For Sale: Quality Arms

The Colorado Rockies pitching staff is a mess right now.  They have a league-worst 5.26 ERA which eclipses second-worst Minnesota by 0.40 thanks in large part to their home ballpark ignoring the current state of baseball as a pitcher’s dreamland and playing like the early 2000s Coors Field.  To wit, their home ERA is 5.87, nearly a full run worse than Minnesota 4.91 (yikes, I thought they had a pitcher’s park?).  They are more than two runs worse than the 3.78 NL average at home.

While they are better on the road at 4.57, they are still nowhere near the 4.19 NL (and league, in this case) average.  So we can’t just pin the blame on Coors Field and be done with it.  That environment certainly isn’t helping matters, but an overwhelming lack of talent is the real problem here.  Yet I can’t help but think that perhaps they would be better off if they stopped giving away talent for absolutely nothing.

FELIPE PAULINO

The Rockies acquired Paulino from the Houston Astros for Clint Barmes in November of 2010.  It was a small move, but definitely one where they got the upside even before the 20/15 hindsight.  Paulino labored a bit through 92 innings (5.11 ERA, 1.54 WHIP), but the upside was there in a 27-year old who averaged 95.5 MPH on his fastball with a groundball lean.  He needed to learn how to work with runners on (59% LOB in ’10), but the 4.36 xFIP pointed to promise.

Barmes, meanwhile, was a glove-only shortstop as he followed up his 23 home run season of 2009 with just eight.  In fact, his OPS+ of 82 showed that even the 23 HR season wasn’t terribly special and his 67 OPS+ in 2010 only punctuated that fact.  Even before either suited up for their new teams, this looked like a strong move for Colorado with the potential to be a truly great one if Paulino could figure it out.

Something stood out from Paulino’s time in Houston: he seemed to really struggle as a reliever.  Granted the samples were tiny (21 total innings across three years), but he was just insanely bad compared to when he was starting.

Something about relieving just didn’t seem to sit right with Paulino.  You might think that slotting him in relief would work, maybe add a tick or two to his 95 MPH heat and allow him to become a dominant force out of the bullpen, but at the same time it was probably best to explore the starting option with him given the aforementioned velocity he carried as a starter.

The Rockies were set on the relief role for Paulino and in 18 outings he posted an ugly 7.36 ERA and 2.05 WHIP across 14.7 innings.  Outings of five and two runs in 0.3 of work for each definitely inflated the numbers of his small sample, but alas the Rockies had seen enough.  In fact the 2 ER/0.3 IP outing was his last as with the team, they were done with him

OK, so find another team willing to take a shot on the 95 MPH flamethrower and get an upside prospect or team-controlled major leaguer in return, right?  Or just sell him to the Kansas City Royals.  After 4.3 innings of scoreless mop up work in his first outing for the Royals, they made him a starter full-time and immediately saw glimpses of his potential.

Including the relief outing, Paulino opened his KC tenure with 12.3 scoreless innings and had a 1.29 ERA in 21 innings through the relief outing and his first three starts.  He was up and down the rest of the way, but more good than bad with only a couple of true flameout starts (including one in Oakland, oddly enough).  He closed the season with four really strong starts yielding a 3.75 ERA and 1.17 ERA in 24 innings, but more importantly an 11.6 K/9 and 4.4 K/BB.

Unfortunately injuries delayed the start of his 2012 season and then ended it way too prematurely, but he was headed for a breakout season posting a 1.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 and 2.6 K/BB in 37.7 innings of work before succumbing to an elbow injury that many believe will end up being a Tommy John Surgery.

That doesn’t change the fact that the Rockies gave up on him after less than 15 innings of crappy relief and got nothing in return.  He may have eventually gotten injured in Colorado, too, but that outcome of an injury doesn’t change the fact that their process was horrible especially since they started off on the right foot by trading a piece that they had no use for in Barmes to get Paulino..

FRANKLIN MORALES

Morales was a product of the Rockies system and was heavily lauded as a future star.  Kevin Goldstein had him first in the system in 2008 as a five-star prospect and slotted him 13th overall on his top 100 list that year.  Baseball America also had him first in the organization and liked him even more on the bigger scale tabbing him as the 8th-best prospect in baseball that year.

Control was a major issue for Morales coming up with walk rates ranging from 4.2 to 6.9 BB/9 in his five stops en route to his 2007 big league debut (a year before the glowing ratings from prospect mavens).  In eight starts down the stretch, Morales was great for the Rockies including a stretch of 20-scoreless than spanned three outings (of 5, 6, and 6 IP) and three innings of a fourth.  His peripherals weren’t flashy (5.9 K/9, 1.9 K/BB), but a 55% groundball rate aided him to a 3.43 ERA.

He opened 2008 with an outing of six scoreless innings before imploding and walking four or more in three of his next four starts.  The Rockies pulled the plug in April after a 6.39 ERA in 25.3 innings and sent him to the minors where he finished the implosion (5.47 ERA, 6.8 K/9, 1.0 K/BB).  He opened 2009 with another gem, but left his second start with a shoulder strain.

He wouldn’t start another game for the Rockies.  He spent some time in the minors in 2009 before coming back as a reliever.  He wasn’t too bad to close out 2009 and even closed for a spell.  He would pitch another 42.7 innings in 49 appearances over 2010 and 2011 with rather awful results: 5.48 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 8.0 K/9 and 1.2 K/BB.  Nevertheless, he was a 25-year old lefty throwing 94+ MPH so there was still some hope.  Alas, the Rockies jettisoned him to the Red Sox.

That’s OK, surely they picked up a nice upside lottery ticket of their own in return given Morales’ youth, handedness and velocity.  What’s that?  They got actual lottery tickets?  Like Paulino, Morales was sold and unsubstantiated reports suggest that the Rockies spent the money on Powerball tickets during the last big drawing.

He was instantly better with the Red Sox slicing two walks off of his rate down to 3.1 in 32.3 innings out of their bullpen late last year.  He pumped his strikeout rate up to 8.6 K/9 as well.  After getting 23.7 more innings of solid relief out of him this year (3.04 ERA, 20 Ks), the Red Sox have given him another shot at starting.

The early returns are encouraging.  He brilliant through the first three before stumbling against the Yankees against whom he allowed four home runs in just 3.3 innings.  Even still, he has a 4.22 ERA as a starter (not bad especially when considering the 6 ER dud vs. NYY) with a ridiculously impressive 1.17 WHIP, 11.0 K/9 and 5.2 K/BB in 21.3 innings.  And the Rockies got nothing for this guy.  OK, not nothing, they got cash, but that’s really nothing on the baseball landscape.

Rotoworld posted an update (I don’t see a way to link to individual updates from RW) under both Morales and Paulino’s profiles around the time they were being shopped that included this nugget: “The Rox are fed up with both pitchers, but they’re both out of options and they don’t want to lose them without getting anything in return.”  Whoops.  Didn’t quite achieve that.

The real question is why were they so fed up with the two?  It seems both were given awfully short leashes before being cast out for some money.  For an organization that has long been starved for pitching, how can you really justify giving up on one of the hardest throwers in baseball (Paulino) and a young lefty with his own incredible velocity (Morales)?

While that issue likely falls at the feet of Dan O’Dowd and his front office team, the coaching staff doesn’t get off scot-free as both pitchers began exhibiting some of their potential immediately after they left Colorado.  First off, I think they improperly deployed both.  But even when the Red Sox used Morales as a reliever, he was much better with them.  How did they instantly cut his walk rate like that?  That can’t be blamed on Coors Field.

I don’t have all the answers here, but these look like a couple of inexcusably bad moves on the part of the Rockies.  And I didn’t even dive into the case of Esmil Rogers who was recently sold to the Indians and instantly turned into a far better pitcher than he was with Colorado.

His scant 13.3 inning sample isn’t enough to make any sweeping judgments from, but again, how does he go from a 4.5 BB/9 (and 6.3 in 25.7 IP this year) with the Rockies to 0.7 with the Indians?  How is a 96 MPH hurler just sold away for no talent in return?  I realize there are more hard throwers available these days (seems every pen has a 95+ guy or three), but that doesn’t mean they should be given away.

Maybe it is time for a full scale regime change within the Rockies from top to bottom as they simply don’t seem to be making the most of their talent whether when deploying it on the field (coaching) or when turning into assets once they deem it to no longer worthy of the organization’s time (front office).

 

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