A team can’t make their season in March, but they can lose their season before it begins. Last week was an awful week for the Rockies.
At the moment, the Rockies and the baseball world aren’t concerned about when Chad Bettis will pitch again. They just want him to be healthy, after the 27-year-old starting pitcher learned last week that his testicular cancer had unexpectedly spread. Bettis was declared cancer free back in January.
Here is an update on my current health situation. My family and I thank you for your continued thoughts, prayers and support. pic.twitter.com/oIi4CTE0AK
— Chad Bettis (@cbettis35) March 10, 2017
From Nick Groke’s story in the Denver Post:
His prognosis for a healthy recovery is good, in the 90 percent range, he said. Bettis will start chemotherapy treatment in Arizona sometime soon. And he and his wife Kristina are expecting their first child later this month.
But Bettis’s return to baseball this season is in doubt. “Optimistically? This year,” Bettis said. He was given a broad timeline of potential outcomes.
“You never know how these things will unfold. From our standpoint, we’ll have to make some adjustments,” Colorado manager Bud Black said. “We feel good about what will happen. He will keep his chin up and his chest out and press forward.”
There’s no certain timetable for Bettis’s return, but he’s likely to miss a significant amount of time.
While a much less serious matter, the Rockies also lost their biggest free-agent purchase, Ian Desmond, for an undetermined amount of time after Desmond suffered a fractured finger Sunday when he was hit by a pitch on his left hand against the Reds. The Rockies signed Desmond to a five-year, $70-million deal this offseason to become their starting first baseman.
Desmond will reportedly see a hand specialist on Monday, which should provide a better understanding of the severity of the fracture. It’s unclear how long he will be sidelined, but fractured fingers usually require a minimum of four weeks of recovery time.
Moreover, another projected Rockies starting position player, David Dahl, was diagnosed with a stress reaction of a rib earlier in March, an injury which has robbed him of important playing time this spring. Dahl will reportedly be out another week. And Rockies manager Bud Black said Sunday that reliever Chad Qualls is experiencing elbow discomfort.
While Dahl could return soon, while Qualls was not expected to hold a crucial bullpen role, the Rockies must now look for at least a short-term fix at first base and perhaps a season-long solution in the rotation.
Bettis’s loss leaves a sizable void for the Rockies to fill. He was coming off a season during which he made 32 starts, posted 2.6 WAR and a 96 ERA- and 98 FIP-. The Rockies were already trying to fill one rotation void and now they must fill two. Bettis’s 2016 campaign was the 21st-best individual season by a Rockies pitcher, according to WAR, since the franchise’s inception. ZiPS projected him as the club’s No. 2 starting pitcher behind Jon Gray.
According to ZiPS, Jeff Hoffman should now be a lock to be in the rotation, while German Marquez lines up as the best option to replace Bettis. Marquez has appeared in just six major-league games, making three starts last season. ZiPS forecasted that Betis would earn 2.2 WAR over 29 starts; Marquez, 1.4 WAR over 29 starts.
While the Rockies’ pitching depth has improved, losing Bettis for any significant amount of time — which seems to be the likely scenario — represents a significant loss.
Losing Desmond will also hurt the club.
The Desmond signing was undeniably curious. He’d never played first base previously and his career 101 wRC+ doesn’t profile at the position. Nevertheless, Desmond did project to produce 1.2 WAR in 2017 and the Rockies have little bench depth to replace him. Black said the club could look to Mark Reynolds, signed to a minor-league deal, to fill the position until Desmond is healthy. Reynolds produced 0.1 WAR in 441 plate appearances last season for the Rockies. If Desmond is out for a longer period of time, the Rockies will miss a player who’s versatile and who’s produced 3.3 WAR or better in four out of the last five season while playing center field and shortstop.
It wasn’t a good week for the Rockies’ dark-horse playoff aspirations. According to the updated FanGraphs depth charts, Bettis and Desmond will now combine for 1.1 WAR in 2017, or a 2.3-win decline from pre-March forecasts.
In the FanGraphs projected standings, the Rockies have declined from a forecast of 79 wins before March, to 77 as of Monday. The Rockies were already staring up at the Dodgers (95 wins) and Giants (87) in the NL West, and now have more ground to make up against the Giants (85), Cardinals (83) and Pirates (82) for the second Wild Card.
The Rockies were an interesting team entering this spring. They had a sneaky-good rotation. They should field their best framing team in this era of receiving quantification. They have an MVP candidate in Nolan Arenado at third and under-appreciated bats in second baseman DJ LeMahieu and outfielder Charlie Blackmon. We’ve seen the limits of translating winning the offseason (see: Padres) to the regular season in recent years. But it’s possible to see a season lost before it begins. The Rockies had an awful week and it could be one from which it is difficult to recover.
While the Rockies have more pressing concerns, namely Bettis’ health, their postseason aspirations have been dampened.