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Entries in Colorado Rockies (29)

Tuesday
Jan172012

Guillermo Moscoso: Ticking Time Bomb

Colorado added two more names to its cornucopia of starting pitching options on Monday, trading outfielder Seth Smith to the Oakland A's for lefty Josh Outman and right-hander Guillermo Moscoso. At first blush, getting an arm like Moscoso might seem like a coup for the Rockies. After all, the 28-year-old notched a nifty 3.38 ERA in 128 innings pitched as a rookie in 2011, easily besting the 4.21 average for American League starters. Maybe the former Tiger and Ranger was just a late bloomer, and now he's poised to be a cheap, quality rotation option for the foreseeable future.

Or not. Pitchers can do three main things to succeed over the long haul: miss lumber, limit walks and induce ground balls. Moscoso was decent when it came to issuing free passes, but he was abysmal at the other two. Check out where he ranked among starter pitchers in these three key categories that do a better job of predicting future ERA than past ERA:

PlayerK%BB%GB%
Moscoso 13.9 7.2 26.7
Percentile Rank 29 54 1

 

Moscoso's walk rate was better than slightly half of starters last year, and that's actually, by far, his most impressive skill. His strikeout rate was worse than 71 percent of starters, and Baltimore's Brian Matusz (he of the highest ERA ever for a pitcher making at least ten starts) was the only guy to get grounders less often. When it comes to the metrics that extract luck and defense from the equation, Moscoso was a marginal major leaguer.

As you might expect from such an extreme fly ball pitcher, Moscoso pitched up in the zone with his 90-ish mph fastball, low-80s changeup and high-70s slider. Take a look at his pitch location in 2011, and then the league average for right-handers:

Moscoso's pitch location, 2011Average pitch location for right-handers, 2011Thirty-four percent of Moscoso's offerings were located in the upper third of the zone, well above the roughly 28 percent league average. Moscoso didn't get killed climbing the ladder last year in Oakland, surrendering about a homer per nine innings pitched. But that came with a very low home run per fly ball rate (six percent; the league average was close to 10%) while pitching in the Coliseum, which decreases homers hit by lefty hitters by 11 percent and 20 percent for righties. By contrast, Moscoso's new home and fly balls go together like peanut butter and tooth paste: Coors boosts long balls by 13 percent for left-handers and 17 percent for right-handers.

Moscoso's good fortune on fly balls hit, favorable ball park and the lowest batting average on balls in play (.222) among starters save for Jeremy Hellickson helped him post a shiny-looking ERA, but his more skill-based stats paint the picture of a pitcher with an ERA around five. He's basically a right-handed Greg Smith (another former Athletic shipped to Colorado after a superficially impressive rookie campaign) with better control. Don't be surprised if Moscoso, like Smith, turns out to be a Triple-A lifer instead of a solid big league starter.

Sunday
Dec112011

Can Stewart, Colvin Solve Soft Stuff?

The Cubs and Rockies completed a four-player challenge trade this past Thursday, as Chicago picked up third baseman Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers while Colorado acquired outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder DJ LeMahieu.

Weathers, the eighth overall pick in the '07 draft, has walked over seven batters per nine innings in the minors and walked over a batter per inning in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. LeMahieu has good contact ability, if little power, and can man second or third base. But this move may ultimately boil down to a challenge trade of failed first-round position player prospects who haven't been able to solve soft stuff -- curveballs, sliders and changeups -- at the major league level.

Stewart (taken 10th overall in 2003) peaked at #4 on Baseball America's top 100 list prior to the 2005 season, ranked in the top 50 each of the next three years and performed decently with the Rockies as a rookie in 2008. He never built upon that decent start, though, and now holds a .236/.323/.428 career line in over 1,400 plate appearances. Adjusting for Coors, his on-base plus slugging percentage is 11 percent below average (89 OPS+). Colvin, meanwhile, was considered an overdraft at #13 in 2006 as the Cubs wanted to save cash to persuade Jeff Samardzija to give up football. Colvin did rate as high as #75 on BA's prospect list before 2008 and ran into 20 balls in 2010 before a bat impaled his chest, but he also bombed in 2011 and has a .215/.274/.422 triple-slash and an 84 OPS+ in 600+ PA.

In both cases, these prospects-turned-suspects haven't been able to handle breaking and off-speed stuff. Despite taking lots of cuts at Coors, Stewart's .211/.266/.371 performance against curveballs, sliders and changeups is worse than the .235/.278/.371 MLB average for non-pitchers since 2008. Colvin has been downright awful against soft stuff, with a .189/.218/.375 line.

Stewart hasn't been a total hacker against soft stuff, with a 35 percent chase rate that's pretty close to the 33 percent MLB average, but contact has been a problem. He has swung and missed 35 percent of the time against sliders, curves and a changeups, compared to the 28-29% average. Check out his contact rate by pitch location versus soft stuff, compared to the league average. Unless the pitch is right down Broadway, he's whiffing often:

Stewart's contact rate vs. soft stuff by pitch location, 2008-2011

Average contact rate vs. soft stuff by pitch location, 2008-2011

Colvin has whiffed even more against soft pitches -- 37 percent from 2009 to 2011. While Stewart at least shows about average strike zone discipline against breaking and offspeed pitches, Colvin is like a sugar-crazed kid trying to crack open a piñata. Here's his swing rate by pitch location vs. soft stuff, and then the league average:

Colvin's swing rate vs. soft stuff by pitch location, 2009-2011Average swing rate vs. soft stuff by pitch location, 2009-2011Colivn has chased 49 percent of soft pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. The only hitters to go fishing more often since 2009 are Humberto Quintero, Pablo Sandoval, Vladimir Guerrero and Dewayne Wise.  Wisely, pitchers rarely throw Colvin soft stuff over the plate: opponents have tossed a slider, curve or changeup in the zone just 39 percent of the time, way below the 45 percent average.

Stewart, 27 in April, seems to have a clearer path to playing time and possible redemption than Colvin. He'll likely get the 2012 season to show he can improve his performance against slower offerings and offer enough bat to complement his quality defense at third base. Aramis Ramirez is gone, and prospect Josh Vitters has his own strike-zone issues to hash out before he's ready for the show. Colvin, also 27, gets to swing a mile above sea level, but the Rockies have Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith, non-tender candidate Ryan Spilborghs and prospects Charlie Blackmon and Tim Wheeler in the mix as well. If either player is to make good on his former promise, he'll have to make huge strides against the soft stuff.

Wednesday
Dec072011

Transaction Roundup: Slowey to Coors, Harang a Dodger

Rockies acquire RHP Kevin Slowey from the Twins for a PTBNL

The union of Slowey, an extreme fly ball pitcher, and Coors has the potential to produce many a Bitter Beer Face for Jim Tracy and the Rockies. On the positive side, the 27-year-old has exceptional control. Slowey's 1.4 BB/9 since his big league debut in 2007 ranks behind only Greg Maddux and Roy Halladay among starting pitchers tossing 350+ innings. Colorado could also control the righty for two more seasons through arbitration if they so choose, and Slowey was quite effective for Minnesota in 2008 (three Wins Above Replacement) and 2010 (2.2 WAR). Plus, he does have a minor league option remaining, so he could open 2012 at Colorado Springs if he fails to beat out the likes of Tyler Chatwood, Esmil Rogers and Alex White for a back-of-the-rotation slot.

But there are reasons why the Twins would have likely non-tendered Slowey later this month instead of pay him a projected $2.7 million in arbitration. He's hardly a picture of perfect health, having missed a big chunk of the 2009 season due to wrist surgery and being limited 59.1 frames this past year due to DL stints for shoulder inflammation and a strained abdomen. And Slowey's ultra-aggressive approach comes with a price: lots of fly balls, and lots of slow trots around the bases for opposing batters. Dating back to 2008 (the first year for which there's Pitch F/X data), Slowey has the ninth-highest fly ball rate (48.5 percent) among starters, and he has coughed up 1.4 homers per nine during his career.

Slowey's stuff -- an upper-80s four-seamer and two-seamer, a sweeping mid-70s curve, a low-80s slider and an occasional low-80s changeup -- sits higher in the zone than is the case for most pitchers:

Slowey's pitch location, 2008-2011

MLB average pitch location, 2008-2011Since '08, 36 percent of Slowey's pitches have been located in the upper third of the zone, 37 percent have hit the middle of the zone, and 27 percent have been spotted low in the zone. The averages for starters over that time frame are 28 percent for high pitches, 33 percent for middle-zone pitches, and 39 percent for low-zone offerings.

Coors might not quite be the pinball machine it once was, but it still increases home runs by 13 percent for left-handed hitters compared to a neutral park, and 17 percent for right-handed batters, according to StatCorner. Slowey has given up a homer 10 percent of the time that opponents have hit a fly ball during his career. Righties pitching at Coors gave up homers 11 percent of the time in 2011. Let's say he pitches 150 innings next year, half on the road and half at home, while maintaining his fly ball rate since '08. We'd expect him to give up about 25 homers, or 1.5 HR/9. Superb control or not, it's hard to be more than competent while allowing that many taters.

Assuming the PTBNL isn't significant, the Rockies didn't risk much to see if Slowey can stay healthy and return to his league-average dart-throwing act. But it's hardly a great match of pitcher profile and park effects.

Dodgers sign RHP Aaron Harang to a two-year, $12 million contract

Superficially, the erstwhile Reds ace appeared to rebound in a big way in 2011. After posting a 5.32 ERA and pitching just 111.2 innings while battling an achy back in his last year in Cincy in 2010, Harang pared his ERA to 3.64 in 170.2 IP for the Padres. Truth be told, precious little changed in the 6-foot-7, 260 pounder's more skill-based metrics. He was an acceptable, if unexciting, starter both years, and his fly ball-heavy ways resulted in a lower home run per fly ball rate in Petco than in Great American Ballpark:

2010: 16.3 K%, 7.5 BB%, 10.9 HR/FB%, 113 FIP-*

2011: 17.2 K%, 8.1 BB%, 9.1 HR/FB%, 119 FIP-

* FIP- is Fielding Independent ERA relative to the league average; 100 is average, and anything above 100 means a pitcher was worse than average

Stripping away more luck-based metrics like strand rate and batting average on balls in play, Harang was 4.20 to 4.50ish ERA pitcher both years, OK for a back-end type but certainly not to be confused with his 2005-2007 zenith with the Reds.

Harang's deal seems to be market-value, as the going rate for projected 1-2 WAR pitchers like Freddy Garcia, Bruce Chen, Chien-Ming Wang and Chris Capuano has been about $4-6 million per year. But at some point, you have to question the sheer amount of green the men in blue have doled out on low-upside vets: Harang, Capuano, Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston Jr., Juan Rivera, Adam Kennedy and Matt Treanor are guaranteed a combined $43 million between 2012 and 2013. With that cash, the Dodgers could have made a big down payment on landing an elite bat or a mega-extension for Clayton Kershaw.