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While Jorge de la Rosa took his title as the second best free agent starting pitcher to the market, he eventually decided that he didn’t want to go anywhere and re-signed with the Rockies. He received two guaranteed years with a third-year player option, which will be followed by a fourth-year team option if de la Rosa decides to stay on for a third year. Depending on that fourth year, de la Rosa is expected to make either $31.5 or $42.5 million over the length of the contract. Does the reward justify the risk?
Over his career, de la Rosa has been an enigma. After two failed stops in Milwaukee and Kansas City, he finally experienced success in Colorado. In his first season with the team, his strikeout rate jumped from 5.68 to 8.86, allowing him to post 2.4 WAR over 130 innings, but it was 2009 that saw his real breakthrough: the 28-year-old started 32 games while striking out 193 batters in only 185 innings pitched. A nasty finger injury limited de la Rosa to only 20 starts last year, but he still flashed the potential that made him one of the league’s better starters the year prior.
While it is easy to get sucked in by the velocity and the high strikeout rate, de la Rosa does not come without warts. His control has always been a problem as he has posted a walk rate over 4.0 BB/9 in each of his three seasons in Colorado. He has succeededwith a combination of groundballs and strikeouts that have let him pitch around the walks, but his inability to pound the strike zone could be a long term problem, which limits his ability to work deep into games. If the groundball spike he experienced in 2010 is real (and it could be since he started relying on his change-up far more often), that will help him overcome the command problems.
But even with the increase in GB% and a lot of strikeouts, de la Rosa is still something of an underachiever, and this contract pays more for what he could be than what he has shown on the field. His career xFIP of 4.37 is quite good, but his 5.02 ERA does not match the peripherals. The difference is almost entirely due to an inability to strand runners, producing a LOB% of just 69.7% over the last three seasons. For a pitcher with his ability to miss bats, the number is quite low. On one hand, you could see this as a positive, in that he has shown ability above and beyond his results, but there are pitchers like Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras that have struggled with stranding runners their entire career.
Committing multiple years and big money to a player with one good season under his belt can be a dangerous gamble. But de la Rosa’s strikeout rate sets him apart from every other non-Cliff Lee pitcher on the market, and if he is able to stay healthy, 200 strikeouts is an attainable goal. Clearly, the Rockies see the value in locking up a player with such a high upside. Given the money they’ve committed to him, though, they’re going to need him to pitch more like his xFIP suggests he can and less like he has so far in his career.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.