Josh Rutledge filling in for Troy Tulowitzski is hitting .331/.349/.938
For even the most ardent baseball fan, a quick glance at the Colorado Rockies depth chart can evoke a reaction similar to that classic line from the movie “Major League” paraphrased for family reading purposes as, “Who the heck are these guys?”
With familiar names like Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzski, Eric Young and Michael Cuddyer on the disabled list, the Rockies active roster is currently features the likes of infielders Chris Nelson, Josh Rutledge, DJ LeMahieu, Jordan Pacheco; and catcher Wilin Rosario. The outfield, at least, is more recognizable with Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Tyler Colvin.
As usual, hitting at Coors Field is not a problem for the Rockies, which are fourth overall in the majors in offense and fifth in runs.
Those numbers are a bit misleading, though.
Not surprisingly, the Rockies are tops in the majors in overall offense at home. Playing at the launching pad that is Coors Field, Colorado has scored 423 runs to accompany a .299 average and a .859 OPS.
Away from home, the Rockies are dead last in the majors overall with a .241 average, a .670 OPS and just 223 runs.
Perhaps the most glaring illustration of how difficult it is to judge a Rockies’ hitter’s true overall talent is Carlos Gonzalez, the 26-year-old left-handed slugger who has a .377 average with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, a .627 slugging percentage and a 1.071 OPS in 252 at-bats at Coors Field this season. Away from the thin air, Gonzalez is batting .239 with nine home runs, 26 RBI, a .423 slugging percentage and a .734 OPS in 222 at-bats.
Rosario, who is a National League Rookie of the Year candidate, has 23 home runs, 15 of which were launched at Coors Field. Ten of Fowler’s 13 dingers have been struck at home while Colvin has 10 home runs, 42 RBI and a 1.033 OPS at Coors Field and seven home runs, 21 RBI and a .753 OPS on the road.
If Colorado had a more formidable pitching staff, the lopsided home-road splits on offense would not as impactful. The Rockies are not known for quality pitching, though, especially this season. They are last in the majors in overall pitching with a a 5.18 ERA, a 1.53 WHIP and a .287 opponent’s batting average.
Colorado is last in the bigs in starters’ ERA at 5.98 and the Rockies rotation has been battered to the tune of a .308 batting average against.
The pitching splits are not as dramatic as the hitting variety, but the Rockies do have a 5.88 staff ERA at home, which is last in the majors, and a 4.33 ERA on the road, which is tied with St. Louis for 20th.
In an anything goes attempt to change the results produced by their rotation, the Rockies front office decided to keep starters on a 75-pitch limit each outing. This unusual set-up, which is common in spring training but unheard of in the regular season until now, was instituted on June 20 when they were 25-41. As of Wednesday, the Rockies owned a 56-78 record, which means the team is performing a bit better with a 31-37 mark over that stretch.
Colorado’s team ERA was 5.16 in July and 4.71 in August. So far, in four September games, the Rockies staff ERA is 3.86.
An example of how the Rockies are handling their pitching staff since June 20 was on display Tuesday night. Drew Pomeranz, the highly regarded 23-year-old left-hander Colorado acquired last season from Cleveland as part of the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, allowed no runs and five hits over three innings and 72 pitches.
Similar to a piggyback start in the minors – which is common for teams to have a starter toss three frames and another starter follow with three innings – Carlos Torres limited the Braves to no runs and three hits over three innings and 46 pitches. Rex Brothers (two hitless innings, 30 pitches) and Matt Belisle (one scoreless frame, 13 pitches) sealed a 6-0 victory for the Rockies.
The pitch count is what determines how long the starter remains on the mound for the Rockies, and not the innings. For example, in a start on August 24 against the Cubs, Pomeranz allowed two runs and two hits over five innings and 72 pitches.
Since Coors Field is not an appealing destination for free agent pitchers, the Rockies are focusing on developing homegrown starters and acquiring young arms under long-term team control via trades, like the transaction that shipped Jimenez to the Indians for Pomeranz and fellow Rockies rotation mate Alex White, who is 2-7 with a 5.58 ERA in 17 starts and allowed three runs and four hits in 3.2 innings during his last outing versus San Diego on August 31.
Jeff Francis, a 31-year-old left-hander who spent his first six Major League seasons with the Rockies before pitching in Kansas City last year and opening 2012 in the Cincinnati farm system before returning to Colorado, is 5-4 with a 5.73 ERA in 18 starts. He allowed no earned runs in five innings versus the Dodgers on August 27 and then served up six runs (five earned) and 10 hits in 3.2 innings and 80 pitches in his last appearance against the Padres.
Former Dodgers right-hander Tyler Chatwood (4-4, 5.53 ERA in 14 games and seven starts) and 24-year-old righty Jhoulys Chacin (who posted ERAs of 3.28 and 3.62 as a starter for the Rockies over the last two seasons) round out the rotation.
Chacin was hampered with a nerve problem in his chest and has a 2-4 record with a 4.85 ERA in eight starts this year. In his last outing, he logged seven innings in his 72 pitches, limiting San Diego to one run and five hits.
The 75-pitch limit for starters has provided more work for relievers like 26-year-old rookie Adam Ottavino, who was a starter in the Cardinals farm system until arriving in Colorado this year and has posted a 5-1 record with a 3.82 ERA in 66 innings. Josh Roenicke, a 30-year-old right-hander, has a 4-1 record with a 2.63 ERA in 53 games and 81 innings while the 32-year-old Belisle has accumulated 70 innings and owns a 3.07 ERA.
Torres (4-1, 3.86 ERA, 42 innings, 23 games), Ottavino and Roenicke are the relievers who are seeing the most multiple inning games.
The Rockies have not indicated if they will continue the 75-pitch limit for starters in 2013 and beyond. Jorge De La Rosa, the staff ace who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, has an $11 million player option for 2013 which he will seemingly exercise. The team hopes that Chacin reports to spring training fully healthy, and that Pomeranz and White reach their high ceilings.
Until then, September will look a lot like spring training on the mound for Colorado, whether the team is at Coors Field or on the road, where the pitching numbers are better and the offensive stats suffer.