The Reality of Jorge De La Rosa

A question in the mailbag from L. S. this week ended simply: Is Jorge De La Rosa for real?

His 2.99 FIP seems to suggest that his good start is for real, but ZiPS has him putting up a 4.71 ERA for the rest of the season. Perhaps this is a nod to his 5.32 career ERA. Many projection systems have trouble with breakout seasons, however, and there’s ample evidence that we are actually witnessing just such a step forward from a talented pitcher that could be peaking in his 27th year on the planet.

For one, the ‘luck’ numbers do not point definitively towards an unsustainable start to the year. His 69.1% strand rate is close to the league average as well as his own average (67.7%). His BABIP is .298, and while that is lower than his career .325 number, it doesn’t scream luck, especially given the small sample size.

Sure, this sample size also could be skewing his strikeout and walk rates, but for now they are both (9.49 K/9; 3.38 BB/9) right near the rates he put up in 130 innings of 4.06 FIP baseball last year (8.86 K/9, 4.29 BB/9). If the trend holds steady, the rates also show a natural progression that is encouraging. His strikeout rate has improved for three straight years, and his walk rate is at its lowest in his career. That’s good work if it proves to be true.

The only ‘luck’ worries come from his fly ball numbers. He’s sporting a 26.8% infield fly rate, and as those balls turn into long fly balls, his 4.9% HR/FB number should rise up to his 10.3% rate. The surprising thing is that with such a great HR/9 number (0.42), De La Rosa can actually continue to be productive – even if he doubles his home runs per nine as his career number suggest he will.

Why all the optimism? What’s changed? In short, this young Rockies pitcher has changed his entire approach to pitching over the past years.

Take a look at his pitch selection, and the difference between now and his first extended burn in 2007 is stark. When he came into the league, De La Rosa was throwing his 92-93 MPH fastball 62.3% of the time, and his 83 MPH slider 1.7% of the time. This year, he’s throwing those two pitches 56.1% and 23.3% of the time, respectively. He’s also cut his use of his 75 MPH curveball in half, from 13.1% to 6.5% this year.

A peek at his most recent pitch F/X game graph gives us some insight into this changed usage pattern. Take a look at his release points.

Jorge De La Rosa Release Points vs. Pirates on 5/15

Jorge De La Rosa Release Points on 5/15/09

Despite a consistent release point for most of his pitches, De La Rosa lets his curve ball go at a distinctly higher point than his other pitches. This could lead to batters identifying the pitch early and laying off.

Now take a look at the movement of his pitches.

Jorge De La Rosa Pitch Movement vs. Pirates on 5/15

Jorge De La Rosa Pitch Movement on 5/15/09

Given that the curve ball has the most horizontal and vertical movement of any of his pitches, it also follows that the curve ends up being called a ball many times, especially if batters are noticing the different release point and watching it into the catcher’s glove. It also makes sense that his most effective three pitches might be the three that release at the same spot and break as differently as his fastball, changeup and slider do.

Could it be that his reduced walk rate can be attributed to his reduced use of the curveball? Correlation is of course not causation, so it’s hard to say without knowing the strike percentage of each of his pitches. But De La Rosa is a changed pitcher – that much seems clear. And that counts as a good thing.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

16 Responses to “The Reality of Jorge De La Rosa”

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  1. Ryan says:

    At the end of the day, these are his numbers since last year’s AS Break:

    115.2 IP, 93 H, 55 BB, 113 K, 1.284 WHIP, 3.13 ERA

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  2. Johnny C says:

    If you haven’t jumped yet, it may be too late. We are always looking for that breakout candidate that wasn’t drafted. Say hello to my little friend.

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  3. Ackshawn says:

    I drafted Nolasco figuring I’d get results like that. We all know how that’s gone.

    I’m glad I added De La Rosa a few weeks ago to offset that disappointment, and really believe he can have a huge fantasy baseball impact this year.

    Fabulous article, by the way. I was my first time seeing and understanding how release point and movement can be charted and explained so simply. Really well done.

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  4. Ben says:

    Heh, was just discussing him the other day and after a look at his stats I decided to pick him up on a whim. Nice to be reassured by people who know what they’re talking about :)

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  5. BIP says:

    Feels good to have drafted him in the late rounds.

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  6. Quintero says:

    I traded him and Brett Myers for Andrus in a deep dynasty league. Folks, check whom De La Rosa started against in the past three weeks(PIT, FLA, SDG, SDG, ARI). He is a “Sell”. Find a willing trade partner who believe this before it went down. Yes, the Ks will be there no matter what, but a big breakout candidate? Get a player you like, fix a hole in your team or prepare for a value drop.

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    • Ameer says:

      He gets Atlanta this week, so don’t let him go just yet….

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      • FooMan says:

        FWIW, DLR is ranked 418 of 454 on BPro’s “Pitcher’s Quality of Batters Faced” report…OPS of hitters he’s faced has been .721.

        Beyond that, he is coming off two lights out games, so plexiglass principle and all. As Eno writes, there’s lots of room for regression while still allowing DLR to be a useful pitcher. (For a non-fantasy baseball team, at least.)

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      • Quintero says:

        Totally, but too late now for me. Shizzzz.

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  7. cowdisciple says:

    He’s not someone you’d start every game, but the quality of offenses he faces doesn’t hurt his fantasy value. There are a lot of bad offenses in that division, and he gets to pitch against them. For someone owned in less than 10% of ESPN leagues, he’s a pretty useful piece.

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  8. Ed Nelson says:

    I could tell he was coming along last year when he pitched 6 strong innings against the Dodgers in late August (1 earned run) when they were just pounding the ball. Pitchers sometimes just “get it” and then everything about them changes.

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  9. Verd says:

    Great article, well written, and easy to understand. I’m glad I was able to grab this guy. I’d be interested in a similar analysis on Wandy Rodriguez….

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  10. Eno Sarris says:

    Click on the sports site in my signature or my name and you’ll see me do Wandy in a similar way. Looks like the changeup is finally a big third pitch for him.

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  11. Joel says:

    De La Rosa is one slot ahead of Johan Santana with a QBF of .719

    Is he a sell, too?

    QBF doesn’t adjust for the games faced against said pitcher, which is a significant amount. Good pitchers are going to have low QBFs.

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