Monday, August 4, 2008

Scouting Report: Nationals at Rockies (8/4)

Nationals at Rockies: Tuesday, August 5 at 9:05 ET
The Nationals win game one, as Redding survives Coors and the Nationals benefit from some bad defense and Aaron Cook's worst start of the year. Here's game 2.

Pitching match-up
Jorge De La Rosa: De La Rosa is a 27-year-old lefty is a power pitcher who has been moved back and forth from the rotation and the bullpen over his career, as one team after another has seen his potential as a starter undone by command problems. He throws a fastball at 92, slider, change, and curve. I know what you are thinking. His ERA is 6.94, and four months ago he was a Royals farmhand who went to the Rockies as a PTBNL in the trade that sent less than HOF RP Ramon Ramirez to KC. He stinks, right?

Not so fast. He's been regarded as a talented guy for a long time. He was a key piece in the trades that sent Curt Schilling to Boston and Richie Sexson to Arizona. For a long time, he just couldn't throw enough strikes to be an effective reliever, much less a starter. But there's some evidence that things may be finally coming together for him. For the second year in a row, his walk rate is down--just a hair over 11% this year, which is still on the edge of not good enough, but a damn sight better than the completely unacceptable almost 15% he posted when the Royals threw him in the rotation in 2006. Much more impressive is the 23.5% K rate (16% is league average). The rest of his peripherals are solid, but the K/BBs are definitely good enough to be succeeding.

So why the unsightly ERA? He has a very high .364 BAPIP, very low 59.5% strand rate, and a high HR/FB rate (14.5%). Surely one would assume some of that is the Coors effect (although his home ERA is only a skosh higher at home than on the road this year), and the Rockies' defense (23rd in MLB with 61 Es) isn't helping. Here's another weird thing: his ERA is up almost a run from last year, from 5.82 to 6.94. But his FIP (fielding independent pitching, a stat that basically combines a bunch of other stats to estimate what a pitcher's ERA would be if you could factor out bad luck and bad defense) has declined from 5.27 to 4.56. That's not normal, and it says there's a lot of bad luck and sample size noise in there.

The other thing about De La Rosa is that he has a little bit of Jay Bergmann circa April 2008 in him--he either pitches great or awful. In his last 4 starts he's given up seven runs twice and one run twice.

John Lannan: John got knocked around by the Phillies his last time out, allowing 6 ER in 5.2 innings. It was only the third time all year that he's allowed more than 4. He gets a ton of grounders, and so his style should hold up well in Colorado. Also, Brad Hawpe, one of the Rockies' best hitters, has traditionally struggled against lefties (though this year that hasn't really been true).

What To Look For

Tulowitzki's been hurt, but when he's been on the field he's hit nothing (adjusted OPS 69--this is a composite stat, with 100 being league average; 69 means he's 31% worse than that). I don't know what's wrong with him, but the Rockies need him badly.

After The AG contused his butt last night, it looked like Bowden was down to just Belliard and Nieves on the bench. Then Zimmy pinch-hit, and there's talk he'll start tonight.
I'd rather them play it safe with him, but it looks like he's going to play. Still, that's only two position players and a catcher on the bench. And if Zimmerman's hand acts up and god forbid someone else fouls a ball off a foot, we're awful close to seeing a pitcher in the field or something like that. Fer chrissake Bowden, put someone (Guzman) on the DL!

It's Zimmerman's throwing hand that's hurt, and it's possible that hitting is easier than throwing. He's prone to throwing errors to begin with. If he plays, watch for that.

Kearns is the only National with an AB against De La Rosa. Ooops, make that the only one with a PA. He's seen him 3 times and walked 3 times. But that was back when De La Rosa was with the Brewers, and his command is much improved since then.

Lefties eat up Casto to the tune of .071 BA / .161 OBP / .071 SLG in 31 PA career. But with a groundball pitcher on the mound, can we afford to go with Belliard at first (and likely Orr at SS? and a recovering Zimmerman at 3B?).

What to Root For
Bounce-back game for Lannan--he needs to just keep doing what he's doing and not get betrayed by the defense.

Fearless Prediction
(Season record: 7-6)

Not so fearless. This team is starting to confound expectations. I'll say Lannan beats De La Rosa, 6-3, but I still worry about the letdown from the travel schedule.

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