butler’s second start in the Double-A Texas League for the Tulsa Drillers, a home game against Frisco. Butler served up a couple of cookies early, allowing back-to-back line drives to Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor that put runners at second and third with no one out. With the exception of Joe Benson reaching on an error in the fourth, Butler retired the next twelve batters before giving up another hit. All told, he allowed just three hits and no walks, with six strikeouts in five scoreless innings, throwing 43 of his 58 pitches for strikes.

What really struck me about Butler, other than his big fastball velocity (he was hitting 93-98 mph in this outing), was how much armside run there is to the pitch. He also showed a devastating slider, and his change-up has tremendous lateral movement as well.

In my article about Gray, I used this study by Dan Rozenson of Baseball Prospectus to theorize that, due to the fact that the Magnus effect affects vertical movement more than lateral movement, the pitchers best-suited to succeed at Coors Field are those with a big fastball paired with significant lateral movement on their secondary pitches, which is pretty much exactly the kind of pitcher Butler is. Throw in the fact that he’s allowed just ten home runs in 217.1 minor-league innings, and you’re looking at a guy with as good a chance to succeed at Coors as anyone.

He has a pretty low arm slot, which gives me some concern about his ability to avoid bad splits against big-league lefties. Left-handed hitters have hit just .202/.278/.300 against Butler in 355 plate appearances, compared to a paltry .192/.250/.262 in 512 plate appearances for righties, but there are some minor warning signs in his peripherals. Six of the ten homers he’s allowed in the minors, and 32 of his 65 walks, have come against lefties. Furthermore:

  • vs L – 0.62 HR/9, 3.30 BB/9, 6.80 K/9
  • vs R – 0.28 HR/9, 2.28 BB/9, 9.07 K/9

Nothing all that alarming, but it’s significant enough to be worth keeping an eye on for a guy with an arm slot like Butler’s. He’s also a bit thin at 6’2″, 180 pounds; I’d be more comfortable projecting him as a guy who can handle a big workload if he added some mass to his frame.

Perhaps the Rockies are onto something with the high-velo, big lateral movement pitchers, as both Butler and Gray fit that mold. Then, just when I start thinking I’m getting a grasp on Colorado’s organizational philosophy, they trade Fowler for Lyles, a guy with a 90 mph fastball who throws a slow, tumbling curve as his primary secondary offering. At any rate, while Gray may be the higher-upside prospect (though not by much), Butler is closer to big-league ready. With the likelihood of injuries and ineffectiveness among Colorado’s starters, I wouldn’t be surprised if Butler spends significantly more time in the majors than the minors in 2014.

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Scott Strandberg has written for RotoGraphs since 2013. He is a film critic and entertainment writer for The Norman Transcript newspaper, and the co-founder of RosterResource Wrestling. Scott is also the bassist for North Meets South. Follow him on Twitter @ScottStrandberg.

7 Responses to “Eddie Butler And Colorado’s Volatile Rotation”

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  1. sdcarp says:

    Rockies fans have been generally scratching their heads and gnashing their teeth over the Fowler trade since it happened. Since the Rox Front Office can be a clown show at times…..it may be futile to apply typical logic when trying to figure it out. The only thing that I can come up with…….is after moving Fowler’s salary, a number of dominos fell within the Rockies organization. I think some of those dominos would have fallen regardless of Fowler, but probably not the Morneau signing. So I see the whole thing as a Fowler for Morneau trade in a convoluted sort of way. If Morneau is effective, and Cargo can play CF without getting hurt (that’s a big “if”), it will be viewed as a successful trade, regardless of Lyles success or lack thereof.

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    • Vinny Cashtilla says:

      I think those home/road splits would happen in any location, hitters just perform better at home overall – Vinny

      cc: Larry Walker, Todd Helton

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  2. BlueCaboose says:

    It’s interesting to note that Ubaldo Jimenez and Jhoulys Chacin, two guys who put up some pretty solid years at Coors are built out of this mold. Chacin has an average fastball that gets paired with a devastating slider, but by no means does he throw a sinker. Jimenez had an absolutely devastating fastball in 2010, with an average velocity around 96, and he paired that with a flat splitter/change and a vertically moving slider. (Nicasio also falls into this model, generally (as did Alex White. Whoops?))

    Now if we look at some pitchers that struggled in Coors the past couple of years, we notice some similarities. Francis and Garland are both sinkerballers who throw a big curveball. Garland’s curve has historically been not great, but in 2013 it was pretty awful. Francis is just generally terrible these days.

    So lets talk 2014 rotation material. Chacin is a horse, and hopefully he builds on his success. Chatwood is throwing his slider more and more, and it’s getting better and better. His slider is fairly straight though, compared to Chacin’s. Brett Anderson relies heavily on his slider; he’s used it more than a third of the time in his 5 years of service. His slider is horizontally pretty straight, but his fastball has a lot of arm-side run. De La Rosa has a flat and straight slider with a fastball with strong arm-side run and quite a bit of rise, but these days his main out pitch is a change that pitch f/x calls a splitter. Lyles throws a slider, but there is absolutely nothing impressive about it, it’s neither hard nor does it break significantly off of his fastball. Morales has added a slider to his repertoire since he was last with the Rockies, and it’s become his best pitch.

    I also sat down and watched some video of Eddie Butler in action. His main issue with lefties seemed to be his willingness to miss and miss inside. His fastball on the outer half of the plate was devastating against them, but when he went inside, it seemed to end up at their shins more often than not. But damn, that is an impressive fastball.

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    • BlueCaboose says:

      My mind jumps to Justin Masterson as a comp for Butler, and I bet Masterson would rake in Coors.

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      • Grant says:

        Butler has a change up that Masterson lacks. It’s above average as well. This should help him succeed against lefties. I’m an Indians fan and it’s painful to watch Masterson try to pitch to lefties late in games.

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  3. Seamaholic says:

    For what it’s worth, hitters report that Chatwood’s stuff is the best on the team. “Electric” is what everyone says, with extremely late movement on the fb. I think he’s a significant health risk but if he stays sound he may be the best of the bunch. Hard to believe he’s still just 23.

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  4. T-Neow says:

    Brett Anderson probably fits the mold you are talking about better than Lyles.

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