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.

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