Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Jorge De La Rosa Extension: Ok I Guess

As I leaf through the files of "stuff everybody talked about a week ago", I rediscover that the Rockies recently signed veteran Jorge De La Rosa to a 2-year extension worth $25M. The deal was met with mixed reactions, with most Rockies fans (that I observed) being relatively pleased about the deal and many non-affiliated non-Rockies writers thought it was absolutely moronic. I find myself more siding with the Happy Rockies Fans, but there is a decent amount to take into consideration.

Firstly, as most opponents of this signing would say, this deal doesn't make a lot of sense for Colorado.

1. The Rockies are Terrible and Have No Clear Plan To Fix This.
The general logic behind this isn't hard to parse. Teams that are Not Good and don't have a massive budget should probably just trade away anybody of MLB value for cheap, cost controlled players, save the money you didn't spend on your expensive MLB value players for eventual arbitration raises and arbitration extensions and possibly even MLB free agents to plug holes once the team looks like it's in contention for the foreseeable future. Therefore, giving MORE money to a guy who is in his 30s and isn't likely to pitch postseason baseball in his career seems counterproductive to that plan. 

2. Jorge De La Rosa Isn't Really That Good
I've heard a lot of people citing all sorts of things about DLR, that he's only reached 175 innings once in his career, that his strikeout numbers are down, stuff of that nature. That his mediocre ERA/FIP/xFIP/SIERA/tRA - whatever numbers you want to pull down really don't point to a guy who's worth investing $25M in. His strikeout rates haven't been what they were before he underwent Tommy John surgery. Also a good point, should the team that is Not Good really be taking up budget room for merely average production?

Secondly, this deal isn't bad as far as the Rockies fandom perspective goes.

1. Jorge De La Rosa Somehow Can Pitch In Coors Field and That Excites Us
Kind of self explanatory. The dude has a winning record in Coors Field (44-14), he allows an opponent OPS+ (or tOPS+) of 91, which means that he pitches about 9% better than his career average at Coors Field (or batters hit 9% worse against DLR in Coors than they would in Average Field against the Averageton Averages). He has a better strikeout-to-walk ratio here than really anywhere else of reasonable sample size. He also has at least an average strikeout rate; he's not an Aaron-Cook-esque extreme groundballer who strikes out like 3 guys in a complete game. These guys don't exist, and organizational disarray be damned, we are going to hang on to this one-of-a-kind creation like grandma's pearls.

The worst part about trying to be an informed, modern, hip/snarky analyst type of baseball fan is the fact that deep down I'm still an incredible homer and NUH UH OUR TEAM DOESN'T SUCK WHATEVER AT LEAST WE'RE NOT UH SOMETHING UH TIM LINCECUM HAS STUPID HAIR

There's a creature that lives within me and makes me ignore Charlie Blackmon's 92 wRC+. I'm still disappointed to see Christian Bergman crumble like a nitrogen-frozen rose on slick warehouse concrete. I still want to win meaningless games. I want to give Arizona and Chicago the finger and say "well at least we aren't like Cubs bad". I mean, I wrote an article drastically interrupted by my own relishing and cackling over the Rockies beating the Giants on Labor Day.

Fact is, Jorge De La Rosa has made games fun during this plague of a 2014 season. No, he hasn't been a world beater. Yes, I acknowledge all the stuff about him being mediocre and that he's lost his strikeout numbers and all that stuff. But it's the fact that he's still capable of games like 7/23/14 against the Nats where he pitched a batter into the 8th, struck out 11, walked none, and allowed 2 runs (1 unearned). Granted, he also allowed 8 hits, but whatever. Strikeouts are sexy.

One of the perceived problems about this signing is that the Rockies paid around market value per year for DLR, at $12.5M per year. If DLR is about a 2WAR pitcher, that's $6.25M per win, which is about the going rate for free agent wins. Given that Colorado isn't exactly a destination for most free agent pitchers who aren't desperate for a last chance kind of contract, I think there could be a case made for the value of a free agent pitching win in Colorado is likely higher than for the other 29 clubs. The actual value of the contract isn't bad. Not GOOD, per se, but not bad. Maybe that deal is at a slight discount. I don't find it unreasonable to think DLR will provide surplus value on the deal.

However, this goes back to the "should" question, as this doesn't fit into the hack-and-slash notion of roster reconstruction for lousy teams. The Rockies should've traded everything that wasn't nailed down and then gotten a crowbar and traded nailed-down talent as well. Instead, they gave DLR something like 12% of next year's payroll.

As a quick aside, isn't it weird that we're still thinking of Jorge De La Rosa as sort of a cusp guy, someone who's only been around a couple of years? I know this notion has been discussed on Purple Row, but it still strikes me as interesting. I think part of the issue is that once he started to settle in as a guy we could depend on, he got hurt, went away with TJS, and then sort of came back as an afterthought. Maybe it's the fact that he wasn't one of our own farmhands. Whatever the reason, Baseball-Reference has DLR as 14th all-time in WAR, between Steve Reed and Brian Fuentes, and 6th among pitchers (behind Ubaldo, Cook, Chacin, Jennings, and Reed). Dude's a mainstay.

So should they have signed him? I'm of the opinion that a rotation that's supposed to be made mostly of a pile of guys under 27 years old needs some sort of veteran Ace type player - relative to itself, anyhow - who the team can look to to provide at least a decent outing on a regular basis. I still have hopes that Jhoulys Chacin can come back healthy and be that guy again, but those hopes are dwindling.

The tough part of this is writing an article that takes an objective view on whether or not the Rockies should have signed DLR is that it doesn't matter what conventional or even progressive wisdom would say, the Rockies don't make moves that make a lot of sense as far as a clear direction. What's worse is that this lack of direction has them in a place where you have to wonder what a firesale would accomplish. What exactly were the Rockies supposed to get out of a deadline deal for DLR? What is Justin Morneau worth to a competing team, or even Charlie Blackmon? CAN we trade Tulo or Cargo for actual value? I frankly don't have the faith in the front office for them to build a team around Eddie Butler, Jon Gray, Nolan Arenado, and Corey Dickerson in the next 3 years.

Actually, if you think about it, a team with 4 young studs and a pile of utility guys and cheap veterans around them kind of sounds like a rebuild, and we're only one Cuddyer non-resigning and a couple of trades away from that. I could survive a 2015 lineup including Mike McKenry, Justin Morneau, DJ LeMahieu, Christian Adames, Nolan Arenado, Dickerson, Blackmon, and Kyle Parker.

As you can see, I've completely talked myself in circles, and that's the dilemma of being a Rockies fan. They're not near winning caliber, but the question remains would I rather watch mediocre ball and a trickle of prospects or would I rather watch a full teardown and hope that we get another 2005-esque wave of prospects complete with a few crafty Jason Jennings type trades? Is that realistic anymore? I don't mind the notion of Gray and Butler and Matzek becoming a strong pitching core, ready for 2017, but will the Rockies have a lineup to go with them? How about a bullpen?

See, even if the Rockies go full-rebuild, it's not going to make a tremendous amount of difference if Jorge De La Rosa is in the rotation or not. This team is not going to be legitimately competitive in 2015. DLR pitches his 2 years, and suddenly it's 2017, and I have to hope that some combination of Butler, Gray, Matzek, Lyles, Tyler Anderson, Dan Winkler, Kyle Freeland, Jayson Aquino, maybe even Tyler Chatwood and Christian Bergman make DLR a thing of the past - with all respect and admiration.

If I close my eyes and plug my ears and go LA LA LA LA LA I can convince myself that this is a decent stopgap move while the team figures out what to do with their existing MLB talent and who should stick around over the next several years. He'll pitch some innings, maybe be a stabilizing force in a young rotation. There are worse things they could do with $25M, I guess.

To conclude this rambling, I might as well lean on the Fan angle, in that I like watching DLR do stuff. I like having him around still during these dark times. The objective stat guy thing, where we should be like Oakland or Tampa and trade guys at service year 5 and keep reloading with prospects, just doesn't seem realistic to me. I don't trust the front office to pull that off. We're relying on a lot of good fortune there, both in development and health, and having one guy who isn't entirely fueled by luck would be nice.

I suppose as long as we're still watching the Rockies play in Coors Field, we might as well have Jorge De La Rosa around.

postscript: I had a joke in there that the Averageton Averages play in Knoxville, which some random site declared to be the most average city in America, and wasted way too much time deliberating over whether or not the notion that Knoxville was super average would be received. I opted to skip it. I should've just thrown in a reference to Duluth, for some reason that place has always struck me as generic America.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Stopping to Smell the Tears of Giants Fan Roses

One of the biggest pitfalls I've encountered in any passion I've ever undertaken is getting too involved to just enjoy the activity for what it is. To hear me talk about the Rockies most days is just to hear me groan about how something else I've invested a good chunk of my life into is consistently letting me down, in a very visible and obvious sort of way.

The Rockies, over the past 3 seasons, have combined for a 192-268 record. They're terrible. Their failings as a franchise have been well documented and lamented by Colorado sports fans as a whole over the past 21 years. I've seen them at their best and gotten to attend 2 of 3 playoff runs and only missed 1 of those October games (Game 4 2007 NLCS - what the hell were we thinking only getting Game 3 tickets). I've gotten to witness some incredibly exciting baseball being played right here in my home city. It was great. In a sense, it meant something, because in those moments, I was able to just turn off everything else in life and get completely sucked into the games. I used to be that "heart attack" fan something something Brian Fuentes. I'm just not that fan anymore.

It sucks being a Rockies fan. It sucks being the fan of any consistently-losing franchise, for that matter. I get cynical. I start to join up with the other grumbling fans and get really sour on my team because let's be honest, there's not much in baseball that can take the wind out of your sails like a bullpen implosion. You see, we've dealt with that on pretty much a nightly basis this year.

I'm giddy right now though. It's the evening of Labor Day, 2014, and I got back from the Rockies-Giants game about an hour ago and now I'm sitting on my front porch enjoying the warm evening, listening to some super crunchy '93 Phish, and I love being a Rockies fan.

Maybe more specifically, I love beating the Giants.

The only fanbases that actually care that we're around absolutely hate us, and none more than the Giants fanbase.

My "prime" as a Rockies guy came from '09-'11 when the Giants and Rockies were really at each others' throats. Tim Lincecum became the poster boy of this hatred with his Juiced Ball Bullshit moment, and Jon Miller became the Voice of the discord with his further complaining. Ryan Spilborghs taking Merkin (snort) Valdez yard on 8/24/09 for a walkoff Grand Slam was our rallying moment, and sure, we lost to the Phillies in the NLDS, but hey, we beat the Giants, right?

To this day I absolutely HATE playing the Giants. Two World Series wins have emboldened the San Francisco fanbase, and suddenly the traveling Giants Faithful is a LOT more visible in Coors Field than I recall seeing before those years, and a lot more audible as well. 

On Labor Day, 2014, the Rockies walked off against the Giants on what will be remembered as a barely remarkable game. But we beat the Giants.

It was my 2 year old niece's first baseball game, and she was so well behaved. We took her to the little tiny kids playground over by the Root Sports postgame booth behind CF, and I bought her a cute little Rockies baseball cap to wear. It's pink. She really wanted the pink one. Pff, girls, right? Well, my little niece got to watch the Rockies walk off against the Giants in her first baseball game which I'm sure she'll remember forever.

My favorite part of September is the first game with the first wave of callups. Rafael Ynoa went 3-for-4 with a few suspect plays at 2B. Ben Paulsen ripped a PH home run over the manual scoreboard. Charlie Blackmon took a pitch off of his laces into RF.

Like, look at that thing. That's the kind of pitch Vlad Guerrero does something with. This is why I love and hate Rockies-Giants games: stupid stuff is gonna happen. It's way more fun when the stupid stuff happens to the Giants. Because when stupid stuff happens to the Giants, the Rockies generally win.

Of course, any Giants fan will happily counter my schadenfreude-fueled joy with the simple fact that they're still what, 2 games back from the Dodgers in the NL West, while the Rockies are the worst team in the NL?

Ha ha you lost to the worst team in the NL ha ha

The Rockies have Jordan Lyles going up against Yusmeiro Petit tomorrow and Christian Bergman facing Ryan Vogelsong. I might watch some of those games, I dunno. I haven't really found the time to watch all that many games this year.

But hey, we beat the stupid Giants on Labor Day. That was pretty great. And I have the scorecard to prove it.

See, the thing is, I miss feeling this way about baseball, and a lot of that is due to the fact that the Rockies are just terrible these past few years. It's hard to rally attention for an exciting victory when it's so much more likely that they're gonna get crushed. So when the team is boring because they keep losing in such predictable fashion (pitching-related), I turn to the next most interesting thing about them, and that's breaking down everything in numbers and evaluations and comparisons and analyses and all that. Problem is, when the team is losing and boring to look at, the breakdowns are going to reveal pretty much what our eyes tell us, and that's the fact that we're really bad. It's such a challenge to maintain some air of hope and not just resort to pure cynicism. Cynicism, however, makes you seem smart. And in a football-heavy town, most people don't know anything about the Rockies except for what some cynical sports writer wrote or talk show host said about them to make themselves seem smart, and so they just parrot that back because they figure the cynic was smart, so they might as well be cynical as well.

It's not a hard trap to fall into. Allow me to illustrate. 

I'm a big fan of Umphrey's McGee, sort of a prog-rock jam band that's completely awesome. My brother turned me on to them back in 2012 and by now I've seen them in 6 cities (8 if we count Morrison/Red Rocks and Boulder) and have a hard drive full of soundboards and all sorts of stuff that would indicate that yes, I'm a stupidly invested Umphrey's McGee fan. 

I went up to Portland and met up with some friends for a 2-night Umphrey's run going from Seattle to Portland, and I decided to review the shows. Summary: Seattle Set 2 was absolute fire, and the rest was pretty "meh" with the exception of "The Haunt" being played Set 1 Seattle. I mean good times and all, but I left sort of disappointed. Summer rolled around and Umphrey's played The Boulder Theater and Red Rocks Amphitheater. Good stuff, definitely a great time, but they just didn't blow the lid off like I was hoping. They didn't do anything WRONG or BAD and I had a good time, but I felt like something was lacking. When I wrote my reviews, a buddy read them over for me and said "Yeah, they were fine, but honestly? You didn't sound like you had a good time."

I want the Rockies to win. A whole bunch. I want Umphrey's to explode my head with their sheer rockandrollishness. A whole bunch. When my excitement fix isn't sated by my favorite things, my engineering mind would then ask "well why not?" and I start breaking down the things I like to try and find what's awesome and what's not awesome.

Charlie Culberson popping out to Buster Posey on the first pitch of his 9th inning at-bat is not awesome. Umphrey's playing "No Diablo" is not awesome. Ben Paulsen hitting a PH homer is awesome. A 5-song 2nd set in Seattle is awesome. Ad Infinitum.

So once we figure out the problems with the Rockies - understanding a bit more of why they lose - helps us wrap our minds a bit more around what's going on, and allows us to discuss and reason how the team could improve its outcomes. Obviously we know it's the pitching (I still disagree sort of and I guess I'll share that another time), and when we don't see the front office making the moves we'd like to see to change the team's fortunes, we begin to lambast the decision makers. And we should! We pay good money to go watch the Rockies lose.

It starts to really suck, though, when I go out to a game and the Rockies lose and all I can see is dumb decisions being made by ownership and management. And typos. Lord, the typos. This is the point where I have to stand back and say "I thought you enjoyed this - why are you continuing to subject yourself to unenjoyable situations like this?" So for a while there, I took a step back. I practically missed the 2013 season. I eventually found myself regularly checking box scores and reading up on season stats and all that good stuff, so I'd at least still be in the know.

Then games like today happen and damn that was a lot of fun. They played a really fun extra innings game against the Marlins the other week. Man, baseball's fun. Sucks when you don't get to watch the fun stuff happen as often, but man, baseball is a lot of fun. We beat the Giants in one inconsequential game. 

I do love beating the Giants.