Rox Linx

The streak is over! Time to celebrate! Well, not this hard.

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Rox Linx

After giving up 11 runs in the eighth and ninth innings against the Diamondbacks, I thought that was rock bottom. This guy would beg to differ. Only one more day until Eddie Butler’s start! Positivity!

Duck on the Pond: Where Colorado can improve

Welcome to the first installment of Ducks on the Pond where I will analyze an area the Rockies need to improve in order to reach their full potential. This area is crucial moving forward and will be easily monitored as it controls whether Colorado comes out a victor or a loser.

In order to get back to its winning ways, Colorado must get their starters into the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

The Rockies bullpen has already compiled 179.2 innings up until June 3. Though that ranks just 15th, teams that have thrown the fewest bullpen innings are set up to win in August and September because they won’t have tired arms. The three teams that have gone to their bullpens the fewest are Cincinnati (138.1 innings), Atlanta (149.1 innings) and Detroit (157.1 innings). Atlanta and Detroit are both leading their respective divisions, while Cincinnati is below .500 but has had tough luck with injuries thus far in 2014. You can never count out the Reds, as they have been playoff contenders since 2010. At least one of Atlanta or Detroit have made the postseason in each year since 2010.

Jorge De La Rosa and his fellow starters need to log more innings in each start the rest of this season. (Mile High Sports/Chris Bianchi)

Jorge De La Rosa and his fellow starters need to log more innings in each start the rest of this season. (Mile High Sports/Chris Bianchi)

These are teams that the Rockies need to model their pitching structure after.

Starters for Colorado have pitched the sixth-fewest amount of innings (326.1) in the majors this season. Check out the stats from the four pitchers the Rockies have started the most:

Jorge De La Rosa: 12 starts, 66 innings, 5.5 innings per start
Jordan Lyles: 11 starts, 65 innings, 5.9 innings per start
Franklin Morales: 11 starts, 62.2 innings, 5.7 innings per start
Juan Nicasio: 11 starts, 62 innings, 5.6 innings per start

Of that list above, De La Rosa has pitched seven or more innings four times, Lyles three times, Nicasio two times and Morales just once. That means that 22 percent of that time, the bullpen will not be overworked. Complacency will settle in and that can give a shock to starters who are asked to pitch into the seventh, eighth and ninth inning. What will happen when the bullpen arms are exhausted and starters reach the late innings?

One can only assume that those innings will not be pretty for Rockies fans.

Hitters have started catching on to how relievers are pitching them. Opponents have a .256 batting average against Colorado relievers, ranking 24th in baseball. Opposing hitters hold a .743 OPS against the bullpen, ranking them 26th in that category.

Considering these numbers, what makes the bullpen a better option than keeping the starter out for an extra inning or two? If starters can go just a little deeper into games, relievers will remain fresh and provide quality innings where they matter the most.

If it is just June and the relievers are being torched due to soreness from being overworked, Rockies fans will be in for a long summer.

 

Triple Play: A look into the upcoming series versus the Diamondbacks

The Rockies returned home Monday to begin a 10-game homestand against the Diamondbacks (June 3-5), Dodgers (June 6-8) and Braves (June 9-12). After getting swept by Cleveland, Colorado drug its feet back to Coors Field after going 2-7 on the nine-game roadtrip. June will be a telling month for any postseason hopes. It all starts with the Diamondbacks.

Here are three things that I would like to see in the series against Arizona:

1. Quality outings from the starters.

Jorge De La Rosa, Jordan Lyles and Juan Nicasio will toe the rubber against the Diamondbacks. De La Rosa (six), Lyles (seven) and Nicasio (five) are the top three pitchers for the Rockies, in terms of quality starts.

Jorge De La Rosa, Jordan Lyles and Juan Nicasio have combined for 16 of Colorado's 28 wins. (Creative Commons/Denver Post/Creative Commons)

Jorge De La Rosa, Jordan Lyles and Juan Nicasio have combined for 16 of Colorado’s 28 wins. (Creative Commons/Denver Post/Creative Commons)

De La Rosa has dominated Arizona throughout his career. In 21 starts, the southpaw has held the Diamondbacks to a .233 batting average, .301 on-base percentage and has amassed 86 strikeouts. De La Rosa is on a hot streak, picking up six wins in his last seven starts.

Lyles has been a jerk to opposing batters this season. He has relied heavily on the two-seam fastball, throwing it 40 percent of the time. Using a fastball with movement causes the ball to sink as is evident with Lyles inducing 104 ground balls, nine of which were turned for double plays. Arizona has grounded into 40 double plays thus far into 2014, so this should be a dream matchup for Lyles.

Nicasio enters the series after a largely successful month of May. The 27-year-old picked up four wins with three coming at Coors Field. What has helped Nicasio is the run support he has gotten from his teammates. The Rockies scored 33 runs in Nicasio’s six starts last month. He leads the majors with an average of 6.36 runs of support per start. Look for a lit-up scoreboard in the final game of the series.

2. Troy Tulowitzki to break out from his recent slump.

Since appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Tulowitzki is 1-for-16 with six strikeouts. He couldn’t get back to Coors Field fast enough on Monday. Tulowitzki is hitting .521 with eight home runs and 24 RBI in just 21 homes games this season. Granted, he may be getting help from his buddy, Dinger.

Like he has to most teams, Tulowitzki has torched the Diamondbacks this year. In 15 plate appearances, the MVP candidate has collected eight hits including two home runs and six RBI. He has also shown good discipline drawing six walks against the NL West rivals.

3. Three wins for Colorado.

I’m not asking for a lot. The horrible road trip is over, so it is time for the Rockies to get back to their winning ways. The Rockies are 14-10 against the other four teams in the NL West, including a 4-2 mark against the Diamondbacks. Arizona is in the midst of a tumultuous season and has seemed to lose interest in challenging for a playoff spot. What better way to add to their misery than by sweeping the Diamondbacks?

June is set to be a huge month for the Rockies. May did not go by the script, but the good news is that it is over.

Colorado fans, don’t stop believin’ in our guys.

 

Grades by Memorial Day

Memorial Day marks a day where we as Americans can express our gratitude for all those serving our country. Though this is just one day set aside for our troops, every day should provoke thought and hope from US citizens nation-wide.

As it pertains to baseball, Memorial Day is the first gauge that we as fans can look at our club and see if we are contenders or pretenders.

Below are my grades on a few notable Rockies up to this point in the season.

Troy Tulowitzki, A-plus. What else is there to say about this guy? Tulo is a prime candidate for NL MVP this season. He leads the league in batting average (.378), on-base percentage (.480), slugging percentage (.720) and is ranked in the top-5 in RBI (36), home runs (14) and hits (62). Tulo committed his first error of the season on Monday, bringing him back down to earth along with the rest of majors.

Charlie Blackmon, A. It’s officially “Fear the Beard” season in Denver. Blackmon has embraced the leadoff role for the Rockies and has thrived doing so. He has a batting average of .319, nine home runs and 33 RBI thus far in 2014 – all are career-highs. The 27-year-old is in his first season as a full-time starter. The only reason he is not an A-plus is due to his regression this past month. After a scalding April, Blackmon is hitting .253 and has struckout 13 times thus far in May. Sure, we all saw the regression coming, but how we he respond to a disappointing month? Go show us what you’re made of, Chuck.

Charlie Blackmon has been a nice surprise to Rockies this season in centerfield. (Creative Commons)

Charlie Blackmon has been a nice surprise to Rockies this season in centerfield. (Creative Commons)

Justin Morneau, A-minus. Whomever was going to man first base this season was surely going to have high expectations, due to the large shoes Todd Helton left. Morneau has welcomed the challenge and passed with flying colors in the first two months of the season. The Canadian is hitting .315, with nine home runs and 32 RBI. A move to Coors field has treated Morneau well, as he slugging .607 with an OPS of 1.005 in Denver. He needs to show more consistency on the road and fend off pitches. Morneau has struckout 15 times on the road as opposed to only seven at home. Let’s hope he remains healthy and keeps his mind right. If he does, he is in for a terrific season.

Jordan Lyles, B-plus. Two months in and it is apparent that the Rockies destroyed the Astros in their offseason trade. That largely is credited to Lyles and his ability to stay in the rotation. Lyles has done an excellent job keeping the ball on the ground, owning a 55-percent ground ball rate. This has led to a .268 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) – a career-best. What has exposed Lyles is when he leaves the ball up in the zone as he experienced in his last start against the Padres on May 15. Here’s to hoping the 23-year-old keeps hovering around the 3.50 ERA mark all season long.

Carlos Gonzalez, B-minus. What has gotten into CarGo? The two-time All-Star has battled a couple of injuries and is only hitting .270 on the season. The power is still there as he has seven home runs and 29 RBI, but there is something that is troubling with CarGo. His plate discipline has been a cause for concern this season. He is swinging at an alarming 39 percent of balls outside the strike zone. He is also swinging at a career-high 53 percent of all pitches. Pitchers are aware of this statistic and will keep pitching around CarGo until he learns to hold his swing. Once he gets back to form, the average will blossom and we will see the old CarGo.

Carlos Gonzalez needs to get back to being patient at the plate as the 2014 season progresses. (Creative Commons)

Carlos Gonzalez needs to get back to being patient at the plate as the 2014 season progresses. (Creative Commons)

Jouhlys Chacin, C-minus. After having a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 5.9 last season, it was time for Chacin to solidify himself as one of the top pitchers in the NL. Instead, he has gotten off to a horrendous start this season. Starting the 2014 campaign on the DL with shoulder issues didn’t help. Chacin was rushed back to the Rockies and it has shown how rusty he is. In five starts, Chacin is 0-4 with an ERA of 5.20 and a WHIP of 1.48. What myself and other Rockies fans need to realize is that he just needs time. The 26-year-old is still young and has shown us how well he can pitch throughout his tenure in Denver. Optimism is key to Chacin’s grade as he will improve with more starts under his belt.

A.J. Ellis’ ability to celebrate, F. Don’t fret, Rockies fans. I haven’t lost my mind. Yes, Ellis plays for the Dodgers, but he needed to be included in this report card due to unfortunate landing on the DL. Oh, those Dodgers.

 

 

Video: Turn your phone off, Walt

Rockies manager Walt Weiss would be wise to keep his phone bill to a minimum when looking to fill that fifth spot in the rotation.

Franklin Morales is back down to earth after starting the season off so well. Morales has struggled in his last four outings, giving up at least four runs per start and has only thrown at least five innings only once. His next start against the Giants tonight (May 20) could be his last.

The upcoming schedule sets up nicely for a possible move to a four-man rotation of Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rose, Jordan Lyles and Juan Nicasio. After having an off day yesterday (May 19), the Rockies have two more coming soon on May 29 and June 2. These off-days come at crucial times in the rotation, allowing Weiss to consider dropping Morales out of the rotation and moving it to four, until Brett Anderson can return in mid-June.

Recent history has proven that it would benefit the Rockies a great deal to leave prospects such as Eddie Butler and Jon Gray down in the minors for as long as they can.

Since 2007, pitchers to be called up by the Rockies have been a very mixed bag, with most of them failures. Here is a look at who has been shot through the mountains and onto Coors Field:

2007 – Jason Hirsh, Franklin Morales
2008 – Greg Reynolds
2009 – Jhoulys Chacin, Esmil Rogers
2010 – Samuel Deduno, Greg Smith
2011 – Juan Nicasio
2012 – Tyler Chatwood, Drew Pomeranz, Alex White
2013 – Chad Bettis

Of that list provided, only five of those pitchers are still with the Rockies. Chacin is the one exception to this notion because he has proved to be a solid top-end, rotation guy, logging an ERA of 3.64 and starting 14 or more games in five of his first six seasons.

Chacin has been one of the few bright spots in recent Rockies call-ups. (Creative Commons)

Chacin has been one of the few bright spots in recent Rockies call-ups. (Creative Commons)

Chatwood and Nicasio have shown flashes of greatness, but remain question marks upon not only durability, but also consistency. Both right-handed hurlers have a career ERA over 4.30 and have made 15 or more starts only three times out of a possible eight seasons.

How do these pitchers compare to the dynamic duo that promises to be Butler and Gray?

Butler has shown that he is willing to adjust as he progresses through the minors. He started his first season playing rookie ball for the Casper Ghosts, finishing 7-1 with an ERA of 2.13 and 55 strikeouts. Since then, the former first-round pick has seen his strikeout totals go down, but the ERA has plateaued at 2.68 this season in Double-A with the Tulsa Drillers. He has left over 78 percent of the baserunners he has put on right where they stand. Sound like anybody you know? This guy has the Chacin makeup written all over him (hopefully minus the 2014 season we are witnessing from the Rockies ace).

Gray has me psyched, but cautious at the same time. I’m fully aware of the hype that surrounds the 2013 No. 3 overall pick. He has been the best player on his team, dating back to his days as an Oklahoma Sooner. I don’t know if there is a player on the current roster that can relate to the skill set that Gray has, as well as how he pitches the game. He has gone on record saying how badly he wants to contribute to the team this season, but that may not be the best option for the Rockies. He got off to a very slow start with the Drillers, going only 6.2 innings in his first two starts. I saw a guy trying to force the issue, wanting to make his big league debut so badly that he didn’t want to focus on improving his game. Since those two audacious starts in early April, Gray has calmed down and dominated the competition, giving up only five earned runs and striking out 32 in his last six starts.

Rockies prospect, Jon Gray, has the chance to develop into an elite pitcher in Colorado if he remains patient. (Creative Commons)

Rockies prospect Jon Gray has the chance to develop into an elite pitcher in Colorado if he remains patient. (Creative Commons)

If we get another pitcher like Chacin in Butler and if Gray can remain patient and hope for a chance in 2015, the Rockies may have struck gold. As it pertains to this season, filling out that fifth spot in the rotation will come once Chatwood and Anderson come back from their stints on the DL.

Until then, let’s hope Weiss leaves his farm system alone.

Rox Linx

This is the first installment of “Rox Linx” in which we will link other stories based on recent happenings in the Rockies community. This is much easier knowing you can enjoy a nice cobb salad and reminisce about that 8-2 slaughter of the Giants last night.

Mailbag Monday

Hoping you all had a safe and enjoyable Easter weekend. If you are already sick of hearing Pitbull rap about the NBA Playoffs (excuse me, PLAYOFFS!) like I am, then I have just the cure: let’s do a mailbag. As always, any inquiries can be sent to cody.j.voga@gmail.com or @Purple_Mondays.

With that said, let’s jump right into it.

Dylan from Stockton, Calif. writes: Being in the NL West where some of the best pitching staffs in baseball exist (and that being a glaring weakness for the Rockies), do you see Colorado making any significant moves to help them compete?

Cody Voga: Great question, Dylan. I think the biggest thing holding the Rockies back is not having a bona fide ace. Young, power arms such as Jordan Lyles, Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler should develop into solid rotation pitchers, but all have a few knocks on their game. Jhoulys Chacin, currently the best arm on the staff, is rehabbing a shoulder injury that he injured early in Spring Training.

As for potential moves? I see one that would cost a pretty penny. Chris Sale of the White Sox would be the best option. The hard-throwing, deceptive southpaw is only 25 and has a career ERA of 2.93 in the AL. He has also lowered his WHIP the past three seasons to an astounding .841 which is fourth in the AL and 10th in the MLB.

Chris Sale would look really good in a Rockies uniform by the end of the season. (Creative Commons)

Chris Sale would look really good in a Rockies uniform by the end of the season. (Creative Commons)

He is stuck in an unfortunate situation as his team is a few years from competing. In order to get him the Rockies would need to unload at least two of their top five prospects. That can include any combination of Gray, Butler or shortstop Rosell Herrera who has shown flashes of brilliance.


Ron from Norfolk, Neb. writes: It’s early in the season, but do you think CarGo has a legit shot to be the NL MVP?

Cody Voga: Wouldn’t that be nice, Ron? If he can get back to 2010 form, I don’t see any doubt at all. His biggest competition may be his own teammate, Charlie Blackmon. Blackmon has emerged since the Dexter Fowler trade, hitting .426 with 10 RBI already on the season from the leadoff spot. Are you kidding me?! This guy needs some love!

Getting back to CarGo, he has had some tough luck as of late. He had multiple hits taken away from him by some outstanding defense from the Padres and Giants on the last six-day road trip. CarGo still owns a .286 batting average, which should improve after a few more games inside the friendly confines of Coors Field. He is coming off of back-to-back seasons in which he won a Gold Glove and was voted an All-Star, so I think the voting is out there. Just waiting for him to break out.


Kelsey from Arvada, Colo. writes: When Jonathan Gray gets the call-up, who from the rotation will get bounced?

Cody Voga: That is a tough one, Kelsey. Due to the Chacin injury, there have been two spots that have been at stake so far this season. When it is all said and done, I believe the rotation will be Chacin, Anderson, Chatwood, Lyles and Gray.

Gray will have to get it figured out as he has struggled mightily in Double-A ball for the Tulsa Drillers. The No. 12 overall prospect according to Baseball America is 1-1 with an ERA of 6.57. He has a devastating slider and can heat it up to 100 miles per hour, but has struggled with his command. Once he gets it all together, the rest of baseball had better watch out.

The odd men out would be Franklin Morales, Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio. Morales would serve as a great long relief pitcher out of the ‘pen, while de la Rosa and Nicasio would most likely be used as trade chips. It’s hard to imagine either of them being bullpen specialties, but it would give the Rockies the best chance to win.

 

Offseason gambles paying dividends for Rockies

Colorado has had some terrible luck with the additions it has made the past few seasons. Must I bring up the $8.2 million we gave to the hapless Jeremy Guthrie last year? His 6.35 ERA and 3-9 record didn’t help whatsoever. Or how about the Ubaldo Jimenez trade in which we received Drew Pomeranz and Alex White? Both of those “prospects” are now on other teams, and we gave away a legitimate ace of the staff.

OK, now that I have that off my chest, we can now look at two of the moves the Rockies have made this past season.

Justin Morneau – The 2006 AL MVP has been putting on a clinic since donning a purple uni. But just how good has he been? Let’s do a comparison from this year to his stellar season in 2006.

2006 – .321 batting average, .375 on-base percentage, .559 slugging percentage, .934 on-base plus slugging percentage
2014 – .333 batting average, .371 on-base percentage, .526 slugging percentage, .897 on-base plus slugging percentage

Granted, this is just a small sample from this season, but if Morneau can keep up this pace he will have filled in admirably for Todd Helton.

Justin Morneau has been on a tear since coming to the Rockies this season. (Creative Commons)

Justin Morneau has been on a tear since coming to the Rockies this season. (Creative Commons)

Not only has he been performing offensively, but his defensive ability has helped the rangy Nolan Arenado and Troy Tulowitzki make more difficult plays, knowing they will be smothered by Morneau. His early season scoops have given him an option to work for Dairy Queen when he decides to hang up the cleats.

Also, the “Concussion Master” has stayed healthy thus far. Hurry, somebody go knock on wood!

Jordan Lyles – When the Rockies announced they had traded Dexter Fowler, there was quite an uproar from fans. Why on earth would you give up the speedy Fowler who has given Colorado six solid years? It looks as though management was ahead of the curve when it acquired former former first-round pitching prospect Lyles for Fowler.

Lyles has made three impressive starts to begin his campaign at Coors Field. He owns a 4.32 ERA, which isn’t great, but he is 2-0 and has lowered his ERA 1.2 points from his career average with the Astros. His WHIP has gone down .25 points while also raising his K per 9 innings rate over half a point. He has shown manager Walt Weiss that he belongs in the middle of that rotation.

Meanwhile, Fowler has shown signs of regression since he headed south for the summer. He has an abysmal .212 batting average, a .255 on-base percentage and is slugging .365 – all are career-lows.

Both of these players are off to great starts and have given Rockies fans a glimmer of hope. As long as these new additions keep up their pace, there will be a Wild Card contender in downtown Denver.