Looking for a Less Rocky 2009 for Morales

Pitching has been a long-term nightmare for the Colorado Rockies’ franchise, thanks to the thin air of Denver. The club’s history of poor pitching is slowly becoming a thing of the past for the Rockies. Aided in part by the humidor, the Rockies pitchers have gone from being one of the worst three teams in baseball each year in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) to middle-of-the-road (an average of 16th overall in the past three seasons) since the 2005 season.

It’s not all about the humidor, though. The pitching in Colorado has improved significantly and the club finally has some depth. Aaron Cook is an unlikely staff ace with his low strikeout rates (career 3.58 K/9) but his groundball tendencies make him the perfect pitcher for Colorado. Former No. 1 draft pick Jeff Francis was starting to learn the ins-and-outs of pitching in the park before being sidelined by shoulder woes. The club also developed workhorse Ubaldo Jimenez, who could become quite a pitcher if his arm does not fall off after walking 103 batters in 198.2 innings in 2008. The club also brought in Greg Smith (Oakland) and Jason Marquis (Chicago NL) during the 2008-09 off-season via the trade route.

One pitcher who should not get lost in the shuffle – despite his 2008 struggles – is Franklin Morales, the Rockies’ former No. 1 prospect. The 23-year-old southpaw posted a 6.39 ERA (5.58 FIP) and allowed 28 hits in 25.1 innings this past season. His control completely deserted him and he walked 6.04 batters per nine innings, while posting a strikeout rate of just 3.20 K/9. His control issues haunted him in the minors last season too. In 110.1 Triple-A innings, Morales posted a walk rate of 6.69 BB/9.

The Venezuelan native had a successful MLB debut in 2007 when he allowed just 34 hits in 39.1 innings. He posted a 3.43 ERA (3.80 FIP) and compiled rates of 3.20 BB/9 and 5.95 K/9. His groundball rate was 54.9%, compared to 40% in 2008.

Interestingly, Morales’ fastball lost about 1.5 mph between his stints in the Majors in 2007 and 2008. His change-up also added two miles per hour. Hitters were seven percent less likely to swing at his pitches outside the strike zone but they made contact with those pitches almost 20 percent more often.

His control issues are troubling, but Morales is still young and has a great arm for a southpaw. He also has a history of being his own worst enemy by over-thinking and over-analyzing things. The winter break from baseball may have been just what he needed. We’ll find out soon enough.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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13 years ago

He should have no problem getting the job from Greg Smith if he proves himself ready to pitch in the majors next year….