The Rockies 2014 season is essentially over. They stand 39-53, and our Playoff Odds model gives them a 0.1% chance of reaching the postseason. And that’s just a one-tenth-of-one-percent chance of getting to the Wild Card game, where they would be heavy underdogs and likely eliminated after Game 163. As Mike Petriello wrote earlier this week, the Rockies need to seriously think about changing course.
There are good arguments against trading Troy Tulowitzki, however. He’s a superstar signed to one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball. They can rebuild around Tulo and build a winner while he’s still a productive player. He needs better teammates, but it’s generally easier to find new good role players than it is to develop another MVP-caliber shortstop and sign him to a long term extension for half of his market value.
But the key to building a winner around Troy Tulowitzki is to properly determine which players should be kept, and which players should be replaced. Given the recent rumors, it appears that the Rockies may not have figure that part out yet.
Despite all the Jorge De La Rosa buzz, hearing #Rockies won't deal him without getting a young impact starter back, which is very unlikely
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 10, 2014
And lest you think this might just be the team playing hard-to-get by planting anonymous sourced items in the media, there’s this on-the-record quote from team owner Dick Monfort:
Q: You don’t anticipate trading Jorge De La Rosa?
Monfort: “No, De La Rosa has pitched great, and he pitches great here. I mean, we are going to do everything we can to keep him here. He’s won our last three.”
Jorge de la Rosa is 33 years old, and a free agent at the end of the year. And despite what the Rockies owner thinks, Jorge de la Rosa has not “pitched great” this year. He has a 113 ERA-, a 112 FIP-, and a 116- xFIP-, making him a below average pitcher by any way you choose to evaluate his performance. His park-adjusted ERA is the same as Jake Peavy‘s, who the Red Sox are openly trying to give away. His park-adjusted FIP is the same as Kevin Correia‘s, who was a scrap-heap free agent signing a couple of years ago. His park-adjusted xFIP is the same as Marco Estrada’s, and he’s about to get thrown out of the Brewers’ rotation.
De la Rosa has pitched well in the past, but even his decently strong 2013 season came with indicators that it wouldn’t continue. Last year, de la Rosa posted an ERA- of 81 and a FIP- of 87, but his xFIP- was 108, as he basically built his entire success around not giving up home runs. For a pitcher in Colorado, that’s a flimsy foundation at best, and not surprisingly, de la Rosa’s home run rate has regressed this year.
There was a time when de la Rosa was actually a good pitcher. From 2008 to 2010, de la Rosa threw 435 innings with an 88 FIP-/90 xFIP-, as he combined a 23% strikeout rate with a 47% groundball rate. But then he blew out his elbow, and he missed most of the 2011 and 2012 seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery. You can see what has happened to his strikeout rate since the injury.
He still gets his fair share of groundballs, but he’s gone from an above average strikeout pitcher to a below average strikeout pitcher, and he still doesn’t throw enough strikes. That’s not great, especially for an aging pitcher whose stuff is only likely to continue to decline going forward. And his platoon splits suggest that he’s probably best off in relief, where he could dominate left-handers and not get exposed against right-handers.
Currently, de la Rosa could best be described as a below average starting pitcher. He’s never thrown 200 innings in a season — he’s only thrown as many as 150 innings twice, in fact — so you can’t even make the innings-eater argument, or suggest that he’s helping to provide necessary rest for an overworked bullpen. He doesn’t pitch a large quantity of innings, nor does he perform all that well when he is on the mound. And he’s firmly entrenched in the decline-phase of his career. With a couple more years of aging, he probably won’t even be a viable big league starter.
And yet, the Rockies want to do “everything they can to keep him here.” Ken Rosenthal reported that the team will weigh any trade offer against the lost opportunity to make him a Qualifying Offer at the end of the season, fearing that without that leverage, they won’t be able to convince him to re-sign for 2015. The QO is expected to cost about $15 million this winter. Jorge de la Rosa is in no way a $15 million pitcher. He shouldn’t even be considered a candidate for a Qualifying Offer.
This is exactly the kind of player the Rockies don’t need; aging, mediocre, and expensive. Dick Monfort might publicly admit that he doesn’t know why this Rockies team isn’t winning, but I’d suggest that it’s exactly because he think Jorge de la Rosa is the kind of player that they can’t let leave. I understand that it’s hard to get pitchers to come to Colorado, but that challenge shouldn’t make the organization overpay mediocre players simply because they are the mediocre players they already have. Trade for new, cheaper mediocre players who don’t have a choice in where they pitch, and then use the money you’re not paying to guys like de la Rosa to go sign good hitters who would love to play in Colorado.
Clinging to guys like Jorge de la Rosa is why the Rockies are bad. If they want to become un-bad, it’s time for them to take a serious look at their evaluative process, and get better at identifying who can play and who can’t.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.